Ask me ‘Why read the Bible at all?’ and I reply ‘Because as you read you discover God’s Story.’ Jesus proved with His parables that there is no better way to communicate God than through stories.
This is what the Bible essentially is – a thrilling, action-packed adventure with God, one in which we can play a part. It is not a pick-and-mix catalogue of religious goodies or spiritual recipes. It is not an occult code to be deciphered by ‘experts’. And the Bible is most definitely not a compendium of texts which we can use to buttress our own theological position.
Under pressure to ‘make the Bible relevant’, we too often trivialize or water down its message, reducing its impact to slogans and soundbites. We can end up draining the Bible of its colour, squeezing the life out of it and rendering it a ‘flat’ book, a bland moral mandate with passionless principles. But this is not the way the Bible came to us. It came as a story – a vast, sprawling, untidy, story, but a story nonetheless.
It’s not always the easiest book to read, but it is the most rewarding and enriching. As rambling and muddled and topsy-turvy as this long historical story can be, we can nonetheless find God at its centre, because He’ is the author. In saying that God wrote this story we are recognising that the threads of meaning and the trajectories of truth are all part of His sovereign plan. It is the One Creator God who initiates this story.
The God of the Bible
And as this One Creator God supervises His creation, steering it in the face of history’s setbacks and rebuffs, we find out who this God really is. It’s in the gripping narrative showing us how God achieves His purpose that we discover what kind of God this God is. God is not only the author of the story; He is the chief actor in it too. He works from the inside not the outside. So God shouldn’t be seen as an ‘Olympian’ figure, detached from the achievements and struggles of His creation. Rather, He has chosen to fully immerse Himself in the story, making Himself vulnerable to its pain and ambiguity. By working within – not outside – the drama, God leaves Himself exposed to misunderstanding, puts His reputation for holiness and omnipotence on the line, and risks His good name through association with some pretty shady characters.
In short, God is willing to become the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and even – particularly even – of Jacob! Meeting God like this in His own story, we find a God who is involved, intimate, wild, passionate, unpredictable, utterly faithful, vulnerable, open, persuadable – a tough and tender God who travels and travails with Israel with genuine emotions.
God never thought that being God was something to be exploited to His own selfish advantage, but humbled Himself to the level of His human partners, submitting to bear the cost of whatever His creation might come to. Which brings us to Jesus. And this is why we read the Bible – because it leads us to Christ. As they live in and through the biblical story, attentive Bible readers soon begin to experience the story’s cumulative effect.
Jesus and the Bible
Jesus gathers in all the historical threads that weave through the Old Testament and makes sense of them all. The story of Christ is the climax of the earlier parts of God’s story and the key to its unfolding in the future. Without the Old Testament we cannot begin to understand Jesus, and without Jesus the Old Testament makes no final sense. When we search the Scriptures looking to find eternal life, we will inevitably come to Jesus to whom all the Scriptures point. Luke 24:32: ‘Did not our hearts burn within us as he opened the Scriptures to us on the road’ marvelled the Emmaus Two.
From Moses through the prophets, Jesus explained to them how the long redemptive story of God was filled full by His life, His death and His resurrection! In Jesus all the promise-plans of God converge. The Israel story is conclusively redrawn, the world’s story is redeemingly rewritten and the story of God is fully revealed to us. We read the Bible because it tells our story too.
‘The Bible seeks to catch us up in a grand narrative, a great saga of God’s dealings with humanity – a saga begun in God’s journey with Israel, continued in the surprising call of God even unto gentiles. The church is the product of that story’, wrote William Willimon. As we immerse ourselves in this great story we encounter the real God, and get to find out what He’s really like. As we relive God’s story with Him we find ourselves saved and shaped by it. We learn to appreciate the satisfying unity of Scripture while enjoying its fascinating diversity, constantly getting drawn into its action, finding ourselves caught up in the saving movement of God.
By reading the Bible we learn to ‘indwell’ the story more and more, and looking out on our contemporary world through more biblical eyes. We stop trying to make the Bible relevant to our modern lives and begin to find instead that we are being made increasingly relevant to the Bible!
Professor Gary Burge of Wheaton College recently lamented the inability of many of his evangelical students to put major events and characters of the Bible in the correct linear order. They just didn’t know what comes where in God’s great story. ‘No one’, he says, ‘is announcing that the biblical story is The Story that defines our identity and life in the church.’ Well, some of us are trying to do just that!
Read the Book and relish God’s story!
Want to learn more?
If you want to get your head around the Bible story you can pick up a range of Bible study guides from the Small Group Central Book Shop. Alternatively, why not have a look at Bible60, written by Andy Peck.
About Philip Greenslade
Philip has worked with CWR since 1991 in the areas of biblical studies, pastoral care and leadership. With his passion for teaching God’s Word, he offers a refreshing and challenging perspective for all.