Why do you read the Bible? What do you expect to gain from reading it? Is it something you do because you feel like you have to? Do you read looking to mine out timeless truths claims that you can believe? Are you looking for existential comfort or encouragement? What is it that draws you back? Or are you drawn back? Do you lack desire to meditate on Scripture? Do you find it dry and boring?
You might find yourself on one end or the other of this spectrum (and, for that matter, anywhere in between). But wherever you are, I hope you might entertain a different idea with me for a moment. As Christians, we believe that Scripture possesses a unique authority in our lives. It is the norming norm by which all other knowledge of God is weighed. Reason, tradition, and personal experience all find their better in the deliverances of biblical revelation.
Right? Yes, I think we could all agree with that.
Unfortunately, I think the next move we often make is mistaken. Because we believe the Bible is authoritative, we’re often tempted to scour it looking for essential truths that we can live by. To our chagrin, those truths are often buried under fluffy narrative and anecdotal “Sunday school” stories, so we try to sidestep the story to get to the “really good stuff.” This isn’t a malicious move we make – I think it’s done more unaware than anything else. However, I think in doing this we might actually be missing out on something HUGE that God is trying to communicate to us.
Don’t forget, God could have chosen to reveal himself to us any which way. He could have written the “Top Twelve Things to Know About God” on a piece of parchment and disseminated that to the whole world. He could have had a voice from the heavens eternally repeating the Ten Commandments. But he didn’t do anything like that. He gave us records of a narrative.
So what does this suggest to us? What might God be inviting us to by revealing himself in such a way?
Well, I think Scripture as narrative unreservedly draws us into the throws of an unfolding cosmic tale. It offers a redemptive background for us to discover ourselves against and a foundation for us to anchor our lives to. We each have a personal history; a sequence of past events that have made us who we are. Scripture offers us an opportunity to tether that personal history onto the unfolding Divine plan. The message of Scripture is not at its core a list of “15 fundamentals” or “6 Essential Beliefs.” Instead, it is a narratival invitation to an experiential relationship with God the creator. Jonathan Edwards captures something of this necessity of experiencing God in his Religious Affections when he says, “He that has doctrinal knowledge and speculation only, without affection, never is engaged in the business of religion.” Story engages our affections and pulls us into truth via our hearts in a way that propositions cannot.
It strikes me that God is keenly aware of the effect that story has on us. Don’t you think he chose to reveal himself in this way for a purpose? I welcome you to meditate further on the narratival form of Scripture and ask the Lord how your reading of the Bible might afford you the opportunity to be further caught up into His grand narrative. Who knows? Maybe this exercise will change the way you read the Bible. Maybe it will help you see that God is after your heart and not just your head.
– Dave Strobolakos