The Bible isn’t an answer book…

From Jesus Shaped Spirituality:

The answers we give each other suck. The answers in the Bible are big, generic and can’t be fit into the map of your life as specifically as you want. God wants us to trust who he is, what he’s done for us in Jesus and what he promises to finish doing. Along the way, he has some good advice and specific commands, but not many answers to the mysteries of life that torment us.

Believe in the God of the Bible, and have lots of questions of “Why?”…..You’re probably going to get tired of hearing things like “Everything God does he does for our good” or “God allows evil so that good will come from it.” God’s not sitting in a booth playing fortune teller or shrink for a nickle.

He’s God. His goal is that we trust him, and live the best lives we can based on that trust. A significant part of that kind of life is moving past the “Whys.”

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not convinced when preachers say that all the answers to life’s questions are to be found between the genuine bonded leather covers of my Bible.  I like the “big picture”, God-centered understanding presented here.


8 thoughts on “The Bible isn’t an answer book…

  1. mark jensen

    I was always confused when I would read books on biblical ethics and they would argue that things like homosexuality and masturbation were condemned by the bible. The issues seemed more vague to me when I would go back and read the bible.

    Maybe it’s me but I think assuming the biblical authors had the same understanding of those issues as we do today now is a tad unfair. I’m not saying the bible does or does not condone those things, I’m just saying it’s a lot more difficult to get those answers than most people think. And, I’m willing to entertain in some circumstances, it’s missing the point when we come to the bible expecting that we are going to find a passage which will solve all your problems and justify all our prejudices. I’ll also say that I haven’t done enough of a study in things like sexuality and the Old Testament to have a well informed opinion on all those neat little issues which seem to drive us Christians bonkers.

    I’m personally a fan of the notion that the bible is unique in what it points to. Because of what it points to is absolute, the text becomes inspired. I’ll brutalize a quote one of my professors gave in our biblical criticism class on narratology. He said something along the lines of the bible is ontologically true in a way absolutizes truth that is unlike any other book. I’m still trying to think that quote out. I might have to get back to your on this subject.

    But you raise a good subject.

  2. Toni

    There has also been a strong counter-trend to say “the bible talks in broad brush strokes, but because of cultural differences and the awesomeness of God we can’t really know what it means or apply it to us directly now”.

    We need to be careful not to disregard the content of the bible that DOES deal with day-to-day living and is not particularly obscure, although contrary to our culture, experience and inclination.

  3. Ian H.

    Obviously, there are truths outside the Bible (have we had this conversation before?)… The answer to the question, “What is my name?” cannot be found in the Bible, yet the answer is still true.

    Although I will question the assertion that the answers that are found in the Bible don’t fit our lives specifically – I think that’s a cop-out to allow us to do things we know are wrong, but we want to do anyway…

  4. Marc

    No…I think you guys are missing the spirit of what he’s saying. Obviously, “love you neighbour” has an effect on your immediate, day-to-day life; so does, “husbands love your wives”; so does, “in your anger do not sin”.

    But in terms of the specifics to *your* life (as opposed to everyone’s life), such as “Why did my daughter die?” or “Why am I depressed?” or “Should I move to Timbuktu?” or “Should I marry him or her?” or “Does God want me to win the lottery?” or “Is this the job I should have? Or should I find another job?” etc., the Bible may *guide* you, but it’s not going to give you a specific answer to that question.

    I suspect this was partially written in response to some people who are inclined to pull a verse from the text (i.e. out of context) and apply it to their lives for a specific issue or question or problem. I.e., “I was reading 1 Hezekiah 14:2 this morning and the Holy Spirit told me that I should sell my house and start up an animal hotel.”

  5. Toni

    But that then raises the question “why wouldn’t God speak to me directly like that?”.

    So for example, if Randall and Laura prayed about whether they should stay or go, how would you interpret God saying ‘go look up Gen 12’.

    See under the influence of the Holy Spirit the bible is the living word of God, and it *can* be applied like that *provided* the Spirit does the highlighting and not our whims and wishes.

  6. Toni

    BTW I do recognise that often God seems to say “what do you want – you know my heart now – what would you like to do?”. So we do have a personal responsibility in there too.

    But it raises the question, how much do we actually look for God to speak through the bible, rather than viewing it as another theological tool (or even an idol)? Why would you not hope to see both the big sweeping picture and the small detail in the word. Sure, you won’t necessarily find your European name, but is an ordinary first name a piece of truth?

    Now THERE’S a can of worms.

  7. Marc

    Truth be told, the notion of “God giving me a verse” is not part of my church tradition. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong, just that I don’t/can’t have much to say about it.

    When I have seen other people use this approach, however, it seems to either be abusive (e.g. the Bible as Magic 8-Ball) or more generally applicable, like in my previous comment.

    And I don’t have a problem with the general application. If I’m stressed out about something and I read, “Be still, and know that I am God” I’m likely to take that personally and specifically to my situation, and that’s possibly largely because it’s a general truth. If I’m trying to make a decision about something and I read Prov. 3:5,6 and I believe that I am acknowledging God in all I do, it might give me the confidence in making a decision and that God will honour that decision, but again that’s a general truth in there. In neither case does it tell me anything more *specific* about my situation, the outcome of my choice, or why the stress happened in the first place. The effect of these passages is, I suppose, to increase my faith and trust that God is God and he is near.

    Genesis 12 is specifically about Abraham. Now, far be it from be to say that God *wouldn’t* tell someone trying to make that decision to look it up, but even so it will give that person guidance in their decision and might even in faith take that to mean that it means that God is calling them as well. But it still isn’t about them *specifically*, though it might relate to what they’re going through. It may guide, it may increase faith, it may give them a sense of calling, but the passage will not say, “Go here” or “Do this”.

    Just thinking out loud… 🙂

  8. Andrew

    Is the bible (a) ‘the living word of God’ or does it (b) point us *to* the living word of God (Christ)? It seems to me that the tradition you and grew up in Marc would say (a) – with all ensuing scripture searching to affirm our decisions. This tradition seems at times at least in practice to add the bible as a 4th element to the Trinity (ie., our hometown school’s motto – ‘the Word of God shall Stand Forever’). Idolatry of the bible, as Toni suggests.

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