Tuesday, January 7, 2014

In 2014 - Know the Story!

In my last post, I encouraged you and me to “live His story.” You might be thinking, “okay, but what story exactly?” Obviously God’s story, but first we need to know His-story, if we’re going to live it, right?

That is particularly true given the fact that, as I mentioned last time, most Christians don’t understand or even know the “grand narrative” of Scripture. Many think of the Bible as a collection of 'books,' somehow related perhaps, but not one single story with a common thread from beginning to end. Others may have a cursory understanding of the story, knowing it all has something to do with Jesus, but not really sure what that means for them, apart from a relationship with our divine Person.

In this post, I want to begin to unlock this 'grand narrative.' Doing justice to this subject in a blog post however is like the Apostle John explaining at the end of his Gospel, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (John 21:25). Nevertheless, let’s begin, and that's all it is, a beginning.

Here’s a question to answer: If you could select one and only one Bible verse as a ‘thesis statement’ for the entire Bible, what verse would you select? Probably a quick answer might be John 3:16 but here’s the definition of a ‘thesis statement.’ 

“A thesis statement appears near the beginning of the introductory paragraph of a paper, and it offers a concise solution to the issue being addressed. It states the claim of the argument presented in a paper, and sometimes a brief summary of all explained reasons in the paper. A thesis statement is usually one sentence, though it may occur as more than one.”

Some may fuss, "the Bible is not a simple “white paper” that presents a single argument!" A ‘white paper’ is “an authoritative report or guide helping readers to understand AN issue, solve A problem, or make A decision.” And that's what the Bible is, does, when he understand the 'grand narrative'! 

The fact is the Bible is one life-altering ‘report’ that deals with a single issue, which we will get to in a moment. The Bible has been described as a “love letter from God,” however it is too easy to brush past such a mushy metaphor and not really think deeply about what that means.

As I wrote last time, we too often read and teach the Bible through the stories within the story. However if there is a grand narrative, or metanarrative, to all of Scripture, that helps us to understand AN issue, solves A problem, or make A decision, then we have in the Word of God the most profound “white paper” ever written.  Everything in it should point toward a solution. 

Certainly, the Bible is an ‘authoritative’ work, regardless how one views ‘inerrancy,’ as no other work can match the depiction of God we get from the Bible, notwithstanding the difficulty we often have in understanding it. Perhaps the difficulty with the Bible is rooted in the fact that we don’t grasp the ‘thesis statement.’  

Okay, so have you thought about the earlier question? What one verse offers a concise solution, is near the beginning of our Holy “white paper” and explains the reason for the work is being written?  Can I suggest to you Genesis 1:27-28:
“So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.”

“God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’”
These two verses of the creation account are not simply the beginning of our story but the very reason for the story. This verse is not simply about an expanding population, as male and female humans propagate the species to “fill the earth.” It’s not simply about subduing and ruling over creation. Not when we understand the “grand narrative” of our ‘white paper.’

Rather, I believe these verses, tied as they are directly to our being image bearers, the 'imago Dei,' are in fact the “thesis statement” – “a brief summary of all that follows and is explained in the paper.” All that follows serves the purposes of the author, God (okay, through divine inspiration and human understanding), toward his purpose of the fruitful existence of His creation and human flourishing – all for His glory. 

This passage informs us of our life’s purpose and should shape how we live - to fill the earth and subdue it. But it is not about human progeny but rather about what God wants to accomplish as God blesses. Nor, is it about human authority, theocratic governance, or some dominionistic polity.  Rather, these verses are a commission that need to be understood in terms of the grand narrative, as the thesis statement, our  raison d'être.
It is only by God’s blessing that we “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:26). The Creator made mankind in his image so that through his immeasurable love all people would know, glorify and enjoy God throughout the whole world - eternally.

Genesis 1:27-28 can be better seen in light of two other key Scripture that help to unlock this “grand narrative”.  First, Numbers 14:21: “Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the LORD fills the whole earth…” 

The Bible declares two ideas: God is and God's glory fills the earth (see also Isaiah 6:3). In this passage, Moses is speaking the ‘Word of the Lord’ to a rebellious people, the Israelites. God’s glory was known to them but yet they forsook it. The penalty for their neglect was their generation would perish outside the Promised Land. 

The "grand narrative" is about God’s glory and how mankind continues in rebellion against the blessings of God - that is the problem. But mankind's rebellion won’t last forever - God has a solution.

Second, Habakkuk 2:14: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” While the glory of the Lord fills the earth, what is still universally missing is the “knowledge of the glory.” 

Today, mankind fills the earth with our human population exceeding 7 billion (not to worry, there is plenty of room for many more). However, at the start of the 21st Century, nearly 3 billion people have no or very little knowledge about God’s glory. These are the “Unreached” of the world, many of whom are “Unengaged” (no one even trying to reach them with the knowledge).

The whole of the Bible is about what God has done and wants to do to “fill the earth with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord.” This is the story that runs through the whole of Scripture. Our task remains "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it." 

Jesus put it this way: "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come" (Matthew 24:14). Do you see the connection?

From creation to Christ to the beautiful mosaic of the countless number peoples gathered together in cosmic worship we see in Revelation 7:9, God is on mission to fill the earth with the knowledge of who he is for us. Then through us, His people, the people who know and live the story, to "subdue" the earth with and through Christ (Matthew 28:19-20) – finally to put and end to the strife, the darkness, the hostility toward one another and rebellion toward God. 

When we learn the "grand narrative" we read the Bible in a whole new Light, through the knowledge of his glory, what God has done to reveal himself so that we can glorify God and enjoy him forever. 

Much more can be said about our divine ‘white paper’ we too often take for granted today. Many believing "the Book” is passé, antiquated, irrelevant for our story in the 21st Century reality. The problem is we get so bogged down in the stories and subplots of the Bible that we can miss the grandness of the greatest story ever told. And the story is not finished! 

In 2014, immerse yourself in His-Story, know it and live it, for his glory!

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