What the Bible means to me
Fourth Sunday in Advent, 23rd December 2001
You’ll recognise this story if you enjoy Gervase Phinn’s books. The school inspector was taking Assembly and he’d lost his audience. The children’s attention was elsewhere. So he waved his big red Bible in the air to make them jump, and asked “if Jesus Christ walked into this hall now, what would you say to him?” An earnest child put his hand up. “Please Sir, I’d say – Jesus Christ, This Is Your Life.” The child was right, the Bible has meaning for us because of the God who races through its pages, always ahead, always calling his followers on, then who comes with a breathtaking gentleness in the Incarnation.
I managed to evade religion entirely until I was eighteen, then I went out with great embarrassment to buy a Bible because I’d had a strong experience of the presence of God and wanted to know more about him. I remember being completely overwhelmed by its beauty and mystery and strangeness.
I still find the Bible beautiful and mysterious and strange. I love Archbishop Bloom’s account of reading Mark’s Gospel as an agnostic student:
The Bible is the book God steps out of, and talks to us with a total immediacy about the life He has asked us to live today. Sometimes I’m reluctant to read the Bible because I don’t want to be spoken to, sometimes the familiarity of the words dulls their impact and it all just washes over me like the waves of the sea, sometimes the beauty of the language or the historical problems of the narrative become a diversion; but when we do allow the Lord to speak through his Scriptures I believe it happens, and we can be continually reassured and encouraged and redirected by that meeting.
The Bible is the book through which God speaks to us. It is also the book which provides a framework for the business of living. It gives us a beginning point: “in the beginning was the Word”, “in the beginning the Spirit moved”. The Trinity existed as a union of love before the worlds began to be. We are created out of the love of the Trinity and we’re journeying towards an end point when we will see the Trinity in glory, a place where there will be no more mourning, or crying, or pain; where God himself will wipe away every tear.
The Bible assures us we are on a journey, with a beginning and an ending, and it bears witness to a God who longs to guide us through the journey, who doesn’t want us to face anything alone. Whether we’re being pursued by chariots or lost in the desert, swallowed by a whale or cast into a burning fiery furnace, God will stay with us and when he call on Him He will act. The Red Sea waters part, there’s a fourth figure in the burning fiery furnace and his appearance is of a Son of God, the whale vomits up Jonah just in the right place for his next task, the Israelites spend forty years getting lost and going round in circles but God stays with them, and they reach their promised land in the end.
The Bible is a very honest book, it never minimises the frailty of human nature, or the terribleness of suffering, or the strength of evil; it never encourages us to believe that life is easy, or that we ought to expect usually to get everything right. But in the middle of a world full of violence and the misuse of power, Mary said “yes” to the Incarnation; and years later Paul was able to cry out that there is nothing in the heights or the depths, in the present or in the future, or anywhere in all creation, that can separate us from the love of God, in Christ Jesus our Lord. Because I’m a fairly anxious person, I think of all the verses in the Bible that’s the one I hold onto most gratefully.
We won’t always feel Paul’s confidence, many of us struggle with fear and anxiety and depression quite often, and for some it is a constant burden; but somewhere deep inside us the hope God offers us in the Bible can still burn, whatever our surface emotions are doing. We know that the God who came at Bethlehem will never leave us, that we live on a planet where the angels sing, and where glory joy love peace and gentleness will have the final word.