I’ve written previously about what makes the Bible speak so truly. It is a book of hope, a love letter from God, a brutally honest assessment of the way we are as people.
But there is another characteristic of the Bible which seems overlooked.
It’s a fundamentally crazy book.
It is crazy not in the sense that it talks about nonsensical or unbelievable things – though it makes its fair share of hard-to-believe claims, and atheists and believers can (and do) argue till they are blue in the face about their validity – but it is crazy in the sense that is a profoundly counter-cultural book, it expresses profoundly otherworldly ideas.
The message of the Bible is, in the words of the apostle Paul, “foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.'” (1 Cor 1:18-19). That is not the problem here, but I sense a problem in our increasing willingness to water down that tension mentioned by Paul. As I write that the Bible is crazy you may already sense where my loyalties lie, but therein is the tension in every Christian’s life: knowing that we live in this fallen world and are very much its products, yet we have been changed and redeemed, and live in this “there but not quite yet” time, following someone who promises that doing so is not easy.
It is true that the Bible itself teaches us to live in this world, to work hard and shine for Jesus, and to work to bring the Kingdom of God to the here and now. But its message is also fundamentally otherworldly: a salvation that ignores works; a salvation from without not within; the first shall be last; a call to be different from contemporary culture (as relevant to post-Exodus Jews as it is for Christians in the 21st century); serve all if you want to be first. The Bible’s priorities and the sources of comfort it presents us are all very much otherly. Its claims are to the non-Christian world absolutely crazy. And anyone who wishes to take the Bible up on its promises and commands must realise that, and realise that doing so comes with a cost. Until we embrace this tension, and the otherworldliness of the Bible, we cannot take it seriously. We cannot take God at his word and still think it easy to reconcile with the world we live in.
There are also many claims floating around that the Bible is an offensive book. And quite frankly that’s true.
The message of grace is profoundly offensive to religious types. How offended do you think the religious teachers were when Jesus pointed out their legalistic, hypocritical lifestyles and topped it off with “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you” (Matt 21:31)? The Bible’s claims that faith does not equal security or wealth is unsettling and even offensive to some Christians. The Bible’s claims that there is a righteous God who judges based on our obedience to him not the fervence of our beliefs, and has the power to send us to hell, is also deeply offensive to human nature. The very notion of human sin is deeply offensive.
But that is the Bible. It is a light to people living in the dark, including Christians such as myself who stray into the dark all the time. But people in the dark don’t like to be told they’re in the dark (John 3:19-20). The Bible is a message of grace, but also a brutally honest heart-to-heart about where we are and where are headed were it not for Jesus. Its message is “living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb 4:12). In its constant habit of calling us out on our screw-ups and its refusal to leave us alone the Word of God is quite offensive.
So the Word of God is many things. It is comforting, inspiring, full of love. But it is not a tame message. It is otherworldly, crazy, and at times offensive. Love it, fear it, test it, trash it, ridicule it, but do not domesticate it or water it down.