Is it just me, or do Australians seem to be getting unhappier?
Pry into the mind of the average Australian with some basic questions. What is a human being? What is the purpose of our existence? Why should we think that we are important?
You are unlikely to hear coherent and well-thought-out answers.
We don’t know who we are. We don’t know why we are here. Yes we have some immediate goals (get a job, have a family, have fun and fulfilling experiences) but no overarching and ultimate goal.
We feel important, but we don’t know why. We feel we have purpose, but we don’t know what it is. We know we must die, but we don’t want to delve into the details of what is beyond.
So we try to create importance. “I am important because I am educated” “…because I have a girlfriend” “….because my kids are brilliant” “…because I own a house.” “Because I have an iPhone X…” “…because I am LGBT, or Christian, or aboriginal, or white, or Japanese.”
But this is frustrating, because no one else quite recognises these things as being as important as you do. Besides, you sense that you are so much more than these things; that if you were none of these things, or had nothing, that you would still be important.
So we try to create purpose. “My purpose is to save the planet.” “…is to make the world more tolerant.” “…is to see the world.”
But we can’t save the planet. And we forget that tolerance means respecting a person even when you disagree with them.
(The wrong view of tolerance is accepting another person’s views, even if you think it is wrong. When people don’t do this, we get frustrated, angry, and intolerant.)
And coming up from behind every endeavour to create value and meaning is the steady steamroller of death, which must overtake us all one day. “How can life have meaning when I am going to die?”
We try to find value. But value is only a meaningful term in relation to some fixed standard, and we don’t know what that standard is.
We are unhappy because we seem to be meaningless, rudderless, and worthless.
Then we open this book called the Bible. At first it seems to offer what we are looking for. Its opening pages tell us that we were handmade by God. That we represent God in this universe. And that to see a human being is to see a picture of God. It says that God has given us a task to do: a clear and wonderful purpose.
It says that we are to be fruitful and multiply, that we are to fill the earth and rule over it as God’s governors. That we are to know and love God, and be known and loved by God, and to love one another. That we are to create and explore and learn and grow in our knowledge of God and ourselves. And that the delights of knowing God and his universe will never end.
And then the Bible tells us that we have lost our way. We have rejected God, who made us, whose image we bear. We have rejected God’s purpose for our lives. We have rejected God’s evaluation of our lives.
And this explains why valuelessness and purposelessness is so frustrating. It doesn’t fit us, because we were made valuable and purposeful. And this explains why death is so frustrating and unnatural: we were made to live forever!
And the Bible tells us how we can be rescued from this brokenness. It tells us about God’s great unfolding plan to save the world by his Son Jesus Christ. It tells us how we can be a part of this. (More of this in the coming four weeks.)
And so the Bible describes itself as a “Lamp to our feet” (Psa 119:105), as the “bread of life” (Deu 8:3), as “honey,” and “gold” (Psa 19:10). It is a book to write on our doorways, and on our right hand and our foreheads; a book to chatter about constantly with our family and friends (Deu 6:6-9).
In fact the Bible claims to be nothing less than the breathed-out words of God.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
“Breathed-out” translates θεοπνευστος, theopneustos. theo means God, and pneustos refers to breath. Older versions translated theopneustos as “inspired by God,” which literally means “breathed into by God.” But “expired,” to breathe out, is more correct. Every word of the Bible has been breathed out by God, has come from his mind and mouth. (Of course God doesn’t have a human body, we are using anthropomorphic language.)
Why should we believe that the Bible is the living Word of God?
First, we need to understand that God can reveal himself to us and communicate with us. If God is there, then he can speak in a way that we can understand.
Then we need to be clear about the Bible’s description of itself. The Old Testament (OT) claims to have been written by prophets, by God’s spokesmen. They claimed that God put words in their mouths (Deu 18:18; Jer 1:9).
Why should we believe them? First because the Bible has proven itself to be true. Whenever the Bible talks about people and places and events, it gets it exactly right. In fact the approach used to be, “Let’s study history to see whether the Old Testament is right.” Having proved itself right every single time, archaeologists now use the Bible to discover history, and to determine whether what other people are saying is right. The Bible is the historian’s reliable ruler, compass, stopwatch, and GPS.
Second, when God’s spokesmen spoke about the future, they always got it exactly right.
Like Daniel’s prophecies about the four succeeding empires of Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome (and beyond Rome).
Like the very precise prophecies about Jesus: his virgin birth (Isa 7:14), the place of his birth (Mic 5:2), his entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey’s foal (Zec 9:9), the exact price of his betrayal, (Zec 11:12-13), the scattering of his disciples (Zec 13:7), the method of his death (Psa 22:16), the mocking around his bared body (Psa 22:17), the dividing of his clothing by lot (Psa 22:18), his last words (Psa 22:1), his burial in a rich man’s tomb (Isa 53:9), and his resurrection (Isa 53:11).
Third, because Jesus believed it. Listen to how Jesus describes the OT:
Matthew 5:17-18 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.
Luke 16:17 It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.
John 10:35 The Scripture cannot be broken.
But how do we know that what the Bible says about Jesus is correct?
The NT has proved just as reliable as the OT. When we read Luke’s writings, for example, (his Gospel, and the Acts,) we see him referring to hundreds of people, places, customs, and events. He thoroughly interacts with known history, geography, and cultural studies. And he gets it right every single time. Whenever Luke can be checked—which is very often—he checks out right (see Luke 1:1-4).
Luke has proven himself to be true and trustworthy when it comes to the facts about his world, and this is no less the case when he talks about Jesus. In fact the Gospel writers claim to be writing about the Son of God, and his teaching, and what he did to save humankind. Would they lie about Truth Himself? Especially when everything they described happened in the public domain and was instantly checkable.
Can we be sure that the Bible we read is the same as what was written? I’ve lost count of how many times some ignoramus has explained to me that “the Bible was written hundreds of years after the events it describes and has been passed down by word of mouth and translated and retranslated out of the realm of reliability.”
The science of text criticism has proved this to be nonsense. Our New Testaments are translations of thousands of ancient manuscripts, thousands in the language in which it was originally written, and thousands in other ancient languages, that can be see and compared and contrasted today, many of which were copied remarkably closely to the events that they describe and the autographs (originals), that were copied with remarkable care.
Our Old Testaments are translated from Hebrew manuscripts, especially the Codex Leningradensis, (dated to the 900s AD,) and the Dead Sea Scrolls (hidden in the first century AD), and are cross-checked with ancient Greek translations of the OT called the Septuagint (dated to the second century BC). Text criticism shows that the Rabbis were phenomenally fastidious with their copying, and employed elaborate word and letter counts to check the accuracy of copies to the letter. (For example, they knew how many words and letters were in the first five books of the Bible, and which letters and words were at the exact halfway mark.)
Modern English translations have also been produced with stupendous diligence, making careful use of the original languages, ensuring that when we read the Bible, we can be sure that we are reading what was written.
We should also remember the effect of the Bible on humanity. Jesus likened his words to yeast, which steadily permeates and transforms a lump of dough. The Bible has had this slow and steady permeating effect on the world. Wherever the teaching of the Bible takes hold, slaves are freed, women are given great dignity, children are protected, and the poor are cared for. Marriages and families become more stable and happy, workers work hard, and government works well to protect and bring peace to the lives of her citizens.
Science is propelled, for the Bible teaches that the world was made by a great intelligence, so there is design and order to discover and explain. Literature comes to more powerfully, and beautifully, describe the human condition. Music becomes more expansive and more profound, to lift the minds and hearts and spirits of the listeners to great things.
(Vishal Mangalwadi describes the Bible’s effects in The Book that Made your World.)
And for the individual, the Bible brings direction, order, and peace and joy even in the most trying of circumstances.
The Bible claims to be the true and life-changing breathed-out words of God. Jesus believed this. History has confirmed this. The transformed hearts and lives of billions is perfectly explained by this.
This was the grand rediscovery of the Reformation, sparked by Martin Luther some 500 years ago when he nailed his 95 Theses (read “challenges to the religious status quo”) to the Cathedral door in Wittenberg.
He had been preceded, of course. John Wycliffe (1320-84), for example, the “Morning Star of the Reformation,” had begun translating the Bible into English, so that his countrymen could read God’s Word in their heart language. And William Tyndale (1494-1536) had pushed the work along further. (Tyndale was publicly strangled and his body burned for his efforts. A reminder that the not everyone has wanted the Bible in the hands of the common people.)
The Bible, God’s breathed-out words, has come down to us at an cost of untold research, painstaking translation, and even blood. It is not a book to be ignored.
And when we consider that so much of Western literature, music, visual art, jurisprudence, and cultural values were profoundly shaped by the Bible, we must come to know and be familiar with the Bible if we have any chance of rightly understanding these things, let alone valuing them and passing them on to future generations.
Most of all, here is a book that will transform your life.
Are you unhappy? Has the culture permeated your mind? Do you feel worthless, purposeless, directionless?
Take up the Bible: the Words of Life.
Commit to reading it: say a chapter a day. Listen to it on your headphones (there are many free audio versions at biblegateway.com). Get together with a friend to read it together. Come and hear it read and taught at church. Join a growth group, where you can read and discuss it with others.
We do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Greedily devour God’s Word.
Here is a book for twenty-first century Australia. Here is a book for you.