Growing Up With The Hardy Boys
When I was growing up, in the early ’60s, my parents thought it worthwhile to get a set of encyclopedias. They were for me to use in school and for general interest. We did not have the money to invest in something like Britannica. So, every month, my mom would buy the next edition of a much cheaper version (from A-Z) at the grocery store. I can remember flipping through each book of the alphabet looking for interesting subjects to read, often disappointed. The point was that each topic, highlighted and underlined, was a separate, distinct bit of information. Because it was in alphabetical order, every topic was discrete from the next. The Bible is very different. It is heretical to view Scripture like the encyclopedia, full of entertaining, yet unconnected material.
Those who attack the credibility of the Bible view it as a compilation of discrete stories. Each must stand on its own and be fully reconcilable, at a human level of understanding, with all the others. Even more, each verse can be plucked out of one chapter and, if it appears to contradict another verse from another book/chapter, (regardless of context), the baby is thrown out with the bathwater. Finally, even those who pay lip service to the inerrancy of Scripture, use individual verses, again out of context, to promote errant theology that fits their behavior (ex. LGBTQ and Abortion).
When I reached the age of 8, my mom would buy Tom Swift and Hardy Boys books, again from the grocery store. I loved those books which took me out of my home and into a world of fiction-based science and mystery. The books started with a problem, the characters spent the pages discovering the truth about the situation. By the end, solved the riddle and patted themselves on the back for doing so.
The Bible is not The Hardy Boys
Like my childhood books, the Bible has a clear beginning, the creation of everything, and has a definite ending, the destruction of all that we currently know and the establishment of two eternal kingdoms, Heaven and Hell. However, the middle is very different. In the broad sense, God did unpack a problem, sin. He then spent the remaining pages explaining how He and we deal with that reality. The Bible is full of characters, page after page, exposing their successes and failures in achieving that goal. In the end, God intercedes, cleans up the mess we and Satan have made, and sets things perfectly right.
Of course, our natural inclination is to challenge His decision as unacceptable. But the Lord makes clear however that He has our best interests at heart, regardless of our opinion. A further dissimilarity, unlike the Hardy Boys, the Bible is not chronological in its presentation. The truth of who God is and how He, and we, need to solve the riddle of sin is spread throughout time and geography. It is not something that moves smoothly from one disclosure to another like a mystery or science fiction novel.
When someone comes to a personal relationship with Christ, their first inclination is to start with Genesis, committing to read through to Revelation. Just like they have been trained to read any novel, it would seem a logical approach. However, every believer I have known, jumps in quickly, trying to convince people to start in John, or at least somewhere in the New Testament. Why? In part, because the Bible is not a novel.
The God of the Old and New Testament
I think my mom is in Heaven. I think my dad is not. The reasons for that, and the impact these two statements have had on my life, are for another time. When I got saved, through apologetics, my mom became more curious about her dormant faith. She and began reading the Bible every day and asked me many questions. However, the one appropriate for this article was, “Why was the God of the Old Testament so mean and Jesus was so loving? How can they be the same God?”
I tried to explain to her that Jesus (God) is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8). That the New Testament was just a further expansion or demonstrated a new dimension of Who God is. That, throughout history, we were (are) sinners and God, after making that point, provided Christ as the ultimate sacrifice. In the end, I’m not sure my mom ever felt totally comfortable with my answer.
An Angry God and A Loving Jesus
This week I was asked the same question my mom asked me over 30 years ago. I recognize that we all continue to grow up in our faith and understanding of God’s Word. (Eph 4:15). However, with so many more years of study, I feel like I was able to provide a better answer. I tried to explain that parsing Scripture, either by book (Hardy Boys) or worse, by verse (encyclopedia), will not work as we are all being sanctified (growing up) in our understanding of who God is. A new believer is can not view the Bible like a mystery novel, learning who and what is going on as one reads page after page. Further, if you start in Genesis, you will eventually come to Leviticus and Numbers and likely get bogged down because you have no context to understand their purpose and value in context.
As I reflected anew on the question of the God of the Old Testament vs. the God of the New, the same rationale I presented to my mom surfaced. It did not satisfy my mom and I expected the same canned answer would not satisfy today. I finally came to realize that it was heretical to think of the Bible as a book, of any type, novel, or encyclopedia. Yes, there is a storyline and yes there are verse groupings that present a valuable lesson on a particular topic. But putting the Bible into one or both of these two boxes is extremely dangerous and ultimately destructive.
The Theologically Lost
Early in my Christian walk, and very early in my mom’s faith revitalization (leading to salvation), she bought me an expensive set of biblical commentaries on CD. They were audios of highly educated liberal theologians from Harvard and Yale, discussing each book of the Bible. Not knowing any better, I was excited to gain insight into the Scriptures and began listing to them during my daily work commute. It quickly became apparent that, as educated and knowledgeable as these “theologians” were, they did not have the benefit of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
Again, for them, the Bible was a book of stories that could be parsed and antiseptically discussed with little regard or acceptance of the supernatural Author. It was so sad, listening to hollow voices casually discussing the historicity of the true Creator of Heaven and earth. I realized that not only did one have to see the Bible in its entirety, one also need the Holy Spirit to see its true purpose and beauty.
the Bible is a Work of Art
So, if the Bible is not a novel, what is it? The answer I offered this week was that the Bible should be viewed a beautiful painting, an amazing work of art. It is a picture of the relationship between God and man. The Bible includes a beginning at the top and an end at the bottom. However, most of the mural is taken up with illustrations of how God is both righteous and loving toward us. It also shows Christ as the central figure in defining how we are able to escape out of this masterpiece and into an even more masterful work, a portrait of Heaven.
The Bible cannot be parsed and dissected. It must be looked at in its entirety. The challenge with that is it takes years of reading God’s love letter to us to understand its depth, its unity of purpose, and its overarching theme. Verses, chapters, books, and testaments cannot be viewed as separate from each other. To do so opens the door to apostasy in all its various forms.
Finally, as we know, God is not only supreme, He is above our ways. To expect Him to provide all the answers in a way that mankind can understand is to try to pair our intelligence with God’s. There will always be questions unanswered as we study the perfect picture God has created for us. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, to gain any real understanding of Scripture, we need to not only look at it in its entirety, we also need an interpreter, a companion to help us translate it. We need the Holy Spirit in our hearts.
God as the Artist
So, when you get frustrated with a lost person telling you what the Bible says in a particular verse, or, when you get stuck trying to understand how God can appear to be so mean in one place and loving in another, remember, Scripture is not an encyclopedia or a novel, it’s a perfect painting. Further, one cannot truly appreciate the Artist without the interpretations and insights that come from the Counselor (John 14:26-28).