I search the Scriptures to experience the Incarnation, not to justify my pre-existing doctrinal conclusions.
Only in this way can I avoid my doctrine becoming a stack of sandbags from behind which I shoot critiques at those who do not agree. But if I read the Scriptures to experience the Incarnation, the Word of God becomes an encounter with the God-Word (Greek: theo logos), where I adapt to Him, mature in Him, and contribute to the unity of the Body of Christ.
Why would I want it any other way? Why would I want to risk entrapping myself in man-centered theories purporting to explain the whole of Scripture with one plug-and-play template?
Such assertions seduce us with the promise of absolute certainty, and, like our First Parents in the Garden, we are tempted by such a promise, for we would rather clothe ourselves with certainty than live with a level of mystery. We would rather be safe behind the sandbags.
We forget that without mystery, we cannot walk vulnerably with our Father. We forget that at the heart of all things is a mystery we can fall in love with: the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world. He is the one who clothes our shame.
Sorry, I know you long for the one answer when you read the Bible, for “one ring to rule them all,” so to speak, but it just doesn’t work that way.
There are religions — more than one — that go so far as to assert that in heaven there is a perfect copy of the revelation of their prophet inscribed on tablets of gold. To my relief I can assure you that our faith does not need such a prop, for our faith is anchored not in a set of imprinted sentences but in a set of scars imprinted on One who was sentenced to death and rose again, to which the Scriptures testify.
We have our inherited running lanes whose starting block is that above-mentioned anchor. We have the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the decisions of our first elders in Jerusalem (Acts 15). We have the examples of the Faith through the ages, many of whom — if you really think about it — do not qualify for admission into your particular denomination, movement, or church culture. Let us be content with that rich contradiction and run with it.
Here is how it works with Holy Scripture.1 I will explain it with a parable.
You are given the gift of a solar panel, the perfect solar panel, a fully inspired one.
Now let us say that every day you study your solar panel while sitting in your living room. You pore over the schematic diagrams explaining the panel. You take in podcasts about the laws of physics at work in the panel. You absorb videos talking about the history of how the panel was developed. You commit to memory every solar cell of the panel, even the frame holding the cells, and the laws of electromagnetism and chemistry at work therein.
And yet, your home has no light, no power.
Because you have not placed the solar panel in its proper environment, in the presence of the sun. And you have not applied the solar panel to the wires of your home. But when you do these things, your home is transformed into a place of life, night and day.
Likewise, we must read the Scriptures in the presence of the son of God. We must remember that the first Christians called Jesus the Word of God; they did not ascribe this title to the book or digital edition we hold in our hands.
“You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life,” our Lord says, “and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40, NKJV)
So let us come to Him and learn, understanding that it is better to reflect upon what we have read than to keep on reading. Let us learn to practice His presence. Let us learn to obey the words He speaks. And if we don’t know how to do these things, let us find someone who does.2 The answers are always concrete, often simple, and usually leave us vulnerably waiting for the Lord to be Himself while we remain our unadorned selves.
When we do these two things, there will be life in our home and in our hearts, night and day.
And if you do this, you will experience an additional, remarkable thing. You will understand the Scriptures like you haven’t before. You’ll discover that the more you practice His presence and the more you obey the Scriptures, the clearer both become. And though you will rely on your “solar panel” like you rely on no other thing, you won’t be preoccupied with that panel. You will be preoccupied with the One who energizes it and produces life in your heart and home.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield
The Lord will give grace and glory;
No good thing will He withhold
From those who walk uprightly.
(Psalm 84:11, NKJV)
© Kurt Mähler
Footnotes to Essay
- Until the Reformation, the Apocrypha — and the Septuagint which informed it and the rest of the Old Testament — was a standard part of the Scriptures. This is because the apostles and prophets did not make the distinctions we have made in our modern attempt to make things more streamlined and standardized. You are fine not reading the Apocrypha or Septuagint, but may I suggest a parable to consider: Most of us prefer kayaks to cargo ships, for kayaks are much easier to carry and much simpler to steer. But in doing so, we lose some of the wealth hidden in the holds of the clumsy cargo ships. It’s good to explore the cargo now and then. ↩︎
- When looking for others to learn from in the Lord, they must be those who speak the truth in love, whose grace and truth go hand-in-hand, and who welcome the Holy Spirit rather than anxiously regulate Him. We do not seek to learn from those who inflate our pride or deflate our charity. We look for those who are life-giving aqueducts cutting through the rugged territory of assertions and arguments. We look for those who, in spite of all the commotions around them, practice the Way. (Acts 19:23) ↩︎