By Nathan C. Vance
Being raised as the son of a Charismatic minister has been extremely interesting. I feel like I’ve seen the best, the worst, and the strangest that humanity has to offer. What I consider the best is genuine love and friendship. I love seeing kindness in action. I love seeing groups of people committed to helping their fellow man. I’ve been fortunate enough to have witnessed a great deal of genuine kindness in my life and that really is the best. As I’ll discuss more later, Christ came as a lover of humanity, and he is truly the best.
I’ve also seen the strange. I’ve actually seen a lot of strange. To many, the word strange is synonymous with Charismatic churches and, having lived it, I can certainly understand why. The strange that I refer to is a culture of inappropriate behavior. It goes beyond a tolerance of the unconventional, but is more a reliance on chaos. It is the type of behavior that is hard to describe because, in my experience, it wouldn’t be accepted in any other environment. I don’t say this to discount the Holy Spirit or the manifestation of the power of the living God —both are things I very much believe in. What I am describing is, well, just weird.
And then there is the worst. I’ve seen a lot of this one—more than should be seen in an entire lifetime. I’ve witnessed firsthand how uncomfortable and inauthentic the four walls of a church can make people. I’ve seen the complete disconnect between words and actions that is, unfortunately, commonplace among many Christians. In a church body it manifests itself as jealousy, gossip, dissention, and even anger. It usually rears its ugly head when it comes to helping the less fortunate. How sad. I should also admit that I’m a Twitter addict. I’ve learned that Twitter is a wonderful forum for the worst in humanity. I constantly see people posting scripture and tweeting about the grace and mercy of Christ. I love seeing tweets like that. They provide encouragement for my day. What I can’t reconcile in my mind is when I scan the timeline of the Tweeter and find one negative post after the next and a heartlessness that is deeply disturbing (We’re none immune to a regrettable hot take on social media. I’m referring to an on-going pessimism that brands an account as the worst). What’s worst of all is that it typically takes non-Christians to point out to Christians just how un-Christ-like they are being.
Now I’m a 32-year old man with a family of my own and my senses and perceptions have only heightened. Watching hypocrisy in action no longer amuses me. Instead, it angers me to my very core. I see in person and online the complete lack of empathy that people have for one another and I don’t even know how to describe the disdain I have for this behavior. And I’m especially angry when I see it from Christians. (Anger may not seem like the logical emotion, but it is the same one Jesus experienced when he sent merchants from the outer court of the temple that was reserved for Gentile worship.)
And I wonder why.
Going back to my upbringing, I can’t help but smile now as I recall the vast number of people I’ve encountered through the years who have openly bragged about “knowing the book of the Lord.” In this context, that of course means the Bible. I find that statement amusing because the Bible is as densely packed and distinctive a text as has ever existed in the world. I’m sure it goes without saying that those braggarts are the same ones that I described earlier as being inauthentic, uncomfortable, lacking empathy, and, to go a step further, mean. Usually, that statement comes from someone who is firmly established among the worst.
Imagine having read the Harry Potter book series without ever reading any conversations or interviews with the author, JK Rowling. While this isn’t an exact comparison, it does make the point that Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series is also the creator of the entire fictional world in which the series exists. Because of that, she has singular insight into every character, place, theme, and decision far beyond the comprehension of even the most scholarly reader. Mind-blowing revelations have come to light about the series through Rowling’s various interviews and interactions with fans than could ever be inferred by simply reading the books.
Similarly, and on a far greater scale, the Bible has been dissected for centuries by history’s greatest minds with endless debates about many of its inclusions. Why? Because it is impossible to know the book completely. It is far too infinite for human minds to grasp. 1 Corinthians 13:9-10 says, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.
So while I used to laugh at self-important people boldly claiming to “know the book of the Lord,” and am now irritated beyond words with them, I think I understand what is missing. Knowing or having read the Bible isn’t a bad thing: it is a wonderful thing. But reading the Bible without seeking a relationship with its author is both fruitless and, frankly, dangerous. It leads to a spirit of self-righteousness. Better said, it causes people to feel like they are superior to other people and therefore to lack any human decency or empathy toward the less fortunate. They become mean.
Why is that a problem? Because the Bible is a love story.
A love story?
Yes. It is an incredible one too; far better than The Notebook, Titanic, Pretty Woman, or Gone With the Wind. It is the story of a loving God making his greatest creation (humanity) in his own image, that creation turning its back on him, and the incredible lengths that God would personally go through to get that relationship back.
How do I know this?
1. I’ve read the Bible. And more importantly, I’ve spent time meditating on it through prayer with our intercessor and savior, Jesus Christ. That relationship has helped immensely in understanding what could be very foggy. It has helped guide me through the murky. It has helped reveal that which would ordinarily be vague. Let me be clear, there are true theologians in our world who have dedicated their life to understanding the Bible who have a far better grasp than do I, but I do know the Lord of the book, and that makes all the difference.
What do I mean, The Lord of the Book? The Bible says in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Later in the chapter, in verse 14 it goes on to say, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as the only son from the father; full of grace.” Jesus Christ is the flesh that is described, the divine inspiration for the entire Bible. He came to give us relationship with our creator. Through prayer, we can have that relationship and we can begin to understand the true nature of God. Like with the Harry Potter series, it is impossible to truly understand without that relationship.
2. Jesus himself tells us that the Bible is a love story in multiple locations. In Matthew 22:36-40, when asked directly what was most important, Jesus replies, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. And the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself.” In Matthew chapter 5, Jesus says, “You heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” In Luke chapter 6 Jesus says, “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” And then there is the singular scripture that most of the world can quote regardless of their background. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. In verse 17, it goes on to say, “For God did not send his son into the world to judge the world, but that through him it might be saved.”
As a Christian, I boldly claim to be a follower of Christ. His own words direct me on how I’m supposed to live every day. Love God. Love my neighbor. Love my enemies. Why do I do this? 1 John 4:19 says that “we love because he first loved us.”
I want to close with a summation of the love affair between God and humanity. For those who know the book of the Lord, this will be a familiar story. It comes from the Old Testament book of Hosea. In it, God tells Hosea to marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her. Throughout the story, it is revealed that Hosea’s wife eventually leaves him and goes back into adultery and what we infer to be prostitution. Hosea then returns to her, but in order to save her, he is forced to purchase her with money and goods. Then, despite her choosing to live as a prostitute rather than living as his wife, he receives her back. He purchased his wife out of a self-imposed slavery! That is the story of God’s love for us. He saves us from our infidelity and loves us with an everlasting love. And then, like Adam and Eve before us, we betray him. Still he returns and purchases us from the bonds of slavery and returns us to our original status as though we’d never left. It is the kind of selfless, unconditional love that is so bold and so radical, we as humans struggle to understand it.
How do I know this? Because of my relationship with the Bible’s divine author. I’ve learned that it’s okay to know the book of the Lord, but that it is far more important to know the Lord of the book. Knowing that will make clear what might otherwise be foggy. Knowing that will give us insight into the incredible love that inspired its words. Knowing that will free us to be the kind, comfortable, authentic, empathetic, and loving people that God has called us to be. Knowing that will bring out our best. Without that relationship, the Bible is just another book.
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