Sure, the Bible was relevant once upon a time, in that long-ago era of shepherds and scribes. That story of how the Hebrew people emerged from their centuries of slavery in Egypt is a gripping account, but does it have any connection to my world of lightning fast e-mails and jet travel? The problems of a fish swallowing a disobedient prophet named Jonah and how to get Daniel out of a den of lions seem pretty far removed from fixing my transmission or resurrecting my crashed hard drive. For a soccer mom racing to get her kids to the dentist, is there any relevance to the story of how Elijah saw to the killing of 400 prophets of the god Baal? Can we relate at all to such strange and mystifying events today?
Little wonder then that the French philosopher Voltaire said that in a hundred years from his day the Bible would have passed into the mists of history as people became more liberated and enlightened. And today a group of people known as the Jesus Seminar tell us that huge sections of the New Testament are not genuine but were concocted by writers who weaseled their own thoughts into the canon. Others have attacked the names and dates and events and numbers in the Bible, and proclaim that the book is riddled with errors. People who accept human evolution out of some primordial soup ridicule the very idea of creation as a throwback to an age of barbarians and illiterates. And, of course, priests and preachers will keep their jobs as long as they can continue to make you believe in the Bible!
Such attacks on the reliability and relevance of the Bible can be very persuasive. Yet as far as reliability is concerned, it’s only fair to note that the Bible contains the best documented text of any volume in human history. Perhaps the most amazing support comes from the Dead Sea scrolls which were discovered in 1947 after lying in the Qumran caves for nearly 2000 years. Here were literally thousands of pieces from the Old Testament, and some were nearly a thousand years older than anything we had before. And yet there is a 98% similarity to the texts that are in common use. Both Christians and Jews were confirmed in their faith in the trustworthiness of the text handed down through the centuries. The attempts to tamper with the text have basically failed, and our treasure of God’s revelation has come down to us intact.
But is the ancient book really relevant to the issues of our frenetic, post-modern world of microscopes and satellites? This is a question asked by those who are racing through life with little time for reflection on their destiny or why they are here. But for those who are unexpectedly slammed onto a hospital bed, life takes on a much different quality! Suddenly in the long, agonizing hours punctuated only by the clicking of a heart monitor, there is time to reflect on a new set of questions, timeless questions which have not changed much through the centuries. Does anyone really love me? How did those stars a billion miles away get there? Is there any hope for me? How do I get in touch with God right now?
It is then that these questions about the relevance of the Bible tend to fade away. The comfort and the hope embodied in the Bible suddenly become totally relevant. Its diversity touches every age, every situation. There are wonderful stories for children, deeply emotional psalms and confessions, discourses to engage the deepest philosophical questions, and the sayings of Jesus confronting the issues of life and death and the eternity ahead.
For some, there is a terrifying sense of guilt gnawing at the bone. It’s time to deal with it, to recognize how you have slapped God in the face and hurt others. But the Bible does not just leave you there, sitting in your remorse! The very heart of the Bible is that there is a way out. God does not, however, just wink at your failures and let justice slide. In fact (and this is what the coming of Jesus Christ is all about), He did stand in my place to take the punishment due to me and to millions like me. He did suffer in my stead, He did hang on that cross at the center of history on my behalf, and finally He did die my death. Then on that first Easter, He stood up from the grave as God gave that divine stamp of approval on all that He had done.
Christians do find that relevant! For us, life is not simply an empty journey, a trip to acquire more toys until eventually it’s all over. From the pages of the Bible we read about our role in God’s design and kingdom, and how our lives are touched with purpose and meaning. And at the end there is more than a gloomy extinction at the conclusion of a hectic life, but a great reunion where I plan to meet Jesus face to face.
Along the miles of concrete I traverse every day, I have a guide, a beacon. It’s not in the form of a dead book, but it’s a living guide for the journey. By the way, Voltaire is dead now, but the book he derided is today more widely read and pondered than ever. The house in which Voltaire lived later became a distribution center – for Bibles.