The Bible as … Part 3: Guardrails
The central reality of the universe is that God exists in a relationship. In the first chapter of Genesis, God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Several things whisper from this simple statement and the usage of “us” and “our.” First, God exists as a relationship. Deuteronomy 6 makes clear that God is one. And, yet, the reality of God’s relationality is fully developed as we move into the New Testament writings and understand that the One God also exists as three. Clearly, God exists in an eternal relationship between three that is so close, they can be called one. Such a concept defies math and linear, finite, human logic but is nonetheless real. Second, man was made in the image of that relationship. God created, not out of boredom, but out of love. Love always wants to share. Because God had experienced a loving relationship in the Trinity for all eternity, He desired to share that love by creating humanity with the ability to love and relate.
With that background, it is clear that relationship is at the center of why we exist as humans. Every deep hurt and pain, every significant joy and happiness is related to relationships. The central relationship for which we were created is relationship with God Himself.
The Bible was written to remind us of this reality and to prod us over and over again to live in that relationship. The commands and truths of the Bible are all expressions of God’s loving character (that of a fundamentally relational being) and intended to push us into relationship. When Jesus was asked about which command was greatest, in a sublime display of genius He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:37-39) Love (a purely relational idea) is central. He goes to say in the next verse that every command in the Law and Prophets hang on this command to love.
The problem is that we often look at the Bible as a book to be mastered. But, at its core, the Bible is not an academic document. Even as someone with several advanced degrees in studying the Bible academically, it is important to remember that the Bible was written in common, relational language for the purpose of stimulating and encouraging relationship. It was not written as a scholarly, technical document like we might think of a manual describing how to repair a car. There is great value in academic study … to clear up misconceptions and overcome geographical, cultural, language, and time barriers. However, academic study is not an end in itself. It is indeed important but not ultimate in its value. The ultimate is to live in loving relationship with the Trinitarian God.
If we picture the Bible as guardrails, we understand the Bible exists to keep us on the road of relationship. If we bump up against the guardrails, we are pushed back into the road. The challenge is that people often relate more to the guardrails than the road of relationship. What is often observed among well meaning Christians is a mastering of knowledge of the guardrail for the purpose of holding on to the guardrail. Shining and painting the guardrail so that it looks good in comparison to other’s guardrails or to demonstrate that we know more about the guardrail than we did previously is often the reality for many. However, the guardrail is not holding on to but for pushing us back to relationship with Him.
To be sure, it can be scary out on the road. There are other cars to contend with and frequently there is fog or rain obscuring our vision. So, hanging on to the guardrail feels safer. As humans living independently of God, we crave control and we often import this into reading of the Bible. We use the guardrails to give us a sense of control rather than pushing us to a sense of dependence upon Father out in the road of relationship.
In Galatians, the law of the Old Testament is described as a tutor or guardian (3:24) and the idea is the law tutors us or teaches us something. It is not an end in itself. In this case, it teaches us and pushes us toward faith in Christ.
My prayer is that I would live with a sense of deep appreciate and respect for the holy Word of God because it is God’s revelation of Himself. However, He is the one to whom I cling not His words per se.
Challenge: how might the Word of God be pushing me to Him? Take a passage of Scripture and rather than analyzing its content, ask how it is pushing you out into the road of relationship?