The Bible is Water

underwater“I’m not a MacArthurite.”

-Pastor Randy

That’s a relief. I was afraid I was going to offend him with my opinions or my opinionated attitude as I entered our conversation last night. Pastor Randy and I normally meet on Wednesday evenings at the church, and the place is usually packed with people involved in various functions. Circumstances worked out so we met on Monday night this week and the place was deserted (it’s the following Sunday as you read this). Thunderstorms were rolling over the valley, so thick, black clouds were looming across the sky accompanied by high winds and startling flashes of lightning. The perfect backdrop to discuss a controversial subject.

(Oh, you might want to read Part 1 and Part 2 of my previous blog post John MacArthur and Struggling with Biblical Sufficiency to get a context for what I’m saying today.)

Actually, it worked out much better than that. Also, having recently written Judging Outside the Box put me in a more even frame of mind, and I didn’t feel quite so quick to pronounce judgment on a man who has been a Pastor for forty years and who I know almost nothing about.

Pastor Randy did study at Master’s College but through a distance program since he lived in Israel at the time. He didn’t have a lot of contact with MacArthur, so it seems he could evaluate his teachings from a different perspective. Pastor has run into some “MacArthurites” who go, “MacArthur said this” and “MacArthur said that,” but after all, MacArthur is MacArthur, not God.

But that’s true of any man. MacArthur has a passion for studying the Bible and encouraging others to do likewise, and I admire that a great deal. I agree with MacArthur and Pastor Randy that many Christian churches have set the Bible aside and embraced multimedia entertainment programs to keep the “faithful” in the pews. Fluff and style have replaced substance. More’s the pity.

But one thing Pastor did say about MacArthur is that he is pretty much “black and white.” There are no colors in his universe and especially in his understanding of the Bible. His language is binary and there are only two characters, zero and one, off and on.

But then there’s this:

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12 (NASB)

The writer is essentially saying Scripture is unique and there is no spiritual weapon for the believer that is superior to it. The Word of God penetrates the inner being and nature of a person. How? Because it is living and powerful, sharper than any other spiritual tool and able to go deeper and cut cleaner and truer than any other resource to which someone might turn. When utilized effectively and properly, Scripture reveals the deepest thoughts and intentions of the human heart.

-John MacArthur
“Chapter 1: Embracing the Authority and Sufficiency of Scripture”
Think Biblically!: Recovering a Christian Worldview (ed. John MacArthur)

MacArthur has a tendency to construct ideas and phrases in almost martial terms, but I prefer to think of God as a teacher, “a bringer of light, wisdom, and understanding,” to quote actor Ian McKellen in his first go around playing Erik Lehnsheer over a decade ago.

Being invited into God’s “classroom,” so to speak, is like entering a pool of water that has infinite depth. And yet, the deeper you swim, the more you can see, the colors are more varied and more vibrant, and what prevents us from immersing even further isn’t the pressure but the intensity. A frail human being can only encounter so much of the mind of an infinitely complex God.

skyIn spite of MacArthur’s vast experience and the great volumes of materials he’s created, in spite of his many sermons (he’s just completed his goal of preaching through the entire New Testament verse by verse, from the beginning of Matthew to the end of Revelation), and indeed, in spite of his love of the Bible, which rivals the love of the most devout and observant Jewish person for Torah, there still are no colors in his pool, no shimmering schools of rainbow fish darting across its depths.

And yet, how can this be, when MacArthur in his chapter repeatedly references Psalm 19 and David’s own love of the Torah of God?

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

Psalm 19:7-11 (ESV)

I agree with MacArthur that the Bible is the written foundation, the Word of God upon which we stand. I agree with David that the Torah of God is perfect, reviving the soul, making the simple one wise, rejoicing the heart, enlightening the eyes, and much sweeter than any other taste or experience. Not to say that Christians must imitate Jewish religious and identity behaviors because that would be missing the point (although most people who believe Christians and Jews must observe the Torah in an identical manner do miss the point that, in all the important ways, we already do). Performing the mitzvot isn’t something we do because it is written on a list, and we don’t honor the Torah above Messiah or worship a scroll before God.

But when Christians say they want to be “Christ-like,” what does that mean? What does MacArthur expect when he drives Christians back to reading and studying their Bible? Like Paul it’s unlikely that he expects to turn Gentiles into Jews, and like James and the Elders, it’s unlikely he will “command” the church to wear tzitzit and lay tefillin, for even if we did, these would be only superficial signs of the deeper matters of Torah, and what we are still failing to do.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’

Matthew 25:34-36

Is the Bible sufficient for teaching us how to live a basic life of righteousness, holiness, and compassion? Oh yes. The lessons aren’t that tough and in fact, it’s one of the easier teachings the Bible has to offer. Yes, there are complexities we encounter as we insert the expectations of God into our twenty-first century world and I’m not saying all of our moral and ethical decisions are “no brainers,” but how difficult is it to understand that we are to feed the hungry, visit the sick, and comfort the grieving as a response to loving the Bible and loving God?

How difficult is it to understand that by feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, and comforting the grieving, we are learning how to love the Bible and to love God? Love and compassion are warm colors painted across the canvas of our lives by God. Sometimes we are the painter when we perform tzedakah, and sometimes we are the canvas when we allow God to tinge and hue our souls so that we will be emblazoned and illuminated.

The Bible is alive, almost as if it has an independent personality. Pastor Randy believes the Torah is alive and he is hardly a self-described mystic. But how else can we explain it?

Torah is not about getting to the truth.

When you are immersed in Torah, even while pondering the question, even while struggling to make sense of it all, you are at truth already.

Torah is about being truth.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Being, Not Getting”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

alizarin-crimsonLord kiss me once more
Fill me with song
Allah kiss me once more
That I may, that I may
Wear my love like heaven
Wear my love like heaven
Color sky havana lake
Color sky rose carmethene
Alizarian crimson

-lyrics from Wear Your Love Like Heaven (1967)
written by Donovan

To what shall we compare loving the Bible? Loving the Bible is like immersing in a pool of havana lake, like being encompassed overhead by an overarching rose carmethene sky…like being embraced in the richness of a shroud of alizain crimson.

Wear God’s love like heaven. Immerse in truth. Live truth. Be truth.

139 days.

 

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6 thoughts on “The Bible is Water”

  1. I guess this is the risk of using many words! There are a couple misunderstandings in this blog that I’d like to correct:

    My comment wasn’t that John MacArthur doesn’t see/have color. In terms of grey scale, he pretty much sees everything in black and white (no grey). It wouldn’t be at all fair of me to say “there are no colors in his universe”. In fact, I’d say his universe is of better color than most because he’s so careful to have true (that would be biblical) colors.

    Also, on a lesser note – I never studied at The Master’s College myself. I was an Associate Professor of Bible there for 15 years, teaching in Israel for them most of that time in their Israel-Bible Extension (IBEX) program. I have recently been accepted into The Master’s Seminary doctoral program and will begin in July.

    And finally (back to more important matters), if Torah is not about “getting to the truth”, then we’re back to Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” Truth is decidedly not just pondering. Apart from propositional truth, stated in human language (as God has said He did) in Scripture, how can we possibly have any standard of truth? We’re forever lost to our own fallible devices to determine right and wrong. Truth is not some warm, mushy, colorful gobbly-de-gook that washes over us! Truth is knowledge of God, revealed by Him to us, in words. This does not require a mechanical dictation theory of inspiration…it is precisely what Peter tells us: “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (II Pet. 1:21). God used them (their personalities, vocabulary, writing styles, etc.) to produce perfectly what He wanted communicated.

    Hope you (we both!) have a good trip. I look forward to continuing our discussions.

    Pastor Randy

  2. My comment wasn’t that John MacArthur doesn’t see/have color. In terms of grey scale, he pretty much sees everything in black and white (no grey). It wouldn’t be at all fair of me to say “there are no colors in his universe”. In fact, I’d say his universe is of better color than most because he’s so careful to have true (that would be biblical) colors.

    Probably more a problem with me trying to be “poetic.”

    Also, on a lesser note – I never studied at The Master’s College myself. I was an Associate Professor of Bible there for 15 years, teaching in Israel for them most of that time in their Israel-Bible Extension (IBEX) program. I have recently been accepted into The Master’s Seminary doctoral program and will begin in July.

    That was just my leaky, middle-age memory.

    Sorry about the misunderstandings and thanks for the corrections.

    And finally (back to more important matters), if Torah is not about “getting to the truth”, then we’re back to Pilate’s question, “What is truth?”

    If you’re referring to my quote of Rabbi Freeman, I think he’s saying that the Torah is more than just a reference guide but something that needs to be integrated into our lives. Just my interpretation.

  3. This was(is) a worthwhile dialogue for your readers to be involved in; thank you both for ‘inviting’ us in.
    Glad for both of you that you have a friendship at the church ‘out there’ …James– of course one reason we enjoy your blog and personality is because of the poetic side, which adds a lot to your perspectives. It is a ‘treasure.’

    “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

    For fullest expression of that passage we always need to consider the part about doing justice not just the deeds of kindness like feeding the hungry, and we need to remember the ’emet’ part of ‘chesed v’emet’. It seems impossible to know what God considers truth, and what He considers justice unless we know the holiness and righteousness aspect of His Name/Being. Isn’t that where the truth Pastor Randy was adding to the conservation comes in? Worldly justice/a secular viewpoint have a strangely distorted sense of what justice and righteousness mean. Moreover, the church all too often ignores Jesus” explicit words that ‘if you love Me you will obey My commands.” tthere is terrible ignorance about those commands, which involve humility that involves repentance (good blog by one of your friends on Mussar recently), and how few there be whonot only want to change behavior and thought, but who really long to be on the narrow road that leads to Life, That road does involve much dying to self, a hard thing for us egoist to do.

    Our pastors/shepherds/fellow believers do need to encourage everyone to spend serious time in reading the Bible in order to know what God commands/requires for the Kingdom. We cannot remain ignorant so that we gravitate to inventing from our own personalities what we think God says or requires.

    It is a terrific thing overall that the ‘body’ is colorful and we all benefit from that ‘variety’ if we are humble ourselves and willingly learn as Lazarus’ sister Mary did while sitting at Jesus feet.

  4. Thank you for this, James. I need to hear what you’re saying here all the time as it is so sad for me to hear God being “figured out” or treated as merely 2- or 3- or 4- dimensional, etc.

    I love the story I’ve read of the experience at Mt. Sinai, that all of Israel “heard color” and “saw sound” as HaShem spoke to them enmasse. As I get older in the faith, I find myself “trusting” more than “believing” and there’s a wonderful difference between the two. I also increasingly feel that my imagination, when hooked to the Scriptures, is often the most relevant and “experiential” manner of insightful connection with the Almighty.

    I believe it was Hemingway who looked at an impressionist painting in the Louvre and saw “truth” in it, basing the rest of his life’s writing, like it or not, on recapturing the sense of “truth” that was communicated to him on that day in that moment in that painting. This was his way of “being” that truth as he saw it, as it must be for us to “be” the truth we “see” in Torah. I don’t know exactly what that means, but I love the experience of trying to do it every day, all the time…

  5. One problem of trying to be poetic is the danger of being tripped up by inconsistent or imcomprehensible or even impossible imagery. While it is said in scripture that HaShem stretches forth the heavens like a curtain and clothes Himself with light like a garment (Ps.104:2), I think Donovan’s Islamic imagery of a human wearing the heavens is ill-fitting. It is true that the scriptures advise us to “put on love” (presumably like a garment, Col.3:14). And it is true that Islam is known for its high-flown rhetoric and poetic imagery. But somehow the juxtaposition of wearing the heavens like wearing love, or even wearing a love the size of the heavens (which is probably more like the intended meaning) seems to me unsuitable to the human dimension. On the other hand, immersing oneself in heavenly waters (Heb: “mayim shel shamayim”) without the ill-fitting garment imagery, makes to me much more sense, especially as I think of comparable imagery in the sea of Talmud Torah and the purifying mikveh waters.

  6. @Louise: Interestingly enough, doing charity is considered doing justice.

    @Dan: Thanks. We often think of “telling the truth,” but “truth” in the sense of God is both what we do and who we are.

    @PL: I wasn’t really trying to “sell” Islam by quoting Donovan, but to evoke an image. Plus I like the way the words “Alizarian crimson” just roll off the tongue.

    @Everyone: Thanks for your input. Have to post this quickly. It’s Mother’s Day, which means I’m going to be busy today. 😉

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