“Yes, Jesus loves me… The Bible tells me so!”
Perhaps you sang those words just now as you read them because they are indelibly engrained upon your soul from countless repetitions in your early childhood. (And maybe you still sing them regularly with your own kids.)
It’s a great song, and it’s true.
The Bible does tell me that Jesus loves me. In many different ways, through all of the books; this central message reverberates: the God who is made me and loves me and invites me to Life with him.
Sometimes it’s fascinating to me how differently we apparently see and interact with the Bible.
What is the Bible? Is it a reference manual for Christian living? Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth? Those things have definitely been said of this collection of ancient books.
Rather than a Owner’s Guide or User’s Manual, might it be a collection of stories God wanted to tell us … with him as the main character? Does God reveal who he is through the story that weaves its way through dozens of authors over many centuries, even millennia?
Stories seemed to be Jesus favorite vehicle for communicating the meaningful.
How about this one: Is it infallible? Does it ever claim to be? Does it need to be?
I mentioned in my post about heretical thinking earlier this week that sometimes I have even questioned the reasons for inclusion of certain books in the cannon of what we call Scripture. The Catholics have additional books of “Scripture”, as do the Latter-Day Saints. (Though there are certainly differences there as the Catholic apocrypha was from a similar era as the books that are accepted as inspired Scripture while the Book of Mormon and other additional books included by LDS believers are from a later point in history—at least their translation.)
Here’s the thing, though… how much of all that matters?
I have been reading through the Bible, cover-to-cover for a little over a year now. (The slow pace due partly to meandering through various other points in Scripture simultaneously, as well as, of course, many other books. There’s only so much time in a day, you know!) In this current journey through its pages I am reading many familiar verses and stories, as well as many I don’t think I have ever actually read. (Certainly not in their proper context.)
What strikes me the most is the story. Flowing through the entirety of Scripture are small stories and big stories, all telling a larger story.
God so loved the world that before anything ever existed, he knew you intimately, and orchestrated a grand plan to allow us to realize his boundless love for all of mankind—and each individual Image Bearer—and to restore a friendship with him that we didn’t even know was irreparably damaged. (Irreparable from our vantage point.)
Story after story reveals the struggle between we of free will and limited knowledge, understanding, and vision … and he of limitless patience, kindness, mercy—our Father, who dearly loves his children. And we who only barely understand Love, struggle to understand Him—for He is Love.
I am re-learning that Scripture really can not be seen as a giant reference guide of proof texts. And it’s certainly not a how-to manual for bringing judgment upon the world, or even upon yourself.
Nor is it to be venerated or worshipped. It’s a book. (A library, might be more accurate.)
Anything we set up between us and our Creator (including the Bible, “Christian” discipline, and even “church” activities and involvement) can become an idol that ends up keeping us from the full life God intends for us when our eyes (and hearts) are fixed on him.
And one thing I have learned from this tour through the Old Testament: God does not like idolatry!
So we will take verses like:
All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.—2 Timothy 3:16
Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God.—2 Peter 1:20-21
And we say that these prove that the Bible is infallible. But do they? Paul is reminding Timothy, his student/disciple that Scripture is useful; I certainly agree there, don’t you? And Peter says that prophets were inspired by God. Again, no argument there.
But I’m not sure God himself (nor the pages of Scripture) claim infallibility nor inerrancy, do they? Perhaps the test of prophecies being that all will be proven true as a proof of the origin of the messages—that being from the Creator God, the God of Israel.
And still, I think I digress. As this topic of conversation is so wont to do.
When we make the Bible (and discussions of these books) about being right or wrong, we just get lost in endless quarrels. So many fractured opinions and vehement discourse to prove one point or another end up making Christians and their church look like it does today: silly.
I will maintain that all of Scripture is useful, even the giant sections that give every messy, gory detail of our own ugliness. Not just the things we proudly label sin like murder, lust, idolatry, rape, incest, greed, deceit and betrayal (and many more) … but our lack of faith in vividly displayed, our repeatedly running to idols and our own strength and knowledge rather than abiding in Father’s Life and Love.
This is why, as Christians, and living in the age we now inhabit, Jesus is the decoder ring. Everything else makes a bit more sense when we start with him.
The book of Hebrews1 says that God spoke in many ways through history, but his final and fullest revelation was through his son, Jesus. And also we learn and see that he is the full representation of God himself. The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us. God himself, as a man. We don’t get his messages second-hand through angels and/or prophets: he came to us.
Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! So why are you asking me to show him to you? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I speak are not my own, but my Father who lives in me does his work through me. Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or at least believe because of the work you have seen me do.2
If you’re reading the Bible like a manual, or an reference book—please stop. First, you’re missing out on the bigger, fuller story. You might even be missing out on Jesus:
“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! 40 Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.”—John 5:24
It’s so easy to do. I think we all do it. I mean, how magically incredible is this book we call the Bible? Really! Preserved nearly flawlessly over millennia, and with enemies trying to wipe it out: but it is the most ubiquitous book still today.
But the Bible is not our source of life, Jesus is.
And, it’s important to remember that we have a direct connection to Truth in Jesus’ gift of the Holy Spirit. Remember this?
But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true—it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ.—1 John 2:27
Holy Spirit will teach us everything. It’s always nice to have a tutor. (Especially when the tutor is the finest teacher ever!)
The Bible is a beautiful story, and we can glean so much life through its pages, through the stories told there, and especially the central story told throughout of our God’s ever-present love and care for his people. (That’s all of us, not just those born into the family of Jacob, as they used to imagine.)
It’s not about rules, or doctrine. It’s about Him. I highly recommend reading it like a book, like a story…
And look for the signs of Life as they weave in and out of His story.
God’s story, with us.
For further reading, here’s an article I found a real long time ago: Why "The Bible is our Instruction Manual" is the Worst Metaphor in the History of the World | The Ruthless MonkThe Ruthless Monk.
Also, one last note: For what it’s worth, I really do recommend reading in large chunks. There is certainly a place for detailed, intricate, line-by-line study, but there’s also great treasure to be found in reading through whole books at a time, or at least larger chunks. Then string books together back-to-back over a few days or weeks. When I read Scripture like this, the bigger story is much more evident, and I see God moving in his characteristic, Jesus-shown ways through the whole of history. Different voices, echoing the same story: God loves me.