When I hear someone say, “the Bible tells me so,” my eyebrows pique a bit, if the person is over eight years old. Yes, Jesus loves me. I believe that with my whole heart. And I believe in the Bible, as God’s inspired word. And yet, when I hear someone say, “the Bible tells me so,” it’s just not enough. I hear those words, and my skin crawls a little on behalf of those who don’t believe in the things I do…because if this is the basis of an argument—any argument—and the person doesn’t have a faith, you have just lost them.
The Bible is a beautiful, wonderful, brilliant, exquisite work of art where God paints a big picture. The Bible is written by dozens of different authors over the course of hundreds of years, and it encapsulates many different forms of literature: history, wisdom, poetry, prophecy, biography, personal letters, church administration manuals, words of encouragement, euphonic prayers, angry prayers, genealogy, census data, rulebooks, speeches, and myth. (For those of you who that bothers, I mean myth in the sense of writing style, not in the sense that it is not true).
The Bible holds the words of God and the words of many people. It provides detailed stories of individuals, families, and nations. It is concerned with extreme particularities, and yet, I believe holds the bigger picture for all of humankind.
One of the problems with the words, “the Bible tells me so,” is that they have been used time and again throughout history to justify evil in the name of God. The Bible catalogues uplifting verse alongside war and genocide; and if taken out of context, the Bible can do, and has done, a lot of damage.
Another problem with the words, “the Bible tells me so,” is that the Bible is not God. Christians believe that it is God’s words, that scripture is “alive and active,” we call Jesus, “the Word” and the Bible “the word.” There is a crystalline theological line between upholding the words of scripture with reverence and worshipping that which is not God. In Sunday schools where rote memorization of scripture replaces real relationship with the Creator, you see a lot of kids walk out of the doors of the church at age eighteen, never to return.
But most importantly, in our more than vaguely narcissistic culture of post-modernity, though the Bible may speak to us, it is not about us. More often than not, when I hear someone say, “the Bible tells me so,” it is to unpack an idea that God spoke to them about their personal life to change, correct, or instruct their personal actions. I am guilty of this too! And certainly the application of scripture to our personal and corporate lives is beneficial and even necessary in our churches today. But it cannot start or end there.
The reading of scripture must start with God, as it did in the beginning. The unwrapping of the gift of God in the words of the Bible must occur layer by layer—context, style, prayer, and meditation informing the reading of the words.
I have the utmost respect for the Bible. And it is because of this that I believe context is so important. The early hearers of the word would have been Jewish, Israelites, who had a corporate worldview that placed more importance on the community than on the individual. The rugged individualism of later believers should not inform the reading of scripture. Though it can scarcely be set aside, it must be recognized.
If you have been part of the church for a long time, you may have heard or participated in debates on literalism/inerrancy of scripture versus sufficiency. And I would fall on the latter side. This is not because of a lack of reverence, or a belief that anything in scripture is too difficult for God or outside of possibility, but because what I fundamentally believe about the Bible is that it paints the big picture of God’s love for God’s creation. The narrative of scripture explores all of the ins and outs of a particular people at a particular time in a particular place and their particular interactions with God. But it does so in a way that explores the grander narrative of a holy God creating, loving, and redeeming a broken world full of broken people.
Rather than an instruction manual for Christian living, I view scripture as one of those images of something spectacular, that when you look closer, you realize is made up of hundreds of tiny photographs of other things that together create a different image. My husband likens the difference in reading scripture as a grand narrative versus a roadmap, to the difference in reading a love story versus a recipe book. It matters how you go about reading it immensely.
So “the Bible tells me so” isn’t enough because many people use this phrase to pick and choose verses found in scripture to fit their meaning or ideologies. This is where Christians have gotten into hot water historically. Thus I hope to take a gander through The Book with big picture lenses on. I hope to meander through the Word, noticing the particularities—the micro-view, so that the macro-view comes into greater focus.
Our congregation has just begun a church-wide initiative to read through the whole Bible together, and to preach every book in the Bible. We only get one week on each book (which will take a little more than a year), so each sermon must be fairly succinct. The idea is to look at one specific passage from each book and see how that points to Jesus.
So, I have decided, alongside this study, to create a devotional through the Bible. I hope “The Big Picture Devotional” will take specific passages from specific books in scripture and look at the grander narrative explicated in each book of the Bible. I hope not to become reductionistic, but rather to point to the One who is capable of interpreting and elucidating the words held within for us. I hope that context, history, and particularities will inform my words, as I seek to meditate on the Word.
It would take a lifetime to truly know the Bible, and it still wouldn’t be enough. But even those problematic, challenging, boring, and ritualistic passages in scripture, I believe point to a God who creates, loves, and redeems. I hope that the next year (or so), you will walk with me as I meditate on the Bible. I will be reading the whole thing cover to cover, and I invite you to do that with me. If that will not work for you, our church has Bible reading plans available that a couple of people graciously put together to read it in multiple ways (including shorter plans).
This devotional will cover different passages than we preach each week, and with a different purpose. It will not replace your own reading, your prayer life, or the sermon series. But I hope that it augments these things in a helpful way to meditate on God’s grander narrative in and with and for the world.