Call me unspiritual. But if I tried, I might find a way to start this column in a dull way, especially if you’re (here comes the clichéd gluttony joke) hung over from turkey.
How? By quoting a Bible paragraph or verse, instead of saying something “new.”
This principle might also prove true — especially apart from God’s grace — if you had an hour of reading time before bed, and two books on a table. One is a speculative novel, new and shiny, with a fun cover, fascinating back-cover text, and crisp white pages. The other book is the Bible. The challenge: which would you be inclined to pick up first?
If you’re like me, you’d think to reach for the novel.
Already caught a Devotion this morning. Already know whatever I would read in the Bible. Most of us will shut down such thoughts. But even to have them at all is embarrassing!
I don’t say this to give blame, or an I’ve-beat-this-and-you-can-too sentiment, or put-on humility meant to drag us all down (ohhh, I’m such a sinner and so are you!). Rather, I’m admitting a struggle common to Christians. And this should, I hope, encourage us — for apart from Christ, we wouldn’t even struggle with reading His Word!
Yes, “Bible fog” seems to be a phenomenon unique to Christians. It’s also encouraging because this struggle could be secondary evidence that this Book, apart from any other, is the very Word of God. Why else would our flesh, and/or the Devil, resist it so much?
Nonfiction books, biographies, documentaries, and (true!) sermon tropes reference the countless ways in which the flesh and the Devil have tried to extinguish God’s Word. Usually they ignore it. When that doesn’t work, they make mockery (witness the recent attempts by some to shut up a certain public-God-praising football player). Lest that prove their laughable level of discomfort, they revert to ignoring, or else more-subtle modes of intolerance of the Bible: prosecuting public Biblical references, or sometimes (as in before the Reformation) keeping it from being translated into common languages.
Some folks, of course, ban or burn the Bible. Given the level of hatred toward this book far beyond Christians’ struggles to dig deep into it, it’s really quite amazing that we have so many copies of original texts — more than copies of, say, Homer’s works, I’ve read.
It also seems amazing that we need fight to maintain our fascination with God’s Story.
Even more amazing could be to doubt that the Word, after surviving hundreds of years of hatred and persecution and ignorance on our old Earth, would not last into the New.
The everlasting Story
In this series, I’ve tried to lay a Scriptural foundation for why various things, done for God’s glory, may last into the After-world — the physical, sin-purged, made-new New Heavens and New Earth. Much of this is founded on promises God has made, such as to preserve Israel’s homeland, and to bring Heaven to this Earth-made-new (and not to annihilate Earth to replace with a completely new creation; see last week’s column).
Other parts of this discussion are speculation. And that will likely include next week’s exploration of why manmade stories, of today, could last into the eternal world.
Yet the truth of Scripture’s eternality should, I think, be beyond doubt or questioning.
Forever, O LORD, your word
is firmly fixed in the heavens.
Your faithfulness endures to all generations;
you have established the earth, and it stands fast.
A voice says, “Cry!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the LORD blows on it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.
Isaiah 40: 6-8
[Jesus speaking] “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
That alone would establish the case: God’s Word will last beyond this old Earth. If kings, despots, heretics, and other villains couldn’t purge the planet of His Word, then His own exposing and refining fire (2 Peter 3:10) cannot include wiping out His own Word.
Secondary support for the Bible’s everlasting existence comes from the Book’s own direct prophecies about the New Earth. As discussed last week, the New Earth will come after the present-day afterlife. Even Heaven will be made new along with “the creation itself” that had been groaning with “we ourselves” (Romans 8), when at long last “the dwelling of God is with man” (Rev. 21:3)! The New Earth will be a physical world, with physical people in physical resurrected bodies (2 Cor. 5). We will recall our former lives (Rev. 6: 9-11 — martyrs even knew they had been murdered and longed for God’s justice). We’ll see Christ clearly, a far better perspective of reality, not as “in a mirror dimly, but then face to face … fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12).
Physical resurrected beings in a physical resurrected world, with memories of our past lives along with far greater perspective as we see Christ face to face. … How could we not also want His perfect written revelation through which we first came to know Him?
“I’ve always thought that we wouldn’t need the Bible anymore in eternity, that the faith being made sight would remove all need for it,” reader Paul Lee said last week. “But the idea of reading the Scripture in eternity is intriguing in a way… the use of the text would have changed. It would be a record, a testament, to the salvation of God in the past.”
Amen. And the word testament is a giveaway, I think, to the fact that we already know a little about what that would be like! We have the Old Testament, a book of incredible mysteries for previous readers, and still many mysteries today — but less than before.
- Where once readers heard Isaiah’s and others prophets’ words about a Savior, who was both a conquering King and a suffering servant, and confused the two comings — with Christ’s arrival, we know a little bit more about the difference.
- Where once we might wonder why God created an institution like marriage, Paul claims that all along it had been patterned on Christ and His Church (Eph. 5:32).
- Once no one knew the amazing Story God had waiting. Now He has shown it:
But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.
1 Corinthians 2:9-10
If even on this old Earth, without resurrected minds and with less perspective, we can glory in the mysteries of the Old Testament that God has shown to us, imagine the even greater wonder of looking back on both Testaments as the epic record of God’s Story.
Worship in the Word
Knowing all this about the coming After-world, anticipating it, studying it, trying to balance between taking God’s promises at face value and not speculating beyond that — all this forges even greater faith in the truth, and the wonder, of God’s everlasting Story.
Especially on this day of thankfulness to the God of truth and beauty, I almost want to break out — like the apostle Paul right in the middle of deep theologizing (Rom 11: 33-36) — in praise and worship. This would attend our wonder at how Scripture will seem to us on the New Earth. It may also increase our awe at His incredible Word, awe that echoes backward from that made-new world of clarity and wonder — back in time, and into our old-and-groaning world of dim murkiness, boredom, and “Bible fog.”
It seems cliché to say “the Bible is not just a textbook, it’s a story.” That “rebuttal,” to something few claim to believe, itself needs some rebutting. Scripture does give us facts, theology, history, law. And some Bible-is-really-a-story folks may actually tell the wrong story. Yet how often do the heresies and false teachings and our own sin-struggles make us use the Book, maybe not like a “textbook,” but like a personal-repair manual?
Conversely, how many times do we go through this angsty little dance: I don’t want to read it because I don’t feeling like I want to, and I know I should, and I really should feel in advance that this is God’s perfect Word and He has something to say to me through it, so I ought to be grateful and overflowing with thanks, just like in church — so why don’t I?
Just now I realized what else that sounds like: writers’ block. Writers among my readers may identify. Yes, sometimes you need to leave the desk and eat, get some sleep or some coffee, and come back for another try. And sometimes you need to write anyway. Belay the distractions and other don’t-want-to excuses. Belay the don’t-feel-like-its. Yes, you do feel like it. Deep down you do. Otherwise you wouldn’t hate the struggle.
With Scripture, the solutions might be similar. But there may be one added factor that doesn’t get discussed often: that perhaps we over-complicate reading Scripture.
Make no mistake. There’s definitely a time for word studies, journaling, and going deep.
Yet there’s also a time just to read the Story. To pray that God’s Spirit will remove the mental fog and make what’s on the pages come alive. Read it all the way through, and pick up on details later, after we’re reviewing, and living, the Story of stories.
Something I’ve been doing recently is reading aloud. Acting it out. This imagination is good for something! My wife and I have been reading Ezekiel. And hearing God’s words, repetitions, warnings, and scary wrath, not just silently but out loud — the emotions arrive naturally. On Tuesday night I was almost shivering as I finished Ezekiel 5-6.
Very strange how pretending can sometimes make reality seem even more real.
Yet my guess is that on the New Earth, acting it out won’t even be necessary. What would it be like to read the Word itself with the Word Himself (John 1:1)? What would the risen and reigning Christ sound like during, say, a public reading? What translation would He use? (Ooooh!) Which truths would He clarify? Which might He save for later?
These are only a few of many thoughts and wonderings. I wish I had time for even more about the Story we’ll enjoy forever, and for which I wish to be thankful today.
Next: other stories. How does God’s everlasting Story hint those may also last?