Growing up as a Christian I remember turning to the Bible frequently in times of need.
My view was that “the word of God carried all the answers to life’s problems.”
Seeing the Bible as an answer book rather than an invitation into relationship with God is a great way to get frustrated though.
Because God’s intention was never that we would read the Bible like that!
The Bible is a fascinating collection of letters, songs, poems, proverbs, laws, history annuls, a play, prophecies etc. None of which were ever intended to be life’s answer book!
They were all written with a purpose for sure, and that purpose would always end in us better equipped to handle all that life throws at us.
But the purpose was to engage the reader with God.
To throw them into relationship with God, into a discussion with God, and maybe at times, like Jacob, into a wrestling match with God.
If we read the bible as a rule book it unfortunately just gets frustrating.
Because, 9 times out of 10, it doesn’t give us rules. And even when it does give rules they often seem to completely contradict one another.
The worst instruction manual ever
Take proverbs for example. Proverbs is a great example of a book intended to give us simple instructions for life (or at least that is our assumption).
Yet it refuses to give us simple instructions for life!
It gives us gems of wisdom… But we must be careful how to run with that.
For example, imagine a fool came to you and told you all about his folly. (I’m sure you’ve never faced this situation but try hard to imagine it ;) )
What would you do? Well you’d quickly pull out your pocket bible and look in the concordance for “fool”, right?
You turn to Proverbs 26:4…
“Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him.”
Great – the Bible has some solid advice for us! “Don’t answer the fool, you’ll likely come down to their level and look like an idiot yourself!”
But what if we hadn’t seen verse 4 in the concordance – what if we’d turned to the next verse listed instead?
“Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes”
Hmm… That’s literally the exact opposite advice!
Come on God! What kind of rule book is this?
What’s going on?
They are both great pieces of advice. But they require wisdom and guidance to know when to use them!
Without traversing the scriptures with God relationally those “answers for life” will just as often get you in trouble as they will help!
Here’s the deal. The Bible isn’t God’s way of telling you what’s right and wrong.
Of course it does that at times… But even then the Bible reinterprets itself.
Let’s look at a few examples:
In the OT it seems God’s “right” is to kill any enemies. Yet Jesus comes along (and some prophets in the OT say this too) and says “violence isn’t God’s answer – love your enemies!”
Or in the OT God says if anyone touches a leper he is unclean.
But Jesus touches lepers and they become clean.
When God gives the law He gives detailed instructions on what is to be sacrificed and when to cover certain sins and bring Him close again.
But David and a few prophets decide to tell us God doesn’t want sacrifice. The NT shows us that Jesus was our once and for all sacrifice.
So which is it? Kill your enemies or love them? Heal the sick or cast them out the church? Sacrifice sheep and cows or rely on Christ’s sacrifice.
Talk about problematic.
It forces us to read the scriptures not as a rule book but as an ongoing, unfolding relationship between God and man. One that we still find ourselves in the midst of!
God is still revealing Himself to us today. We are still learning more of who He is as we dive into the scriptures with Him! But that is the key, we must do it WITH Him.
The danger is so many of us don’t read the Bible that way.
Do you just want to cheat?
When I was in school at the beginning of the year we would get a maths book full of problems from the teacher. We would have to work through that book for the year. In doing so we would come across problems we’d never seen before and learn new rules for dealing with those problems.
I always loved maths and would love trying to figure out the problems. But there were always people in the room who didn’t like maths (and who could blame them? I was just a weird anomoly!)
These guys and girls would do what any sensible enterprising teenager would do. Can you guess?
They flipped to the back of the book when the teacher wasn’t looking and copied the answer.
Problem solved (ba dum tss)
What was the problem with that though?
They never learned anything.
They would always need an answer book. (at least till they left school and never asked to solve any of these problems again)
You see we do the same with the Bible. We don’t like having to wrestle with the text.
We don’t want to look at its context, to learn about the culture of the day, to consider the authorship and audience and we certainly don’t want to have to wrestle with God about what it means for us today.
We just want answers!
So, like the teenager we open up the back of the book, flick through the concordance for the key word we need and find the answer.
The only problem is we are disrespecting the Bible and God by doing so.
You see, by treating the Bible as a rule book, as an instruction manual, as a list of God’s answers to our daily problems we are completely ignoring how it was intended to be read.
By following this bizarre method of plopping our finger down on the page pulling out a verse that fits we have done something terrible…
We’ve lost one of the primary ways God loves to engage us in relationship and gained a glorified ouija board.