There are few books that grab our attention and unsettle our minds like the Bible.
I was reminded of that again this past Sunday as we talked in our church about how we can say with conviction and understanding that the Bible is true.
You could see it on the faces of our people. You could hear it in the comments on the way out of church. A friend who doesn’t normally come to church was there on Sunday and could not stop talking about how the sermon affected him. A few days later he was still talking about it.
I don’t believe it was the quality or force of the preaching. Instead, I am convinced that one of the deepest desires people have, both inside and outside the church, is to learn how to read the Bible with wisdom and confidence.
People are searching for help because they want to know how they can trust the words of a book that they have been around, in some way or another, for their whole lives. People are searching for a better way because they know the way the Bible is leveraged as a weapon in hot-button debates doesn’t seem right but they don’t know how to articulate a better alternative. People are searching for a way to deepen their understanding and relationship with God but feel like they will never have enough knowledge to get through the historical, cultural and religious details that can make it so hard to understand. People are desperate for guidance about what it means to live a good life and how the Bible can help them find the way to discover that kind of existence.
One of the few things that most Christians can agree on is that the Bible is true. It is the how that often ties us in knots that keep us stuck.
The truth of the Bible isn’t found in quoting chapter and verse in debates that the book was never intended to solve. Instead the gift of Scripture is the way it guides us to understand the truth – about ourselves, about the world we live in and about the character of God.
The Bible tells us the truth by setting us in the big story that defines our lives. As we read and take in the pages of Scripture we don’t get bogged down in the details that can be useful for trivia, but instead we grow in the truth that God is the One who loves us and is for us. As we read this book we come to discover that God’s essence is relational love and that our lives expand according to our capacity to receive and be transformed by this love.
As we experience the joys and heartbreaks that come as we make our way through adulthood, we take hope in the Bible’s declaration that what is most true about us is that we are God’s beloved. As we try to figure out who we are supposed to be and what we are supposed to do we rest in the truth of Scripture that God invites us to a vital role in God’s mission for the world. When we’ve messed up and wonder how we will ever recover, we remember that forgiveness is God’s way.
As we listen to the voices of Scripture we come to discover that there isn’t anything we experience that can’t be described or explained by the broad narrative of God’s story. As we come to understand the world in terms of sin and grace and temptation and redemption, we realize the events we call news are really just the most recent manifestations of the same old story.
We notice how our dream for a way beyond our divisions sounds eerily familiar to Paul’s declaration that in Christ God is making a new humanity. As we wonder how it will ever get better we anchor ourselves in God’s ministry of reconciliation. We become encouraged when we remember that God tears down dividing walls. Our spirits are lifted as we read that when we work to cross boundaries we are in communion with a God who does the same.
When we provide a shoulder for our friends who cry out for justice we remember that racism and sexism and poverty are the expressions of deep-seated sin that emerges out of the cracks in our relationship with God and one another. As we feel powerless to combat the institutions and powers intent on maligning God’s good creation we remember the cries of the Exiles and recall God’s stubborn tendency to make the implausible gloriously real.
“The Bible”, Eugene Peterson writes in As Kingfishers Catch Fire, “is the best book for discovering the all-inclusive reality in which we exist and then for initiating us into it.”
The Bible, then, is more than an old, interesting book. It is the story that tells us who we are and it is an invitation to the good life. It is more than a book of details and quotable lines. It describes who we are made to be. It explains the world that often defies explanation. Most importantly, it reveals the depth of God’s love for us and invites us to live in the grip of this love.
No wonder it matters so much.