The Bible is an amazing book, but do those of us who are Christ-followers expect too much out of it?
That is on my mind this morning as I spent some time meditating on this passage from the Fourth Gospel.
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. John 5:39-40
Jesus said these words to those religious leaders who were questioning his authority. Jesus was always in an argument with some kind of religious leader or another. If I break it down, here is what the Lord seems to be saying.
- Searching the Scriptures is good, because they reveal Christ.
- It is impossible, though, to find eternal life in the Scriptures.
- An overly high expectation of the Scriptures can hinder our awareness of God’s presence in our lives.
What exactly is Jesus saying? Is he saying that the Bible gets in the way?
Of course not. That is not what he means at all. The Bible is how we can know and experience God’s interaction with human beings in the past and learn what the Lord has said and done. It is also how we can hear what the Lord wants us live like as we allow the Holy Spirit to speak through the written word. Jesus is not nullifying any of that.
But here is what he is saying–overly religious people sometimes study the Bible with a desire to know and categorize everything about God so that they can have control. This is what we might call systems of thought or dogma. The Bible cannot be categorized and tab filed so that there is a pat answer and a knowable outline for what the Lord will do. He is bigger than that. The Bible is a wild book that casts faith as an up and down adventure filled with unpredictable turns and twists.
No part of the Bible claims to be the end all or the final word. Not even the Pentateuch does because it finishes with the wide open expectation that God was just getting started good with Hebrews as they entered Canaan. Likewise the gospels end with the resurrected Christ who is just now unleashing his plan on the world. Paul tells us that we see through a smokey glass right now, but it is only in the future that we will see clearly.
The religious leaders of Jesus day had so systematized their theological thought that they had decided they knew exactly how God would act an what he would do. This blinded them to the presence of God right in front of them. We can do the same thing with our systems of dogma–whether it is dogma about salvation and election (yeah, that’s you Calvinists) or about free will (your turn Arminians) or end of the world drama (dispensationalists, that’s your cue) or anything else. It is fun to study and speculate, but when we decide ahead of time that we already have all the answers, we miss the very moment when God does something completely unexpected.