From the series, Ten Turning Points That Make All the Difference
We saw last time that God has revealed himself to everyone to some extent through general revelation. The knowledge we can gain that way is limited, however. Our knowledge of God is always bound to be limited, of course: he is far beyond our comprehension. We can’t know God exhaustively, we can’t know God as God really is and we cannot fathom a fraction of what we do know of him. He has not revealed himself in such a way as to overcome the mystery of God.
But he has revealed himself so we can know him truly. What we know of him is terribly incomplete. Though our knowledge is partial, however, that does not make it false. Some theologians have erred in saying God is so infinite, so other, so beyond our experience that we could never know God for who he is; and therefore we can say nothing true of him at all. The odd thing about that is that they go on saying things that they think are true of God: that he is infinite, other, and beyond our experience. They contradict their own dictum that there is nothing true that we can say of God!
Suppose they were right. Suppose God were so far beyond us that we could know nothing about him truly whatsoever. What that would mean is that God has a problem he’s too great to solve! If he wanted to communicate anything about himself to us, he couldn’t because he’s too great. That’s absurd. Let’s not forget that God’s greatness includes his being the one who fashioned speech, language and communication. It’s an odd thing to suppose that he would not be able to figure out how to unmuzzle his own mouth well enough to say something to us!
We have a record of God speaking to Adam and Eve, to the serpent, to Noah, and to Abraham. Presumably these and other records were carried forth through oral tradition until Moses wrote them down, at the inception of the first written revelation from God. What’s remarkable about God’s word to us compared to most other religions’ scriptures, though, is that it’s not merely teachings and sayings. God didn’t do much writing of messages on stone tablets. (Some, but not a lot.) Instead he revealed himself through his actions in history along with the verbal commentary he supplied through his prophets. This has two very important implications:
1. His revelation was progressive. He didn’t drop it all on us whole and complete. I’ll come back to that later this week.
2. He is involved. He relates with us. And his ways are ways of active following. He wants us to learn, but he wants us to practice, too: to live out our own stories, to be co-makers with him of our own history with God.
He didn’t just say, “Trust me, I’m good.” He showed it by protecting the first-born of Israel, parting the Red Sea, giving manna; by bringing the captives home from Babylon; above all by entering into history himself in the life of Jesus Christ (a major topic yet to come in this series).
Today we have the book of the accounts of God’s work in history. It is our trustworthy, adequate, and authoritative account of God’s ways. It is complete in the sense that it is all God has intended to give us in the form of authoritative teaching: that which can be relied on to be true, and against which all other truth is tested. It’s also complete in the sense that for this purpose, it is enough: it is all we need.
It came to us through history; it was compiled and its canon, the list of books to be accepted as part of Scripture, was developed within historical processes—but not arbitrarily or politically, as Dan Brown (The DaVinci Code) and other skeptics would have us think. New Testament books were chosen based on their authorship, their sensibleness within their own content, and their coherence with other teachings known to be authoritative. Books like the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Judas were excluded because they were written much later than the life of Christ (second century or later) or because they were obviously, well, really weird.
The Bible has been astonishingly well preserved. A very recently found fragment of the Gospel of John, so old it was probably penned during the lifetime of people who walked with Jesus, contains no substantive differences from the text we’ve been using as our Scripture all these years since. This is just one example of very, very many showing that we can trust the Bible we read now is the one God intended us to have.