The Joy of Books

HAS IT EVER struck you as odd? God has an urgent message for us, and He has infinite power at His disposal. He could have taken over the world’s TV channels, or written in the sky, or sent out angels with loudhailers. But instead He chooses to communicate by means of an old book.

The cynic might turn the question round, and suggest that if God really did want to communicate with us He would use some other means. But this would be to miss the point of what the Bible is. It is not just an old book.

What God wants from us is faith. ‘Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him’ (Hebrews 11:6). History shows that overt displays of God’s power do not produce faith.

For Example…

The book of Exodus narrates the journey of the people of Israel through the wilderness towards the Promised Land. They had experienced God’s spectacular deliverance from their slavery in Egypt, and they were experiencing every day His guidance and care in the supernatural pillar of cloud which stood over the camp and the manna with which they were fed. And yet they regularly murmured, complained and rebelled, and almost all of them perished on the journey. This is the Bible’s summary of their failing:

For forty  years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.” Therefore I swore in my wrath, “They shall not enter my rest” (Psalm 95:10–11).

The four Gospel records present detailed accounts of Jesus Christ’s ministry. The people were astonished at the miracles he performed, and on at least one occasion they were all for making him king (John 6:15). The Gospels describe how disillusionment developed into hostility, and three years after his ministry began his enemies were able to turn the people against him and secure his execution.

No amount of dramatic displays of God’s power would produce a world full of faithful people. So what is the way to cultivate faith? ‘Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ’ (Romans 10:17). The Bible is designed to ignite and cultivate faith in its readers.

Faith in God is not simply an acknowledgement of His existence. The Bible does provide plenty of evidence that it is the work of God Himself—for example in its own miraculous internal consistency, the witness of archaeology and science, and the evidence of fulfilled prophecy, especially in relation to Israel (which are regularly presented in this magazine). But much more than that, the Bible is a book with a purpose which is to change lives.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16–17).

God’s purpose never was to convert everyone. It is to call out from the nations ‘a people for his name’ (Acts 15:14), to cultivate people who will turn to Him, put their faith in Him, obey Him and set their hearts on becoming like Him in the way they think and the things that matter in their lives. The Bible has a supreme ability to do this, and it has been doing it generation after generation down through the centuries.

A Good Read

It is a book that grows on you. As the Psalmist said: ‘Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me’ (Psalm 119:97–98). It contains sublime wisdom, which is unlike any other book in the world. What is not often recognised is that it is also great to read!

Within the Bible’s 66 books there are examples of pretty well every genre of literature. For example Genesis contains the epic of creation and the beginnings of God’s dealings with humankind; the books of Samuel contain the heroic life-story of David the shepherd king; the following books of Kings contain the historical saga of the prosperity and decline of a kingdom, and Lamentations is a song of grief for a fallen city. The book of Psalms contains songs which span the full breadth of human emotion; Proverbs contains pithy nuggets of wisdom, and Ecclesiastes is a philosophical treatise on the meaning of life. In the New Testament, the Gospels present four complementary biographies of the Lord Jesus Christ. The letters (or ‘epistles’) provide intimate insight into Christian life in the First Century in a wide variety of styles, from the meticulously reasoned argument of Hebrews to the warm practical guidance of James.

And these books are not just ancient and beautiful literature—they have the potency of the true words of God, bound together into one consistent revelation, with its central theme of a call to accept the free gift of eternal life. Why would you not want to read it?