By Rev. Canon Renee
This sermon series is going to be based on two questions that were written down as possible sermon topics, and they were questions that began with the words, “How do we know?” I’ve decided to title these next few sermons as the “How do we know series,” and we’ll begin today with the Bible. How do we know that the Bible is true?
Actually the Bible might be called a “divine library” because it is not really just one book. It is a collection of books–66 of them, in fact. These 66 books were written by many authors over many years. But what is most important to remember is that the Bible as we know it was not available to the “public,” so to speak, until the invention of the printing press around 1450. Before that, most people could not even read, and very few people, other than those in monasteries, would have had access to a written Bible. The people learned about the stories of God’s interaction with the creation through preachers, storytellers, poets, singers, icons, religious art, and stained glass windows. In this way the people learned about the stories of God, the love of God, and how God had called them to live in relationship with one another. But it was the Holy Spirit who guided the people in living the life of faith. The Holy Spirit in their hearts confirmed to them the truth of God’s love and presence. It was the Holy Spirit who guided the church in the days before there was a written Bible.
But before we go any further, let’s have a little Bible content quiz. Who built an ark to be protected during the great flood? How many books are in the Old Testament? (Jack Benny’s age–39) What is the first book of the Bible? How many Gospels are there? (Trick question–only one–four authors) What is the last book of the Bible? Is the book of Psalms in the Old Testament or the New Testament? Who was swallowed by a whale? How many books are in the New Testament? What was the name of the tax collector who climbed up into a tree to see Jesus (I gave you the answer to this one a few weeks ago!) Well, we could do the entire sermon having a Bible quiz! But, we’re not going to do that because then we would never get to the question that was asked, “How do we know that the Bible is true?”
One of my first memories of the Bible was reading it as a child. I was actually rather devout when I was young–my parents probably didn’t think my devotion did much to make me less trouble, however! In any case, I would read the Bible every night before I went to bed, and I loved the sound of the words flowing over my tongue. I felt so “grown up” being able to read the “King’s English.” There was only one problem. I didn’t understand any of it! As I grew a little older, I was a member of the organization called Job’s Daughters. I was quite entranced with the complex ritual that was so much a part of our meetings, and so I took to reading several chapters of Job every night. Not exactly normal pre-adolescent literature! Even though I prided myself on reading some of it every night, I had no better understanding of what I was reading than I had had when I was younger. I think the only thing I understood was that Job had lost everything, and I felt very sorry for him. Well, there was one other part of the book that appealed to me. It was in the last chapter of the book; chapter 42, verse 15. “And in all the land were no women found so beautiful as the daughters of Job.” I had quite a dramatic fantasy life even then. I could picture myself as a delectable Middle Eastern girl walking through the sandy desert in flowing organza and jewel-studded sandals, with long hair the color of midnight that matched my kohl-lined dark eyes. I was sure I would create an international incident wherever I went! I’m not at all sure that that was the kind of reaction I was meant to have as I read that Bible story!
During my mid-teens I began attending an evangelical church and the Bible took an entirely new place in my life. It was miraculous to me, really. It felt like the Bible had been given life. I remember going to Bible Studies and feeling as though I were like St. Paul. You remember the story of St. Paul being struck blind on his way to Damascus. The Bible says that when Ananias came to heal Paul of his blindness it was like “scales falling from his eyes.” Well, that’s exactly how I felt in those Bible studies. It was as if scales were falling from my eyes, and the more they fell away the more I understood what I read. And the more I understood what I read, the surer I was that the Bible was true. Over the next few years the Bible was to my spiritual life what Chilton’s Auto Repair Manual is to an amateur mechanic. I read the Bible, studied it, looked to it to solve my problems, memorized over 500 verses of it, and believed that I was writing God’s words on the tablet of my own heart and mind. But again, there was a problem. My first problem had been that I didn’t understand the Bible when I read it. Now, my problem was that as true as the Bible had become for me, it was too narrow a way to know God. I was, in a sense, frozen in the literal words I studied and memorized. I was no longer free to see the God beyond the Bible. My God had become too small.
I was recently reading an essay by an English scholar, and he had an excellent metaphor for determining the truth of the Bible. “Suppose,” he said, that a book comes into our hands for the first time. We examine it, and observe the title to be, “Guidebook to London.” In a doubtful state of mind we say: “I have never seen London, and how do I know that there is such a place; and how do I know that all that is said here about it is true?” There is a friend standing by who knows London well, and knows the book to be a reliable guide, and he says: “You can prove that book by taking passage to London, and going up and down the streets as they are laid out on this map, and visiting the buildings which are described.” Suppose that his advice be taken and the journey made. At every turn the book is verified, and you come home and say: “I know that every word of it is true; the London in that book and the London which I have seen, exactly correspond.”
From this metaphor, it is clear that you would come to believe in London because you had experienced London. In the same way, the Bible is a guidebook that tells us about God, but it can be verified only by seeing if your experience of God corresponds to the guidebook. Even if there were absolute scientific “proofs,” the Bible would not become true for any of us unless and until we had experienced it first-hand.
We come to believe in the truth of the Bible not because of literal words on a page, but because the truth of God has been experienced in our heart and that truth is confirmed by the words in the Bible. But if it remains only words on a page, or a library of books under one binding, it cannot be proven to be true. There is scientific and archaeological evidence for the truth of parts of it, but there is still so much more in it that will never be proven through scientific method. For example, how would you ever determine scientifically the truth of words such as these: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Or, “they put their nets on the right side of the boat and their nets nearly broke with the number of fish.” Or, “God is love.” Or “overcome evil with good.” Or “Be still and know that I am God.” These and thousands of other passages of the Bible can be known to be true only when they are practiced and lived. So, what is really important is not the Bible’s historical, scientific, or even theological truth. What is important is the God of love that you find in it.
In the covenant that God made with the Israelites through Moses, God said, “What I command you this day is not hidden from you, nor is it far away from you. It is not in heaven, that you should have to say, “Who will go up to heaven for us and bring it to us that we may hear it and do it? Nor, is it beyond the sea, that you should have to say, “Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us so that we may hear it and do it? The word is very near to you–in your mouth, and in your heart, so that you may do it.” God’s word is very near to your heart. Think of those people who lived before the invention of the printing press. They heard the stories of God, and they felt the truth in their heart. When they looked at the stained-glass windows that told the stories, they knew the stories were true because they knew God in their heart. In one sense, the Bible content quiz we took in the beginning is really very important. If you believe that God’s word is so near to you as to be in your mouth and in your heart, but you treat the Bible as a guidebook to London that you can’t possibly prove, then that word of God in your mouth and on your heart may never really seem true to you. But if you search the Scriptures as Jesus urged; if you read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Bible as the Collect in the prayer book urges, and you place the word of God in your mouth and in your heart alongside the words that are written on the Bible's pages, you will confirm the truth of both. So, here’s a little B-I-B-L-E song for us to learn.
The B-I-B-L-E, yes, that’s the book
My heart confirms its words are true, the B-I-B-L-E.
The Bible is a pathway to travel to God.
It is true because we know its truth in our living. I have traveled
along my circuitous route to God, and the Bible’s truth has been verified
to me not through scientific proof nor theological persuasion, nor even
because I wanted to be a beautiful Middle-Eastern girl. It has become
true for me because through it I hear the voice of God in my heart.
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