I prefer to think of the Bible as a collection of biographies that have a greater purpose than just to tell us about Jewish history. The latter is arguably one of the most important facets of the human presence on this planet. How many times have the Jews been stamped out, only to come back to life again? Indeed, Israel features prominently on the pages of the New York Times. If there is ever a WWIII, no one will be surprised if Israel is at the epicenter of the conflagration. Israel, it seems, is here to stay.
And yet, careful inspection of the details of the history of Israel reveals that the people who make up that history were not notable for the expected reasons. The Bible is not replete with stories of military victories and people who championed great social causes and pursued righteousness and justice for all peoples. The fact of the matter is that the people who appear on the pages of the Bible were just ordinary people. Frankly, many of them were not particularly good people. Abraham lied to protect his own skin at the expense of his wife’s safety. “Happy anniversary, honey!” David committed adultery and murder. Moses was a quitter. Peter was a coward.
This is what impresses me so much about the Bible. You would think that a book destined to underpin a great religion would be filled with stories of flawless people doing amazing acts to inspire the rest of us to goodness. Instead, we find stories of fundamentally flawed men and women trying to live life the best they know how but consistently falling short, usually way short. And we are not talking about one or two people; it’s one flawed character right after the other through thousands of years of history. The whole book is full of people who failed, some of them big-time. Surprisingly, sin, not holiness, is the dominant theme. This is not exactly what I would expect of a religious book. Bible characters are portrayed as sinners, trapped in their humanity, struggling to deal with life and a God who is ultimate holiness and who will not leave them alone, a God who is their life.
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God is so powerful that He can literally speak an entire universe, quarks to galaxies, into existence. He is so holy that no man can look at His face and live. He can fly without wings, control the weather, heal incurable diseases, cause earthquakes, and predict the future with 100% accuracy. Why isn’t the Bible full of “God stories” that tell us about this superhero whom we call Jehovah and who calls Himself by the unlikely name “I am”? Why does the Bible not comprise 2000 pages of what God did on His summer vacation? If I were to read such stories, day after day, perhaps then I would fear Him more or truly understand Him better.
Unexpectedly, the Bible is an “earthy” book, full of murder and mayhem, sin and sex, twists and turns. The stories are about real people living real lives struggling with meaning and purpose, selfishness and righteousness, heaven and earth, the visible and the invisible.
What are we supposed to make out of all this?
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The kids in my neighborhood, growing up, played a lot of ice hockey during the winter. We mainly played on the reservoirs that fed local cranberry bogs. These bodies of water are deep (e.g., dangerous), and due to protection from wind and flurries by surrounding forest, the ice was frequently of a quality good enough for skating. Ofttimes, the ice was just barely thick enough to support us, but for teenagers, fun and competition always trump life and safety. Those were the days when the Boston Bruins was a really good hockey team and many of us emulated Bobby Hull, dreaming of “being him” someday.
That was then; this is now. It is unreasonable to believe that I could ever become a great hockey player like Bobby Hull. But I’ll bet I could be a quitter or a coward just like Moses or Peter! I know this is a very strange perspective on aspiring to greatness, but it makes the point that neither Moses nor Peter nor I, none of us, are special people in the sense of having a special “in” with God. We are all in the same boat. We all struggle with revenge and hatred, sex and ambition, pride and prejudice. Their stories are my story. Their stories were written down so that I could know how God deals with ordinary people, how He pursues them, how He interacts with them, how He talks with them, how He disciplines them, how He leads them into His life and Kingdom. We are, all of us, the sheep of His pasture. There are no super-sheep.
Certainly, the Bible conveys much about God, Himself. But, in the main, Bible stories about people who are living chaotic lives in the context of God comprise the quintessential method that God invented for explaining what He expects of ordinary people and what ordinary people can expect of Him.1
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Yea, well, this is all very inspiring, but gimme a break! I’m not a Moses or a David, or any of those other people. Moses and David must have had something that I don’t. They had two-way conversations with God, for crying out loud! And something about this doesn’t seem fair; of the three of us, I am the only one not to have committed murder. You would think that, of all things, murder would surely disqualify a person from approaching God.
Apparently, it doesn’t.
1 Have you ever wondered how God, who is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent could possibly be humble? After all, if anyone could “brag” about being truly great, it would be God. His humility is clearly evident in the Bible, where we read stories of God using His power not to impress, but to draw people out of themselves and toward Him. He could walk through a concrete wall without damaging the structure, but He prefers to give you and I our next breath. That is humility.