My earliest memories include hearing by mother reading me Bible stories before bed and learning the same stories in a Sunday school class. However, I have to be honest. Even though I remember stories from that beloved nighttime ritual and those hour-long classes on Sunday mornings, I can’t say they really left me with any life-changing ideas. The stories were nice – Noah surviving, Samson winning, God caring, Jesus dying and rising. I knew the stories, and believed they were true, but they did not really change me. They were a bit too neatly wrapped with cute pictures and closed-answer responses.
Another thing too neatly packed for me is church doctrine. Like Sunday school lessons, doctrine can flatten out God. Yes, it may make it simple and easy for people to know exactly what they must believe. It helps to weed out errors and can put a person at ease. But what kind of ease is it? Underneath I feel something is missing when someone says don’t worry, all you have to do is simply believe in the Gospel – Jesus came, died, and rose. This may be true, along with much well-thought out doctrine. But to me, it also leaves out something – the soul of the Bible
When I look at the Bible I see more than a list of facts, a set of dogma which leaves me cold. Or, a nicely formed children’s story. I see a truth – not a tidy creed – but a narrative of people living in the midst of relationships, God’s interactions, and questions. Yes, God is there in the midst, but not in a flat, uni-dimensional way – a cardboard form that can easily be torn and manipulated. It is a dynamic, multi-dimensional truth of God that we can’t understand, but we can trust even without knowing everything about it.
Mystery exists in this narrative. It’s easy to see God in the victories of the Bible – Daniel being saved from the lions and Peter escaping from jail. However, sometimes God is hidden behind questions – when we wonder why he hardened Pharoah’s heart or question why he wanted Israel to completely decimate some of their enemies. God’s description cannot be neatly stated once you piece together the truths throughout the Bible. It seems contradictory at times. Yet, in these enigmas we see God at work in the midst of unexplained suffering – the kind we regularly encounter even today. This is a story I can hold onto.
Running the race, leaving the land, wrestling, following the cloud – the images used in the Bible to describe people’s interactions with God are active. Even those related to the law – share them with your children, write them on your hears – don’t refer to only a mental affirmation. In the Bible we don’t have so much an end point to reach, but a story to live. Because God can not be contained in a cleaned-up children’s story or a neatly formed doctrine, we are not alone on this journey. God does not remain safely on our shelves. He ventures out with us – and eventually we may even turn and venture with him.