I love learning.
I love books.
I love conversations, lectures, study groups that stretch my understanding and give voice to my own ideas and questions.
And if I could, were it possible to do so, I would start another degree program today.
I love school.
I love education.
That makes me a strange bird in some circles.
Knowing my fondness for all the things mentioned above, I have had family and friends who for years have teased me about being a scholar. My skillset does lie more in the realm of reading, writing, and communication, but a scholar I am not.
They need to meet some of my other friends who truly are brilliant—folks who have opened my eyes, sparked my own thinking, pointed me in a better direction, turned me around, and more often than not, blown me away with the profundity of their thinking and knowledge.
Instead of calling me a scholar, call me a sponge instead.
Over the years I have leaned much in college and university. But with respect to the institutions that have helped shape me, I believe even they would say the formal education process is just the beginning of a lifetime of seeking knowledge.
It’s kind of like the way my faith family (me included) has inadvertently communicated baptism at times. Baptism is not the final moment in an act of salvific faith; instead it is the beginning of a life seeking to become more Christ-like, working out, as Paul says, our own salvation with fear and trembling. It is the beginning of being a conduit to others of the same forgiveness, mercy, and grace we have been given.
We have not yet arrived at a place where we are done stretching and growing our faith. In the same vein, there is still so much more to be learned.
And that includes how we read, understand, and communicate the unchanging truths of God’s Word.
Some of those aforementioned scholars can do a much better job of explaining how we should read/learn/understand the different parts of the Bible based on the genre of literature those differing parts inhabit.
Or, they might do a better job of helping us read the two different covenants in such a way that we might see God move seamlessly from the Old into the New. Most assuredly, there are those who can explain in great detail the contextual nature of each Bible book so that when we read, we do so through the right lens and thereby make a more principled and God-honoring application.
But me, I am just a wannabe scholar who sometimes exhibits just enough ability to understand and absorb what some of those really smart people think, teach, and write. And I am glad for that because there is eternal good found in reading, reflecting, discussing, understanding, and ultimately absorbing truth from God’s Word.
Growing up as a Christian, I often heard this particular verse from 2 Timothy 2:15,
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (KJV)
And from that scripture, lessons and sermons were developed about the importance of bible study and understanding the delineation between Old and New Testaments. While newer translations generally speak of handling or teaching correctly the word of truth, one thing will always remain the same: Reading the Bible appropriately—applying the message correctly matters.
There is also a common danger any of us can easily evidence when it comes to reading scripture. This is a danger for the schooled and the unschooled. It’s a danger for part-time preachers in little country churches whose influence we may never be able to measure; it’s a danger for full-time preachers in culture-influencing mega churches. Far too many of us tend to fall into the dangerous trap of reading the Bible to proof text an already drawn conclusion or one we are seeking to prop up with biblical credibility.
The further I get beyond the tragedy that has reshaped/reformed my life, the more I realize the ongoing nature of this transformational process. I am incredibly aware of the forward progress I make. I am also very cognizant of the backwards steps I frequently take. But, I am also acutely mindful of the role scripture plays in healing my heart, shaping my responses to life and people, and transitioning me to a place where I can be not just hopeful, but helpful as well.
And since I have ventured back into the world of full-time ministry, I have rediscovered for myself a more appropriate way to work with people. Instead of being critical or judgmental, instead of being condescending or arrogant about the rightness of my theology or the importance of my knowledge, I see so much more clearly the transformative nature of mercy and grace. I see without question my own ongoing need for redemption, restoration, and reconciliation.
I see the need for hope.
On my way back to the land of the living, rejoining those who are fully engaged in the beauty of life, I have had opportunities to tell my story–to help those who hurt, doubt, and struggle with God.
In that role, I have been asked about my battles, my doubt, and my deep questions of faith. I have heard the phrase a modern-day Job more times than I can remember. And let’s be honest, who in their right mind could enjoy or want to be tagged with a description like that?
As it turns out, as incredible as it might sound, I do.
No, I don’t relish nor enjoy the heartache and grief of loss. And no, I hate, truly hate the things that happened to my first family that fateful day. Indeed, I continue to wrestle with my pain and the pain of my children and other extended family and friends.
It still hurts.
It will always hurt on this side of the veil.
But the one thing above all it has taught me? That one thing I won’t give up for anything? The best thing Job got back?
I have an incredible and amazing hope.
One of my oldest and bestest friends (I know bestest isn’t a word, but sometimes you just have to be rebellious) writes a wonderful blog with a fantastic name: Out Here Hope Remains!
Every tragic experience needs hope.
Every desperate situation needs hope.
Every broken heart needs hope.
Every grief stricken husband, wife, parent, or child needs hope.
Every desperate person needs hope.
Every pain filled existence needs hope.
Every sin-sick, sin scarred life needs hope.
Over the years, some in our fellowship (and others as well) have proposed seeing the Bible as a law book.
Still others have argued the opposite direction in that we should view God’s Word as one long love letter.
Rather than debate the merits or pitfalls of either approach, I’d like to offer an entirely different approach.
What if we viewed, read, understood, and keyed in on one central, undeniable truth? What if we read the Bible for ourselves and read it to others through the lens of hope?
The Bible is a story of ongoing creation.
It’s the story of the relationship between God and man.
It’s the story of sin and redemption.
It’s the story of God’s pursuit of all those made in His image.
It’s the story of hope!
The angels said we bring you tidings of great joy.
Hope all bundled up in a baby.
He would eventually proclaim a hope far greater than we could imagine on our own.
Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)
Indeed, Matthew records that Jesus fulfilled the words of Isaiah,
Here is My Servant whom I have chosen, My beloved in whom My soul delights; I will put My Spirit on Him, and He will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not argue or shout, and no one will hear His voice in the streets. He will not break a bruised reed, and He will not put out a smoldering wick, until He has led justice to victory. The nations will put their hope in His name. (Matthew 12:18-21, HCSB—emphasis mine)
If Jesus had a middle name, I suspect it would be Hope.
That is His story.
Maybe we should start reading the Bible as His story, a story of hope.
A story of hope fulfilled.
A story of a hope yet to come.
Hallelujah, Come Lord Jesus, come!
The Apostle John recorded,
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea no longer existed. I also saw the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look! God’s dwelling is with humanity, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away. Then the One seated on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new.” (Revelation 21:1-5)
Try reading the Bible as a message of hope and renewal.
Try imagining a world where everything will be made new.