I have previously written three pieces* explaining how the Bible, despite being the book that speaks to us about God more than any other, is sadly sometimes effectively given a higher spiritual standing than God by some Christians. The main reason it’s sad is because these people are missing out on a real, full relationship with God Himself; they are missing out on much of what Life in all its fulness is about (Jn 10:10). And that’s more than sad; it’s tragic. And then telling others that their narrow way (<sarcasm on> because Jesus mentions a ‘narrow way’ in the Bible, therefore it must be true! <sarcasm off>) is the only way; that’s even more tragic because then they spoil it for others too; indeed, they shut the doors of heaven in men’s faces (Mt 23:13).
I’d like to recap a little before I begin. In my piece, ‘A Relationship With a Book??‘, I quote from a website where the author claims that the only way to have a ‘relationship’ with God is through the Bible, and that’s the only place you can find such a relationship. Now, (apart from the obvious flaw here in that we should ask exactly what sort of relationship believers had with God before the Bible was compiled!) this is clearly a major issue. This is because the overarching theme of the books of the Bible is that God wants to have a loving, close Relationship with each individual human being, and therefore the Relationship (deliberate use of the capital ‘R’ because this is the most important Relationship there is) is one that must be God-centred, and not Bible-centred. Sure, God speaks to us in the Bible, and for some of us, presumably including the writer of that website, there is a definite sense of His presence when we read it. But this is not the pinnacle of the experience.
And, in fairness, I should also say that most Evangelical Christians do not believe that this Bible-based relationship is the whole package; I write this piece not to them, but to those who have been told that the Bible is indeed all that’s available for those seeking a Relationship with God – because it’s simply not true! There is more!
I’d therefore like to use an analogy to explain why there is more – far more – to the Relationship than simply meeting God in the Bible.
I’m sure that website author would agree with me that many Evangelical Christians think of the Bible as ‘God’s Love Letter’ to His people; some also see it as ‘God’s Autobiography’. Certainly it is mainstream Evangelical doctrine that all Scripture is inspired by God (2Tim 3:16) and many also see it as inerrant and infallible. (This is not entirely my viewpoint, but that’s not really relevant here except in that I am approaching this argument from the standpoint of Evangelical Christianity). But the take-home message is that if God ‘wrote’ the Bible, through the ‘inspiration of the Holy Spirit’, then even though it was actually penned by humans, in a way it is still God’s Autobiography because He inspired their writings**. Had it simply been humans writing about God without any kind of inspiration, then it would have been simple biography, and not autobiography. Clear so far?
So, if the Bible is indeed ‘God’s Autobiography’, then here’s how I see things with regard to the Relationship:
An autobiography is a book in which a person writes about themselves. So it might be their life story so far, it might be just a part of their life, but it’s me writing about me; you writing about you. If you write your autobiography, it will be about you.
When you read an autobiography, you can learn a lot about the person who wrote it, much more indeed than if someone else wrote the book (and that would then be simply a biography, as we saw above) because you get an insight into their thought processes, the things they have done, the way they work. Remember that although the Bible was written by humans, we are still working with the assumption that God wrote the Bible ‘through’ those humans. And so, this Bible, we presume, is the nearest thing we can get to getting God’s thoughts in written form. And therefore we can learn a heck of a lot about Him, and especially about people’s interactions with Him and their impressions of His character. In short, we get a pretty good picture, and especially when Jesus comes along and shows us how to interpret the Old Testament by showing God’s nature as being loving, kind, longsuffering, forgiving, serving, and many, many other characteristics. And to cap it all, He sends His Spirit not only to teach us more about Him (Jn 16:13) but also, wondrously, to actually live in our hearts. That’s just incredible, isn’t it? And so it is easy to see the mechanism by which God does indeed speak to us, and in fact conduct a relationship of sorts with us through the pages of the Bible.
But here’s the thing. There is so much more to it than that book-based relationship. You see, unless an autobiography is published posthumously, you can also potentially go and meet the author. You could go to a book signing; you could correspond with the author, you might – if you are lucky – even get to know the author personally and go out for a pint with him, maybe catch a movie; you get the idea.
So, if we can meet a human autobiographer, how much more will this be the case with God, who is not only alive and well, but everywhere at the same time and instantly available to all who would seek Him? It simply makes no sense whatsoever that the Living, teeming-with-life, love and creativity Creator God is not available to chat about His autobiography and maybe even go out for the proverbial pint with those who would seek to know Him better.
Now, Jesus said that eternal life is ‘…to know the Son, and the Father who sent Him’ (Jn 17:3). Jesus said also to the Religious people of His day:
‘You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life’. (Jn 5:39-40)
This is a plain as day. Yes, study the Bible, but let the Bible lead you to come to Jesus Who is the One who gives Life. Again, that Life in all its fulness (Jn 10:10). That’s the Relationship – that we know the Father and the Son Whom He sent. That’s a Relationship – knowing Someone.
Jeremiah 31:34 foretold this when he said, “And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘
So, how then can anyone say that the only way to know Jesus is through the Bible, when Jesus Himself expressly says that the Life is with Him? Let’s therefore meet the Autobiographer in person, as well as reading His book!
It’s also analoguous to love letters – as I said above, another analogy that some believers use about the Bible is that it’s ‘God’s Love Letter’ to His people. So, let’s imagine two people who have met on an Internet dating forum and are falling in love. They will write letters/emails back and forth, professing their mutual affection and growing love for one another. Also, they discuss their intended future lives together; what they will do, where they will go, what their hopes and dreams are. And this is all very good and right and proper, but there comes a point where they actually have to get in a car/bus/train/aeroplane and actually go and meet each other face-to-face. The letters alone are simply no substitute for this; indeed, at some point, the letters will actually express the desire to meet up at last. And then, once they have met, sure, the letters will still be important (I still have the letters Fiona and I wrote to each other when we were at separate Universities!), but once they move in together the letters will become largely redundant because they have been replaced by a real live face-to-face relationship. Sure, they can still write little letters and notes to each other, but their relationship itself becomes the primary focus.
And so it is with the Bible. I still meet God in the Bible, but I also carry Him around with me in my heart (that’s evoking really funny images in my head; carrying the Creator of everything around with me like some sort of pet, lolz). I am aware of His presence most of the time. I talk to Him, and He talks to me. It’s real. Of course, I am by no means advocating throwing out my Bible as useless; no, I love my Bibles and I treasure them.
But still the Relationship with God in addition to and external to the Bible ‘relationship’ is far more important to me. It’s interesting that one of the ‘heresies’ levelled against ‘The Shack‘ (the article is linked to in this piece) is that the book promotes this same idea of a relationship with God over and beyond that in the Bible. This belief that there is nothing beyond the Bible is apparently quite deeply-rooted in some believers’ theology.
But the Relationhip with God is exactly that. Jesus says things to me, and to countless other believers all across the world (ironically, almost certainly including those people who claim that the Bible is all there is!) that are not in the Bible. God cannot, almost by definition as God is infinite, be contained only within the thousand or so pages of a book.
I suppose that one reason why some believers (especially leadership) have a problem with this ‘free’ Relationship is because it’s outside the limits of their control. Either controlling leadership or those believers who would like to have, shall we say, ‘constructive input’ (read: sin-policing!) in others’ lives; both these groups stand to lose much of their control if each individual believer has their own individual, autonomous Relationship with the Higher Power that we call God. All of a sudden, these fortunate individuals with this Relationship are answerable only to God. And some of these controlling people might say, ‘Well, we can’t have people just ignoring the Rules in the Bible and going off doing their own thing’. Well actually this is precisely what God lets us do, once we are free from the shackles of Religion and its controlling influence. We are free to walk as God would have us walk, not answerable to men with their home-made doctrines (Mt 15:9).
It seems that, according to the ‘controlling’ types, we ‘sinning’ humans cannot be trusted to have a Relationship with God that is free of Rules (or even Guidelines, which in the hands of legalists always become the same thing!) because we will always wander off into ‘sin’. No, we have to adhere to what the Bible says and that’s the only source of our relationship with God. Back to that again.
Do they really think that God has not factored human freedom into His plans? That freedom of choice is essential in order for us to make decisions at all; else it is no freedom at all? And so the Relationship, yes, becomes ‘risky’; God actually takes the risk that we will go our own way, we will ignore Him, we will see our freedom as a ‘licence to sin’ [Edit: I address the issue of the ‘Licence to Sin’ in this article] – but nothing could be further from the truth. Because, you see, that Relationship removes the desire to sin; in fact, the Relationship is indeed the life lived ‘in the Spirit’ which is the life of perfect freedom. And therefore, because we love Him, we live our lives to please him, not because someone (or the Bible) tells us to, but simply because that is our desire. The risk has paid off; we are His people by our own free will, which is the only way that Love works anyway, through free will. If it’s not a free choice, it’s not Love.
So, then, let me encourage you – which is always my objective in my blog posts anyway. If you have become frustrated with the relationship you have with God in the Bible, let me assure you that there is more. Do not be afraid (the most common phrase in the Bible!) of ‘wandering off’; God knows your weaknesses and He works with them. This is not error; this is the overarching theme of the Bible, the redemption of humanity in order to enable us to walk in Relationship with God in the power of the Spirit. If you are worried that maybe this growing Relationship you have felt is somehow dangerous or anti-Scriptural, please be assured that it’s not. Remember that you died to the Law (Rom 7:4). Remember also that if you are afraid of ‘punishment’ for ‘sinning’ in any way, that God’s perfect love drives out all fear, for fear has to do with punishment (1Jn 4:18) and as a believer, you are eternally unpunishable in any case. But of course those who would ‘control’ don’t want you to know that!
No, you can rest in your Father’s Love at all times, because underneath are the Everlasting Arms (Dt 33:27). In God is the Relationship that the Bible hints at. Yes, there is indeed more, and it’s found in the Relationship with Father God through Jesus and the Spirit. In the same way as Father, Son and Spirit have existed forever in the eternal dance of mutual love, so you too can join in and be part of that Relationship. All you need to do is to ask God to lead you into it, and then take the first steps as He leads.
Grace and peace to you. Be blessed!
*Here are links to the previous articles I mentioned:
**The natural extension of this idea is that when modern-day people write about their experiences with God, people like me, people like any modern-day Christian writer, some of it is going to be inspired too. My writing stems directly from my Relationship with Jesus, as does that of other similar writers. In that way, what I and others write is also inspired writing. We too are bringing God’s Word, that is, Jesus, into the limelight for people to see and learn about.