Let’s not overreact.
When the Bible’s glorious message of grace penetrates the hearts of Christ-loving people born or bred in legalistic communities, the temptation to overreact looms large. Such folks draw attention away from rule-keeping and toward faith and mercy. They notice the largely narrative makeup of Scripture, and they revel in this greatest of all stories. They delight in the overarching narrative of God’s plan to rescue his people through the person and work of Jesus Christ. They bask in God’s redemption, and they get the shakes around too many precepts, moralisms, or “Be good like Bible character X” sermons.
And they should do all these things. But please, let’s not overreact.
I’m guilty; I’ve done it. I’ve encouraged others to do it. And it’s dangerous, because something about this particular overreaction feels right.
When we drill a Bible story down into a moral lesson, we make it all about us. But the Bible isn’t mainly about us, and what we are supposed to be doing — it’s about God, and what he has done!
When we tie up the story in a nice neat, little package, and answer all the questions, we leave no room for mystery. Or discovery. We leave no room for the child. No room for God.
When we say, “Now what that story is all about is…”, or “The point of that story is…” we are in fact totally missing the point. The power of the story isn’t in summing it up, or drilling it down, or reducing it into an abstract idea.
Because the power of the story isn’t in the lesson.
The power of the story is the story.
It’s funny, because just a few paragraphs later, Ms. Lloyd-Jones states that she wrote The Jesus Storybook Bible in part so children would know “that — in spite of everything, no matter what, whatever it cost him — God won’t ever stop loving his children… with a wonderful, Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.” I’m not sure how that’s any different from saying, “The point of that story is…” Lloyd-Jones has a great story to tell, and she teaches an essential lesson from that story.
The simple truth is this: Bible stories have a point. Biblical authors had pastoral reasons for including some stories and excluding others from their narratives. They had educational reasons for including certain details and excluding others. (For a case study, see my analysis of the four feeding of the 5,000 accounts.) When it comes to interpreting the point of a story, we could be right or wrong, but we can’t say there is no point. We’re misreading the Bible unless we remember that “all Scripture is … profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). Even when we keep Jesus at the center, where he belongs, these stories still have lessons, principles, and role models for modern readers young and old.
Everything written was meant to teach us, that we might be encouraged to have hope (Rom 15:4). Biblical narratives offer both examples and warnings to us (1 Cor 10:6, 11). Of course, these stories are about what God has done. But that doesn’t mean they’re not also about what God wants for us, through us, in us, or around us.
We can and should look for the author’s main point in each story, and we can do so without falling into the errors of legalism or self-righteous moralism.
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