MORE THAN RULES AND RITUALS:
“IS THE BIBLE RELEVANT IN THE 21st CENTURY?”
This year Google celebrates its the 20th birthday. We love Google, not just because it’s a useful tool that allows us to search for anything and everything that our heart desires. But because connects with something fundamental in human nature: we are curious, inquisitive creatures. And ever since the dawn of time, we have asked: Where have we come from? Why are we here? How do we make the best use of our lives here? What if anything is beyond death? Google isn’t much help with these ultimate questions! If you searched: ‘What is the meaning of life?’ The most Google can do is supply almost 3 million results to consider. But how can we know which is the real answer?
Here’s a way to think about the dilemma that confronts us:
Imagine that you have just regained consciousness in this room. In fact you don’t remember anything before waking up 10 seconds ago; nor do the other people in here with you. All the windows are bricked up and the big door at the back is locked shut – we’re trapped. Since we’re inquisitive creatures it isn’t long before we start asking questions: Who are we? How did we get here? What is life in this room all about? Is there anything beyond this room? But none of us know or remember. Instead we use our resourcefulness to try to figure out the answers.
Some adopt a scientific approach: using their reason and senses to investigate things. They measure conditions within the room, and conclude that this room is most likely all there is, because that’s all they can access.
Others adopt a spiritual approach – they have dreams or visions in states of altered consciousness as they seek to get in touch with the Great Beyond. But they all disagree with one another in describing what it is and its intentions for them in this room. And how we are to know they’re not just guessing or making it up?
But then suddenly you hear a key turn in the lock and a bolt be unlocked – the door opens and someone walks into the room. At that moment, what that person says in answer to our questions takes precedence over all our theories …
That’s the kind of claim that the Bible makes – to be knowledge from beyond the walls of the material universe. It claims to be the Word of the God, who hasn’t left us alone searching for answers – rather He has walked through the door of history and made Himself known to humans: in the written Bible and the person of Jesus.
In my experience, the Bible makes fuller sense of life and reality, than the alternatives. And so let’s take a look at this question: Is the Bible relevant in the 21st century?
Today for many people it’s just an old book collecting dust on a shelf. It’s considered primitive and obsolete - with nothing useful to offer us in the 21st century. In schools and in the media, we hear the narrative that once our society valued the Bible, but it was abandoned by a past generation when it was exposed as irrelevant and unreliable. However, if you’ve not taken the time to check the Bible out for yourself, then it’s possible that you’ve been misinformed about it.
You see, many of the things we enjoy and take for granted in contemporary society are the fruit of the Bible’s influence. That’s why President Theodore Roosevelt once said of the Bible that “no other book of any kind written in English has ever so affected the whole life of a people”. It has influenced our laws… fuelled the development of the sciences… inspired activism for democracy, human rights, social reform and equality. If you care about any of these things, then it’s important to hear what the Bible has to contribute.
Also you might be surprised to hear that the Bible relevantly addresses real life issues like love and friendship, justice and forgiveness, freedom and wholeness, happiness and depression, grief and hope. The shelves of our bookshops are crammed with books on these themes – every year we spend billions making dramas and movies exploring them too. The Bible is full of relevant wisdom to help us live well in all seasons of life, because it claims to be our Makers instruction manual.
If that’s all true, then why do so many people suggest it’s irrelevant. Well if we step back to examine the question further: it rests upon the biased assumption that “The newer is true, what is recent is decent…. And the latest word must be taken as the last word” (Packer). But Professor C.S. Lewis called this “chronological snobbery”. He pointed out our grand-children will look back on us and wonder what on earth we were thinking? Just as we are offended when we read a 1950s Housewife magazine that suggests women should be chained to the kitchen sink. That sobering realisation should compel us beware of our contemporary blindspots! We hear a lot today about #FakeNews or how we live in an echo chamber. That’s why we need to be open to hear other trusted voices outside our culture and era to have our blindspots exposed. And there can be no better way to do that than to check out the Bible: one of the oldest and the world’s best selling book!
Nevertheless, is it possible that you’re here with a closed mind - looking for a reason to dismiss and discredit the Bible? Someone once said: “The Bible is a book that you couldn’t write if you would, and wouldn’t write if you could” (Chafer). Our secular society did not abandon or attack the Bible because it was irrelevant or unreliable, but because it was undesirable.
To be honest with you, that’s not a new reaction! In Luke’s gospel, you can read about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. One sabbath morning Jesus walked into His hometown synagogue, picked up a scroll from the Bible and read this prophecy given 700 years earlier: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour”. Luke then records how “Jesus rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them: ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’. And all spoke well of him and marvelled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth”
Jesus began his public ministry saying that if we are going to understand who He is and what He has come to do, then we must consider what the Bible has already said about Him. However, that first day which began so positively, ended very badly: “When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town, and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff”. This violent response and attempt to silence the messenger is another example of what can happens when we are confronted by God’s Word.
Let me say that I see something of myself in that crowd – indeed all of us.
Jesus confronts the human race with the fact that we are all a part of the problem of what’s wrong in this world. We live here in God’s good world, enjoying God’s good gifts. But we ignore and often rebel against His good Words. Jesus offends us because He confronts us with the fact that we have sinned against God, we stand condemned by His just law – and we cannot fix it ourselves. Jesus offended these religious people by inferring they were in need of God’s rescue just as much as the poor, the blind, the captives, the oppressed. But they were too proud to hear it! *Fingers in ears: Not listening*
Their attempt to silence and dispose of Jesus that day foreshadowed the last day of His ministry – arrested, suffered miscarriage of justice, and executed on a Cross. Yet that terrible moment was the way rescue would come! Jesus came not only to bring revelation of answers to our deepest questions, but to bring salvation for our deepest problem of sin. The good news of the Bible is that Jesus died in our place, suffering the just punishment for our sins, to bring us back to God.
So while, when you read the Bible, you aren’t always going to like what it says. That’s not a bad thing - my wife doesn’t always agree with me and she’s usually right, so it would be worrying if Almighty God always agreed with me… almost like I was just making Him up in my head! But when you read about Jesus, there is so much to like and love!
Let me finish telling you the story of the French philosopher, Emile Cailliet. He became a convinced atheist after the horrendous experience of fighting in the First World War. Nevertheless, he was still searching for answers about life. He began to compile a book of quotations from all the great works of literature, science and philosophy he could get his hands on. He hoped to produce “The Book That Understands Me”. After years working on this project, one day he sat down to read his book and his heart sank – this book had no power to comfort or guide him, because it was his own creation. However, that same day, his wife came home with a French Bible. For the first time in his life, Emille began to read the gospels. After several hours, he put it down, bowed his head and said: “At last I found the Book That Understands Me”. That night he opened his mind and heart to God, later recording: “To this God I prayed that night, and the God who answered was the same God of whom it was spoken in the Book”.
What about you – are you open-minded enough to read about Jesus – to see for yourself if this is really the Book That Understands You?