Years ago, when my own memorized answers about faith were crumbling, it was then that I discovered the truth: The Bible is both more wild and more wonderful than I could have dreamed. The turning point in how I read Scripture wasn’t a crisis though—not really. Rather, this change happened because Jesus became the center of everything for me.
As I share in my new book Out of Sorts, it was as my discipleship to the man from Nazareth unfolded over the years that I began to realize Jesus himself is the Word of God (John 1), and so I needed to learn to read my whole Bible through the lens of Jesus Christ. Oswald Chambers, writing about centering our lives on Jesus, said, “We are not asked to believe the Bible, but to believe the One whom the Bible reveals.” Jesus himself put it this way as he responded to religious leaders who challenged him: “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39–40, NIV).
A New Approach
When I was a child, I remember asking a Sunday school teacher if God had been “born again” between the Old and New Testament. I thought maybe that was why, to me, God seemed to change from the ancient stories of war and tribalism in the Old Testament to the Jesus I knew and loved—the God of lavish love spoken of so fervently by John, the bridegroom to a yearning bride, the one who had only to say “Follow me” for people to drop everything and run after him. In my childish reasoning, I thought that perhaps God had also experienced transformation like the rest of us.
I don’t remember my teacher’s response to my question, but I continued to carry that wondering with me: Why, in some parts of Scripture, did God sometimes seem so different from Jesus? It’s a complex question that isn’t easily resolved, but now I approach that question differently. It’s not that God was “born again” between Malachi and Matthew; rather, it’s that God became incarnate among us, and in Jesus the central truth that God is love was more fully revealed.
In Jesus, the veil between us and God was torn from top to bottom. God swept in among us here as Immanuel—God with us—and said, in essence, “Look here, if you want to see the Father, look to me—we are one.” (John 10:25–30; 14:9). Then that same Jesus laid down his life for us and rose again, curing the disease of sin that had separated us away from our true home.
But Now I Tell You . . .
Jesus came to reveal the Father to us, and he showed us the many ways that we had misunderstood or mischaracterized God. We see this idea in many of Jesus’ teachings in which he provides insight into Old Testament laws. He identified himself as the fulfillment of those promises and laws. “You have heard that it was said,” he would preface, “but now I tell you . . .” And suddenly, just like that, we learn more about redemption and about God’s original intent and heart for humanity.
We had heard that it was said in the law that adultery deserves stoning, but Jesus said that only the one without sin should cast the first stone. We had heard that it was said that an eye for an eye was justice, but Jesus said, no, turn the other cheek, walk another mile, forgive, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.
We may have even heard that it was said that God hates us for our sin and turns his back on us, but Jesus tells us that he came to rescue us, to redeem us. He explained God as the father who is watching the road and waiting, and at the first sight of our return, he flies down the road to fling his arms around us and kiss us.
Reading Scripture—with Jesus
There are so many ways to read the Bible; we’ve all been taught something different, I imagine. Many of us likely come from a faith tradition that emphasized certain parts of Scripture over others. We each have our own sorting out to do as we grow and change and mature in the faith—as we learn how to follow Jesus.
As he repeatedly told the religious leaders of his day, Jesus himself is the revelation. This means that my Bible has to be read through the life and teachings and revelation of Jesus. This is my lens—and this realization was the linchpin for putting my entire view of the Bible into focus. Anytime difficult passages in Scripture seem to contradict Jesus’ life and teachings, I now know where to land: I strive to understand them in view of God as he is revealed to us in Jesus.
Jesus reveals the Scriptures to us. How we read the whole of Scripture must be informed by the person of Jesus Christ because God is exactly like Jesus. The entire Bible—the whole story arc—must be read and understood through the Cross and the Resurrection and the ongoing restoration of the world.
So when I grapple with difficult passages in Scripture in which it’s hard to understand God, I center myself in what Scripture fundamentally teaches: God looks like Jesus. And what did Jesus teach us about God? As John wrote, “We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them” (1 John 4:16).
Sarah Bessey is the author of Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith and the best-selling book Jesus Feminist. She is an award-winning blogger and writer who lives in Abbotsford, British Columbia, with her husband and their four tinies. You can find her online at SarahBessey.com or on Twitter at @sarahbessey.