When we crack open a Bible, what do we seek to learn?
Those who truly know the Bible will tell you that the uniting theme throughout the whole of the book is Jesus the Messiah. The Old Testament, by and large, looks forward, toward the promise of a Savior. The first part of the New Testament iterates His coming, His ministry, the fulfillment of countless prophecies. The epistles focus on the teachings of Jesus, the doctrine we take, how we apply it to our lives, and finally, full circle into a second round of Prophecy of the “Second Coming.”
The point of the Bible is Jesus, but who do we tend to focus on?
So often, the take away from reading a Bible story is to reiterate the qualities of the character.
Be faithful in tribulation, like Joseph.
Be brave in the face of danger, like David.
Be joyful in persecution like Paul.
But Joseph was arrogant, David committed murder and adultery, and Paul called himself “chief among sinners.” (1 Tim 1:15) Why do we then, often want to liken ourselves to or emulate these people in our day to day lives?
Probably because God used all of these men in mighty, world changing ways. But that’s just it….God used.
These men were redeemed through the power of the Spirit. God had a plan for Joseph all along. David repented of his sin and was called a “man after God’s own heart.” (1 Sam. 13:14) Saul met God on the road to Damascus and was irrevocably changed by the encounter.
Take any character in the Bible, and the argument can be made for their total depravity, except in the face of God’s redemption.
What should we take away from a Bible story, then?
I get it. It’s a little disheartening to hear that Biblical heroes we so often hear lauded as the “mighty men of God” were, at their base, truly just ordinary, sinful people. It feels like, what’s the point of reading the Bible if we can’t take anything from these characters?
It’s not that we can’t take anything from these people; certainly they have lessons to teach us. But the point, we’ve already answered, is Jesus.
A while back, I read a book called “Give Them Truth” by Starr Meade. It was a primer on raising our children with actual Spirituality, feeding them real doctrine instead of watered down, childish versions, making the point that church once or even twice a week is not enough to give our kids a really good spiritual foundation. I disagreed with some of her doctrine, but by and large, it was a useful little book. My biggest takeaway, though, actually impacted how I myself study the Bible.
When we read a Bible story, the point isn’t to look at the character, the point is to ask what this story and this character reveal about God.
From Joseph, we learn that God is powerful, that He’s working things for good, that His plan is not thwarted, even by ill intentions. From David, we learn that God shows up for His people in mighty ways, and we learn that God values a humble heart above pretty much all else, and that the power of His redemption is so great that in true repentance, a murderer and adulterer can still be known as a “Man after God’s own heart.” (David is the only character in the Bible to be called in such a way….that’s pretty powerful.) From Saul turned Paul, we learn that you cannot come face to face with God and not be changed, and we learn that God offers His people peace in tribulation, hope in times of trouble, contentment even in the midst of deplorable conditions.
The joy in all of this is that the people God used were absolutely ordinary, but for His mighty hand in their lives. That means that the likes of ordinary people like you and me are not excluded from God’s power, from being game changers and world leaders.
But I truly think the way that we study the Bible needs to shift first, with the focus on “What does this teach me about God?” coming before all else, followed by the takeaway: What does this require of me? Knowing that God values a humble heart, quite frankly, ought to have a big impact on how we live our lives and what we ask of ourselves. Knowing that God’s plans are not thwarted is both comforting and calls us to seek His will and His plan above all. Seeking the peace that God offers can be a lifelong pursuit, but Paul shows us it’s one well worth the while.
When we start seeking God first in our study, I think we are much more likely to change our own worldview, as God brings us into alignment with His teachings, His plans, His call for His people. Truly, we can only learn so much and take so much away from finite characters who were not so different from you and I, but when we shift our view to the limitless, Almighty God, the opportunities for learning, for growth, and for change in ourselves is equally limitless.
Erika is a mom to two wild little girls. She grew up a farmers daughter in eastern Montana and fell in love with horses as a child. She is an incredible horseman, wife, mother and friend. She married her cowboy in June of 2015 and moved back to her home town to work with her father and grandfather on the land she was raised on.
Erika was raised in a very traditional Christian home. She is blessed with great parents who she is still close to. She is now a member of the church she grew up in, and that's a huge part of her foundation as she navigates her spirituality.