The Bible Is Long, Yet Life Is Short
One problem – or at least, problematic challenge – with the Bible is that it packs far too much information into far too little space. This can be quite aggravating for someone trying to digest a book in only a few days.
Take Acts, a book I’ve been working through the past few days. The first four chapters alone are full of amazing stories with important meaning: the selection of a new Apostle, the Holy Spirit descending upon the Apostles, the use of many tongues, Peter’s sermons on the importance of Jesus and the meaning of Christianity, the lifestyle of the first Christian communities, Peter and John healing a man at the Temple, their arrest, Christ’s acceptance of Gentiles, and so forth. These stories raise so many questions:
- What, if anything, do the lifestyles of the first Christians – “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need” – say about modern American consumerism and individualism?
- Acts 1-4 make it clear that being a Christian is about far, far more than belief and evangelicalism. Do we, the current church, take the challenges of joining the Christian community and of sustaining our brothers and sisters seriously enough?
- Peter seems to downplay the role of Pontius Pilate and the Romans in Christ’s crucifixion, focusing instead on the crowds, the Jews. Other New Testament passages make it clear that Christ’s relationship with the political powers of the day was instrumental in his death. So, what was the balance between the rejection of the crowds and the power of the government, and what is its importance?
- What does it mean to be “Spirit-filled?” Is a born again experience, the descending of the Spirit, necessary to a Christian faith? Are Christian faiths that practice “speaking in tongues” grounded in strong theology? Is there a role for faith healing in the modern church?
John 6 is another action-packed passage. In just 71 verses – three pages in my Bible – we get the disciples’ doubt, the feeding of the 5000; Christ’s rejection of a crown; the calming of the storm; a lesson from Christ on the danger of seeing as believing and the importance of faith; Christ’s statements that He is the “bread of life,” that He will “Raise them up on the last day,” and that through Him we find “eternal life” (or, as Brian McLaren argues, “life of the ages”); part of the basis of the Eucharist; a verse that may support the doctrine of pre-destination; the disciples’ lasting commitment to Christ; and Christ’s prediction of Judas’s betrayal. All this IN JUST ONE CHAPTER!
So what is my point? It is this: anyone who claims to understand the Bible is almost assuredly speaking from a position of arrogance. There is far too much here to grasp in one lifetime. This is especially true of young Evangelicals. It takes decades of devoted, full-time historical, literary, and spiritual study to even begin to have a solid grasp on this material.
You might argue, but it has been said that God doesn’t give us anything that we can’t handle! And I would agree – but what does the world “handle” mean in this case? Perhaps we aren’t called to fully understand the Bible. Perhaps our call is to live a life of study, a life of challenge, and a life of constant growth, and to never wrap ourselves in the false arrogance of certainty. It is there in that constant state of immaturity and openness that we find Christ’s infinite love and acceptance.