The Purpose of the Bible: Part Two
In the first post in this series, I suggested that the purpose of the Bible is to tell us the story of God’s dealings with his creation. In this post, I would like to describe, in broad terms, the nature of that story.
Of course, with something as complex as God’s relationship with humanity, there are numerous ways in which the story could be described. My cross-cultural missions backgrounds enjoys the following breakdown:
- The World: Genesis 1:1-11:32
- Israel: Genesis 12:1-Acts 1:26
- The World: Acts 2:1-Revelation 22:21
Looking at the story this way shows God’s great love for the nations of the whole world and helps us to reflect on Israel’s role as a light to the nations. However, today I want to take a more generic approach to the story of the Bible. I’d like to suggest that there are three themes which run through Scripture. To some extent they are chronological, but they overlap greatly. Each of the themes adds to our understanding of God’s dealings with us and of the world in which we live.
I know it sounds simple; but the first thing that we need to remember in our relationship with God is that we are his creations. He is in charge, not us. No matter how much we act as though it does, the universe does not revolve around us and our desires.
That being said, we are complex beings. We are biological entities clearly related in form and structure to other biological beings on the planet. On the other hand, we are created in the image of an imaginative, holy and creative God. We might share a lot of our DNA with chimpanzees and at times we are driven by our biology in the same way as they are, but we are also incredibly creative and have a strong spiritual side. Christians sometimes treat human beings as if they were disembodied souls – nothing more than spiritual beings. This is wrong. The creation part of God’s story puts us firmly on this planet as solid organic creations, but with spiritual needs and abilities.
Another feature of the creation is that we live in a beautiful world and human beings are capable of producing works of amazing intelligence and beauty.
The fall is where the story starts to get confusing. The Bible story tells us that God created mankind as perfect beings, but that humanity rebelled against the creator. This sent shock waves through the whole of creation and the relationships between man and God, man and man and man and creation were all ruptured. The world isn’t what it once was. On a simple level this answers the statement that we’ve all heard over and over again: “isn’t there more to life than this? Surely things should be better than this.”
However, the effect of the fall bites much more deeply than this and I am convinced that it is something that Christians, in general, have not grasped. The bottom line is that everything in human experience is tainted by the effects of the fall. To put it simply (too simply?) the fall means that bad things happen to good people (and to bad people). Stuff happens. The fall has ushered in a existence where rotten things happen, seemingly at random; bad things have become part of life. This doesn’t mean for one moment that things are as bad as they could be – the creation principle means that there is a lot of beauty about. But we cannot hide ignore the pain and suffering which is part of human life.
The effects of the fall are as much a part of the system in which we live as the law of gravity. If I drop a hammer on my foot it will fall and it will hurt – I won’t question it. However, when bad things happen, we often ask ‘why did God let that happen?’ The answer is quite simply the fall.
So, does this mean that God is untouched by human suffering? No, not at all. The third part of the story is incarnation: God becoming a man and living on our planet. This teaches us that despite the fall, God is intimately involved with human life. It is not just through the work of Jesus, but throughout human history. God has taken a continual deep and caring interest in what is going on on this planet.
When I’m having a bad day, I like to flop in front of the TV in the evening and lose myself in a murder mystery. For a couple of hours, I can forget my troubles as Inspector Morse solves the riddles of criminal life in Oxford. God can’t get away from human suffering like that. The incarnation teaches us that God, who cares far more deeply for humanity than you and I, is alive to the realities of human suffering and injustice 24/7 and down through the centuries. You know how frustrating it is to watch someone do a job badly – God’s been putting up with that for thousands of years!
God is involved in creation and the redemption part of the story shows us that He is determined to rescue things; to change them for the better. Tied clearly into the principle of redemption is the concept of judgement. God is not indifferent to human rebellion and he will judge his creation for turning their backs on him. But, God is also incredibly gracious and is prepared to forgive people and to restore the broken relationships that typify the fall – all at the cost of his own suffering.
The cross lies at the centre of the story. Through it, God restores his creation – making peace with all things (Col. 1:20). Creation, fall, incarnation, redemption and future hope all find their central meaning in Jesus Christ on the cross. Human language fails when it tries to capture everything that Christ achieved on Calvary and the Bible resorts to metaphor and picture language as it tries to describe what happened. There are images from the market (buying back) from law courts (making just – justification) and from family life (adoption). No one picture can tell the whole story.
The final part of the story assures us that things can be better – indeed they will be. This is a fantastic world, it is beautiful beyond belief in places and yet there is untold suffering and pain in others. Often beauty and pain are so intertwined we can’t separate them. But it won’t always be like this. God who made this world and who is touched by the pain of the fall has taken the steps to make things better. As Christians we must be involved with the nitty gritty reality of a fallen world, but our eyes need to be lifted towards the coming reality which we cannot yet describe, but which will be far better.
The purpose of the Bible then, is to tell this simple five part story.
The final post (there were only going to be two, originally) will look at why this story is so important.