Jews and Christians share a common situation: we have always lived in cultures that worship “dumb idols” (Psalm 115:4,5; I Corinthians 12:2). The society we now live in is oriented around material things: things made by human minds and hands, things firmly set in this world with nothing to say to us about spiritual matters. But our God is a God who speaks – it is His very nature to communicate (John 1:1). The Bible begins, as did the universe, with God’s spoken word (Genesis 1:3). And the first step in mankind’s rebellion against God was taken when doubt was cast on the reliability of God’s word. “Did God really say…?” (Genesis 3:1) All through the Old and New Testaments, our relationship with God depends primarily on our response to His Word (e.g. Deuteronomy 30:14; John 8:51).
Having created an animal species capable of complex verbal communication, is it surprising that such a God should make an effort to speak to us, using our human language? Without such communication, there can be no meaningful relationship; because He does speak to us, we know that He desires to have such a relationship. Human languages do of course have limitations of grammar and vocabulary (and those limitations vary over time, and from language to language). We do not have words for things that no-one has ever seen, or for concepts that no-one has yet thought of. This is why the Bible never mentions dinosaurs, bacteria or black holes; when it was written, there were no words for these things. Imagine what it might be like trying to describe Earth to an alien on another planet where there is no such thing as liquid water (and so he has no idea what a sea, lake or river might be – or even what we mean by ‘drinking’). This is one reason for the rich use of analogy, metaphor and parable in the Bible; they are techniques for communicating ideas and concepts that would be completely opaque in plain language. This must be borne in mind when reading passages that speak about the future (such as the new earth in Revelation, or the nature of Hell).
When God speaks, what does He say? Often, not the things we want Him to say! The relationship between the Creator and His creation is not an equal one; we cannot force God to reveal anything to us. Job famously asked God to explain the rationale behind his sufferings; but when God eventually spoke to Job, He never mentioned them. Instead, He gave Job a natural history lesson – and Job was satisfied, not because his questions were answered but because he and God were at last on speaking terms (Job 42:1-6).
It can be frustrating not to find the information that we want in the Bible, information that we think ought to be there. God has never given us proof of His own existence, or a firm date for the end of the world. He does not tell us what we want to know, but what we need to know (Acts 1:6,7). We know enough to make an informed choice, whether or not to trust Him with our lives. “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children for ever, that we may follow all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29) We don’t need any additional revelation from other sources, however tempting it may be to ‘fill the gaps’ in our knowledge; this is why all forms of ‘occult’ practice are ’off-limits’ for the Christian (Deuteronomy 18:14,15).
Christians therefore regard the Bible very highly. What greater privilege can there be than to have a message from the Creator of the universe? But beware: knowing about God is not the same thing as knowing God. We can study the Bible and learn many things about God – but this does not necessarily mean that we will know God in the sense of having a personal relationship with Him.For it is possible to study the Bible and know it inside out – and yet not know God at all. Jesus once said this to the Pharisees: “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about Me, yet you refuse to come to Me to have life.” (John 5:39,40)
This is a very important point. We don’t worship the Bible; we worship the God revealed through the Bible. For God’s ultimate self-revelation is not the Bible, but Jesus. He is the true Word of God (John 1:1-14), in whom it is possible to meet God ‘in person’.