I’ve heard for roughly three geological ages phrases like this pop out of believer’s mouths completely uncensored: “The Bible clearly states…”
No, it really doesn’t.
The Bible is rarely clear on anything; that’s part of what makes it so cool. The depth of the truths of the scriptures is what makes them new every morning. We can read the Twenty-Third Psalm every day for a month and see something new, something hidden, something deeper. I marvel sometimes at the misconception people have about the scriptures being a collection of sweet children’s stories. I wonder if the people who think this way have read any of them.
Our preconceptions are often just as bizarre. An honest read reveals that the Bible is violent and horrifying, full of sex and madness, deception, humor, war, tenderness, devotion, brutality, valor, poetry, wickedness and the complete gamut of human behavior. It is a terribly accurate mirror, and a revelation of what God’s unfathomable character and what He did to win us. The fact that we read some of it in church is really rather scandalous.
Understanding God’s word, understanding the heart of God, and learning to trust Him is a hard climb up a rough mountain.
We are often told in classes and by preachers that “the Bible is literally true, except where it’s speaking metaphorically.” Oooh-kay. But, sometimes determining what is factual and what is metaphorical is like nailing a cloud to a bulletin board. A lot of times, it appears to be both all at once. (What if Hell is a literal and figurative reality? What if God literally is Love?) As we climb in our Christian walk toward heaven, the view will change. Horizons will expand and contract when you least expect it, and we will often find ourselves seated on narrow cliffs of faith in wide-eyed terrified wonder.
When we first are climbing, looking so closely at the Rock our hands are clinging to, we generally accept the major events of the Bible to be actual historical events. We see other climbers on the mountain, headed up like we are, using picks or compasses, concordances and commentaries, or hand-drawn maps and flannel-graphs, and their path appears all weave-y and wind-y. They might look at this Seriously Major Event: the creation of the world, and come to another conclusion. (Enter preacher with red tie and matching four-point pocket square, “The Bible clearly says, ‘In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth’.”) People are all over the map (or all around the mountain, as it were) on the meaning of this rather simple ten-word sentence. Is it literal? Is it a metaphor? Is it both? Is it live? Is it Memorex? Without getting into a Creation/Evolution/Young Earth/Old Earth/Middle Earth debate (which I am neither interested in or qualified to moderate), I would say that this opening sentence of God’s word sets the stage and lays out the requirements of what faith in God requires of us if He is to speak to us through His written word as we climb this mountain.
1. An Open Mind: When Christ sat with Nicodemus in the cool dark, He effectively blew the man’s mind. Jesus starts talking about being born a second time, wind blowing, kingdoms and flesh, eternal life and all manner of other freaky stuff, and He took Nic’s preconceived notions about doing good and the rewards that good behavior should engender and turned them inside out. Today, we have hundreds of different denominations because we have hundreds of different ideas about what Christ actually meant in this conversation that took place so long ago. The key to the whole matter, as Christ indicates in beautiful verse sixteen, is belief in Christ. Trust. In essence, as I understand it, Jesus told Nicodemus, an upstanding regular dude, to let go of everything, grab onto Him with both hands, and don’t let go.
It’s interesting to me that Nicodemus is given his privacy to work out his understanding of Christ’s words. God does not record his reply to the Lord, or whether he made a decision to trust Christ that evening. I love that. God respects our privacy, and He knows that exercising faith can be a terrifying thing. You get to decide if you wanna make that climb.
Fair warning: If you open your mind to Christ, and let Him in, you will be opening your heart to Him as well. That decision will profoundly change you. Rich Mullins said it best: “Never forget what Jesus did for you. Never take lightly what it cost Him. And never assume that if it cost Him His very life, that it won’t also cost you yours.”
2. An Open Heart: For one to really understand the scriptures, they must be spiritually discerned, according to 1 Corinthians 2:14. Which is scary, because it means you’re gonna have to let Him in. You’ll have to trust Him, take Him at His word and let Him open your heart and quicken your spirit with His own. That’s risky. God will ask you to do all sorts of crazy things like get out of perfectly good boats and walk on water, climb a mountain and listen to Him speak through a burning bush, or leave everything to follow Him, or (shudder) love your neighbor. Yeah, that neighbor.
But, trust in Christ is eye-opening in a way nothing else is. It is like seeing color for the first time, when your world was previously only black and white. There is no explaining the effect of color to the mind’s eye of a person who can’t (or worse, who refuses) to see it. The concept is lunacy to the monochrome-viewing eye of those sensible types who rely solely on the scientifically provable grayscale facts to understand the world in which they live.
3. A Humble Attitude: From experience, let me warn you, once you get to the place where you are feeling all Spurgeon-y and confident enough to say, “The Bible clearly says…”, the rug will come flying out from beneath you, and you will hear God’s beautiful laugh somewhere in the background. There is a fine line between trust and arrogance, between faith and foolishness. Yes, we have the Bible. And yes, it is perfect, but it does not contain clear answers to all of our questions, because God wants us to trust Him, humbly, like little children.
Faith is a scary thing. It is a lonely barefoot climb up a jagged mountain. The higher you climb toward heaven, the further away the solid ground is. Your hands will be bloodied, and your eyes will water from looking up at the Light, but don’t look down. Don’t stop climbing. The view is worth it. I know how much the climb can hurt. I know what it is to look around and not have a clue as to where you are. I know how scary it is alone on a mountain, with no tether. I know that feeling of being…lost, even though you know whom you have believed. When you’re scared to look up, close your eyes, and crawl on your knees. He will lead you.
But hang on tight, child: with just a little faith, mountains will move.