What The Bible Is?
Nick Cave (Australian singer/sorgwriter)
“When I bought my first copy of the Bible, the King James version, it was to the Old Testament that I was drawn, with its maniacal, punitive God, that dealt out to His long suffering humanity punishments that had me drop-jawed in disbelief at the very depth of their vengefulness. I had a burgeoning interest in violent literature coupled with an unnamed sense of the divinity in things and, in my early 20’s, the Old Testament spoke to that part of me that railed and hissed and spat at the world. I believed in God, but I also believed that God was malign and if the Old Testament was testament to anything it was to that.”
What do you do with a book that has literally millions of words, over a thousand pages, 66 sub-books, each divided into chapters, and then further into verses? Its oldest parts are at least 3500 years old? How can we understand such a book when it is so far removed from our own experiences and world? Nick Cave says he was drawn to it because it’s a bloodthirsty epic – full of violence and vengeance.
“Evil seemed to live so close to the surface of existence within it, you could smell its mad breath, see the yellow smoke curl from its many pages, hear the blood curdling moans of despair. It was a wonderful, terrible book and it was sacred Scripture.”
In some respects that’s a good description of a fair swag of the Old Testament. And for lots of people – even some Christians – that makes the Old Testament irrelevant – it has no value.
Yet there’s far more to the Old Testament. Whilst it’s fair to say that the world is a far different place a few thousand years on, the problems and the questions are still pretty much the same. And though the Old Testament raises a ton of questions, it is essentially about just one question. There is really just one question that underlies the whole catalogue of stories and events.
That question is prompted by a very basic problem. The world was never designed with sin in mind. God had no intention that sin would become a force in the world, or that it would destroy and maim the world and all who are in it. When God created the world what He created was good, very good and extremely good – that is, it fitted perfectly with his plans.
Genesis 1:31 “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”
The reality now is that the world is – and let’s be quite frank about it – the world is right royally stuffed. We have managed to turn what was an incredible creation into a dying blue ball on the outermost edge of the universe, and despite our best efforts it is probably too late to save the world. We will try no doubt – and we should repent and get on with it – but it’s hard to see climate change reversing, despite carbon taxes and green energy. I find it fascinating that a Honda Prius is claimed as environmentally friendly just because it uses a small amount of fuel. How much energy is required to build it, to create and then later dispose of the batteries – compared to the life cycle of a good old standard petrol guzzler? In any case – I’m not convinced that our best efforts will make a great deal of difference in fixing the world. We have taken what was good and we may well have terminally wrecked it!
Back to the Bible – the question the Old Testament seeks to answer, from the start is this – who is going to solve the problem? Adam and Eve sinned – they disobeyed the one rule God gave them – and their sin meant they got kicked out of the Garden of Eden. And lest we feel like blaming them – we’d have done exactly the same – we have done exactly the same. They destroyed what God made perfect and good and we followed suit. They reversed the order of earthly relationships – instead of humans dominating the creation we have been subject to thousands of years of fighting against it.
Genesis 3:15 …”he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
Who will deal with this situation? Who will or can bring it back to the way it was meant to be?
Is that even possible?
It doesn’t appear so – as we move through Genesis the problem simply grows. We meet Cain and Able, Adam and Eve’s sons – the first heirs of the earth – they really inherit the earth when mum and dad die (it’s a joke) – and almost immediately we get the first murder when Cain kills Able out of jealousy. Who will deal with the breakdown in relationships? Who will fix what we have wrecked? Obviously Cain and Able can’t – one’s dead and the other is a murderer – neither is qualified to deal with sin and the breakdown of relationships.
And the worst part is that Cain and Able are the beginning of a long slide into depravity. Just a few generations down the track mankind has become so rotten that God looks down from heaven and says to himself – “I wish that I had never made them”.
Genesis 6:5-6 “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.”
Now I don’t know about you but the very concept of grieving God is a very scary thought.
When you and I regret something, usually there’s not much we can do about it. Ask forgiveness maybe? Repay someone, fix something? What we’d often like to do is have that time over and make sure that we didn’t do it. Just imagine if time machines really existed – none of us would have the time to live here and now – we’d be travelling backwards all the time fixing our mistakes.
God has that capacity – to fix things.
God can literally wipe out whatever causes him regret.
He could stop time or reverse time or simply obliterate everything. He could turn humanity into a bunch of robots and force us to do what he says. He has the power and the ability to do something about his regret.
So what does he do? He starts again – he wipes out all but 8 people and a bunch of animals. He floods the earth and starts again. There’s a glimmer of hope in Noah – a righteous man.
No Answers Here
Noah gets a great opportunity don’t you think? If you could repopulate the earth couldn’t you do a better job – arrange it so there was no poverty or greed, so that everyone had a fair shake, no crime or evil? That’d be a great opportunity? If only the world would follow us it’d be fine! J
How’d Noah do? Did he fix things? Is he the one?
No – as righteous as he was he just didn’t cut it. Despite all that God has done – and you’d think you’d sit up and take notice of a flood that covered the earth – God has just wiped out humanity – you and your family are all that’s left – surely you’d take notice of what God says.
Noah plants a vineyard to celebrate the end of the flood, in due course harvesting the grapes, making a little wine, as you do – and gets absolutely plastered – lying naked for everyone to see. Even this righteous man can’t fix things. He’s not the answer!
As we watch his descendants we see they end up worse than those God has destroyed in the flood. The people of what later became Babylon, try building a great tower that will reach into the very heavens and make their name great – they want to be their own masters and to tell God where to get off. What does God do? He can’t destroy the whole of mankind again because he’s already promised that he won’t. So, God confuses them. He comes down from heaven to see their great tower that reaches into the heavens and makes them speak different languages – they start to ‘babble’ – they stop building and split into groups and spread across the earth. And then they fight – they revert to murdering their family members.
We’re still looking for a solution. The result of the flood is Babel. The earth populated with people who refuse to obey God. Is there any hope for humanity? Is there anyone who can make things right? When you come down to it Genesis 3 – 11 is an avalanche of sin, progressively getting worse.
In Genesis 12 there’s a change. Abram is chosen by God and sent out to build one nation that will be the people of God, a nation that will show the way to the rest of the world, that will show how humanity can turn back to God. From Abram’s descendants God will raise up one person who will restore things.
A Continuing Problem
So the problem continues – who will restore? We see a whole line of men (mostly) descended from Abraham and each one is greeted as a potential saviour. And every single one bombs out.
- Abraham passes his wife off as his sister to stop a local king from abducting her and killing Abraham.
- Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt, only to find that he wants all the glory for himself.
- Samson sold out his special place with God and his incredible God given strength… to his girlfriend for sexual favours.
- Samuel can’t grow a family that obeys God let alone a nation – his sons abuse their position in the temple for their own gain.
- King Saul was a mistake right from the start, only after money and power.
- David the greatest king of Israel, couldn’t keep his pants on when he saw a hot woman sunbaking on her roof – so he sleeps with Bathsheba, makes her pregnant and has her husband murdered so that he can marry her. Nice!
- Josiah, another great king, crowned as an 8 year old (and if an 8 year old is one of the better kings I guess you have to wonder just a little) – gets himself killed because he refused to listen to God.
It would almost be funny except that it’s so pathetic. Not one person, even amongst the people of God, could be found to save humanity. When do we start to think it’s hopeless?
We finish up in Malachi, the final book of the Old Testament, about 400 years before Jesus was born. Thousands of years of Jewish history have gone nowhere – we’re still waiting.
Malachi is the final prophet of the Old Testament period and he says “you Israelites still don’t get it – but God is going to solve the problem.” God is going to intervene in history and the world. The Day of the Lord is coming and it’s going to be the big one – the one who comes on that day will be the one who solves the problem – the question will finally get answered.
Now unless you’ve been on another planet … you would have to guess that I’m about to say that Jesus is the one coming to solve the problem.
Luke 2:28-32 Simeon took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
In the Garden of Eden there were two questions at stake.
- Is God good?
- Can we trust him?
- The snake said that God wasn’t really good and that he couldn’t be trusted.
- Eve agreed with the snake.
- Adam agreed with Eve.
- Their sons agreed
- And so on – right down to us.
Is God good? Can he be trusted? What does Simeon say?
Luke 2:29-32 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
Yes – God is good. Yes – he can be trusted. The Bible is a record of a few thousand years history with those two basic facts in evidence at every turn. While humanity has turned against God constantly, God remained faithful and good. And not only that but he took upon himself the answer to the question. Who would fix the problem? Who would make us able to have a right relationship with God? Who would fix what sin and humanity had destroyed? God sent a little child into the world, born as a human to live as we do, to experience what we do, to feel as we do, and to die as we do. And to offer us the very thing that generation after generation of God’s people searched for and yet never found.
So let me ask you 3 questions.
- Is God good?
- Is God trustworthy?
- Has God solved the problem of sin in your life?
All Scripture (c)English Standard Version
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