In this series of posts we’re exploring the different ways the Bible confronts the reader and the appropriate response to each.
#6 – READING THE BIBLE AS OUR FAMILY ALBUM
Ever look back at your parents’ year books and laugh and gag at how ridiculous they appear? Ever read the embarrassing notes your friends scribbled in the margins of your year book? Acne covered faces, scrawny legs and awful hairdos. Many of us would like to bury or burn ours. Yet they are a part of us. That is our past and those are the people who shared our journey.
The Bible is our family album, the diary of our ancestors, the carefully preserved yearbook of all of our long-lost relatives in the faith. These are the men and women who have gone before us, paving the way, testing the waters, making mistakes that we will hopefully learn from and, most importantly, providing examples of imperfect yet real faith in God. I am so grateful that God didn’t sugarcoat the Bible and airbrush all the players. We find ordinary people — warts and all.
Let’s see: There’s David the murderous adulterer “after God’s own heart.” The dishonest schemer named Jacob. Abraham sends his wife Sarah into Pharaoh’s harem to save his own neck. Moses has a speech problem. Solomon, the “wisest man who ever lived”, had a womanizing problem and lifestyle that would make Hugh Hefner blush. Yet God still used him to pen a lot of wise proverbs.
The prophets are like our crazy, embarrassing uncles from down south who we’re ashamed to claim. You know: Isaiah runs around naked for a couple years. Jeremiah is on prozac in his constant battle with debilitating depression. Ezekiel was cooking up food over a fire of human excrement. Jonah gave God the finger and ended up getting in a big fishing accident…
The New Testament just carries on our family tradition of unlikely, unimpressive heroes. Our crazy cousin John the Baptist dressed funny and ate bugs. Peter comes off as an impulsive, stubborn loud mouth who later turns on Jesus altogether by denying him three times. Paul, the guy who wrote most of the New Testament Epistles and brought the faith across the empire, was a former religious terrorist killing off Christians in their homes.
This family album is not trying to impress anybody. No, this family album isn’t really about us at all. This family album celebrates the God who uses spiritual misfits and ragamuffins like you and I to accomplish his greater purposes in the world. This family album screams loudly to us living today: “You’re a part of this family, too! We don’t have it all together, we’ve got our issues and family quarrels, but we’ve got a Father whose greater than all of that.”
But it’s not all warts and wrinkles. Remember the section of the year book devoted to the Hall of Fame of sorts (class clown, best smile, etc.)? God has even included a handy Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11 for easy access to some of our most exemplary family members. We should turn to it often:
“And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect” (Heb 11:32-39).
So, let us open our family album often and get to know all of our long lost relatives. Learn from their lives. Draw strength from God’s faithfulness to them through their trials. Find hope in the God who was their only hope. Let’s live boldly and carry on our Great family Name. ”Since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us” (Heb 12:1-2).
So, what is the appropriate response when reading the Bible as biographical sketches of our ancient ancestors? Answer: We should imitate them and learn from their lessons. Are you ready to crack open that old family album again?