If there is one piece of advice that I would give to anyone with regard to reading the Bible it would have nothing to do with learning Greek or Hebrew (those I’m sure that those are highly valuable skills); it would not be about outlining passages or ignoring chapter breaks; it would not even be to read a healthy balance between the Old and New Testaments. No, if I were to offer one nugget that has enriched the way that I read the Bible it is this: stop making yourself the main character of the Bible.
Put on a helmet for just a second. The Bible isn’t about you. It wasn’t written because Paul or Moses or Malachi knew that there would be one American living in two-car poverty with unbearable activity scheduling issues who just desperately needed a divinely inspired book written so that person wouldn’t pull a .45 on the interstate and point it out the SUV window at the demonically inspired drivers who are doing the speed limit in the left lane.
The Bible wasn’t written to keep that massacre from happening.
In his book “Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places”, Eugene Peterson sketches two stories in the Gospel of John and looks at there differences and their similarities. The story of Nicodemus’ clandestine meeting with Jesus at night (John 3) and the story of the Samaritan woman meeting Jesus at the well are just about as different as two stories could be. Peterson lists the differences:
A man and a woman.
City and country.
An insider and an outsider.
A professional and a layperson.
A respectable man and a disreputable woman.
An orthodox and a heretic.
One who takes initiative; one who lets it be taken.
One named, the other anonymous.
Human reputation at risk; divine reputation at risk.
– Eugene Peterson
At the end of his sketch about the Woman at the Well he offers this insightful line:
We realize that, as…with Nicodemus, this is a story not about the woman but about Jesus.
– Eugene Peterson.
The heart of both of these stories, and every story in the Bible, is God. Sometimes it is speaking about Him as Father, sometimes as Jesus, sometimes as the Holy Spirit, but make no mistake the texts are about Him. Adam and Eve are not the main attractions in Eden. Isaac isn’t the most profound part of Abraham’s story. Moses fails to be the center point of the Exodus. And on and on it will go until we finally read John the Baptizer actually articulate the ubiquitous reality: “He must increase, I must decrease.”
Friends, the Bible tells us many wonderful things, makes promises to us as God’s people, and can even bring rest to our souls. However, we begin to find ourselves in shallow waters when we start to see the Scriptures as a book that is centrally focused on our trials, temptations, successes, moods, livelihoods, and plans. The Bible is a story about God. It’s about how God made the world, how He had to deal with the world’s rebellion, and then how He worked out His plan to redeem the world and eventually how He will make it new again. We have a place in this story, no doubt. But to say that we are the central characters (or David, Joseph, Nehemiah, or Esther for that matter) is like a fork bragging about the taste of the steak it is delivering into the chef’s mouth.
So as we read the Bible seeing God as the central figure don’t be surprised to find out that there is more peace, more comfort, more grace, and more love than you ever thought any pages could contain. Would you expect any story about God to produce anything less? Are you worried that if the Bible isn’t about you, you won’t feel secure, won’t have a list of promises to lean on as you pray, won’t find as much hope for the future? Worry not, for reading God’s story will always produce more of all those than you think.