You are convinced that you will encounter God when you read your Bible. Your pastor preaches on that frequently. Your Sunday school class has just finished a Christian living book that encourages Bible reading. You have decided to dedicate yourself to the Sojourners Bible reading plan that you have downloaded from their website. You have a plan.
You are ready to go…
Then you open your Bible and you begin to read steadily and thoughtfully.
Soon you begin to get puzzled.
Packer writes “It was thousands of years ago, [in a time that was] primitive and barbaric, agricultural and unmechanized. It is in that world that the action of the Bible story is played out. In that world, we meet Abraham, Moses and David and the rest, and we watch God dealing with them. We hear the Man of Galilee, doing miracles, arguing with the Jews, dying for sinners, rising from death and ascending to heaven. We read letters from Christian teachers directed against strange errors which, so far as we know, do not exist now.”*
It all seems so remote. Circumstances described may have been relevant to that world but maybe not to this world. I have been there. There have been times when it seemed to me like I was on the outside looking in, especially as I bogged down in Leviticus and Numbers. I had such a hard time understanding why the Jewish people had so many rules! My attitude is common among Christians today. “Christians seem to resign themselves to following afar off, believing the Bible record, indeed, but neither seeking nor expecting for themselves such intimacy and direct dealing with God as men and women of the Bible knew. Such an attitude, all too common today, is in effect a confession of failure to see a way through this problem” [Packer, 76].
This raises the sincere question, how do we bridge the gap between Bible times and today? How do we find a way to connect to our Bibles? How can we find the intimacy with God that we seek as we read His Word?
Packer says the key is God Himself. The God they had to deal with in Old Testament and New Testament times is the same God we deal with today: “we could sharpen the point by saying exactly the same God; for God does not change in the least particular.” What we are talking about is the fact that we believe in an immutable God.
One can find references to this in Psalms, Jeremiah, Romans and Timothy; God “is from all eternity, the eternal King, the immortal God, [He] alone is immortal” Psalms 90: 2 says “Before the mountains were born or you brought forth from the world, from everlasting to everlasting, you are God.” Psalms 102: 26-27 states “Earth and heaven will perish, but You remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing You will change them and they will be discarded. But You remain the same, and your years will never end.” Indeed God is the first and God is the last.
God’s life does not change. “The God with whom they had to do is the same God with whom we have to do” [Packer 76].
Along with God’s existence not changing, God’s character has not changed. I [unlike God] can suffer from extreme stress and I can buckle under stress. I can do something “out of character.” Life events can shock me into doing something strange for me. Packer even points to a lobotomy as a means to change our character; certainly brain surgery can alter our character, but nothing can change the character of God. I am sure I am not the same person I was years ago, and I have seen friends grow bitter as they have been dealt hard life circumstances. I have seen friends become curmudgeons as they seem to have less control over changes in their lives. People can grow cynical as their belief systems are challenged. None of this happens to our Creator. He is always truthful, always merciful, always just, always good.
The character of the God we deal with today is exactly like it was in Bible times.
Packer thinks the name of God reveals so much to us about His character. In Exodus, Moses encounters a God who says He is “I am who I am,” Yahweh, Jehovah. This name is a declaration of God’s self-existence and his eternal changelessness, that what He is now, He was and will be. The God of Exodus 34 is the God we have today: slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. That God does not leave the guilty unpunished; He punishes the children and their children [from verses 5-7].
Three thousand years ago He told Moses who He was, so it is no wonder that James describes the same God as one “with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” [James 1: 17].
As we read our Bibles today, the bridge to Bible times is God. As we read our Bibles, God’s life has not changed and his character has not changed. As we deal with what seems to be an “unbridgeable gulf” between the men and women of Bible times and the men and women of today, our focus should be on God.
Meditate on the meaning of words. In reading through a Bible reading plan we get so obsessed with trying to cover so many pages in our daily work. If the Sojourners Bible reading plan says we have to cover three chapters, we have to cover three chapters and we feel guilty if we fail our daily assignment. Instead of pushing through “x” number of words, meditate on the meaning of words, especially words which convey special meaning.
Here are five that may merit serious meditation…
“I am WHO I am.”
From his book Knowing God…