The Bible in Four Words

Story of God’s People.

That’s how I would describe the Bible in four words. Nothing more, nothing less. It is inspired, guided by the gentle influence of the breath of God. It is authoritative, because it speaks to every human at the core of our being; it speaks to the human condition which we all share. It is life giving. It is all of those things. But when it comes down to it, it is a story.

An anthology – a collection of works designed to tell an overarching narrative. And that narrative is all at once miraculous, mundane, hopeful, brutal, inspiring, and confusing. It is a narrative of men and women trying to understand what it means to be God’s people.

Sometimes these people get it. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they succeed, and sometimes they fail. And along the way, they try to make sense of it all.

We read it, find interest in it, because this is our calling as well. We are the people of God. And we long to understand what that means. And so we glance back at thousands of years of stories to see how other people tried to live that out. To get a sense for who this God is, what he values, what his purpose and intentions are, how he’s related to his people in the past. And we take the sparks of truth from their stories and try to fit them into our own.

And so that is my best shot, at this juncture in my own story, to answer the question, “How would you describe the Bible in four words?” It is the story of God’s people. And I am incredibly blessed to be an active part of that story along with you.

Yes, That’s the Book for Me

“Oh, the B-I-B-L-E,
Yes that’s the book for me
I stand alone on the Word of God
The B-I-B-L-E!”

So goes the famous and beloved children’s song with its catchy, sing-songy tune.

It catches the sentiment of so many teachings I’ve heard over the years. All we need is the Bible. The Bible gives us what we need to know. The Bible is the only trustworthy source of information.

In other words, we stand alone on the Word of God.

This morning, I need to make a confession… I don’t stand alone on the Word of God. And I think if you’re truly honest with yourself, you’ll discover that you don’t, either.

I stand on the Bible, for sure. But I also stand on interpretation – mine and others. I stand on experience. I stand on historical context. I stand on those that have translated the Bible from its original languages. I stand on the Bible, but I do not stand on the Bible by itself.

And my question this morning is, why is that such a bad thing?

It seems like we’re so scared to admit that we do this, that we trumpet “all we need is the Bible!” to make ourselves feel better. More secure. More… right.

But nobody stands just on the Word of God. (All you have to do is look at the book The Year of Living Biblically to see how absurd that would be.) And it is so freeing and incredible to be able to find a community of people where you can admit that and not feel guilty.

There are folks who thought the sun revolved around the earth, because they stood alone on the word of God. There are folks who believed the earth was flat because they stood alone on the word of God. How is that an enviable position to be in?

Ah, but you will respond, “They didn’t stand on the Word of God — they stood on their interpretations of the word of God.” To which I say: exactly. And so do you. So do I.

I’m coming to believe that’s exactly how God intended it — because we are humans, and we all have lived some piece of the human experience. Because of that, we all approach and understand the word of God in similar yet distinctly different ways. And it’s coming into community with one another and dialoguing where we discover a richer, fuller experience of truth.

So I stand on the word of God. But don’t ask me to make that the only thing I stand on, because I will fall right off of reality if that’s the case. The Bible was not designed to be a stand-alone reference of Truth. And that’s not how we were designed as human beings to relate to it.

So what is the Bible, then? If you remember, this whole series kicked off as a result of a question posed on Facebook: how would you describe the Bible in four words? Tomorrow, I’ll give that question my best shot.

The Bible is Not a Love Letter

To the love of my life:

You are so beautiful and I love you. I love you so deeply, I felt compelled to write this letter to express my affection for you.

Baby, you like to call me the center of your world, but you need to know that I actually created your world. Actually, I created you, too. Look around you; everything you see, I made. As a matter of fact, when you address me, it would be proper for you to refer to me in a majestic kingly sort of way.

I don’t want you to ever forget how much I love you. To prove this to you, I’m going to sell you into slavery for a lengthy part of your life. You’re going to perform backbreaking labor under harsh and cruel taskmasters for so many years that you’ll think I’ve forgotten completely about you. In fact, you’ll probably curse me and begin to fall in love with someone else during those years. But don’t worry, after decades of allowing you to live in slavery, I’ll come and rescue you. Because what else would someone who loves you do?

After I so gallantly rescue you, I’ll take you home — but along the way I’m going to give you a list of rules that you have to follow in order to show how much you love me. There will only be around six hundred or so of them; shouldn’t be too tough. Over time, I’m going to get so angry with you and your complaining that I’ll make you wander around in the wilderness for a few more years. Just to prove to you how much I love you. Once we get home, you’ll realize there’s someone else already living there. We obviously can’t have that, so I will command you to kill them. And not only the adults, I’ll command you to kill their kids, too. And then I’ll expect you to write songs about me, praising me for telling you to do this. Because I love you.

Once we move into our new home together, I have a feeling our relationship is going to get a bit rocky. Even though I will never do anything wrong, you’re going to screw up over and over again. So will your friends, in fact. I’m going to have some of them mauled by bears and some of them stoned to death, just to try to display my love. Eventually, though, I’m going to get so tired of putting up with you and your behavior that I’ll do what any loving husband would do – divorce you. In fact, I’ll arrange for another man to come and take you away and treat you harshly for a few years. Then, I’ll come rescue you, remarry you, and bring you home again. Maybe it will work this time around.

After awhile, someone is going to come in and buy the neighborhood we live in. He’ll start killing our neighbors and making life really tough, but I love you so much that I won’t do anything about it. In fact, it is into this kind of environment that I will introduce you to my son. He’ll grow up to be quite a rabble-rouser; so much so that the guy who owns our neighborhood will kill him. And then things are going to get really crazy.

The important thing to remember through this all is that I love you. Isn’t it obvious?

Always,
Your lover

Top 5 Tuesdays: Bible Stories That Should Be Movies

Admit it: there is some crazy stuff in the Bible — crazy cool, that is. But it seems like all the movies that are made from Bible stories are always about the same boring parts. So now’s your chance: what are the top five Bible stories you wish were made into movies?

Here’s my list:

5) Balaam’s Talking Donkey (Numbers 22) — Disney could easily adapt this tale of a talking donkey into their line of movies starring personified animals. The only difference being that this one supposedly actually happened.

4) Civil War in the Promised Land (Judges 19-21) — the Israelites are in the promised land. Everything should be good – but things go horribly awry when a religious man on a journey stops to rest for the night and the woman he is traveling with is raped and left for dead. The event leads to a civil war among the tribes of Israel, complete with ambushes and guerrilla warfare, before one of the tribes comes perilously close to being wiped out forever.

3) Jael and the Tent Stake (Judges 4) — Take one bad-a woman warrior, an oppressed people group, a snoozing commander of the enemy army, and a tent stake, and you have an instant classic on your hands. To add to it, the whole story is set against a backdrop of the Israelites being led into an epic war (by Deborah and Barak) against the dead guy’s army. I’d like to see the Mel Gibson Braveheart-esque version of this one.

2) Ehud and the Fat King (Judges 3) — A left handed warrior who sneaks a dagger into the palace of the enemy king because everyone thinks he’s right-handed… an oppressive and massively obese tyrant with a penchant for overindulgence… a stabbing done in secret, told in gruesome detail… the guards thinking the king was going to the bathroom, until they break in and discover the grisly scene… oh, yeah. We’re talking 300 meets Jack Bauer here. Total Frank Miller style awesomeness.

1) David, Jonathan, and Saul (1 Samuel) — Okay, really: I do not understand how no one has made this story into a movie yet. It has it all: undying friendship, sacrifice, war, romance, betrayal, and supernatural intervention. It’s tailor made for the big screen.

Okay, that’s my list. What’s yours?

B.I.B.L.E.

Welcome to Bible Week at Reflected Riddles! As cheesy as the name sounds, this week is dedicated to what will hopefully be some authentic, raw conversation about what the Bible is – and isn’t. How we read and approach the Bible has the ability to alter nearly everything about our faith and how we connect with God, so this is a pretty important topic and is worth some good discussion. So here we go!

When I started following Jesus back in the late 90s, one of the hip Christian-ese sayings going around was that the word “Bible” was an acronym for “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.” Back then, I thought it was so cool and clever. Now, fifteen years later, it’s probably the worst way I can imagine to describe the Bible.

Last week, the question was posed on Facebook: “If you had to describe the Bible in four words, which four words would you use?”. Perusing the answers, it appeared that many (if not most) of them played off of this acronym somehow… whether it was folks who couldn’t count and put all five words, or folks who followed the rules and shortened it to “instructions before leaving earth.” Others said something about the Bible being an “owner’s manual” or a “guidebook.” All in all, the overwhelming response pointed to this idea that the Bible is an instruction book to use before we get to heaven.

To be honest, the fact that so many people approach the Bible in that manner makes me a little sad. Primarily for two reasons: 1) because the Bible is so much deeper and richer and truer than a set of instructions, and 2) because it focuses us on the world after we die instead of the world we’re in now.

Insert Peg L Into Base C
Whenever I hear someone refer to the Bible as an instruction manual, I think, “Seriously? Have you read it lately?” I mean, really – when was the last time you read an instruction manual that contained erotic poetry? Stories of a warrior thrusting a dagger through the fat belly of a tyrant king? Stories of insurrection and subversion against an evil empire?

The first problem is that instruction manuals are so… dry. Drab. Boring. Rob Bell’s words in Velvet Elvis on this subject resonate with me:

And while I’m at it, let’s make a group decision to drop once and for all the Bible-as-owner’s-manual metaphor. It’s terrible. It really is. When was the last time you read the owner’s manual for your toaster? Do you find it remotely inspiring or meaningful? You only refer to it when something’s wrong with your toaster. You use it to fix the problem, and then you put it away. We have to embrace the Bible as the wild, uncensored, passionate account it is of people experiencing the living God.

But it’s not just that instruction books or owner’s manuals are dry and boring. I think this is a lousy way to describe and approach the Bible for a couple other reasons as well – first and foremost, that the Bible was never intended to be a set of instructions. If it was, then we ought to be calling out bears from the forest to maul teenagers. Or going around demanding bread and oil from starving widows. Or laying on our side by a flaming pile of excrement as an object lesson to disobedient people.

The second reason I dislike the analogy is that instructions are always focused on one singular thing: a finished product. Instructions presume that if you follow them step-by-step, you will have a finished and completed product after the last instruction has been fulfilled.

I cannot think of a worse way to describe how our relationship with God ebbs and flows. Maturity in Christ does not come courtesy of a formula or a step-by-step anything. There’s no checklist to run down that makes you a better or deeper Christian (despite the fact that many of us have attempted to make that be true). Life on journey with God is messy. It’s all over the map. Let’s not pretend it can be explained through a set of IKEA instructions like a TV stand.

I’m Just Passin’ Through
I once heard a preacher expounding on the idea that we don’t “belong” here on earth – that our real home is in heaven. He was explaining that, given that fact, it really is silly to care about things in this world. In fact, he went on to say, caring about things here earth was just like going to an airport to catch a flight, and deciding to spend a bunch of time and money doing interior design and decoration work in the airport terminal. Soon, we will be gone from here – we’ll leave the airport behind and catch a flight to our real destination; why care, then, about our time on earth?

That’s the essence of the second part of that B.I.B.L.E. acronym as well: “before leaving earth”. Life here is nothing but a prelude to the real life upstairs. And while our 80 years or so, give or take, is certainly a blip on the radar compared to, oh, eternity, our time here is of infinitely more importance than many people seem to believe. This world may not be our home, but the second we adopt an “I’m just passin’ through” mentality and focus on the future, we lose much of our ability to join God in his present redemptive work.

And besides, even if the (horrible) analogy were true that this world is nothing but an airport terminal, what would be so bad about leaving the place a little bit better than you found it… for those coming after you? Should no one repair and upkeep airport terminals? Should nobody clean the restrooms? Should there be no art hanging on the walls, simply because the people catching flights are there only temporarily?

Who Reads the Instructions, Anyway?
And so we begin our week of discussions by challenging one of the most prevalent approaches to Scripture. If you read the Bible as an instruction book, an owner’s manual, or a guidebook, I suspect that at some point or another you’ll be confused, disappointed, and surprised. When it comes to the power of this book, we’ve got to understand: many stories in the Bible are instructional – but that is far different from them being instructions.

Your turn! What do you think of the “Bible as instruction manual” metaphor? Does approaching Scripture in that way provide any positives? Are there other reasons you don’t like the comparison?

Coming Up: Bible Week!

I have a Bible app on my phone called YouVersion, and it is awesome. If you have a smartphone, go download it – it’s free. I also follow the YouVersion folks on Facebook, and when I was on FB earlier today I noticed this post from them:

If you had to describe the Bible in four words, what four words would you use?

Aside from the fact that most Christians apparently can’t count, there were some interesting things that stood out to me about people’s responses. It really got me thinking: how would I describe the Bible? What is it? How do I approach it? What do I believe about it?

And so, all next week here at Reflected Riddles is going to be Bible Week. Beginning on Monday, I’ll be exploring these thoughts and questions, and I hope you’ll join me. The tentative plan for topics is:

Monday – B.I.B.L.E.
Tuesday – Top Five Tuesdays returns!
Wednesday – Yes That’s the Book for Me
Thursday – Love, Me
Friday – Life

Make sure to stop back by and join in the conversation! For now, what would your answer be: how would you describe the Bible in four words?