I’m fond of saying that the Bible can best be thought of as containing two over-arching stories. The first is the story of humanity.
It’s a story of greed and avarice, pillage, rape, theft, and murder, as well as war, oppression and exploitation – all of which one finds in the Bible. And then there is God’s story of love, mercy and forgiveness, and God’s invitation to humanity to make God’s loving story humanity’s story. Too often people confuse the two stories and project an ugly, hateful caricature of humanity as God. The consequences can be so hurtful that we should talk much more about how to read the Bible. With the permission of the SFGN editors, I will do just that in this and the next article.
The Bible – as holy scripture – is unlike any other book, and it should not be read like other books. Apart from academic study, I counsel against reading the Bible from front to back; because doing so won’t provide the reader with the means by which to distinguish between humanity’s story and God’s story.
For Christians, the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus yields two lessons. The most widely known is the message that we are to recognize Christ in the breaking of the bread. The disciples’ second important observation is instructive on how we should read the Bible: “Were not our hearts burning within us’ … while he was opening the scriptures to us.” The disciples passionately recognized and encountered the Word of God in and through Jesus Christ. From this we derive the principle of reading the Bible through the lens of Christ.
What does it mean to read the Bible through the lens of Christ? For Christians, God is love (1 John 4:8) and Jesus is “the exact imprint of God’s very being” (Hebrews 1:3). In other words, Jesus Christ is love incarnate. Therefore, as our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is fond of saying, “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.” So, in reading the Bible, love distinguishes God’s beautiful story from humanity’s too often ugly story. God’s way – the righteous path that we are to follow and emulate for our sanctification – is one of ultimate and unconditional love.
People who carry signs that say “God Hates” are woefully mistaken. They have made a muddle of the Bible, confusing ugly and hateful practices of human beings with divine imperative. To be a faithful, Christ-centered disciple, one must do more than cite, quote, or worship Jesus. One must follow Jesus Christ in the way of love.
“If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.”
In my next article, we’ll discuss the underlying truth to be found in the Bible’s two stories of Creation. Yes, there are two very different accounts of how God created all that is. We’ll see that one does not have to read the Bible literally as a history book or a science book to find the truth important for reconciliation and salvation.
By The Rev. Mark Andrew Jones, BSG
St. Nicholas Episcopal Church