The Bible – A Lifetime Companion
When I first began to read the Bible seriously I found it to be both fascinating and intimidating. Its length alone was overwhelming. I knew that this was the book for Christians, our only rule for faith and practice. I had been taught that within its pages was everything that I needed to know about relationship with God along with his directives on how I was supposed to live. But where should I start? And how could I sort it all out?
It wasn’t long after I started reading that I was given some simple and wise advice. It was to slow down and read thoughtfully. This book was to be my companion for the rest of my life and I had the rest of my life to figure it out. That took the pressure off me and I began to see myself as a life-long learner instead of a budding Biblical scholar. So I began reading. I started with a short and positive book, the Letter to the Philippians. It remains one of my favorites still today.
I have plodded along for the past fifty years with my Bible reading. This past month I began to read the Old Testament book of the prophet Ezekiel. I have read it before but not slowly, not with any attempt to really understand it. As I read the first chapter I immediately was reminded why I delayed in studying this book all these years. It begins with a rather weird vision with four living creatures each with four different faces, and a combination of wings, hands, arms and hoofs. The image seems like part-man part-beast. It also appears to be on fire. Under these creatures are intersecting wheels full of eyes so that it moved in every direction without turning. Above it was an expanse of sparkling ice and a throne of sapphire with the figure of a man on it emanating fire and surrounded by brilliant light along with a rainbow. The explanation given for all of this states: “This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking” (Ezekiel 1:28).
Now to be honest, even after fifty years of serious Bible reading this is downright confusing. What do all these symbols mean? How does this describe the glory of God? What practical relevance does it have to my life now in 2021? Thankfully I have learned to never attempt to understand Scripture all by myself. I have a library of helpful assistants and instructors and I am reading four or five different commentaries on Ezekiel as I muddle along. I appreciated this opening reminder by one author about what Ezekiel understood in this vision. He wrote “for all his religious upbringing and theological training, nothing had prepared him for the vision of the living God. And so to inquire too closely into the possible symbolism of the creatures’ four faces, or into the significance of the wheels, may be to miss the point. The details are part of the total vision; the totality conveys to the prophet the awareness of a dimension of reality and power that were totally beyond his comprehension.”*
The point is not that we readers figure it all out but rather that we also, like Ezekiel, bow before the God who is both indescribable and yet lovingly personal. The Apostle Paul would pray that we would “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18-19). How indeed can one know the unknowable and be filled to the infinite fullness of God? These are impossible statements; they are beyond human comprehension.
But they are not to be beyond human experience. Indeed, we are to walk with this God throughout our lifetime in this journey of faith. We are not equals and we are always to bow before him with ears to hear what he has to say. But in this process of Bible reading and prayer we are brought slowly into the reality of a world that is so much bigger than our own little time and space. We live in a universe that science and technology can only touch the surface of by way of explanation. The unexplainable mystery who is God is so much more infinitely complex than anything he has made. And yet this God calls us to himself. He does so in a personal and accountable fashion which provides both a basis for morality and the love that prompts meaningful relationships. God
offers each one who listens and bows the freedom that forgiveness brings.
So here I am, starting another book of the Bible. I want to know this God no matter how complex and even frightening he may at times appear. The longer I walk with him and read his words to me, the more I understand what Scripture means by “the fear of the LORD”(Proverbs 1:7). After falling facedown at the glory of God, Ezekiel heard him say, “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you” (Ezekiel 2:1). Indeed, he desires to speak his truth to our hearts as well if we will simply bow and listen. Join me, won’t you?
See you in Worship.
* Peter C. Craige, Ezekiel (Westminster, 1983), p. 11.