Saturday, June 26, 2004
The Stand: the Bible
I'll continue the "where I stand" thoughts with the way I see and read the Bible, because if anything has really changed over the past ten years, it's right here.
I have come to understand that my stance on Christ as the foundation is the only thing that lends real credence to the Scriptures. Jesus is Truth, and the Bible is a book of truths revealing Truth. Where He is the Logos of God (John 1:1), the Bible follows suit, through stories and parables and prose, detailing for us what's really meaningful and life-giving in this world (Psalm 119:66). When Jesus speaks, it's important. When God inspires men to put pen to paper, it's because He has a message (Revelation 1:19). That message is contained in the Bible, and any other message worth anything will be backed up by the full testimony of Scripture. The message of Paul, the message of Peter, the message of Jeremiah, the message of Solomon, the message of Obadiah, the message of Moses and the many other voices and messages all point to the same thing, the gospel: "The kingdom of God is at hand - live like it."
When I say that the Bible is "inerrant", I mean that there are no mistakes in there: that the people writing wrote what God wanted them to write, and that men over the centuries have translated it as accurately as possible with the divine gracious guidance of the Holy Spirit. "Inerrant" means that we've got pretty much written now what was written then.
When I say that the Scriptures are "infallible", I mean pretty much the same thing, only twisted: that God didn't write anything untrue. I don't have to dismiss something I don't understand just because it's outside the realm of human knowledge or experience. "Infallible" means to give God the benefit of my doubt, and that doesn't allow me to write off what we've seemingly "proven to be false". If it's not written the way we would've written it, it just goes to show once again that He's God and we're not. He hasn't tried to mess us up, but instead to bring His perspective to bear on reality. That's huge, and not to be taken lightly. Too much of the time, we explain away the scriptures, either with our bad theology and interpretation, by ignorance and not digging to find what the Bible is really saying, or by outright deception in discounting passages we would deem to be wrong. "Infallible" means that since we have an inerrant Bible that's been copied and translated down through the years, we can also trust that what's written is exactly as God intended, and that His intentions toward us are outlined therein. "Infallible" and "inerrant" don't necessarily mean that everything is or has to be "factual" - just that what's there is what God wanted there, and that if it's in there, it's true. Read it as literally as you can, and when that stops making sense in accordance with how God has revealed Himself, only then can we start reading it figuratively. Leave the contradictions alone, because they beef up the story. Leave the problems in there, because they seem to tell us that we don't know the whole story yet, that we're still missing something and still need to grow in understanding and love.
The subtle semantic difference between "truth" and "fact" is probably the biggest thing I needed to discover. "Fact" is based on perception, whether it's from culture, time, circumstance or experience. Truth, however, is truth, always and forever, regardless of culture, time, circumstance or experience. The Bible is truth, and it has some facts - but it's all good and all true.
Context, context, context. Never rely on anyone to tell you what a passage means. Check and double check, and cross-reference all you can. When history is being shared, consider the perspectives of all the characters. When prophecy is shared, consider God's intent and man's response as it unfolds in history. Don't "just read the Bible" - read it, and make every effort to "get it".
Dwell on the hurts as much as the pain. Read the Old Testament and fall in love with Jesus back there, as you see God interact just like He does in the New Testament. Spend time reading the prophets, even if their names are hard to spell or pronounce. Get to know God the way they did, failures and triumphs together. Mourn with the Lord over Jerusalem in the OT, and with Jesus over Jerusalem in the NT. Don't read in anything that's not there - question every interpretation you can, and come at the scripture from a new direction to get a new glimpse of what's being written to you today. It's good for showing you what's right, what's not right, how to get right, and how to stay right (2 Timothy 3:16-17) - and notice that three-fourths of those attributes are about the "right" thing, and only one is about pointing out the "wrong" thing. I know that God is harsh in many places of the OT - don't dismiss that, but instead let it fill out your own thoughts of God and who He is. Grieve when babies are killed, and rejoice when people praise the Father. Feel the anger of the psalms, and feel the redemptive pursuit of the psalms. It's all good, together, intertwined, meaningful and transformational.
The Bible is not a textbook with the answers in the back; instead, it's a book of questions that are in themselves answers to what we're really looking for. The Bible is not a roadmap for my life; instead, it's a glimpse at the journeys of so many people, showing me what to look for along the narrow path. The Bible is not an owner's manual for the human life; instead, it's a romance, a dance for the Creator and His Creation, for the Lover and His Bride. It holds a position somewhere above its interpretation, meaning what God wants it to mean more than we claim that it means, and that He's the only One who can open it up for us (1 Cor 2:14).
I appreciate that we have a Bible, something written down that anyone can own, anyone can read, and that we can gather together to read it together and live it out together. It's amazing that it even exists. It's been modified a little to make it user-friendly: chapters and verses have only been around for only about five or six hundred years. Before that, even having a Bible would've been a travesty because the religious establishment didn't think the common family would understand it and needed to be protected from it by people who could tell them what it meant. You've probably got more than one Bible now - and that's not something that people over the centuries have been able to enjoy.
Hold onto Jesus and you'll find yourself loving the Bible, because it talks about Him in ways only folks in love with Him would want to ponder and understand. The Bible is not Christ, not the Messiah - this book did not die for God's forgiveness of sin, and it's not a person of the Trinity. But it's good - real good - at showing us the heart of God, even as His heart was poured through the authors' hearts and onto the pages to flow into our hearts and beyond. You'll find yourself not so much reading the Bible, but having it read you.
One more thing: there is also an authority that resides within scripture. To say that it is "authoritative" is to say that it speaks with relevance to me as a person in pursuit of God. Reading it opens opportunities and grace to do as it says, to obey as Jesus commands. But all of that is wrapped up in the foundational qualities of Christ - tradition and reason are not enough to give this weight to the Bible.