For a lot of 3rd graders in the US (including the ones from our church), this is the time of year when they receive their 3rd grade Bible. For most people, it’s the first Bible they own and most of us remember that experience (I still have my 3rd grade Bible — it’s illustrated in pastel colors and has an angel in a diaper on the cover). There are so many cute stories in that little book — Noah and his ark full of animals, a baby in a basket, a king having one of his own generals killed in battle because he wanted to steal his wife, a baby being born in a barn with a bright, glowing star overhead to mark the place because GPS wasn’t invented yet, a man being interrogated, beaten, tortured, and hung from a tree in a public execution . . .
. . . wait, what?
All of those stories — from the ones we have heard over and over again since we were kids to the ones that make us a little uncomfortable and wonder why we even keep this book in a church — are found in those 3rd grade Bibles.
At some point, most of us outgrow our 3rd grade Bibles. We don’t need the pictures anymore, we find new translations we like more, we want notations and references and devotionals. We grow up — but the Bible stays the same. So we find ways to reconcile our beliefs with the stories we don’t understand. Some of it we just toss right out the window, writing it off as outdated or not relevant. We hold as tightly as possible to the passages that make our hearts come alive because we believe that we can still find inspiration in its text.
But those stories haven’t gone anywhere, right? They’re still printed alongside all the ones that we still hold on to. There’s just one problem:
That isn’t the whole story.
Yes, there are stories that we love to tell our children about boats full of animals and kids with slingshots and men climbing trees — but that isn’t the whole story.
Yes, there are stories about horrible things done by kings and followers of God found in the Bible — but that isn’t the whole story.
Yes, there is a story about a man named Jesus of Nazareth who is interrogated, beaten, tortured, and hung from a tree in a public execution — but that isn’t the whole story.
Yes, there are parts of the Bible that make us uncomfortable, parts that we would rather toss out the window, parts that we completely disagree with and struggle to reconcile with our faith — but that isn’t the whole story.
Because there was a great flood, but God said, “I’m not finished with you yet” and put a rainbow in the sky to remind us of that promise. Because there have been great tragedies committed by people from every religion — including our own — but God always has and will continue to use people to help make our world look a little more like heaven. Because God became man and came to earth as one of the lowliest among us and lived, experiencing all the things we do — love, pain, joy, grief, friendship, betrayal, fear, and death — just so God could take on all our sin and brokenness for us and say, “It is finished.”
And that right there is the key to the story. Because when God said, “It is finished,” I believe God meant it. We are a broken people that have always tried (and mostly failed) to maintain a close relationship with God — through sacrifices and prayers and psalms and worship and devotionals and contemplative prayer practices and the list goes on and on and on — but we could never quite get it right. No matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t fix what is broken. But God could. Because the truth is that God loved us so much that God came to earth so God could take on all the brokenness and redeem it.
That’s what the story is about. There are ugly parts of scripture, and I think that’s ok — they remind us that nobody’s perfect. Well, except for that one guy named Jesus. The Bible is a story of redemption, from Genesis through Revelation, and it helps tell another story: ours. From the ugliest parts of our lives to whatever chapter we are writing now to our own part that says “The End,” we are living stories of redemption.
We all grow up eventually. Our understanding of the world around us changes as we learn from our successes and our failures in life. But our understanding of scripture changes as well. We learn that even though there are parts of scripture that we don’t like and parts of scripture that we don’t understand, there are still things to be learned from it. We learn to recognize the different styles of literature that are found in the 66-book library we call the Bible and we learn to look at the cultural and historical context of each book so we can better understand what we are reading. But most importantly, we learn that there is a larger narrative — a redemptive narrative — of scripture that is pointing us all to one truth: that we are loved by God and that everything — including the ugly parts of scripture — has been redeemed.
Associate Director of Youth Ministries