How to Read the BiblePart 2
I was recently at a service where the speaker told a fable. It went something like this.
There were four fellas; they each wore different-colored glasses, red, blue, yellow and green. They stood at the edge of a field; in the distance was a zebra. They were each asked to describe the color of the zebra.
As one would expect, the guy with the red glasses saw a red and black zebra; the guy with the blue glasses, blue and black. So, it went, yellow, and green, each seeing the zebra through their lenses, in their respective colors.
The speaker then presented the question to us, “Who is correct regarding the true color of the zebra?”
It was a trick question. Why, because the answer is the zebra.
God Inspired and Moses Interpreted
Moses is the fella credited to have most likely written what would have already been the age-old story of Noah; a story that had been orally passed down from generation to generation.
Moses was one hundred percent inspired of God when he wrote the first five books regarding the relationship between God and man. And what Moses wrote was an absolutely true story. But I would like to suggest it was not the whole story. Moses didn’t have the whole story yet; he wasn’t looking at God and man through the perfect lens of sovereign love; the lens revealed in Jesus life, death and resurrection.
Therefore, while Moses’ perspective was fully inspired of God, was powerful and good, I would like to propose it was not definitive; it was not complete.
When it comes to Noah’s story, God inspired and Moses interpreted the inspiration. And I would like to suggest that Moses had a theology, a context, a paradigm, a narrative, a lens: sovereign control (better known today as punishment).
In the sovereign control narrative of Moses’ day, it was determined that if you touched a leper you were made unclean (Lev 13:45). In the sovereign love narrative, Jesus revealed the whole story. When He touched a leper, the leper was made clean (Matt 8:3).
In the control-perspective of Moses’ day, punishment was the language of God. Moses captured this well when He wrote on God’s behalf “…I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created.”
However, Jesus revealed the whole story and a truer perspective: grace – the language of forgiveness and redemption – when He said, “…for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”
Here’s what I am trying to convey, Moses saw the zebra in a field, he described it truly through the lens he had, sovereign control. He described it truly, but not definitively, not completely. He captured the problem, but not the solution. He wrote down the story, but it wasn’t the whole story.
Then Jesus came and gave us perfect 20/20 vision regarding what God was like: sovereign love. And Jesus also made it clear how to read the whole Bible.
“You study the scriptures because you think in them is eternal life but they testify of me.” (John 5:39)
Jesus wasn’t talking about the New Testament; it hadn’t been written yet. He was specifically addressing how to interpret the Old Testament. His point was that scripture wasn’t the answer – it pointed to the answer. And He was also making it clear: He was that answer.
Jesus is “the word made flesh” (John 1:4). He is the interpretation.
Scripture tells a story. It’s as if Scripture paints a picture of a Zebra in a field, describing what the zebra is like.
But who truly knows the color of a zebra?
I believe every word of the Bible is inspired by God. God inspired and men wrote it down. But the Bible is not a part of the Trinity. The Bible isn’t God – it merely reveals Him. We all have a lens through which we see God, and that lens determines everything.
What if we read the story of Noah through the interpretation of Jesus? What if we applied God’s heart revealed to his hell fire disciples that He had not come “to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” to that epic tale? Is it possible we might see it differently?
What if the depravity of sin was so devastating in Noah’s day that humanity and innocence were being consumed? What if “every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” (Genesis 6:5) What if the earth “was corrupt” and “full of violence?” (Genesis 6:11) What if, like Paul notes in Romans 8, “all creation” groaned under the weight of sin and death? (Romans 8:20-22)
What if this groaning of a broken and fallen earth erupted in the form of an all-consuming flood? What if God, in His saving mercy, gave humanity a 120-year warning by sending a message to the one man on the planet who was living in such a way that he could hear it.
What if, for the next 120 years, Noah built an ark by God’s instruction, grace and provision? What if the feat was an act of faith like none seen before on the planet? What if the construction was supernaturally ahead of its time in design and engineering?
What if the people lived in the shadow of this magnificent testimony of God’s desire to save them for 120 years and yet not one person repented, not one heart softened?
And what if the people would have humbled themselves and prayed, and sought His face, and turned from their wicked ways? Is it possible that He would have forgiven their sin and healed their land? (2 Chronicles 7:14)
What if God, who was perfectly revealed in Jesus, does not change? What if it has never been His heart “to destroy men’s lives,” and it has always been His heart “to save them,” even during the time of Noah’s flood?
Noah’s story is incredible. He lived faithfully obedient in the context of sovereign control and punishment. But I want to highlight the difference between Noah’s navigation of a flood and how we have been set free to navigate a flood today.
I want to suggest that the clarity of our perception determines everything.
Noah’s lens on God was not definitive, He did not have the revelation of Christ, a redeemed perspective – the whole story. For Noah, God was sovereignly in control, and in a control narrative, the flood was perceived as God’s wrathful punishment of a horrendously sinful people. It was something to be survived.
What does a man of faith in a control narrative do when a wrathful God desires to destroy everything with a flood? He faithfully works night and day on his salvation with one fearful eye always searching the sky; he builds a boat and prays that he survives the coming destruction.
I know many believers who serve a God who is “in control”; a God they perceive as angry and wrathful; a God who seeks to punish sin with destruction. They work day and night on their salvation. They live fearfully, one eye always searching the sky for signs of humanity’s impending doom. Their prayer life consists of desperate pleas for a stay of execution. They seek to survive.
Please understand, I am not suggesting that Noah got it wrong. In the narrative of his day, he knocked it out of the park! But I am suggesting that if we – today – perceive God through the same control/punishment lens as Noah did, we will live in the same narrative.
Have you ever wondered why we have a Christian sub-culture in America?
I would like to suggest it’s because much of the church still interprets God and man through the lens of punishment and sovereign control. Therefore, when it gets darker in the world, Christians don’t get brighter; no, they build a sub-culture; they become survivors, looking for a way to navigate the coming flood.
But I would like to suggest that if a flood where prophesied today, building an ark to survive it would be counter to the gospel of Jesus.
We have the whole story! “…for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”
Christians aren’t called to fear floods; we aren’t even called to survive them. We are called to live like Jesus; to release His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. We are called to overcome, to break through, to live as expressions of sovereign love.
We have the whole story and in Christ, we can live in such a powerfully surrendered way that floods must bend the knee.
In the revelation of sovereign love, we have been commissioned to reveal salvation to all we encounter, to bring light to every dark place. We are called to release hope to the hopeless, redemption to the prodigal, salvation, transformation and life to every dead, broken and hurting place. We are invited to live confident and sure as powerful expressions of His sovereign love that none would perish.
We are living in the whole story. If we are willing to walk away from the ideology of sovereign control, and to instead to make Jesus – sovereign love – our lens, our hermeneutic, our methodology for interpretation, then we will become a church that doesn’t fear floods. Instead, floods will fear us.
Please get this: we aren’t here to call down fire! Nor are we here to build a Christian sub-culture so that we can survive – a boat for the world-ending flood. “On earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:19): that’s why we are here. “Even greater works shall you do” (John 14:8): that’s what Jesus revealed and promised.
A Greater Revelation
Noah couldn’t do something outside his theology. But more to the point, neither can we.
Sovereign control/punishment is the narrowest lens through which to know God. It’s salvation through works. It takes the least amount of faith and doesn’t take into account God’s eternal and sovereign love.
To describe God as “sovereignly in control” is an earthbound perspective; it doesn’t include heaven’s perspective. It is finite thinking dictated by the fear of coming floods, its punishment focused. A God in control is human reasoning. While it may seem to be an accurate assessment of our experience, while it may appear true from where we are standing, it’s not the truth that sets us free.
Sovereign control is not in God’s nature; it’s in man’s perception. It only works outside the revelation of perfect love and the context of eternity.
We need a better perspective, a greater revelation.
Who Knows the True Color of the Zebra?
There are some profound similarities between Noah and Jesus. Both were righteous men. Both walked in radical obedience. Both lived a powerful faith. Both were mocked and persecuted for their trust in God, and both lived in such a powerful way as to establish a future, a new world for the generations to come.
But their approach to life and ministry and the world around them couldn’t have been more different. Why? Because their theology, their “God-lenses” were vastly different.
Noah’s theology was control and punishment. Noah faithfully obeyed and he and his family survived. It’s a good story; a true story.
Jesus’ theology was love and grace. Jesus faithfully obeyed and he laid down His life, He died. And then Jesus rose and in His resurrection purchased salvation for all. It’s a better story; the whole story.
In Noah’s narrative, he survived. In Jesus’ narrative, all men can be saved.
Which narrative do you want to live in?
Survival is what we get with a theology of punishment and control. Resurrection life is what we get with a theology of love and grace.
I am not suggesting that the Bible lessons learned from Noah’s faith aren’t truly life changing. It’s the word of God; it’s true.
I am suggesting that Noah’s lens was not definitive or complete regarding the nature of God.
And I’m suggesting that there is one way by which to truly read the whole Bible, and one way to truly know God…
Back to the Zebra
The speaker then presented the question to us, “Who is correct regarding the true color of the zebra?” He paused long enough for me to have the thought, “Zebras are white and black.”
But that wasn’t the question.
“Who knows the true color of the zebra,” the speaker asked again and then he answered… “The zebra.”
Jesus is the Zebra.
He is sovereign love. He is the whole story. When the Bible is interpreted through Jesus – when our perspective comes into alignment with His, – we join in the whole story, and we begin to live sure in the power of our salvation – the power of resurrection life!
Jason Clark is a writer, speaker and lead communicator at A Family Story ministries. His mission is to encourage sons and daughters to grow sure in the love of an always-good heavenly Father. He and his wife, Karen, live in North Carolina with their three children.
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