Last week I reflected on the importance of not trying to study the Bible alone because the task is simply too daunting. If we try to go it alone, we will probably give up sooner rather than later, and as a result give up the primary resource for our knowledge of God. The problem with not reading the Bible is this: Without a regular encounter with God’s Word, we will end up worshiping a God of our own making rather than the God of Israel and Jesus.
Without a regular dose of God’s Word to shape our understanding of God, we usually end up worshiping a God who bears little resemblance to the God of the Bible. For example, the psychologists tell us that many people project on to God all their early experiences of authority figures. Consequently, if our parents, teachers, and religious leaders were critical and demanding in our childhood, there is good chance that our God will look a lot like those authority figures. Reading the Bible opens us to the possibility that our false Gods will be exposed for the frauds they really are, and in their place we will come to know the God who really is God.
For example, many of us were shaped by authority figures that valued fairness. We were told that you get what you deserve. If we behaved properly, we would be rewarded. If we misbehaved, we would be punished. Certainly, the God of the Bible often acts like such an authority figure. However, we also find in the Bible a God who is often very “unfair.” We find this troubling, especially if we are the dutiful sort. If we are honest, when Jesus tells the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Mt. 20:1-16), we find it disconcerting that the landowner—God—pays those hired at the end of the day the same as those hired in the morning. We are also troubled by the father—God—who celebrates the return of the prodigal son, no questions asked (Lk. 15: 11-32). We want God to be fair, but the God of the Bible doesn’t always cooperate.
If we pay attention to our reaction to the God of the Bible, what we begin to discover is that we can’t reduce God to a nice tidy set of propositions. This God continually refuses to be boxed in. For example, at one moment God is ready to “consume” Israel after the incident with golden calf; but after Moses’ intercession we find out that “the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people” (Ex. 32:14). Let’s be honest: We don’t want a God who changes his mind. We applaud parents who are consistent in their parenting, and certainly the divine parent should be consistent as well.
The God of the Bible will often challenge our cherished assumptions about God. Letting those assumptions go is very hard to do; so hard in fact that we often stop reading the Bible all together. However, if we are willing to keep reading, and therefore willing to keep opening ourselves to the God who refuses to be made in our image, we just might discover what we need the most.