Friday, May 13, 2011

Who/What/Where Is God?

Most everybody has questions about God.

Part of growing up is learning to ask better questions.

When there are big questions about God, - who is he, what is he like, where is he in the world - Christians would obviously point to the Scriptures for some answers.

Christians commonly refer to the Hebrew Scriptures as the Old Testament. This is to distinguish it from what we call the New Testament. We consider both Testaments to be Holy Scripture, authoritative for our life. Those two Testaments are our primary documents for discerning the nature of God and his work in our world. There are other ways to learn about God, but they all flow from what is revealed in the Scriptures.

Not only do most people have big questions for God, they also have a low regard for the Bible. It's common these days to distrust the Scriptures. There is a lot of fuzzy thinking about the origins of the Old Testament, and lots of suspicion about who wrote the New Testament, why it was written, and how it is often used today to control people. Which all adds to a general abandonment of reading the Bible to learn about God. And this makes it real hard to know anything about God.

Fortunately there are better ways to think about the Bible.

One helpful way is to start with the Hebrew Scriptures and think of them as Israel's big stories about God. Whether you believe the stories to be true or not is beside the point. The Old Testament is a record of stories compiled over many centuries, stories about Israel and their relationship with God. It's not propaganda - some of the stories are pretty embarrassing towards God and Israel. It's not barbarian fiction - there is plenty of archaeological evidence to back up events and places. It's not ancient religious prattle - this is sophisticated poetry, compelling narratives, and intriguing compilations of laws and regulations.

By approaching the Old Testament as Israel's stories about God, it allows us to read the stories at face value. It's not about pitting them against science or history or modern notions of religion. It's allowing the stories to speak for themselves and reveal to us what they believed about God and his work in the world. 

There are several different ways to summarize the big stories of the Old Testament - I've focused on these five:

Each story connects with the next, with specific people taking on significant roles. Fascinating characters who, when you are honest, kind of remind you of people today. Though the stories are very, very old, and contextually there is often some work we have to do to understand ancient Sumerian, Canaanite or Babylonian culture, people are people. What we learn about God and his interactions and instructions to people back then will often seem to have a very pertinent application to our life today. 

This series of posts will help you connect the dots on people and events you may be familiar with in the Bible. If you don't know much of anything about the Bible, this will be a helpful introduction to the big themes and stories that can still capture our imaginations today.

What are some of the big questions you have about God and the Bible and Christianity and Faith?

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