We are taken seriously just as we are and given place in his story – for it is, after all, God’s story. None of us is the leading character in the story of our lives. God is the larger context and plot in which all our stories find themselves.
– Eugene Peterson
I have always loved the Bible. Even as a little girl, I remember sitting with my letters-in-red KJV (per my request, not by force) and reading through the pages. Then came a more child-friendly version which I read with great enthusiasm.
Over time came a variety of study bibles. I remember holding a “Teen Study Bible” in my hand when I turned 11 (a whole year before I was a teen!) and being so proud.
As I read the Bible, I sat faithfully with a journal in hand and scurried away note after note. My Bibles from childhood and teen years – and if I’m honest, even still – are filled with quotes and Scriptures on the front covers, verses underlined hurriedly, and elaborate highlighting and notes in the margins. As an avid reader, I just can’t get enough of this Book.
When I read the Bible in those years, I searched for myself in the pages.
Was I David, with strong faith, fearless and ready to fight the giant? Would I stand against the giants in my way?
Was I Abraham, willing to sacrifice whatever God asked me to, on the altar of obedience?
Was I like Shadrach, standing boldly facing the fire? Would I stand regardless of what “persecution” would come?
Like Esther or Ruth, would I be willing to play a part in God’s plan in a strange environment?
As I look back on those times, there were many moments when I did find myself in those pages.
Despite a lack of theological knowledge or knowing the right way to read, God spoke to me through the words of His Word.
With time though, I began to struggle to see myself in many of the pages.
It was easy to see myself in the story of Esther or David (at times), but a little harder to see where I fit in the visions of Jeremiah and Daniel.
Sure, I could echo the words of David in Psalm 139 – “Search me, oh God and know my anxious thoughts”, but it was harder to echo his words just 2 chapters earlier when he proclaims, “Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.”
I loved the stories of Moses, Miriam and Joseph, and could certainly find myself in their circumstances. But Leviticus? How was that relevant?
As I grew a little older, and entered into theological training, I started to hear rumours that the Bible (insert gasp and shocked expression) wasn’t actually all about me. It’s only purpose wasn’t to direct me in my quiet times or give me a relevant message for that season of my life. There was something much bigger going on. It wasn’t, my professors boldly exclaimed, a book all about me, or even a book all for me. It was a book for people all throughout history, and it was ultimately a book all about God.
While I might be exaggerating a little, the truth is this view of the Bible – spoken this way – was new to me. Many of the Christian books and devotionals I enjoyed reading focused on issues like dating, friendships and self-esteem and what the Bible had to say about them. I still cherish those books and quiet times. God used them to direct me & guide me in challenging and tumultous seasons. But yet, this idea of the Bible being something bigger – not just a how-to guide or letter filled with personal promises – appealed to me. It resonated with something deeper inside of me. I had to know more.
With time and study, I discovered that this approach to reading the Bible as a bigger story was actually, quite common. Many scholars chose to view the Bible and all its parts as God’s great story. Let me elaborate.
Most of us, who have any sense of familiarity with the Bible, know that the Bible is one book made up of many smaller books – 66 to be exact. Each of these little books has a unique author and purpose. Perhaps you’ve seen a chart similar to the one below, showing the different styles or ‘genres’ of the various books of Scripture:
Each of these genres requires a unique approach to reading. When we read the poetry of the Psalms, we must be mindful that it is poetry. Every image & line isn’t meant to be taken as a literal fact! They are images and poems intended to paint a picture of the goodness of God and to let worship rise in our hearts. At the same time, as we read Paul’s letters in the New Testament, we must remember they are in fact, letters. Much of their content was addressed to a specific church at a specific time, which helps us understand why for example, he may tell women to be silent in Corinthians, but celebrate them as important colleagues in Romans.
Each of these unique books and styles though, fits into a grander story. That grander story is God’s story, and is why this beautiful book was given to us. Here’s what Gordon Fee & Douglas Stuart say in their excellent resource, “How to Read the Bible Book by Book”:
It is no accident that the Bible comes to us primarily by way of narrative – and not just any narrative. Here we have the grandest narrative of all – God’s own story. That is, it does not purport to be just one more story of humankind’s search for God. No this is God’s story, the account of His search for us…
Many who share this view explain that the Bible tells a story in essentially four chapters – Creation, the Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. The stories of the Bible, and the individual chapters, verses and promises all find their place within these four sections.
I cannot tell you how revolutionary this approach has been for my understanding of the Bible.
Instead of looking for what God was trying to tell me about my particular situation in Leviticus, I began to understand it as part of His response to the fall, and an early foreshadowing of His plan for redemption.
Rather than being discouraged that I couldn’t pinpoint God’s promise for the day in Daniel, I could see that the (very confusing) visions pointed towards a God who was sovereign during that period of Israel’s history, and would continue to be sovereign until the end of time.
And surprisingly enough, when I read the Bible in this way, I began to find myself more and more.
I was swept up in the fact that little old me, in twenty-first century Newfoundland, could find a place in God’s great narrative.
My salvation was part of a long stream of salvations.
When I echoed the words of the Psalms, I was echoing words that had been repeated for thousands of years.
When I stood in church on Sundays, I was part of a God-ordained plan that had been present for centuries.
So, while I learned that the Bible isn’t all about me, I discovered more and more of myself in its pages.
The Bible being God’s grand story reminded me that I have a part in that grand story.
It motivated me – and still does – to understand His Word more deeply, to dive in with greater enthusiasm, and to read it with greater context.
And the more I know His story, the more I love Him.
It leads me to greater knowledge, greater trust, and greater worship.
And after all, that’s what good theology should do.
More Reading + Resources:
“Approaches to Reading Scripture” by Greg Boyd
“How to Read the Bible Series” by the Bible Project
“Living into God’s Story” by Eugene Peterson
“The Four Chapter Gospel” by Hugh Whelchel