Do we really need the Bible? We often sort of assume that when we read the Bible it will just confirm what I already think and believe anyway. But is that in fact the case? We are used to thinking about the effects of sin on the human heart. We know that, left to ourselves, our desires would not be what they should be. We know that we would spend our life wanting the wrong things; looking for satisfaction in the wrong places; simply not wanting to be the people God wants us to be. There would be little in this observation that would be a surprise to us. But I am increasingly stunned by the impact of sin on the human mind. The more I study the Bible, the more I realise how I think the wrong things, and even when I think about the right things, I think about them in the wrong way. Perhaps that is why we are told not to lean on our own understanding (Prov.3:5).
The fact of the matter is that if I was left to myself, and were to think about ‘God’, every thought I would have of Him would be wrong. If I were asked a series of questions about God (e.g. Who do I think God is? How do I think God relates to the world? What do I think God wants from me?), every answer I would give would be wrong – emphatically wrong. Does this sound too extreme? Well, let’s think about the most basic statement of belief about God: that He is Trinity, one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I wonder if we would ever have come to that conclusion if it were not for the Bible teaching us that it is so? And if this most foundational of beliefs proves so elusive, what hope could there be for anything else we might want to say about Him?
And it is my own experience that I am still – after studying the Bible for over two decades – finding frighteningly large areas where my thinking is radically out of step with what the Bible teaches. And in many of those areas it feels like I have to keep my mind under constant pressure to think according to the Scriptures, or it would revert to some wrong, and therefore ‘sinful’, way of thinking about God. This is simply the testimony of the history of academia. Philosophers have for generations tried to reason their way to God. And without fail, they have failed to arrive at a doctrine of God that resonates with what the Bible teaches us.
But couldn’t we figure out who God is by studying creation? That would make sense – if God made it, and especially if He made it to reveal His glory, we would expect it to carry His fingerprints. But we encounter two obstacles in our interpreting the ‘Book of Creation’. The first is that Creation is no longer what it was when God made it. Paul teaches us that ‘creation is subjected to frustration’ and that it is ‘groaning as in the pains of childbirth’ (Rom.8:20 & 22). The impact of our sinfulness on creation has thrown it off kilter, and while it is still able to
declare the glory of God (Psalm 8:1), it does so in muted and uncertain voice (see Hosea 4:2-3). But there is still something creation can teach us then? Yes, even in its fallen state creation has something to say about Christ (Rom.1:19-20) – but here we run into our second problem: the impact of our sinfulness on us, and the way that sin blinds us to what should be ‘clearly seen’. Indeed, most tragically, when left to our own devices we have a propensity to use creation, not to teach us about God, but to replace God (Rom.1:22-23) as the object of our worship. This avenue too remains closed to us because of the reality of sin. Only as we put on the ‘spectacles of Scripture’ can we begin to read the book of creation faithfully.
It requires a direct and very powerful intervention to break the deadlock of our sinful ignorance. It requires an act of God that has been specifically designed to shatter the darkness of our thinking, and to reconfigure our minds in a way that allows us to see and understand the reality of God. It is our conviction that the Scriptures, when wielded by the Holy Spirit, are precisely that act of God. Here, and here alone, can we arrive safely at a sure and certain knowledge of our great God and Saviour.
Richard Hooker, one of the older Anglican theologians, talked of allowing (redeemed) reason and (Biblical) tradition to aid us in our interpretation of Scripture as the self-revelation of God – but that is very different from talking (as some do today) of Scripture, Reason and Tradition as three different ways of building our understanding of God. We’ll look at Tradition next week, but we have already seen that to trust to our own Reason to think either abstractly, or to interpret the evidence of creation so as to arrive at a doctrine of God is intellectual suicide, driven in part by a dangerous naiveté about the effect of sin on our thinking. Certainly when Scripture and Reason clash, there is no doubt as to which we must follow.
Over the next weeks we will be considering how the Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to re-shape the landscape of our minds, and to reveal to us the reality of who God is. We must first reconcile ourselves to the fact that there is no other way to access God’s revelation of Himself in Christ, than by the Spirit working through the Scriptures. We’ll look at this directly in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, perhaps it is enough to say that we must renounce all thoughts of God or ourselves that are not based on Scripture. To go against what is written is neither right nor true, and it will plunge us into an inexplicable labyrinth from which there is no return.