Who is God, and what is the Bible really all about? I try to tell my children that God is love. But I see God’s people in the Bible (and in history today) slaughter people in God’s name. Can you give me a simple definition of who God is and what the Bible is all about?
That’s a very good question—probably impossible to answer in a brief blog post. But since I have spent the past four years almost full time reading virtually nothing but the Bible (trying to write a book that Andrea and I hope will shed a little light on that very question) here is my two minute impossible “answer” to your impossible questions.
In very simplistic terms the Bible is the story about God—who created the world and everything in it. The story line of the Bible deals with God’s experiment as “Father” with human beings, or you might say—with family life. According to the story, God “Fathered” human beings as male and female, and he gave only them free choice so they could experience love. (Without being able to choose, humans could not have made a decision whether to love God or one another or not.) The tragedy of the plot is that from the beginning (Adam and Eve) chose not to respond to the Father’s love and tutoring about what life and reality are about—“what is good and what is evil.” And the first humans rebelled and tried to replace God as their own teacher of what is good and what is evil.
From that point the Bible is the story of how we human beings—men and women—have scratched and clawed (either with bared claws or wearing velvet gloves) to get what we want that we think will make us “happy” and justified our choices because we have put ourselves and our self-centered desires in the center of our life where only God, who created everything, belongs.
In the pages of the Bible are all the Father’s recurring offers to transform whatever we get as the result of our efforts (failure, injury, disappointment or hollow success) into what we need in order to be transformed into what we were ‘designed’ to become: co-hosts in the Father’s family as we join God in inviting the rest of humanity into the intimate, caring relationship with the Father and each other to learn how life and loving were made to work. In this relationship, the Father has offered to limit his power and personally tutor each of us about how to interact with him, each other and the environment—teaching and modeling the same self-limiting love with which God relates to us. And the idea seems to be that it is the Father’s love that lubricates all of the rough edges of life and turns them into the wisdom and knowledge that can make existence a heaven or hell—now and always.
Since all of us human beings have consciously or unconsciously put ourselves and our wants to satisfy our self-centered desire in the center of our lives and relationships (thus creating what we call Sin: replacing God as the source of the knowledge of what is good and evil for us and those around us to do,) we all resist accepting the Father as our tutor about how to live and relate.
This unconscious but universal tendency to replace God (Sin) blinds us to who God is and who we were made to become. We project our own need to control onto God, punish those who disagree with us and use his name to enforce our own will on others. And we have honestly taught and projected our conclusions onto God. So we lost the original vision of the self-limiting love of the Father. For centuries we see the Father touching the lives of those who would trust him, and sending messages through these “prophets” about our screwing things up. Invariably we killed or ignored these prophet-messengers.
Finally Jesus came to make clear what the Father is like—how the Father’s self-limiting love looks walking in our homes and neighborhoods as we face our political and personal dishonesty and controlling relationships. At last we could see and interact with the Father person in Jesus.
But people’s projections of their own unconscious self-centered experience and ideas about God overshadowed Jesus’ self-limiting love. They could not accept the fact that God would transcend even legalistic justice to forgive them, love them and teach them how to love each other and even their enemies, so that love could be the guide for Reality oriented life and relationships.
Experiencing the fact that we could not believe that kind of self-limiting love (because we couldn’t do it ourselves), Jesus limited his power to escape or retaliate and instead died for us—the unmistakable act of self-limiting love. (“i.e. if I stepped in front of you and took a bullet to save your life, you would know that I care for you.)
So in Jesus’ life and death we see God as the loving, intimate Father we always longed for but most of us could not find, who limited his power to punish us in order to give life and freedom to us if we will accept as we see it in Jesus.
That’s the impossible short version of the answer the Bible story gives to our impossible questions: “Who is God?” and “What’s the Bible story about?”
“It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us.” Ephesians 2:1-2, The Message
“The person who knows my commandments and keeps them, that’s who loves me. And the person who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and make myself plain to him.”
Judas (not Iscariot) said, “Master, why is it that you are about to make yourself plain to us but not to the world?”
“Because a loveless world,” said Jesus, “is a sightless world. If anyone loves me, he will carefully keep my word and my Father will love him—we’ll move right into the neighborhood.” John 14:21-24, The Message
“How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.” Ephesians 1:2-4 , The Message
Lord, thank you that you have not given us a complex philosophical system that only the brilliant and educated could understand. But instead you loved us as your children and gave us a story to walk in with you and each other. And thank you Lord, that it’s a love story about forgiveness. In Jesus name, amen.
“God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.” 1 John 4: 17-18, The Message