Yes, I know that the Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to man these days. Yes, I know that some maintain that the Bible can be read and understood by anyone. (I suppose, excepting those who speak a language to which the Bible has not been translated. Or people who have not been trained to read. Or people who are mentally challenged and can’t read. Or small children.)
But surely no reasonable person can maintain that God reveals everything about Himself in scripture, or that everything in scripture is crystal clear, or that every conclusion a person can draw from scripture can be relied upon with absolute certainty.
(Oh, wait. Maybe I’d better go back and review the comments from my last post.)
So let me put it this way: I don’t know anyone who can answer all of God’s questions to Job. I don’t know anyone who knows the exact time and date of Jesus’ return. I don’t know anyone who knows for absolute certainty what heaven is like or the biological characteristics of the resurrected body or the complete and literal story of angels, Satan, hell or judgment.
I have to conclude that there are a lot of things that scripture hints at, but does not fully describe; a lot of things it mentions, but does not go into detail about.
And if we believe that God’s Holy Spirit inspired scripture and perhaps even had a hand in the selection of materials in its canon … then we probably believe that God reveals in it, yet also conceals.
If so … why would He do this?
Let me offer a few possible reasons:
- The nature of faith. Faith is not fact (Hebrews 11:1). In His wisdom, God has decided that people who have not seen yet have believed are blessed (John 20:29). Those who believe are recipients of a promise (Acts 16:31; Romans 10:9).
- Our need to recognize God’s superiority. It makes us humble and brings penitence (Job 42:1-6; Isaiah 55:7-8) to realize that we cannot understand everything that God understands.
- Our need recognize our own inferiority compared to God. The fact is, there are things God does and knows that we simply can’t understand (Ecclesiastes 11:5; 1 Kings 8:39; Matthew 9:4; John 5:42).
- Our tendency to become conceited when much is revealed to us (2 Corinthians 12:17). Especially when we need to be humble (Romans 12:3) as Christ humbled Himself (Philippians 2).
- It is good for us to wonder about what is not revealed and meditate on it (Psalm 119:27 – see the entire chapter; Psalm 145:5; 2 Corinthians 3:18). There is blessing in doing so (Psalm 1).
- God wants us to ask for His help in understanding. There was no bound, collected Bible in the first century – nor for several centuries to come. There was never an indication in scripture that scripture alone was or ever would be the only way in which He reveals Himself. He promises to give us His Holy Spirit when we ask (Luke 11:13) and obey (Acts 5:32), and among the Spirit’s gifts are to aid in understanding (John 14:26), expression (1 Corinthians 12:13), and integrity of memory (2 Timothy 1:13-14). Jesus deliberately concealed some of His teaching in parables and intentionally waited for His disciples to ask their meaning (Luke 8). Was He withholding information? Only from those who didn’t ask.
- God wants us to ask for the community of others in understanding. An Ethiopian reading prophetic scripture was asked by Philip if he understood. His answer: “How can I, unless someone explains to me?” (Acts 8:30-31ff). Sharing understanding of scripture was to be part of gathered worship (1 Corinthians 14:29-31). We should instruct one another (Romans 15:14).
- God wants us to be discerning. That doesn’t mean that all knowledge and wisdom is handed to us, literally, word-for-word; but that — in addition to asking for help from His Spirit and from community of others who want to learn — we work for it and the labor adds value to what we discern. As a result of yearning and discerning (as opposed to shrugging and mocking), knowledge comes more easily (Proverbs 14:6). It speaks of our respect for Him (Proverbs 1:7).
- God wants us to understand that knowledge isn’t everything. In 1 Corinthians 8:1, Paul said it this way: ” … We know that ‘We all possess knowledge.’ But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.” In chapter 13, he will explain how absolutely vital love is: “… where there is knowledge, it will pass away. … these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
This last possible reason — to me — is perhaps the most deeply resonant one.
I’ve blogged before (Sunday Morning in a Garden) about the principle John communicates in saying on that blessed resurrection day:
Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)
They saw and believed … even though they didn’t understand the scripture.
That is still possible for us: to believe even though we don’t fully understand every detail about God from scripture, or even about scripture itself. It is not by our level of understanding that we are judged; or by the accuracy of our interpretation that we are saved.