Though this post talks about the Christian Bible, you don’t need to agree with the faith or the authenticity of the book to understand this post. It is my position that the Bible is THE greatest story ever written (regardless of if it’s factual or not).
An important caveat to begin: I believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God. That it is a historical record, as told by those who lived it and their descendants. It is an epic narrative of a love story between God and humanity, culminating in Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection, and the subsequent birth of the Church.
Please accept this as a once-for-all caveat so I don’t have to keep clarifying my words.
It describes a friendship at creation between mankind and their creator, God. Mankind is imbued with a privileged identity and role, a representative of God upon Earth. The harmony is soon broken by the ultimate antagonist Satan. He appeals to the pride in mankind, deceiving them with promises of God-like wisdom and leads them into betraying God. And so begins the epic journey over thousands of years to restore the relationship.
The journey is filled with seemingly many-side quests. To the unfamiliar they appear as a collection of unrelated short stories, but it is in fact a sweeping, interconnected storyline across all of human history.
The journey seems to take two steps forward, and then one or two steps backward. God’s chosen people, the Jews alternately follow God and then wander away, seduced by the cultures and gods around them. Again and again they are tempted to make small concessions and find themselves wandering from the truth. A small remnant, often persecuted by their own nation, are obedient to God.
There are heroes with great bravery, in combat or leadership, and then gradually slip into disobedience: pride, adultery, fear, murder. The characters are so human in their frailty that it is either excellently-written fiction or an accurate portrayal of real people.
There is Abraham who is promised by God to become the father of many nations. And yet the years tick on, without a single heir. With the promptings of his heart-broken barren wife, he produces an heir through her servant girl, before his wife becomes pregnant. Family strife and turmoil ensue through bitter resentment and the battle for familial dominance. Abraham, a man of destiny then fears for his life, so pretends his wife is his sister, and allows her to marry other men.
There is Joseph, a youth whose arrogance and favoured status gets him sold into slavery by his brothers. He ascends through the ranks of slavery doing everything right until his master’s wife is spurned and falsely accuses him of attempted rape. After years in a dungeon his gifts of wisdom and interpreting dreams sees him appointed to the second highest position of authority in the land. Meeting his brothers years later he forgives them.
Generations later, the boy Eli, is devoted to God. He becomes THE judge in Israel leading God’s people in wisdom. However in later life he fails to reign in the behaviour of his sons, who are corrupt and sinful. Everything Eli has worked for comes crashing down in short order; he dies a sad man.
The famous King David, said to be a man after God’s own heart. As a young man he defeats the Philistine giant Goliath, and waits patiently to become King, choosing not to usurp even when placed in a position to do so. He brings great favour on the nation. Then in later life as pride has taken a hold of his heart, he spots another man’s wife bathing. He commits adultery and after the cover-up fails, murder. He comes back to God but fails to raise his son well, who usurps him and commits heinous sins in the sight of all of the people.
All of this, and much, much more. Mini-stories of triumph and struggle; plot twists and character arcs. There is wonder in a God who performs supernatural miracles and crushing defeat in the personal failings of those who follow him. There is incredible brutality, intrigue, deception, loyalty, heroism, lust and romance. Every ingredient is in there and it’s every bit as humanly ‘gritty’ as a George R.R. Martin book.
Hundreds of prophecies over many centuries point to Jesus, a promised Saviour, but often are only seen in hindsight. The people think he will come and overthrow the occupation of the Romans and many are disappointed when the hero isn’t all they’ve imagined. He instead comes as the son of a carpenter, but through his actions shows that he is a priest – calling them back to God. Jesus, not just a man, but the very Son of God, willingly sacrifices himself upon a cross so that relationship might be restored between man and God.
And the story continues. We’re in the final few chapters now.
The decisive blow has been dealt, but Satan continues to wreak havoc. Satan would rather destroy what he cannot control and take as many to Hell as he can. His final acts of malevolence are like a visitor cast from a home who kicks the dog on the way out. And yet we know how the story ends, because Jesus has already told it in a parable:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46)