For whatever was written in the former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.
I don’t remember much from seventh grade life science class, but I do remember the day we dissected earthworms. Our teacher distributed a handout with a diagram of the anatomical structures we were about to witness firsthand. She then laid our sacrificial specimen in its cold metal tray upon our desks and carefully handed each of us our scalpels. The excitement about looking beneath the surface of the earthworm’s membranous skin was as potent as the smell of the formaldehyde. Cautiously, fearfully, I made the incision, hoping to get my first glimpse of the subpharyngeal ganglion, the ventral nerve, the gizzard, and the intestine—all surrounded by the pumping vessels of the earthworm’s circulatory system.
Having completed the surgical maneuver, I placed the scalpel to the side and beheld . . . nothing identifiable. Back and forth went my eyes from the diagram to the specimen. Where was all this wonderment the diagram promised I’d see? It just looked like someone had opened a can of tuna fish.
With all the unqualified urgency a seventh grader can muster, I shot up my hand in a desperate plea for the teacher to explain why nothing looked as it should. She approached, peered into my specimen tray, and said with all the restraint the teacher of fledgling students can muster, “You can’t see the structures, because you’ve destroyed them.” Imagine my disappointment.
There was nothing wrong with the earthworm. I’d just incised too haphazardly. In so doing I’d obscured—decimated, really—the integrity I was meant to see, and delight in.
We all come to scripture in search of something. Without care in our handling of it, we, too, can manage to obscure what constitutes its integrity. Though we can commit ourselves to a year-long reading plan, the scriptures are not a task to be completed. Though within their pages there’s a wealth of history and culture, it’s not just a collection of ancient documents to be analyzed. The breadth of characters in their stories confounds and inspires, but the scriptures are not primarily an anthology of biographies to emulate. You may even be surprised to hear that though its contents speak effusively of what is moral and life-giving, we’re not to reduce the Word of God to a course in life enrichment or a book of virtues to master.
Instead, scripture presents us with a single overarching responsibility: to find its story line. That is, while you make your way through the sea of episodes, characters, and commands, you must make it your task to keep your eyes on the horizon where the whole story is headed. There is a beginning to the story God has written and disclosed to His people. That story took a sharp turn toward frustration early on (Gen. 3, Rom. 8:20). Ever since, it’s been a battle for redemption—full of gains and losses, hints and heralds of deliverance—culminating majestically in an unexpected tragedy which turned out to be the world’s finest hour. Miss the story line and you miss God’s intention for addressing you in it. As Eugene Peterson puts it in Eat This Book, “it takes the whole Bible to read any part of the Bible.”
When we find its story line, salutary things happen. At the very least, it helps us keep our place when we risk getting enmired in some of scripture’s more obscure details. Furthermore it refines all those other motives we brought to scripture. Our discipline to complete what we start finds new enthusiasm. Our analysis of its contents finds purpose. We see the frailties and the virtues of the people in its pages in the light of the great frailty shared by all men and the great virtue demonstrated by the God-man. Then our search for life becomes a search for Him. In Christ’s sacrifice of life, we find ours.
Even more importantly, when we find the story line, we find that the only one who could’ve brought such seemingly disparate threads together into a seamless garment was the One who we believe supervised its authorship. And somehow as we find Him in that story, as the author and finisher of that story, we find ourselves in that story—how we’ve been made part of that story. How it is our story. Then, at last, we find what the Apostle Paul and Dr. Chapell told us we’d find: we find hope.
Whether you are in Isaiah or Philemon, Jude or Jonah, Revelation or Daniel, take care to notice the story line that gives the Bible its integrity. For in finding its integrity you find its hope. “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, Whom He has given us” (Rom. 5:5, NIV).