Metaphysical vs. Rudimentary
Tim: So the question, “What is the Bible about?” can be answered on many levels. And I might make a stab at the very most rudimentary level, and then the most metaphysical level. And the most rudimentary level, which I think is where I live most of the time is, this is what works. That’s what the Bible is about. This is what works and what doesn’t work. At the great metaphysical level, the Bible is about why God created humans and what role we have to play in a grand drama that is like the greatest plot line of all times. And that one, I think, is typically missed in the West, but it’s one of my favorite topics. So, you want me to go through it?
Mark: Yeah, I think I do.
Joey: Of course.
T: I usually start in Psalm 8. You can start a lot of different places, but Psalm 8 is a pretty amazing Psalm and it goes through and it has nine verses. And verses 1 and then 3 through 9 basically say the same thing, which is, “Wow, God, it’s really amazing that you made this world and it’s so huge and we’re so small, and you chose to put us in charge of it when you had angels that are way more powerful than we are, way more capable. It’s really incredible that you put us in charge. Wow, that’s amazing.” Okay? And you think, “Well, it is kind of weird, isn’t it?” Would you want to put a dog in charge of the United States government or the smartest person? That’s kind of the idea. It’s like this way lower creature and you put the way lower creature in charge, that’s really amazing. And it’s a praise Psalm because it’s written by a human. But then verse 2 is, I call it a plot twist, a massive plot twist that says “God is silencing his enemies through the mouth of nursing infants. The power, the strength of nursing infants.” Okay, well, that’s very paradoxical.
Who is the Nursing Infant?
T: When you see nursing infant, you don’t think, “Oh, strong!”
T: “Oh, power!” You don’t think that, right? Oh, that nursing infant is gonna silence some big bad man. You don’t think that, right? Dependent, is what you think, and you think new. How can a little thing that has to trust its mother for everything be ascended over someone who’s so strong and powerful? Well, God’s enemy is Satan, who was apparently the most powerful of all the angels. Isaiah 14 talks about this, and it’s talking about the king of Babylon, but it’s a dual application, like “You’re fallen, oh Lucifer, son of the morning.” Lucifer means light bearer. And so Lucifer apparently was this angel of light, actually that’s what Paul calls him. He’s able to disguise himself as an angel of light. “You have fallen because you said, ‘I will be like the Most High.’” So here you have someone who’s incredibly powerful, so powerful that they took God on to try to ascend over God and took a third of the angels with him. So, very powerful. That’s incredibly powerful. And God says, “Okay, here’s what I’m gonna do with you, Satan. I’m gonna shut you up by using nursing infants.” Now, who’s the nursing infant? Well, nursing infants are dependent and newly arrived. So in the scheme of things, when you come to the garden of Eden, and you’ve got God, and you’ve got Satan and you’ve got Adam. Who’s the new arrival? It’s Adam, right? And so humans are the new arrival. And you’ve got Satan who has the capability– Satan, by the way, means adversary. He’s able to take on God. And you’ve got Adam, that doesn’t know anything. So, what can Adam do? Well, he can trust. That’s the nursing baby. The thing that nursing infants can do incredibly well is trust. Why? They have no choice.
J: They have to.
T: Now, in our case, we actually don’t have to, but we can, we have that capability. And when we trust, that is stronger than Satan is. That’s the basic idea. So God gave Adam one rule, to trust, and he busted. Apparently, what happened then is Satan actually got reinstated because when Jesus was going to the cross, he said, “The rule over this world–”and he was speaking of Satan, so he apparently got reinstated, and he said, “–But I will draw all men to me. All people to me.” And in Revelation, we see Satan is thrown down and actually removed from office. So today, because Jesus said In The Great Commission that all authority is given to him in heaven and on earth, which means that the authority has been granted to Jesus, but he hasn’t actually taken the office yet. So it’s kind of like a new president gets elected and the other one stays in office for that time before the inauguration. Well, that’s what Satan’s like now, apparently. So Jesus has the power, but he hasn’t actually taken the office yet.
Shutting Satan Up
In the meantime, what we’re supposed to be doing is shutting him up and proving that we, acting in service and in love and obedience to God, loving one another, are actually better rulers than Satan is with all of his power. Now, if you think about that, what that means is when we’re controlling, domineering, we’re on the side of Satan. And when we are serving a mission and serving our organizations and serving our families, and whatever that means, we’re on the side of God. And we’re shutting Satan up. And Jesus said as much to Peter, when Peter said, “You shouldn’t be saying all this stuff, you’re not gonna go and die. You’re upsetting our crowd, you’re gonna chase people off.” And Jesus said to him, right after Peter had said, “Well, you’re the Son of God. Well, you’re blessed because God revealed that to you,” “Well, you shouldn’t be saying this. Get behind me, Satan, because your thoughts are on the things of men, not the things of God.” And that’s the key distinction. So when we are doing the things of God–depending, trusting, walking in obedience like a child–we are doing a cosmic, massive, universe-changing historical thing by actually proving God’s point to Satan. It’s very stunning. And that’s what we’re here to do. Well, and then of course, there’s the question of, “Well, is it just a cat-mouse game, then? When we’re done, does the kitty eat us?” Well, no, actually. Jesus said, “You know what I’m gonna do, by the way? I’m gonna reign, and I’m going to need a Queen, and that’s humanity to all those who have followed me and overcome, that’s it, that’s who’s gonna reign with me.” So we’re gonna reign over the universe with Christ. That’s the destiny. That’s the greatest reward of all, and that actually fulfills what we were made to do. Sometimes I talk to people about this and they say, “Well, I don’t wanna reign.” I say, “Well, let me just challenge that. Okay, do you always wanna defer to everybody else? You never want things to be your way, you never try to get other people to do what you want, is that really what you want?” No, they’re not that way. We all want our circumstances around us to be harmonious. And our natural desire is to harmonize it around us, but when we learn to harmonize it around something greater than us, that’s when we’re actually serving and that’s when we’re actually truly fulfilled. Both of those are reigning, one is as a tyrant, the other is as a servant. And Jesus has given us the opportunity to learn to reign as a servant. He says, “I will elevate your name as high as a mine, if you’ll do that in the universe.” Which is really mind-boggling, you can’t actually get a total grasp on that, but that’s the promised reward if we will serve. So we’re put here for a very, very enormous purpose, and if you look at it at the metaphysical level, it’s really stunning. And then if you say, “Well, that’s too big for me.” You can say, “Okay. Well, then just do what works.” They’re the same. What works is, when you serve something greater than yourself, you’ve actually enjoy life a lot more.
What do you think of God?
M: That’s really good because it allows you to come in in a very practical way. We talked about how the Bible is relevant to me and using it for a practical purpose, but depending on how big your imagination is, how big you wanna think, you have the opportunity to rule at the right hand of God over the entire universe. It’s pretty extraordinary. One of the things that ties into this for me is, it’s said that we’re made in the image of God, and you hear that over and over. And so one of the things I try to explain to people from my perspective is well, if you’re made in the image of God, what do you think of God? What’s your perspective on God? And people, I believe, are like, “Well, Almighty, all powerful. The most incredible being, whatever is or was or could be.” Well, you’re made in that image, so then what’s expected of you? Are you expect it to be small and insignificant? That doesn’t make sense if you’re made in the image of God. With God’s saying, “Oh yeah, I want you to be nothing, really. Do nothing.” I think he made us for greatness. I’ve heard you talk about it, you actually said it today, we have superpowers. We’re meant to be superheroes, that’s what God hopes for us.
T: One of your themes that you use in the Yellow Balloons devotional is your faith, inner-superhero. I think that’s my favorite one that you do. Can you talk about that for a minute, how you work that theme and how you weave it?
J: Yeah, I think it goes in the Psalm 8 thing. It’s another one of these paradoxes that we are so small compared to God, but we have such a place of honor, we are invited to steward what’s ours to steward, but nothing more. The temptation is like, “I’m going to steward what’s God’s to steward,” but if we just think about faith and stewarding that, that is such an incredible opportunity. The angels are so much greater and bigger and more powerful than us, but there’s one thing that we can do that they can’t do, and that’s know God by faith. They’re in His living room every day looking at him face to face.
T: They can’t be nursing infants.
How the Angels See Us
J: Yeah. The Bible says that the angels look down at us in awe because they’re just like, “How in the world, with everything that Joey has been through, not seeing God, how is he still trusting and how does he still have his ability to choose?” And it’s a real powerful thing.
T: One of the things I love to think about is, I liked Spiderman a lot when I was a kid. So I’m reading the book, I know who Peter Parker is, he’s the Spiderman. And no one else in the story knows, they all think he’s just the science nerd, but I know. I know that he was bitten by a spider and had his DNA transformed, and now he can do these magic spider things. And I know that he has a great power, and the big question he constantly wrestles with is, “How am I gonna use this? Am I gonna use it for myself? Am I gonna use it for others?” Well, that’s exactly what’s happening with our lives, the angels are reading our comic book, and they have Joey as this character. And all of us think you’re just an author.
J: Just a guy.
T: But really, they know, you have this super power. And the big question is, what are you gonna do with it, this amazing power? And it looks to us like what you’re doing is just stuff. It’s not what it looks like to them. It’s big, big, big things because faithfulness is so enormous.
Who to Trust?
J: Well, and I think somewhere in between that, this is what works. And the meta-narrative is, you get these cycles in the Bible of sin and redemption and relationship with God, and I think one of the other cycles you get is that choice. You get to steward the choice of “Who am I going to trust?” And so throughout the Bible, you get these two paths: are you going to trust God or are you going to trust something else?
T: Self, usually.
J: Self, usually.
T: Because idol worship is actually, “I’m gonna give myself an excuse to do what I wanna do by bribing this idol.”
J: Yeah, we all worship something. “Am I gonna worship my flesh, my own self, or am I going to worship God?” The Bible is basically laying out that choice before you. That’s what all of the Proverbs are about, that’s what the Gospels are about, what the Epistles are about. All of that narrative is kind of reinforcing itself, but it’s laying at our feet this opportunity that we have to know God by faith. And it plays into this meta-narrative, which is so amazing. And it also just is what works best for any individual human and their life. And so what is the Bible about? It’s about all of these things interlocking, weaving together with one another.
Exile and Return
T: There are several themes that run through the scripture, between the sandwich. And one of them, my favorite–and we have a series on this in the Yellow Balloons podcast–is Exile and Return. So if you think about the metanarrative, God put Adam in to make this point to Satan, and he fell. He was exiled from this place of perfection. Where do we all long for? To get back to the place where there’s the tree of life and death is no more. That’s what we’re promised at the end. So we’re exiled and we’re returning, and what you see in the scriptures is all these different birth pangs, if you will, or these cycles of exile and return. You have Abraham exiled from his old country to a new country, and that becomes home. And then he’s exiled to Egypt, and then he returns, and then they become a great nation and then they sin, and now they’re exiled, and then they return again. And a big chunk of the Bible is about that Judean exile and return. Well, why does God spend so much time on that theme? It’s because it reflects us. And each one of us essentially is born in exile, and we have an opportunity to become a naturalized citizen through faith, enough faith to look, and become part of God’s family. And then now the question is, “What are you gonna do with that amazing opportunity, are you gonna take full benefit of it and get the full reward? Or are you gonna squander it?”
J: Yeah, I would add to that, we’re all longing for the full manifestation of the return, which is either the impetus for faith or the impetus for a lot of tyranny in the world, because we’re trying to make it happen by our own accord. We’re waiting for it to happen now, and I would say what’s been helpful for me also thinking about what the Bible is about is I love how much of the Bible talks about courage and the idea of trying. Just keep trying. This is an imperfect place. We’re in exile, and we can have glimpses and elements of the return that are very significant, but the full manifestation of returning into relationship with God isn’t gonna happen in this life, but we can continue to see more and more glimpses of it and to participate in that more and more. And the exile return-cycle throughout all the Scripture is weirdly encouraging to me because it’s like, if you mess up, they’re still a return. There’s another day. There’s another choice. There’s another opportunity to return back to God.
Second Over First
T: Well, another one of the themes that it runs through is second over first.
T: Second over first. So you get second King David ascends over the first King Saul. Second son, Jacob becomes Israel over first son, Esau. What are some other seconds over firsts?
J: Well, the New Testament talks about Jesus as the second Adam.
T: Well, right. So Jesus as the second Adam ascends over the first. Well, actually Joseph was the second first son. So there’s two wives. The first son of the first wife is Reuben, and the first son of the second wife is Joseph. And the whole idea of the coat is Jacob ascending his favorite wife, ascending Joseph over the non-favorite wife. Then that’s all through the scripture. Well, why is that? It’s because the first Adam fell, and the second Adam ascends over him. But it’s also the first ruler fell, that’s Satan, and humanity is being installed over Satan. So second over the first keeps coming in here. And what are we told if we want to be great? Be second. If you’ll be like children, then you’ll be elevated. Another theme that runs through there is the familial theme. Marriage is a theme that comes off. Israel is God’s wife, he married Israel at Mount Sinai, and that’s a reflection of the relationship he wants with each person. Okay, that’s pretty cool. Well, Jesus is called the bride of Christ, the church is His bride. That’s pretty cool. That’s a highly intimate relationship. And then there’s also a father-child that goes through there. Our father wants what’s best for us. And there’s a number of verses that say things like that, “You’re pretty good fathers to your own children. If they ask for a piece of bread, you don’t give them a snake. How much more will your Heavenly Father only give you things that are in your best interest?” But what do we do? We whine because we just wanna eat ice cream. And God says, “No, no, you need to eat meat and vegetables.” And we say, “No! We want ice cream. What’s wrong with you?” And so, what is the Bible about? Ultimately, it’s about who we are, how we fit, and how we can get what God designed us for, which is the way you get your fulfillment, by being who God made you to be. Like, you were talking about CS Lewis this morning.
M: Yeah, I don’t recall that conversation.
T: Well, you were listening to the podcast.
Surprised by Joy
M: I was listening to them talking about how CS Lewis came to intelligent design, and that he originally, he was actually radically opposed. He was an atheist when he started, but even when he came to believe in God, he couldn’t find the proof for an intelligent design. And ultimately, the way he found his way there though, according to that podcast we’re talking about, was a lack of proof for the opposite of intelligent design. He just came to the conclusion that there was a void, and so there had to be intelligent design. And he looked around him and just in a common sense way, he said, “Nature is beautiful and we long for nature, where does that longing come from?” So there’s gotta be something that’s put inside of us by God that makes us long for that.
T: Yeah, in his book, Surprised–
M: Surprised by Joy.
T: Yeah, he basically said he was the most reluctant convert in all of England because he came to the point of “If God made me, he made me for something. And if I do anything else, then I know it’s not reality. So I’m just gonna do the reality thing.” And because of the paradigm of sin’s fun and everything else is a drill, he just said, “I’m just gonna be miserable the rest of my life, but at least it’ll be real.” And he turned out, “Wow, this really works better.”
M: So that’s why he was surprised by joy.
T: All those things I longed for in the stories, they’re here.
M: A great book.
Why did God Choose a Book?
J: The Bible, ultimately, is about what we’re doing in this world, which I think is why it’s so relevant. People are always asking that question, “What is the purpose of life as a meaning of life? What are we doing here? How do we relate to one another?” And I think the Bible is God’s inspired answer to those fundamental questions.
T: Why do you think He chose a written book?
M: Versus an oral tradition?
T: Or anything else, it’s kind of a trick question.
M: Yeah, I would say, because He didn’t want it to change.
T: Because that’s what you do when you want something to be formalized.
M: You want something formalized. Which is why we have a written constitution, because we wanna know so that everybody is gonna just now, 100 years, a thousand years from now, they’re gonna know the same thing.
T: So that’s very interesting, because we started this with why is something written 2000 years ago is relevant to me? What you’re saying is, you should really change that and say, “Why wouldn’t you listen to something that God chose to write down so it would still be there for you?”
You know the other thing, you get this passage in Romans 10, and it says, “How beautiful are the feet of those who share the gospel.” So it’s really good to go and preach to people and tell them about all the things we’re saying now. But then it says, “Well, has everybody heard?”And he said, “Yeah, actually, they have.” And then he quotes Psalm 19, “Their line has gone throughout all the Earth.” Which, Psalm 19 is talking about the heavens declaring the glory of God, and the line is like the plumb line. The heavens tell you what the right way is. All you gotta do is just be observant. Everything the Bible’s telling you about cause-effect, you can actually see it in nature. It’s right there for you. It’s telling you how it works. And so, take it any way you need. Here it is in writing. The Spirit made in the image of God, you’ve got that voice, the Holy Spirit’s talking to you. You’ve got that voice. And nature is telling it to you and it’s all around you, take your pick.
M: So he used everything.
T: They’re all saying the same thing.