Which Comes First: The Bible or God?
I see a strange pattern of argument among some Christians that leads me to question whether their priority is to the Bible or God himself.
Think about your best friend for a minute. Now go back to a time before you and that person ever met and suppose — just for the sake of argument — that your friend dictated (or, perhaps, “inspired” others who write) an autobiography about what he or she would look for in a friendship.
And let’s say that shortly before the time that you actually meet this friend for the first time, you read this book and get to know what you assume is everything you need to know about the friend.
Armed with all of the knowledge of how your friend thinks, how well could you build that friendship? You would probably be at a distinct advantage, because you’d know what the friend does and does not value, and that might influence your behavior around that friend.
(Obviously, we’re ignoring the obvious difference between your best friend and God, which is that God is all-knowing and would certainly be aware of such a behavior change. I acknowledge that difference, but let’s press on anyway.)
When you get right down to it, with this book in hand, if you feel you know all there is to know about your friend, how do you truly grow the friendship?
Maybe that seems like a strange question to you.
But think about it. If you felt like you had this book in your hand, what would spending time with your friend be like? Would you expect every conversation to refer you back to your friend’s book?
“Well, as I wrote in Chapter 24,” your friend might say, “here’s what I think about that.”
If that was all you could hope to get from a relationship with your best friend, what would that friendship be like? This is to say, if the book about your friend was the “ultimate authority” on who your friend is, what would the value be of spending time with the friend rather than just spending time with the book about your friend?
Here’s another question for you: have you ever said something that you were sure was so clear that no one could misunderstand your point, only to find that someone completely missed it? If you’re a blogger, you probably know exactly what that’s like!
Isn’t it true that once you actually spend time with someone and have a real conversation, how they interpret what you said or did morphs as they better understand your take?
Doesn’t the experience of being in an actual relationship with a friend supersede what you read, see or even insist you know about that person? Doesn’t the experience of getting to know someone give you the best image of who that person actually is?
I hope you said yes to those questions. I certainly do.
If you replace your best friend with God in this little scenario, then you have to ask an honest question about “ultimate authority.” If you’re in a real relationship with God, if you’re “walking with Jesus,” a popular phrase Christians use these days, what gives you a better understanding of who God is: the Bible or God himself?
Who will you get the best answers from: the Bible or God?
Who will you receive your best comfort from: the Bible or God?
Who gives you your identity as a Christian and provides an ultimate sense of belonging: the Bible or God?
Who values you more than you could possibly imagine: the Bible or God?
To me, the answer to each question is God. The Bible is a textbook, but it’s not the “end game” of our spiritual walk. Not if we believe that God is alive.
Yet all the time, many Christians seem to use the Bible as the end game. They judge others based on a Bible verses that in many cases are clearly cherry picked and pulled completely out of context for the purposes of winning an argument.
One of the favorite verses used in this context is Proverbs 3:5:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
By “leaning on your own understanding,” these folks mean relying on anything that might, in any way, disagree with their interpretation of the Bible.
But there’s a certain gray area about certain things in the Bible. Different groups of Christians interpret different passages in different ways. That’s why we have different denominations of churches who insist that only their “understanding” is the right one.
If God speaks to them, then that’s okay: what He says goes. But if someone with a different point of view — one that may well have been given to them by God — expresses a differing view, they pull out Proverbs 3:5 and tell the person they need to go back to the Bible and get their act together.
But did you notice that pesky little semicolon at the end of the verse above? Yes, Proverbs 3:5 is not a complete thought. The sentence actually ends with Proverbs 3:6:
in all your ways submit to him, and He will make your paths straight.
Let’s look at the two verses from a couple of different translations.
First, the New Living Translation:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.
And let’s see how The Message puts it:
Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track.
If the Bible is the definitive source of information for everything we need in life, there’d be no reason to “seek God.” There’d be no need to “listen for God’s voice,” because we’d already have the information we need.
The Bible comes right out and tells us that building a relationship with God is what will keep us on the right path.
Doesn’t it logically follow that the ultimate authority shouldn’t be the Bible, but rather what God Himself tells us as we take the time to hear Him?
How do we know what we think we’re hearing is God? Well, that’s the real question, isn’t it? Let’s return to our opening scenario of your best friend: over the time spent building that friendship, don’t you begin to know how your friend thinks? Don’t you know, when your friend tells you something, whether it’s really his idea versus when a friend might sometimes be telling you what you want to hear just to avoid conflict? Don’t we all come to understand our closest friends well enough to be able to make that distinction?
That’s not to say that what our best friends might think or say won’t occasionally surprise us, but even then, the friendship itself helps discern whether the person actually believes that or is just trying to prank us.
When asking the question of which comes first, the Bible or God, we have to be able to acknowledge that God has to take priority here. If God isn’t more important than the Bible, what does the Bible stand for?