Looking to the Bible to find out what God is like seems like about the most obvious thing the Bible should hand you on a silver platter. But it doesn’t. You have to work for it.
The God we meet there sometimes knows everything, and other times he’s stumped and trying to figure things out. He’s either set in his ways and in full control or he changes his mind when pressed. He gives one law in one place and then elsewhere lays down another law that requires something else. Sometimes he’s overflowing with compassion and at others times he has a hair-trigger temper.
You’d think the Bible wouldn’t make the God-question harder than applying for a home equity line of credit (which inexplicably took me four months, by the way). If God’s behind the Bible, why doesn’t he just get to it in a five-point summary, or perhaps a white paper with clear answers to everything we need to know so we’re not left scratching our heads and so theologians don’t have to debate for centuries and write five-hundred-page books on “the nature of God?” If the Bible isn’t clear even about big issues like God (!!), what’s it good for?
Maybe the real problem here, once again, isn’t the Bible but expecting from the Bible something it’s not set up to do. Maybe the Bible isn’t God’s owner’s manual to us that answers all our questions about God and lays a script out for us to follow as we walk along the Christian path.
The Bible, as we’ve already seen, is a story—a story of God’s people on their long, diverse, up-and-down, spiritual journey; a story written by different people, under different circumstances, for different reasons, spanning more than a thousand years. It was written during times of peace and war, in safety and exile, in Israel’s youth and chastened adulthood. Its writers were priests, prophets, and kings, separated by time, and geography, not to mention Myers-Briggs personality types.
A book like that isn’t going to be a consistent one-size-fits-all instructional manual that tells us—in all our varied circumstances—how to grow into a life of faith.
A book like that shows us what a life of faith looks like.
As all good stories do, the Bible shapes and molds us by drawing us into its world and inviting us to connect on many different levels, wherever we are on our journey, and to see ourselves better by its light by stirring our spiritual imagination to walk closer with God.
That’s how the Bible acts as a guide for the faithful—by being a story, not by giving us a list of directions disguised as a story.