The Bible is a Text

The Bible is a text.

Well, that’s obvious.

And how does one understand a text?

One reads it.

If you feel like those sentences are basic then you understand how I felt in my Old Testament courses at The College at Southeastern. Why did I leave home, rent a house and commit four years to hear a professor tell me something I already knew? That’s what I asked myself. I know the Bible is a text. Does he think I’m stupid? He didn’t think I’m stupid. But, he knew why our generation doesn’t understand the Bible; not like we should. In the last 100 years two things happened.

1. Our culture shifted from being text driven to image/sound driven. Radio and TV changed how we learn so we jettisoned the skills we used to understand literature.

2. Questions of the Bible’s accuracy dominated the conversation about the Bible. Conservative Christians concerned themselves with proving the Bible’s reliability. Thank God they did, but many believers forgot that, as Voss once put it, “The Bible is not a dogmatic handbook but a historical book full of dramatic interest.”

If you want to understand your Bible better, you don’t just have to read it. You must become a better reader. Don’t just increase the quantity of your reading. Increase it’s quality. Christians make resolutions every new year to read the Bible more. I hope they do. But, instead of reading the Bible more, I wish they’d resolve to reading it better; with an eye towards the dramatic interest Voss told us about. 5 minutes of thoughtful, observant reading is to be preferred above an hour of mindless scanning. I continue to find 2 common denominators in the Bible teachers I most respect. They have an inextinguishable love for Jesus, and they are the best readers I know. They know how a text operates. They care less about the facts a text holds, and more about the function the text plays. They don’t just read often. They read well.

The Bible is a text. It’s basic. It’s profound. The more I consider it the more I am overwhelmed and challenged to become, not just a frequent reader, but a better reader to the glory of God.

Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948), 24, 26.

What Do I Say When Someone Has Died?

This morning I responded to an email from a church member who is in a unique position to do gospel ministry. In our area this past month a young boy took his own life. Now people close to the situation are approaching this church member asking searching questions about life and death. She emailed me asking how she should respond. Below is a slightly altered version of my email response. It isn’t perfect. It isn’t everything that needs to be said. But, I think it’s a good starting point for a gospel witness in times of tragedy. I hope it helps you think better and more “Christianly” about death.

I will be praying that God gives you both the opportunities and the courage to demonstrate his love. When it comes to talking about a tragedy such as suicide there isn’t a formula. Rather, when I have to opportunity to talk with hurting/questioning people I just try to guide my conversation by a set of principles. Here they are:

1. People need to hear that I’m sorry for what they are going through.

2. People need to hear that I love them. 

When Chelsea and I lost a pregnancy a few years back people responded in so many different ways. Some people tried to tell us it wasn’t a big deal because “this happens to a lot of people.” Well, it was a huge deal for us because we had lost a child. Other’s tried to give cheap Christian sounding explanations like, “Well, God just needed another angel in heaven.” Aside from being incorrect, that statement wasn’t comforting at all. I learned through that time that I only really wanted to hear people say 2 things to us: “I’m so sorry this has happened. I love you.” Anything beyond that just felt like they were trying too hard. If I wanted answers to questions I would have asked. If I didn’t ask, then giving me answers just infuriated me. That would be the first thing I would consider. Let these people know you are sorry and that you love/care for them.

Second, if they ask questions that open the opportunity for witness I would really want them to know these few things:
1. God hates death. Too many Christians speak as if death is one of God’s ways of getting back at people who reject or disobey him. But, God hates death. It wasn’t apart of his original creation. Death is the awful result of human’s rejecting a relationship with God and we should never speak of death as, “just apart of life.” It may be apart of our current existence, but it is an evil consequence of our own choosing. We chose death. We chose exile from God’s presence. God hates death so much that he was willing to die. Christ died in order to kill death. Here’s what that means for us and our Christian witness. We should hate death too. And we should hate it all the more because we know it’s source and it’s ultimate defeat. I would impress that fact on anyone who asks you why something tragic has happened. Let them know that you hate death and God hates it too.
2. Don’t be afraid to tell someone you don’t know why this tragedy has occurred. The truth is that even if you did know the reason why things like this happen the answer wouldn’t satisfy anyway. The scriptures never tell us to always be prepared to give a reason as to why evil happens. Rather, we are to always be ready to give a reason for our hope in spite of evil. Why, in the face of such a tragedy, do we hope? What reason do we have for endurance and joy? It is because death is not the end. Christ has risen from the dead. Paul tell us that Christ disarmed all of the rulers who held judgement over us and put them to open shame by triumphing over them in the cross. Here’s our hope: when hope had all but faded and death was closing in, Christ came at the right time and took our death. He was exiled so that we could be brought back in to God’s family. He lost his face before God so that we could have God’s presence. Our hope is that our death has been exchanged for life.

A Blessing for All Nations

In Genesis 12 God promises to make a nation of Abram’s descendants. It’s one of the most ironic passages of scripture in the Bible. Why? Because Abram was an old man who had no children. Along with the promise to increase Abram’s offspring God also promises that through Abram all the nations of the earth will find blessing. This promise is repeated continually to Abram and his descendants throughout the rest of Genesis.

This morning I was reading the end of Genesis and found another ironic story. Joseph, Abram’s great great grandson by Jacob, had been sold into slavery by his brothers and through a series of events had become a ruler in Egypt second only to Pharaoh. In God’s providence, Joseph led Egypt to prepare for a coming famine that would ravage the land. Not long after, the very brothers who had sold Joseph as a slave would come and beg for bread. Joseph would eventually reveal his identity to them and be reunited with his father Jacob. In Genesis 47 Jacob is brought in to meet Pharaoh, the man who is responsible for saving Jacob and his family from starvation. Yet, as he stands before the most powerful man in the world something totally unexpected happens:

“Then Joseph brought in Jacob his father and stood him before Pharaoh, and Jacob blessed Pharaoh.  And Pharaoh said to Jacob, “How many are the days of the years of your life?”  And Jacob said to Pharaoh, ‘The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourning.’  And Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from the presence of Pharaoh.”

The reader expects Pharaoh, the greater, to extend blessing to Jacob, the lesser. The exact opposite occurs. Jacob, though starving and begging for bread stands above Pharaoh. The author of Genesis accomplishes several purposes with this irony:

1. He reminds us, the readers, of the promise God made to Abram, and indeed, all of the nations were being blessed because of his descendants. Joseph had rescued nations from starvation. But Joseph’s grain would not be the culmination of God’s blessing through Abram.

2. Throughout Genesis God subverts our expectations. He chooses the weak over the strong, the old over the young, and the faithless over the faithful. Jacob stands as a shining example of the grace of God. He does not bless Jacob because Jacob is a righteous man. He does not bless Jacob because he is a faithful man. He blesses Jacob because God chose him in complete, undeserved mercy. It was God’s good will to choose Jacob over Esau as the heir to the promise, and therefore, the message of Genesis 47 isn’t, “Be faithful and God will put you in positions of importance and influence.” Rather, the message of Genesis 47 is, “The blessing of God is at his disposal alone, and he dispenses it totally apart from human action.”

As I prepare for work, and my role as husband and father today I want to remember the free blessing of God in Christ and not live as if I am owed anything.