Context… it really does matter.

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Pre-Gospel

It is in the third chapter of the book of Genesis that the author tells us something has gone very wrong. Something has gone wrong in you. Something has gone wrong in me. Something has gone wrong in the world. The entire cosmos has been fractured. Whether you’ve read the book and agree with what is presented or think it’s merely full of fairy tales, you would have to be a blind fool to argue with this particular part. Because something is definitely broken. What we see in the Bible is that what is broken in you is a severed relationship with your creator God that has led to a brokenness in all of us that has overflowed into a brokenness in all the systems we have built, in the food we try to grow, in the goods we try to steward, in the governments we try to run, in the businesses we attempt to lead.

This brokenness in us, that severed connection with God because of sin, has overflowed out of us onto the structures we have built so that we live in a broken world. (That’s not even getting into the effects of sin on the creative order itself. That’s just the damage we do as image bearers of the God of the universe.) God, in the midst of our rebellion against Him, in the middle of our accusation that we are smarter, more capable, and owe Him nothing, responds not with destruction, but actually intervenes on our behalf, for His glory.

So regardless of what you think about God or how you believe God feels toward you, here’s what the Bible tells us. The Bible tells us that from the very moment of the fracture of the universe, God begins to lay out His plan to send a Savior who would rescue us from the mess of our hearts that has spilled over into all of life. Again, it is in Genesis, chapter 3 that the author begins to explain that as sin enters the world, it fractures everything. (This is also expounded upon more throughout Scripture, in Romans 1-2; 5, 1st Corinthians 15, Ephesians 2, and many more.) Adam and Eve believed the lie that they would make better gods than God and that they could run things better than He could, and despite His goodness and His grace, they would prefer to be their own masters.

So we are told that sin entered the world and fractured it. After this tragedy, man and woman feebly attempt to hide themselves, and God begins to pronounce judgment, first on the Serpent, the Devil, the embodiment of evil. Here’s what He says to the Serpent. Genesis 3, starting in verse 15: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”

This is what theologians call the proto-evangelical. It’s the pre-gospel gospel. It’s the first messianic prophecy we get in the Bible. It’s not complex. There’s no build-out of the cross, no mention of atonement, no imputed righteousness explained, nothing like that, just God right in the middle of the fog of war, man and woman shamed, naked, distressed, world broken… He curses the Serpent and says, “One will be born of woman. You will bruise His heel, but He will crush your head.”

Now I’m not sure that as you’re reading this we could agree on everything, but I have to believe we can agree that a crushed head loses over a bruised heel. The world is still burning when God says, “I’m going to fix this.” There’s still this smell of smoke and death and destruction. Nothing has settled. Nothing yet restored. The universe is freshly fractured. The new normal hasn’t even begun to work yet when God says, “There will be a man born of woman who will crush your head.”

Things move forward in Genesis 12, verse 3. This is said to Abram, who will become Abraham, the father of the nation of Israel. The Bible states that God declares to Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (See also Romans 4-5)

Context

Again, some of us are going to have to ditch what we think about God, because the God of the Bible simply won’t line up with what you think about Him. You have a God who, in the midst of man’s rebellion says, “I’m going the crush the head of the Evil One,” and now we move just a few chapters forward and He says, “Actually, through the line of Abraham, I’m going to bless all of the families on the face of the earth.”

So we don’t have a God who’s strictly vengeful against those who are disobedient, but a God who is working on behalf of those in the midst of rebellion to save and rescue some for the glory of His name, and the good of their souls. Too often we get presented with this idea that the God of the Old Testament is really cranky and perpetually ticked off, just waiting for someone to slip up so He can slam them… like the God of the Old Testament is nothing more than a power-drunk cop hiding in a speed trap just waiting to fill his quota of giving out tickets and ruining people’s day; but then when Jesus comes He kind of calms down and wants to be friends with everyone (except those darn Pharisees, of course). Yet, when we broaden our understanding of the great metanarrative of the Bible, we can see God’s grace, His plan for redemption already being played out and set in motion early on… as early as the third chapter.

So as we are reading the Bible, even the very beginning, we must have the entirety of the individual book and the other 65 books as a framework. There is a kind of rule when it comes to reading the Bible: the Bible interprets the Bible. Some people may be like, “Oh, of course, how convenient?!” But this is true about every book you’ve ever read that has any kind of unity in it. If you want to take a book from a series like Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, or even The Hunger Games, Twilight, or the Divergent series, and pull just one or maybe even two sentences out of it and go, “By this sentence I’ll decide all the rest of the book.” (Albeit these are popular fictional examples, but it applies to every genre – and a lot of people will be familiar with at least one of these works.) Then you’re going to get off in your interpretation, and your understanding of the whole story. The Bible is 66 books telling one story. Verses must be read in light of one another. Every verse sits within the context of a chapter, within a book, within the entire canon. Any text without pre-text and context is merely a proof-text.

Outdated

When we look at the Bible and declare it outdated or nothing more than some enslaving piece of literature garbage that should have stayed in the dark ages, we are essentially committing chronological snobbery. We delude ourselves into believing that we are now at the height of human development and know better today than any of those before us. How many times have you heard that scientist or researchers have discovered that what they previously held to be safe or helpful has now been found to be hazardous or harmful? How many times have you heard the opposite, that something that was dangerous is now actually considered beneficial? Just look at some commercial advertisements from the past 50 years. You’ll quickly see that it’s quite possible something we hold to be so normal today, may be deemed rather stupid or silly within the next few years.

True freedom and wisdom is not being unshackled to create your own truth, but is actually liberating submission to the Truth. Freedom is not the complete absence of any restrictions, but rather the presence of the right restrictions put in place. For example: a fish out of water. The fish is not more free when released outside of the confines of the water, but instead his ability to enjoy life is drastically hindered and he is sure to die. Only if God can say things that make you struggle and expose your pride, will you know that you have met a real God, and not a figment of your imagination. The Hebrews and early Christians would say of their book(s) that if the Scriptures are not fitting with the time, culture, societal norm, or your desires; it means there is something wrong with the times and your heart, not the Scriptures.

For us to attempt to void the Bible of any authority is subjective and trajectory hermeneutics; in that there is no objective truth or discernible message in the Bible that transcends time, race, gender, age, ethnicity, geography, people group, etc. and as “times change” and history moves forward across its linear path, then the way we see the Bible must also change to fit the cultural perspective of our time. Philosophical rejection of the Bible, in part or in whole, is often used to justify moral resistance. People don’t want to be told what to do. People seem to want a king, but then hate the king. Cultural-relativism-‘Christianity’ is not Biblical at all, but merely has a fairy-tale version of Jesus as the mascot of a short-sighted cause. We cannot go on ‘explaining away’ forever: or we will find that we have explained explanation itself away. We cannot go on ‘seeing through’ things forever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it.

If we view the Bible as completely subjective and void of any absolute truth or authority, this leaves everyone with nothing more than a list of rules to live by that can be taken or left depending on how one feels. This viewpoint doesn’t really give any of us any true hope or meet our needs on any real level more than any other book or compilation of thoughts. I think the Bible is a pretty crummy guide to life or manual for how to live (especially if it is disconnected from the Gospel). The Bible doesn’t answer a lot of questions directly and when we see it as merely a manual, it becomes dangerous… we’ve seen what happens in history when men and women ignore the greater context and pick things out of the Bible to use to fit their agenda. It almost never ends well.

The way we view the Bible really matters… theology matters… context matters… it matters… because, yes, what we know about God shapes the way we think and live. What you believe about God’s nature – what He is like, what He wants from you, and whether or not you will answer to Him – affects every part of your life. Theology matters, because, if we get it wrong, then our life will be wrong… We’re either building our lives on the reality of what God is truly like and what He’s about, or we’re basing our lives on our own imagination and misconceptions. We’re all theologians. The question is whether what we know about God is true.

Theme

The thing with the Bible is that it’s not primarily about us, it’s about Jesus. The Bible isn’t primarily about what we can do to make ourselves happier and live more moral lives, but rather our deep need for Someone outside ourselves to save us. The essence of other religions is advice about how to live. The essence of Christianity is news – here is what has been done. Jesus isn’t part of the story; He is the point of the story, from Genesis to Revelation. The focal point of Scripture is Jesus and His gospel, which is the good news that God saves. It is the historical narrative of the triune God orchestrating the reconciliation and redemption of a broken creation and fallen creatures from Satan, sin, and its effects to the Father and each other thru the birth, life, death, resurrection, and future return of the substitutionary Son, by the power of the Spirit, for God’s glory and the Church’s joy.

If we try to read the Bible (or any book for that matter) apart from the greater context, we will miss the meaning of the text.

 

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Recommended Articles:

Old Testament Law and The Charge of Inconsistency by Timothy Keller

A Command or an Explanation? by Hunter Hall

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