December 20, 2005

The Fullness of the Word

1549 page3 capamily tradition has it that when my father or any of his four sisters would complain about some kind of food on the dinner table or a particularly poor-tasting medicine, my English grandfather would insouciantly conclude, ?That?s because you lack it in your system.?

Now, there?s not much science in a line like that: I have never believed, for instance, that my contempt for canned beets stemmed from the fact that I had eaten too few of them. Quite the contrary: one was more than enough.

1549 page3But a line like that has a way of playing on the edges of your imagination, emerging at all sorts of unexpected moments when neither cauliflower nor castor oil is involved. On many an earnest morning as I sat at my desk and detected in my soul a desire to avoid some uncomfortable part of Scripture (the stories of Uzzah, Eli, or Ananias and Sapphira, parts of Joshua and Judges), some inner voice loudly whispered my grandfather?s bon mot: ?That?s because you lack it in your system.?

And perhaps I did--did lack the difficult, unwelcome truth of a part of Scripture I too easily passed over. Flushed with the illusion that Scripture?s role in my life should always be inspirational--that I should mount up from my daily contact with the Word on eagle?s wings and soar into the sunshine of God?s love--I often migrated to more convivial surroundings: green pastures, noonday wells, even dark and sour stables. The ?system? I constructed had too much of mountaintops about it, and not nearly enough valleys--too many narratives of joy and triumph, without the leavening of sorrow, loss, unanswered questions, and pain.

My theology--and probably yours--proclaims that the Bible is truly God?s Word for all seasons, that it speaks to us and should have authority in every life situation. But little about our usual methods of Bible study induces us to tackle challenging passages or complex understandings of the Father?s will. We want the Word to ?fix? our mood, explain our loss, dry up our tears, instead of helping us achieve a sane and measured integration of its life-changing principles in our daily lives. We usually seek good feelings more than we seek godliness, preferring stories that tell us we are loved over those that urge us to live differently.

Here?s a call to a fuller embrace of the Word of God in our lives--to listening to its somberness as well as its celebrations. The stories and passages with which we actually wrestle will probably achieve more of God?s purposes in our lives than those we love to repeat. God?s grace and goodness are best glimpsed in the totality of His Word, and not only in those passages to which our Bibles naturally fall open. In that fuller embrace, we will discover that all our lack is supplied in Christ, and that in Him we are ?equipped for every good work? (2 Tim. 3:17, NIV).

Bill Knott is an associate editor of the Adventist Review.