Friday, March 23, 2018

The Bible Before Us

From time to time, a certain meme (or set thereof) makes its journey around social media, snowballing in popularity among a subset of Christians. This meme shows a picture of the Bible and says something to the effect of, "This book is playing out right before our very eyes, and most people don't even realize it." 

Eh, not really.

Although it's very popular among some circles for Christians to read the Bible as though it were God's Word for today, doing so ignores the two biggest movements of God among us, and this makes it a very dangerous theology indeed. 

First, when we read the Bible as though it is a foreteller of the events of today, we miss the very real context in which the Bible was written. When we think that the Bible speaks of Trump or Obama or American economics or Ugandan famines or whatever, we miss the Bible that actually speaks about Caesar and Nero and Jerusalem's economics and Egyptian famines. In other words, we miss that God spoke His entire word into a very real context, into a very time and place where it was meaningful and relevant for the people who were hearing it.

In other words, this Bible that we so easily want to say is playing out before our very eyes...was playing out before their very eyes. Let us not forget that.

It's one of the reasons we have to be careful about how much of the Old Testament Scriptures we convert into Christ-ian prophecy and exactly how we do this. When David speaks words that Jesus also spoke, it is not because David simply faithfully wrote down an eloquent paragraph for which he had no context or understanding; it is because these words were on David's heart, too. Not just for the coming Messiah, but for the real world in which he also lived with God. When Isaiah writes about the Suffering Servant, it is not just that he is speaking for a Christ who is still centuries and generations away; he is speaking from his own experience as a prophet. 

We must realize, too, that even as we say that the Scriptures were written for us and speak about our time, so everyone else across history has said much the same thing. In the 1200s, in the 1300s, in the 1400s, etc., Christians have always interpreted the Scriptures as God's "amazing" prophecy for what's happening today. If God spoke about today, then which today? Every today? If the same things are true across all time such that we can say that God's Word applies to all of it, then either God's Word is never victorious because it lives in the same cycle again and again and again and again and again or God's Word is so vague and non-specific as to be empty and void, as though God had not spoken at all. 

That's one reason why we have to leave God's Word where it was written and let it speak about the context it was intended to speak about.

The second reason we must leave it there is because if we do not, we will miss God's Word for today. And this is perhaps even more dangerous a theology than the first. 

If God spoke 2,000 years ago about the events of today, then what do we believe He's doing now? He already told us this was going to happen, so there's no reason for Him to continue speaking. No reason for Him to say a new word. No reason for Him to be active among us if this is the way things are supposed to be and it's always been that way. 

When we read our Bibles as though they are God's Word for today, we miss what He is speaking to us because we relegate all of His speaking to the past. This is difficult because the Bible is unchanging, but our Lord lives on. And it's so easy for us to say that the Bible is the best we're going to get from Him, but the truth is that the best we get from Him is still unfolding. Right now. In our own lives. In our own times. 

The canon may be closed, but the revelation of God is ever-developing. We have to keep our eyes open to the new movements of God among us and stop trying to fit our times into old stories. This is the day the Lord has made, and it's brand new and wonderful and amazing and God is here in it among us. 

I think this is probably one of the most disastrous things happening in our churches right now - we don't seem to be aware of the God who is the same today as He is yesterday and forever. And that is a direct product of our reading our Bibles as though God spoke yesterday and will one day speak again and in the meantime, it must be our job to figure out what He's already said. 

No, friends. God is still speaking, and it is our job to listen to what He has to say today. 

Is the Bible playing out before our very eyes and we're just too blind to recognize it? Eh, not really. But the Lord Himself is dwelling among us, writing a new word in our time and place, and we've got our noses too stuck in a book to see it.

(Note: this is not at all to say that the Bible is not relevant or that it is not good and beautiful and wonderful. This is to caution against misusing the Bible at the cost of missing the living Lord not just today, but then, too. Reading our Bibles incorrectly makes us miss who God was, who God is, and even who God will be, which means we miss Him entirely.) 

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