The point of Scripture is to give us an encounter with the living God that renews and builds our faith and confidence.
How might we encounter God? Now that we know God lives beyond the four walls of the church or synagogue or temple and reveals Himself beyond even the life of Jesus, how might we encounter God? Perhaps the most important issue here is the ability to develop a heightened awareness (“eyes to see”) of the divine all around us. Here are some questions to ask that might increase your vision:
When is the last time you truly noticed an act of love and compassion manifested by someone? Describe the unselfish love you saw in that situation. How was God revealed there? Jesus often told contemporary stories about people to illustrate what He called the Kingdom of God, God’s presence in the world. These include the story of the good Samaritan, who boldly intervened to save a beaten and bruised traveler; a father who welcomed home his profligate and prodigal son by throwing a big party, and then imploring the resentful older brother to join them at the party; a shepherd who risked personal danger to find the lost sheep and then invited his friends to an ecstatic celebration of his find.
Where have you noticed deep, intense desire recently—a longing or passion? What was the desire for? Who was involved? How did the person go about trying to fill that longing? Where was God encountered there?
When is the last time you were out in nature and felt a sense of mystery and awe that caused you to feel you were in the midst of something bigger than yourself? Where does that feeling of mystery, awe, and wonder come from? What would cause you to feel a part of something bigger than you? Where is God in that experience?
Although there are certainly many scientists who in fact do see God in the wonders of the universe, nature gives off mixed signals. Like humanity, the rest of the created world presents a strange mixture of beauty and horror, of splendid cooperation and savage competition. Even the New Testament makes the statement: “We know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now” (Rom. 8:22, NKJV).
In other words, nature can be a place where we encounter God as we already believe God to be, where we can experience personal and intimate episodes of awe, wonder, and mystery, where we can witness something in that context that stirs within us a sense that there is something bigger and more powerful than ourselves. Nature helps us recognize that we are not the center of the universe, that there are other sources of power and life beyond us, that we are but inhabitants in a universe of magnificent and mysterious complexity. An appreciation for God as the Source can be enhanced in these contexts.
The poet and songwriter in the book of Psalms put it this way:
“God’s glory is on tour in the skies,
God-craft on exhibit across the horizon.
Madame Day holds classes every morning,
Professor Night lectures each evening.
Their words aren’t heard,
their voices aren’t recorded,
But their silence fills the earth:
unspoken truth is spoken everywhere.
God makes a huge dome
for the sun—a superdome!
The morning sun’s a new husband
leaping from his honeymoon bed,
The daybreaking sun an athlete
racing to the tape.
That’s how God’s Word
vaults across the skies from sunrise to sunset,
Melting ice, scorching deserts,
warming hearts to faith”
(Ps. 19:1-6, The Message)
When is the last time you used Sacred Scripture to encounter God? How can you read in a way that facilitates an experience of divine revelation in what you read? Have you asked yourself as you read, What does this say to me about God? Better yet, What is God trying to say to me in these verses? So often Scripture is used to prove some theological point to win an argument. The Bible becomes a weapon or a tool to shore up our rightness or another’s wrongness.
Or Scripture is used as a resource for sacred information, a knowledge base, the ultimate treasury of theology, so if we can simply learn enough from it we can further ourselves along the path to holiness. Many religious leaders of Jesus’ day, who prided themselves for how much they knew of Sacred Scriptures in comparison to the uninformed public, could recite by memory lengthy passages, even entire biblical books (they were required to learn this in their schools).
We, too can read without blessing. Simply reciting and knowing Scripture wasn’t nearly enough. Here’s how Jesus put it: “ ‘You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you'll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These Scriptures are all about me! And here I am, standing right before you, and you aren't willing to receive from me the life you say you want’ ” (John 5:39, 40, The Message).
The primary point of sacred Scriptures is to facilitate a living, meaningful encounter with the God of Scripture. It’s not just about knowing information; it’s about encounter, experience, relationship. Scripture is to be approached as a divine communication opportunity, to hear the voice of God speak to your deepest soul, to listen to the words of God in a way that lets them tug at your heart.
Like the two men who, after witnessing the death of Jesus, walked the dusty road home completely disillusioned and discouraged. Jesus joined them, though they didn’t recognize Him, and engaged in conversation about the recent events in Jerusalem. Taking the opportunity, Jesus spent the rest of the journey explaining to them the Scriptures about whom the Messiah was and what was to happen to the Messiah and why; how the events fit into the over-arching purpose of God. Later that night, after Jesus left them and they realized who He was, they commented to each other, “ ‘Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?’ ” (Luke 24:32, NLT). And within the hour, they hurried back to Jerusalem with a new sense of faith in God and passion for community with the other followers of Jesus.
That’s the point of Scripture: to give us an encounter with the living God that renews and builds our faith and confidence in God and God’s purpose for our lives, to empower us with a passion to live lives of love and compassion for others as Jesus did. So that as others connect with us, they can encounter the God of love living in and through us.*