Who Needs the Bible, Anyway?
The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. (Psalm 19:7)
“I don’t need no one to tell me about heaven: I look at my daughter, and I believe.”
It is somewhat inelegant, yes; and we might fret at the grammar of this line from a recent popular song. Yet the song is telling of what many people these days believe about spiritual enlightenment: “I don’t need the Bible; I can find God out walking the woods.” “I can find God in the canoe.” “I can find God when I’m doing my artwork.”
Therefore, by implication, “I don’t need the church, and I don’t need the Bible.”
Last week, as we began our study of majestic Psalm 19, we observed how Bach saw the hand of God in music. We saw that God reveals Himself – His glory, His wisdom, His goodness and so much else – in the created order. In fact, He so clearly reveals Himself that St. Paul says we humans are “without excuse” for not worshipping Him as God.
But there’s a problem that prevents the natural human being from seeing God in nature and worshipping Him as God: sin. Sin, inherited from Adam, has corrupted our interpretive systems so much that you and I can’t worship God in the woods or in the canoe or in our artwork unless we first know Him through our Savior, Jesus Christ. As we’ll see from our lessons today, our ignorance brings spiritual darkness and confusion; but God’s light in Scripture brings joy and life.
Understanding God as He reveals Himself in nature requires that you first know God as He reveals Himself in Scripture. Without the wisdom of a regenerate mind, you will stumble around foolishly – and ignorantly – always seeking but never finding the One who created you to know Him.
The first picture you and I encounter this morning is a depressing one: full of ignorance, confusion and despair. It is a picture of people who see God’s handiwork – but sinfully manufacture idols to worship instead of honoring the One who made the heavens and the earth.
St. Paul on one of his missionary journeys came to Athens and while there was disturbed in his spirit by all the idols the Greeks worshipped. One scholar of the ancients said it was “easier to find an idol than a man” in Athens back then. True to the Scriptures, the Greeks were trying to explain the world around them; the Lord, after all, “has set eternity in the heart of man.” In fact the Apostle, while telling the Athenian philosophers about the Lord Jesus Christ, began by saying they were extremely superstitious and mindful of religious questions.
They indeed were curious about their religions. But they were wrong about their religion.
This portion of Acts is one of the defining texts in Scripture for dealing with non-Christians. Paul debated with the Athenians in the marketplace and at Mars’ Hill, where the Greeks usually judged weighty matters. He saw they were “groping toward God.”
Yet Paul also knew the destruction sin had wreaked on the human mind. In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle observed how we sinners make for ourselves all sorts of idols for every situation yet refuse to acknowledge the one, true God. As a result, our behavior is reprobate.
The ignorant Athenians, professing themselves to be wise (note how snooty and prideful they were toward Paul!), had made idols for every occasion. The Epicureans had devised a pleasure-first, materialistic philosophy; and the Stoics had adopted a “grin-and-bear-it” way of looking at life.
Now think about it: whom do they resemble?
You and I who think we can find God in the woods and don’t need the Bible to know Him have, instead, built an idol for every occasion in life. We have the Harold Kushner god – an idol that is a powerless, justice-less attempt at the Christian God – for when bad things happen to “good” people. We have the god of human reason for our schools and colleges. We have the god of tolerance and mild-manneredness for our politics. We have the god of pleasure for our off time.
But just like the Athenians, you and I have a country full of gods who never can satisfy us and bring us fulfillment. Left to ourselves, out in the woods, these are the gods we make for our worship.
And this is not a promising picture.
Psalm 19, however, offers us a better way: it gives you and me a picture of light and life from the Word of God in Scripture. It’s this Word that all of us, and everyone in the world, desperately needs, because it directs us to the One Who does give life.
The psalmist says in verse 7 that the Word of God – the more-complete, more-specific way in which He has revealed Himself to us humans – is “perfect” and “sure.” He says it converts, or revives, the soul and makes the simple person wise. (Technically, he poetically refers to the Scriptures as the “law” of God and as the “testimonies” of God, but those two terms mean “the Word of God.”)
Observe the manner of the Apostle Paul in dealing with the Athenians. He mentioned they even had an altar to “the Unknown God” – but instead of offering them a polished man-made argument for Christianity, he preached the Word of God. He literally rehearsed the most-basic elements of the gospel: the one, true God made you; He will judge you; and you need the life-giving, gracious work of Jesus Christ in you if you are to stand God’s judgment.
Paul knew that logic, while created by God and useful to God, only went so far in conversion. It is the Holy Spirit, utilizing the eternal truth of God in Scripture, who makes these things real to a sinner and brings him or her to real, fulfilling, eternal life.
Now, Psalm 19 doesn’t hesitate to praise the “preaching” of God through His handiwork in nature. If you know the Lord God Almighty, then you can go back to nature and learn a lifetime of amazing lessons about Him (see, for example, the work of Bach). You can look back and see His order and wisdom in giving us natural law (such as “murder is wrong” and “stealing is wrong”).
But first things first. You need what only the Spirit can accomplish in you as He uses the Scriptures in bringing your soul to life and making you “wise unto salvation.” He crushes the idols. He removes the mask off “the Unknown God” and makes the Lord known through Jesus Christ.
The psalmist assumes – correctly – that apart from the knowledge of the Creator through His Word, you and I are simple. We’re foolish in our naivety and immoral in our sinful idolatry. Non-Christians foolishly think they are wise without the knowledge of God through Christ … yet they are perishing without Him.
Your words and my words might help others in some small way at various points – but there’s just something miraculous (yes, miraculous) about opening the Word of God and giving it to others.
The Word of God does what merely looking into your daughter’s eyes cannot: it brings light and health and joy, because it testifies truthfully of the God of grace. It corrects faulty vision of the world around you and causes you to view every small particle of this world to the glory of God. Even music sounds better!
Human words can be helpful or harmful. Yet human philosophies cannot bring total fulfillment.
As you live and minister in a confused world, realize what a weapon you have in the Word of God! Those around you are grasping for God. They’re all looking for a miracle.
Break the bread of life for yourself and for those around you – and watch as He brings dead bones to life. There is the true miracle.