I have fallen so deeply in love with God by studying this weird collection of books called the Bible. I’m not talking about romantic love, but a love that is so, so much better.
Today in class, we finished the Old Testament.
*Pause for applause*
One of our fearless leaders, Scott Frase ended class by playing a slideshow he had made of the 65 books we’ve journeyed through in the last (almost) nine months (they begin the last book this Friday). Each slide was a book title, the main characteristic of God found in that book and then one or two key verses from said book which expressed this characteristic. Most of us were devouring each slide and responding with tears to see what an epic story we have been immersed in for so long. (Maybe I was the only one crying?)
It was as moving as I’m sure the picture slideshows will be when we finally graduate these beloved students in two weeks.
When any of our teachers finish their last lecture, it is SBS tradition to shower them with encouragement and prayer. For guest speakers, this happens soon after we meet them, but for those of us on staff with this school, we finish our last teaching near the end of a very long time together.
I was really struck today by a comment one of the students made to Scott as she expressed her appreciation and love for him. She talked about how, before coming to the school she’d had such a close relationship with God and she had feared that studying the Bible academically would suck the life right out of that relationship. It was a real battle for her and for several other students, but to Scott she said, “I thought I had to choose between knowledge of God or intimacy with God, but every time you teach, you show me I can have both.” …
I think we’ve all sat through at least one lecture or sermon that felt much more like a clinical verbal dissection than like anything we could actually apply to our lives or connect with in our hearts. None of the lectures in this school have been like that. Every person who has stood up to teach did so from a place of having encountered God in the midst of their studies. This doesn’t mean that every teaching has been mind blowing, but all have been revelatory and moving.
What is beautiful about God is that he gives us so many ways to know him. When I was studying the Old Testament for myself in 2012 I suddenly did not understand why there had to be a temple. Although God was very adamant with his people that they first make the tent of meeting in the desert, he didn’t seem in a great rush to have a stationary building erected. Yet still, when the exiles return to the ruined heap of Jerusalem in 538BC, he has to prod them to rebuild the temple Babylon had destroyed. But why? Before that first temple was torn down by Nebuchadnezzar, God had already left (a heartbreaking and long goodbye in Ezekiel 10). In fact, he didn’t enter any temple again until Jesus came. So why did they have to rebuild it?
There is so much more to this than I’m going into here, but it’s because I have a specific point I want to make about the Bible.
I love the Bible. I love how rich and complex it is, I love how confusing and offensive, colorful, and human it is. I love the vivid, euphoric poetry and the graphic, horrifying prophecies. I love the people (and I hate the people). I identify intimately with their stories, their failures, their longings. But most of all, I am utterly undone and remade by the character and the presence of God throughout.
God is not silent, nor is he distant.
And yet, I know that the Bible does not answer every question. It does not reveal all of who God is nor all of who we are capable of being. It doesn’t answer most of the scientific questions people raise. It was not meant to answer all of those questions. Although scientific understanding is extremely valuable, it cannot answer the deepest longings of the human heart. Only God can respond to those questions. And he doesn’t only respond through that sacred Word. We could lose every word and page of that great book and still he could (and would) reveal himself to those who reach out for him.
God doesn’t need the Bible any more than he needed the temple. God doesn’t need our sermons or even our worship. We need many of these things because we are human. We needed the temple and the sacrifices, the priests and the kings so that when Jesus came we would have physical pictures to help us understand the spiritual reality of what he did (and does) for us. The fact that The Most Holy Place now resides within those who receive the Holy Spirit is something that I still find shocking and surreal. But I find it so intense because I know about the original, physical Holy Place which could only be entered once a year by the High Priest who would tie a rope to his leg in case he DIED in the presence of God because of his sin.
Do we need the Bible? I believe we do. I believe we need those words and stories, the big epic of it and the strange details. When the end comes it will just be memorabilia because we will be in the presence of Jesus who is The Word.
For the present, though, while we labor in our florescent-lit rooms and squint under the open sky, may we truly (more and more) encounter the real and present, the speaking, loving and holy God. May we hunger for his word, and thirst for his nearness. Because he is good, I know he will meet us joyfully, and compassionately in the struggle.