The Bible as … pt. 4: Love Letter
In God’s grace, God the Son invaded human history and took on human flesh. Because of that, we can grasp a clear picture of what God is like. When we look at Jesus, we see all the fullness of God. (Colossians 2:9) Unfortunately, we often misread the picture we see of God. Using the image of Jesus that we’ve seen in artists’ rendering on canvas or on film, we might see Jesus as less than the pure, fullness of God. In addition, we can import our own experiences of human relationships with parents or other authority figures. For example, when we read that God is grieved or frustrated or angry, we have no familiarity with those concepts that are not tainted by sin. Further, we have no familiarity with a concept of love that is not tainted by sin.
All of this to say that it is vital that we take great care in doing two things. First, we need to be honest that we bring a level of subjectivity to the Biblical text. We cannot look at the Biblical text with completely objective eyes. We have been shaped by our experiences. Second, we need to be careful to humbly approach the Scriptures, seeking to let go of our experiences and biases so that we can be shaped by the picture we see of God in the Bible. Our formation into Christlikess is dependent on keeping these things in mind.
So, as we approach the Bible, what is God’s posture or motivation in revealing Himself to us? Is it anger? Frustration? Judgment? Love? I would contend that the way we understand God’s posture will shape the way we read the text. In addition, I would contend that His foundational posture is that of love. We can understand the Biblical text as a love letter from one who deeply desires to share who He is with those He loves and with whom He desires to develop a deepening relationship. How are we able to contend that love is the motivation? We can look at the kind of things that are shared in foundational texts of Scriptures. From there, we need to be careful to frame other things in the context of the foundational stories and accounts we read.
When we simply read the first few chapters of Genesis, we see that God created out of love. “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. (1:26) God, living in loving community for all eternity (Father, Son, Spirit), wanted to share that love in creating in His own (loving, communal) image. In Genesis 2:15-17, God gave man freedom to eat anything except from one tree. This act of giving one simple boundary gave man an opportunity to learn to trust and love God. Finally, in Genesis 3, when mankind fails to trust God with that one boundary, God initiates reconciliation. He doesn’t sit back and wait for Adam and Eve to get their act together, He seeks them out and draws them out of physical, emotional, and spiritual hiding. Clearly, the picture of God from beginning is that of love. In 1 John 4:8, we read that “God is love.” It is not the idea that God is “loving” as an adjectival descriptor but that He is love. Essential to His being is love. It governs all that He does. It is a pure and holy love not tainted by selfishness and demands but the desire to give and sacrifice.
So, as we read the Biblical text, we must be careful not to import our ideas of relationship on to God. What would it look like for Jesus to enter the temple in Jerusalem where people were distorting the true purpose of worship? In Matthew 21:12-13, we read the following:
And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”
What was Jesus’ tone of voice as He uttered those words? Was their anger or sadness? How did He turn over those tables? Was it violent or was it gentle? There is nothing in the text that answers those questions for us and yet, the picture that we often imagine is a Jesus who was forceful and angry, speaking with harsh tones. However, knowing that He is a God of love, is it possible that He gently turned the tables and spoke in gentle yet sad tones.
When we read of difficult Biblical prohibitions that make little sense to many in our modern world, what is the tone with which we read those prohibitions? Is it a God who loves so deeply that He desires His world to know the truth of how He designed humanity? Or, is it an angry God who is fed up?
Perhaps, understanding the Bible as loving revelation of who God is can shape us in new ways, connecting us to a Father who desires rather than demands, painting a picture of a God who is attractive to us in our human condition. In addition, perhaps understanding God this way can shape the way we interact with others. Rather than getting angry, indignant, and judgmental with our world, we can lovingly and gently share our lives.
In Ephesians 4:15, we are challenged to “speak the truth in love.” However, the word speak is not found in the original, Greek text. The word is “truthing” … “truthing in love.” How do you “truth” as a verb? The idea in the context is that we live lives connected to the Father, listening to Him, rather than listening to other schemas and doctrines. We live this kind of connected life in love … allowing God to love us so that we can love Him and therefore love others.
Challenge: select a particularly hard text of Scripture and imagine a loving, gentle, initiating God behind the text. How do you hear the words? Now, imagine that you are sharing these words with someone, how will you share them as an expression of the Father’s heart?