God's Story, Your Story
The true light that shines on all people was coming into the world. The light was in the world, and the world came into being through the light, but the world didn’t recognize the light. The light came to his own people, and his own people didn’t welcome him. But those who did welcome him, those who believed in his name, he authorized to become God’s children, born not from blood nor from human desire or passion, but born from God. The Word became flesh and made his home among us. We have seen his glory, glory like that of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. John 1:9-14 (CEB)
A few years ago I heard this story about a devout Christian man named Carl. Carl was going through a long depression and decided that it was about time that he talk to his pastor. At their meeting, the pastor counseled Carl and told him that the Holy Spirit would reveal all the answers Carl needed through scripture. Hopeful, Carl went home, got in a quiet place, pulled out his bible and began praying to the Holy Spirit. "Holy Spirit," Carl fervently prayed, "show me the answers through your word. What is it that I must do to rid myself of this depression?" With that, Carl opened his Bible at random and looked to the first verse that came to view: "And Judas hung himself..."
While most Christians’ cases are probably not quite as extreme as Carl’s, there does seem to be this tendency amongst Christians to read the Bible as some sort of instruction manual for navigating life. In a way, it kind of reminds me of those old iPhone app commercials: "Girlfriend/boyfriend dump you? There's a bible verse for that," "Need help managing your finances? There's a bible verse for that," " Having trouble finding the best college for you? There's a bible verse for that."
Approaching scripture as a collection of rules and guidelines is especially evident in the way a lot of preachers will present their sermons. The pastor will often choose a topic to talk about, he’ll make an argument to either support or refute the topic, and then he’ll choose several bible verses to “back” his claims. What you're left with is a sort of watered down, moralistic version of Christianity that is either used simply as a self-help book or as a tool to support your own personal beliefs about something. Now notice real quick those two words "self" and "you." What do those words imply? Is the Bible all about you? Or is it about something much more than you or even me?
When I talk to others about biblical interpretation and address the idea of the Bible as an instruction manual, I always ask each person the same question: what types of writings are written in verses? Research papers, textbooks, essays, constitutions, etc. aren't written in verses. The verses found in the Bible tell a story in which God is the main character. It’s a story about a God who created humanity in the divine image to live in communion with God and each other. It’s a story of a God who, after humanity turned to sin, tried so hard to reconcile humanity back to him to no avail. It’s a story about a God who, in one last effort to save his beloved creation from sin, dwelled among us in the form of Christ, offering humanity a chance at a relationship with God through the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is a story of a God who, through the actions of ordinary and unexpected people, is still reconciling the world to the divine today.
The narrative of scripture reveals to us God’s identity through Christ, and as a result, what our identity should be. If God is described as forgiveness, then we too should embody forgiveness. If stories tell that God is peace, then we too should embody peace. If we hear that God is sacrificial love, then we too should love others unconditionally. This is how scripture is supposed to guide us morally: by illustrating who God is and as a result, showing us who we are and what our story is.
Discussion questions: To you personally, what story in the Bible best illustrates the character of God? Which story do you find yourself in?