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The Wretched Beauty of Scripture

by Stephen Hebert on Tuesday - 4 August 2009

in Biblical Studies, Ministry

Recently a friend of mine told me that he thought I was holding back when I taught. I was taken aback by this, but I did agree with him. In some senses I’ve felt hemmed in by some of the strictures that I have imposed upon my Bible studies (some of these are self-imposed; others are not). So, I asked, “In what way do you think I’m holding back?”

His response paraphrased:

I can tell that you are extremely passionate about Scripture. But, I’m not sure why. That’s what I want to know. What is it that makes you so passionate about this set of texts? I wish you’d just let us have it…

I thought that was a great observation, and probably full of truth. For some reason, when I’m in “teacher” mode, I tend to take on a disconnected, dispassionate persona. In order for me to be a better teacher, I probably need to get away from this — I need to let my theological and emotional hair down and really give in to the side of me that is saying: “YEAH BABY!”

This post is, in a sense, my first foray into this territory. Here’s the question: “What is it that I find so great about the Bible?”

John 1:1 tells us this: Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος — “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” If we continue to read John 1, we’ll find that this Word became flesh (John 1:14), and entered into creation, entered into the world. With all of the power and authority and possibility of God, the Word wrapped itself in the trappings of human flesh, imposing upon itself limitations unfathomable for such an infinite being. I look at the Christ hymn in Philippians 2 and am immediately inspired:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not count equality with God
a thing to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the form of a servant,
being born in the likeness of men.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Therefore God has highly exalted him
and bestowed on him
the name that is above every name
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bow
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
(Phil 2:5–11, ESV)

The infinite, almighty, omnipotent, omniscient God took on the form of humans, humbling himself to a staggering degree. That is an amazing statement in and of itself. But, what does this have to do with Scripture and my love for it?

Like many things in the world, parallelism is very present here. I see Scripture and Jesus as parallel. We often refer to Scripture as “The Word of God” or more simply “The Word.” Here we have a tome that contains within it the very Word of God, the Word from John 1, the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us. However, like Jesus who took on the trappings of man, took on the limitations of humanity, humbling himself in order to make himself more accessible to us, Scripture too has been humbled so that we can understand it.

Scripture is the Word of God in human trappings.

Rather than giving it to us straight from the horse’s mouth, God chose to have his Word transmitted from human to human via written communication, a necessarily fallible form of communication that is fraught with errors and the limitations of understanding and interpretation. God could have found a way to communicate the glory of his Word directly, but it’s possible that that might have killed us (I’m thinking of the glory of God when Moses would go up and see him on the mountain — that’s scary stuff…).

This is what I mean when I say “the wretched beauty of Scripture.” The Bible, like humans, is subject to the wretchedness of humanity. It’s crude, really. However, that’s the beauty of it. If it were not contained within this book, within this earthly, fleshly prison, would it be possible for us to understand it? Would it be possible for us to internalize it and for it to be written on our hearts? Would it be possible for us to even look at a page?

I suppose that is what I find so fascinating about the Bible — it is the Word codified in human form. As such, it is subject to attacks and interpretations; it is subject to our limitations. However, like Jesus, in the end it is Truth and reveals a freedom that we can hardly begin to understand.

I hope that explanation at least begins to answer my friend’s question/challenge.

What about you? What do you think of Scripture?

Is it too difficult to understand?

Is it something that you wish we didn’t have? (I hear a lot of folks saying that chunking the Bible might be a good idea.).

Or do you see the wretched beauty that I’m talking about?

Go ahead…sound off!

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