There's reading and reading
Serious believers read a serious Bible and because it’s the word "of God" it’s read with seriousness. No bad thing that, because you don’t have to look far for people who treat the scriptures as something equivalent to a religious Reader’s Digest. A pox on that approach!
But while the biblical witness is something we must take with profound earnestness we’re not to read it with always-furrowed brows, a case of the jitters and a fear of thunder. It’s true that our personalities, our past experiences, present environments and our theological tendencies affect how we read the Bible. This makes perfect sense. Still, the Christian (in his or her saner moments) will surely feel led to approach the scriptures through the lens of Jesus Christ. It’s precisely because God takes sin seriously that he came in and as Jesus Christ to rescue us from it and bring us righteous and joy-filled life. The last word in God’s mouth is not about sin; it’s about Christ in whom his love for and faithfulness toward his creation is revealed in all its stunning but unfathomable depths.
When people say the Bible is a series of "love letters" they irritate those of us that take the Bible with profound seriousness. More than that, in our cultural climate the description is too saccharin, too Mills & Boone in tone. It reduces everything in scripture to a wooing note and sweet romance. This is unhealthy! But having said that—and I think it needs said—the grand drift of the Bible comes to its climax in Jesus Christ and in and as him God comes passionately saying, "I mean you no harm! None at all!" To read it in any other way is to miss the tender and mighty love of God. To isolate texts, even large sections, of the stern divine response as if God threshed around in perpetual rage, quite prepared to dismantle a world and all in it—to isolate them from the whole clear witness of scripture is to misread it entirely. If the statement that the Bible "is a series of love letters" is too sweet and reductionist, at least it turns its eyes in the right direction.
We must make up our minds about God as he has finally revealed himself in Jesus Christ or we’ll read the Bible the wrong way. We hear God’s voice best in the way he speaks in Jesus Christ.
There was the widower father of two children whose boy threw up his heels and went off into the wild blue yonder while the girl stayed at home, gentle and strong and supportive of the grieving father. A year or two after they’d just about given up on ever hearing from the boy they got a letter from him and since neither the father nor the girl could read they took it to the local butcher and asked him to read it for them. It was the wrong morning and the wrong man. The butcher was an austere man and on this morning was in a particularly sour mood. He took the note and read it to them in a flat, almost snappy tone. "Dear father, I’m very ill; send me some money. Yours, Tom." The father was indignant. "Not a word from him all this time and when he does decide to write, he demands money! I won’t give him a penny!"
Nevertheless, father and daughter were grieved that the only thought he had of them was money. Maybe...maybe, the girl thought on the way home, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to take the letter to the baker. Who knows, maybe the butcher had misread it. The baker, a different kind of man, read the words the butcher read but it wasn’t the same message. In a warm and tremulous tone he read, "Dear father, I’m very ill; send me some money. Yours, Tom." On that reading, indignation was completely obliterated and help was soon on its way from a lonely and worried family to a stumbling and sick young man far from home.
I like God because he has written us a "love Story". It’s easy to pick out harrowing pieces of text but it’s every bit as easy to pick out vast stretches of tenderness and strong love and assurance and inspiration.
I like God’s way of writing and I won’t let a sour preacher with a gloomy mind so read it for me that I miss the warmth and steadfast love of God.
©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.
Many thanks to brother Ed Healy, for allowing me to post from his website, theabidingword.com.