Sometimes I get bogged down with theology. Ought we to baptize infants or only believers? Have the “ecstatic gifts” ceased or are people who hold to that view actually quenching the Holy Spirit? Did God create using the evolutionary process or in six twenty-four-hour days?
Then there are the questions atheists ask: why would God allow slavery or unfair treatment of women or the killing of whole people groups or the suffering of Job or the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart? Then there’s the “did Jesus really exist,” kinds of questions or the “what makes the Bible different from other holy books” kinds of questions.
There are answers to a lot of these, but to get to them, a person has to understand the Bible as a metanarrative. As much as I hate jargon, that word works pretty close to perfect. Meta is a prefix meaning “denoting something of a higher or second-order” and narrative means “a spoken or written account. In other words, we can read about Adam and Eve but it doesn’t stand alone; it fits into the higher or “second-order” account.”
In thinking of the Bible as one story, a person gets a glimpse of the big picture. The sacrifices make sense as types of Christ’s great sacrifice; the priests make sense as the forerunner of the great High Priest and of the priesthood of believers; the yearly feasts make sense as the foreshadowing of the Banquet of the King. On and on.
Of course to understand Scripture at this level, a person has to think deeply, do some research (or listen to great preachers who help connect the dots), and of course, to read the Bible. Religiously!
But the problem is, someone who isn’t a student of Scripture may not like the answers to some of the questions. Yes, God predestines us and yes, we have free will.
HUH? Well, both are in the Bible, sometimes in the same verse. Sort of like Pharaoh hardening his heart but God hardening his heart. We want to say, Which came first? Who initiated this process? God says it’s both/and.
Those are hard answers to sell. They sound like we’re equivocating. But I’ve come to realize the dissatisfaction with hard answers about the Bible boils down to one point: do you trust the Author or not?
For someone who trusts God, the hard answers aren’t hard. They are what they are because God made it that way.
Remember, Jesus said, what we need is the faith of a child:
But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” (Mark 10:14-15)
Matthew said it this way:
“Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (18:3-4)
In other words, the gospel is not really all that complicated. It takes trusting God in child-like humility. It takes receiving the kingdom of God like a child.
What does that look like?
A child can sleep in the back of a car hurtling down the highway at 70 miles an hour and not worry in the least about the road conditions or the other cars or drunk drivers or debris in the road or any other thing. He trusts that his parents are taking care of him, and he doesn’t have a clue about operating a car anyway, so why be anxious?
Same when her dad picks her up and gently tosses her toward the ceiling, then catches her and says, Wheeeee, or some such silly baby talk. The child laughs and cries “‘Gain! Do it, again, Dada.” She’s not thinking, What if he drops me this next time? Will I crack my head on the way down, break my wrist if I try to cushion the fall?
No, she is perfectly trusting. Perfectly.
That’s the simplicity of the gospel. We have a God we can trust perfectly. He has promised that those who believe in the finished work of Jesus at Calvary will be rescued from the dominion of darkness. We will have everlasting life. We will be with God for eternity. We have lots of promises for today too and a host of responsibilities, but the point is, the whole of the Christian life hinges on the simplicity of the gospel. If we don’t have the faith of a child, if we don’t humble ourselves like a child, we will flounder under the burden of unanswered questions or questions with answers we don’t like.
God makes it easy. He is completely trustworthy, completely good, kind, merciful, gracious, willing to forgive. Anything that would cause us to question God’s character is untrue or we have blinders on our eyes keeping us from seeing clearly.
The other part is, God doesn’t owe us an explanation. Many people point to Job and say, God never explained to him why he went through all the suffering he did. I happen to think God told him (in the white space between verses), but if he didn’t, so what. God doesn’t owe us perfect understanding. In reality, He’s told us what we need to know.
One thing we need to know is that His ways and thoughts are higher than our ways and thoughts. So no surprise that we don’t get everything that’s going on in the supernatural realm! Or even the natural realm! We are not God and do not have His omniscience.
The faith of a child, then says, “God knows and understands. I’m glad He’s in charge.” But too often we get caught up with ourselves: “I don’t know. I don’t understand. I wish I were in charge.”
How odd, isn’t it? In our prideful hearts, though we admit we’re clueless, we still want to call the shots.
The simple gospel is perhaps off-putting to CEOs and presidents and other Very Important People. Like Paul they have to say, “Whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” Who wants their Ph.D. or their VeryImportantPerson Award to be tossed onto the rubbish heap?
As a rule, I don’t think fallen humankind does well with the simple gospel. It doesn’t leave us anything to do so we can crow later. We can’t pat ourselves on the back or work harder to get a rung closer to God by doing more or doing better.
Nevertheless, the gospel is simple. Not easy, mind you, but simple. All it takes is complete trust in God.