Last night’s service started by listening to some theme tunes from films: it was surprising how quickly people could identify a film title from just a few notes of a famous theme tune, such as Jaws or Indiana Jones. Musical themes are a kind of ‘shorthand’, plugging us in to the mood and atmosphere of a film, instantly helping us to identify with the theme of the film (the menace of Jaws or the swashbuckling action of Indiana Jones, for example.)
In our quest to answer questions about ‘The Bigger Picture’ of life and to understand how the Bible helps us to understand God’s story, we looked at some of the key themes of the Bible, identifying these as the ‘Three Rs’ (not the school ones of reading, writing and ‘rithmetic), but:
Reality is defined as ‘the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them.’ What’s real? What’s not real? Philosophers have debated these things for centuries, but the Bible deals with God’s reality as well as man’s. Most people in the Western world define reality as anything they can determine with their five senses, but the Bible insists that there is so much more to life than simply the material and physical. It contrasts the visible and the invisible, the temporal and the eternal, the physical and the spiritual. It tells us of a Creator God who is without beginning or end (Hebrews 7:3), a God who has always existed and who always will (see Genesis 1:1, Revelation 1:8, Deut 33:27), a God who is transcendent, wholly independent of the material universe, beyond all physical laws. It tells us of a reality which involves angels and demons, a reality where the heavenly realms are as real as the seas, mountains, lakes, volcanoes and terra firma of the earth. It tells us of life and death, not only in the physical realms we see, but in the spiritual realms we can’t see, showing us that God’s plan for His creation is for us to be with Him always: He’s set eternity in the human heart (Eccl 3:11) and has made us for an ongoing relationship with Him. The Bible challenges us to see a reality that is invisible to the naked eye, a reality that can only be perceived by faith.
The Bible has been described as the ‘greatest love story ever told’, and it’s important that we understand that relationships are at the heart of this book. One of the key points of God’s reality is that relationships matter, that people matter, that God loves people and wants to be in a relationship with them. The love story of the Bible shows us that God loves us with an everlasting love (Jer 31:3) and has done everything possible required to make it possible for us to be in a right relationship with Him, restoring us when sin spoilt that relationship. It shows us God’s unfailing love (Ps 13:5, Ps 33:5, Ps 130:7),how His faithfulness and love are the bedrock of all relationships (Deut 7:9, Ps 36:5, Ps 57:10) and gives us insight into how all relationships are at the heart of life.
Right at the start of the Creation story, we read that after God created Adam, He said ‘It is not good for the man to be alone’ (Gen 2:18) and the rest of the Bible is in some respects a development of that theme, a development of the crucial fact, often forgotten in today’s society which relies so much on mechanical things and which prizes individualism so much, that people matter and that relationships are a key part of being human, with our relationship with God the essential ‘missing ingredient’ of life.
Most people think of the Bible as a book of rules, such as the Ten Commandments in Exodus, the ‘Golden Rule’ in Matthew 7:12, all the lists in Leviticus, with its prohibitions about what to wear, what to eat, who to marry, what to do if you have an infectious skin disease and so on, the rules given in Proverbs about how to live with your neighbours and conduct business. Few of us like rules, which can explain our dismissal of the Bible! However, when we’re learning about rules in the Bible, we can’t divorce these from what we’ve learnt about God’s reality or about God’s love and His desire for relationships; we need God’s Spirit to bring life to His Word so that we understand God’s heart, not just the actual words (see 2 Cor 3:6). God’s rules are not meant to bind us but to lead us to holiness and freedom and to show us, above all, that we cannot reach God on our own simply by following rules. Rules give us boundaries; they also clearly explain to us what is right and what is wrong, but they also point us to a Saviour who is the only sinless one (see Gal 3:19, Rom 7:7, 19, Rom 3:20-24).
Ultimately, the rules in the Bible show us God’s purity and holiness and our unworthiness, but they also point to the One who freely offers us holiness and righteousness (2 Cor 5:20-21). Without these rules, we would not know how God is to be approached; these rules are for our highest good to lead us back to that relationship with God which is all-important.