Friday, January 08, 2016

The Story Within the Bible 2


The Story within the Bible
There is a story "inside" the Bible, so to speak. Different people and groups put that story together in slightly different ways. But it is a story that starts in a way even before the first verse of Genesis (the first book) and one that continues a long time after the last verse of Revelation (the last book).

This story is the story of God, in the first place. Christians believe that God has always existed and will continue to exist forever. In fact, Christians believe that God is the only "necessary" being--he is the only thing that exists that must exist. Everything else could come and go. Everything else could in theory be destroyed. But God is existence. Nothing can destroy him.

The story "inside" the Bible is the story Christians hear when they read the Bible. It is a story not only about God but especially about God's relationship with humanity. The story of humanity started in the plans of God but hit the ground running with God's creation of humanity and the world in Genesis 1. Although the story continues forever, the Bible leaves off in Revelation 22 with a world restored to what God wanted it to be, a perfect world where God and humanity live in perfect fellowship forever.

You might think of the Old Testament and the New Testament as part one and part two of the story. The first part of the story focuses on God's relationship with one particular group within humanity, a people called Israelites. They are the ancestors of Jews today. Think of it as a test case. God reaches out to one of the peoples of the earth in order to "pilot" salvation.

Salvation is, well, saving something. In the Christian understanding of the Bible's story, humanity is not currently where it should be. God created humanity to have a strong connection and relationship with him. [1] But humanity as a whole currently does not have that strong connection. Christians read the story of Adam and Eve in the second and third chapters of the Bible (Genesis 2-3) to indicate that we currently find ourselves alienated from God in our default state. [2]

In the analysis of the story within the Bible, a thinker named N. T. Wright sees the first three of a five act drama. [3] The first is the creation of the world. The second is the "Fall," when Adam and Eve alienate us all from God. The third is then the story of God walking with Israel in the pages of the Old Testament. God gives them a law that showed us not only what right and wrong basically looks like (the Ten Commandments) but that also shows us how God meets specific people with their particular needs.

In Wright's analysis, the New Testament then clues us in on the rest of the story. "Act 4" is Jesus, where God actually becomes a human being and models the perfect human life for us. The "act" while he is on earth ends with his horrific death by being nailed to a cross, his "crucifixion" by the Romans, who were in control of all the land around the Mediterranean Sea at the time. With Jesus' death, God showed us that he loves us, that he identifies with our pain and suffering, and he satisfied the order of things (more on that to come).

But Jesus' death was not the end of him. God raises him from the dead and enthrones him as the king of the universe. He will come again, in the final act, and he will finalize salvation and the restoration of the world. In particular, those who die before he returns will rise from the dead just like he did. In fact, he has made it possible.

The final act is then the current age, the age in which God walks with humanity through what we call the "Church," the collection of all those who have confessed that Jesus is king. God has made his presence and power known to all those who trust in him, a down payment of the final and full restoration of humanity that is still to come.

That is the story within the Bible. It is the story of God's walk with humanity, starting with creation, persisting through our alienation from God, but that will end in the restoration and completion of everything. Christians believe that the world will once more enjoy a strong connection and relationship with God again. Right will prevail, and injustice will come to an end.

[1] Traditionally, we refer to God as a "he," although God doesn't literally have any sexual organs. In a world where most leaders and kings were men, it is understandable that God primarily revealed himself in male terms, although female images are used of God in the Bible as well (e.g., Hos. 11:3-4).

[2] Jews do not read the story in quite that way. It makes a difference whether you read the Old Testament in the light of the New Testament or whether you just read the "Jewish Scriptures" on their own.

[3] N. T. Wright, Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2011).

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