What is the Bible? If you’ve grown up in the United States, chances are you have your own answer to this question.
Most Americans 40 and older were exposed to the Bible in one way or another in their childhood. A March poll by the Barna Group concluded that eight out of 10 adults in the U.S. today own a Bible and believe that it is sacred literature. Thirty-two percent believe that society’s morals are in decline and attribute this to not enough Bible reading. Those ages 18 to 24 want to find help from the Bible in dealing with issues such as death of a loved one, divorce, parenting, relationships and family conflict.
In another poll, Christians rated themselves in the areas of worship, service, consistency in living out their faith, maintaining healthy relationships, sharing their faith and Bible knowledge. Amazingly, those polled considered themselves to be of average maturity or highly mature in all areas except Bible knowledge. That would be like a math teacher saying, I’m successful at interacting with and engaging my students, organizing lesson plans and getting to school on time. I’m just not too sure about all those numbers!
Problem? I think so. How can we worship, live out or share our faith well with minimum knowledge of the book on which our faith is based?
What does God say about the Bible? The most striking place to start is the gospel of John. In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God (John 1:1). And later, The word was made flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). And later, Whoever has seen me has seen the father (John 14:9). So it seems that God might say that the Bible is the revelation of the nature and character of God, especially as seen in the person of Jesus Christ.
As a young believer, I had a friend/mentor named Marilyn who could weave Scripture into her conversations. I couldn’t tell when her words stopped and God’s began. I wanted desperately to be like her when I grew up. So I asked her how she did it – how does one become a woman of the word? I was looking for a plan, a method, perhaps subliminal audio that she played in her room at night while she slept.
Her answer, however, startled me. She said, I know the Scripture because I so desperately need it ... I am hopeless and helpless without him. This giant of the faith (in my eyes), clings to Christ by clinging to Scripture like a drowning man clings to a life preserver.
By now you might think that you desire to know Scripture, but it’s so difficult. Everything is hard when you first start out – you needed someone to hold onto your bike as you learned to ride, someone to help you with the buttons when you learned to dress yourself. Those things were hard when you first started, but not now.
So where do we find help? He gives us help in the person of the Holy Spirit. But the helper, the Holy Spirit he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you(John 14:26). For the believer, the Bible comes with its own tutor. St Jerome in the 4th century said, The Scriptures are shallow enough for a babe to come and drink without fear of drowning and deep enough for theologians to swim in without ever reaching the bottom. We start in the kiddie pool getting our feet wet, and gradually work our way along with the dog paddle and breast stroke.
I was in the kiddie pool, and my friend Marilyn seemed like a champion Olympic swimmer. How good it was to have my eye on someone so far ahead in her training. Otherwise I might have been content to remain splashing around and crying when I got water in my eyes.
One word of caution: You will find a lot of rafts out there – sermons to listen to and books that people have written about the Bible. While many of them are good and helpful, they are no substitute for doing your own swimming in the Scriptures.
In a few days, Marilyn will be 70-something. She floats on a raft every now and then, but she is currently memorizing Philippians chapter two. I bet she would say she is still at the shallow end. There is so much of God to experience for ourselves.
Yes, the Bible is full of good advice for teaching us how to live. Yes, we can learn how to avoid sin (Psalm 119:11), how to be a good friend (Proverbs 17:17), and how to parent (Proverbs 23:13). More than anything else, though, it is our way to know God.
Do you want to know God? Then know his word. Swim in it, study it, memorize it, meditate on it. Be as Peter, who when Jesus asked if the disciples would leave him as so many others had, responded, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life (John 16:68).
What is the Bible? The Bible is our window into heaven, so that we may know him, and Jesus Christ, whom he has sent (John 17:3). It’s our invitation to taste and see that he is good (Psalm 34:8).