Why we get the Bible messed up

Photo by Jazmin Quaynor on Unsplash

Light in your darkness. It’s something we look for as the days grow short and the nights grow long.

It’s also the title of a book proposal of mine being currently considered by a literary agency in Texas.

The book is about suffering. Why is it that bad things happen to God’s people? How do we process that? For the book, I went to people who could speak with authority, friends who have experienced significant tragedy in life and have walked through it with their faith in God intact, probably even deepened.

As Christians, we have to face these issues head on. One of the annoyances I have with some preachers is the way they gloss over the hard issues and wind up spouting little more than platitudes of positive thinking. In the end, this weakens peoples’ faith, rather than increasing it. No matter what churches we are working with, Elaine and I minister to people who are suffering. We have to provide both sympathetic understanding and practical Biblical counsel which offers hope. It is far harder to do, but far more helpful in the end.

On most subjects, the Bible addresses truth in a unique way. It presents apparently opposing ideas, which must then be held in tension to grasp the truth in its fullness. Think about the sovereignty of God, and the responsibility of people to respond with free will. Think about divine provision, and the earthly cost of picking up the cross to follow Jesus. Think about the responsibility of each individual to conduct their own walk with the Lord, and the authority of godly leaders to shepherd and direct the flock. Think about Christ as fully God and fully human.

The English word heresy derives from the Greek word for “part.” Heresy always expresses a part of the truth. That’s why it’s deceptive. And heresy often originates in people getting hold of one Biblical concept while ignoring the other side of the Biblical equation. For instance, if we emphasize divine provision and ignore the cost of following Christ, we get a deluded message that Christians can expect nothing but divinely-ordered prosperity in their finances.

Sadly when we rightly react to such distortions, we often throw the baby out with the bathwater. The reaction against the error that everyone will get healed is to throw out the ministry of healing altogether. I’ve seen this reaction lead to the rejection of spiritual gifts, faith, healing, deliverance, discipleship and spiritual authority. Then the enemy has done more damage than he ever did through the false teaching.

You can argue with the way the Bible presents truth. But if you accept (as I do) that God created it as a written record of his covenant with humanity, whose conditions are in force irrevocably until the Lord returns, you have to find some way of grappling with it.

This can present a hard assignment for preachers and teachers. Recently, I presented several weeks of teaching on the topic of Abraham’s faith. Abraham knew what it was like to receive divine promises handed out in angelic style, yet also lived with deep disappointment when all seemed to be lost. He knew what it was like to leave everything behind and, years later, still have nothing but a bunch of tents in a foreign desert. And though he received the promise in one sense in the form of Isaac, he never lived to see the promise’s true fulfillment, which according to Romans 4 is you and I. I think that’s why Jesus pointed out in John 8 that, in God’s eternal presence, Abraham rejoiced to see his entrance into this world.

So to return to the beginning, it you’re wrestling with suffering and darkness at this season, you’re living in part of the picture the Bible presents, and the answer is to cry out to God for his strength and help. But you can cry out in the knowledge that, whatever caused your grief, God still has supernatural help available for you.

And for the rest of you, offer a word of prayer that my book gets published and people get helped through it