The Lens By Which You Read the Bible and Understand God

Is sin the main story of the Bible — the main story you tell yourself about the nature of your relationship with God — or is it love?

This is not a trick question, but one of the most important questions you will ever ask yourself. The way you answer determines how you will live your life. Don’t just ask your head, ask your heart as well. We often answer with our heads, but live from our hearts.

While I do believe each book of the Bible makes intellectual sense when a person reads it, making coherent sense of all of the books of the Bible as a whole requires us to have some kind of over-arching story by which we read them — some sort of grid or lens for interpretation. While not any old story will do, there are a number of competing stories through which one can make consistent sense of the Bible. I am not sure it is possible to say how many major stories there are that people commonly use, but the stories of sin and love are two of the important ones.

The sin story is one in which God’s holiness and justice form the main components. In this story, major sub-themes include God’s hatred of sin and the sinfulness of humans. Love plays its part in the story (God so loved the world that he sent Jesus), but it is a subsidiary role, in that God’s main objective is for people to be holy, as He is holy.

The second story, the one I embrace, is the one that focuses on love and relationship. Important sub-themes are grace and redemption. Sin plays a role in this story, in that sin created separation from God that wounded the relationship. But more important than sin is the love of God which led to Jesus dying to satisfy God’s objective, which is to restore the relationship He desires with people.

Which story you embrace determines how you live your life, and particularly how you interact with God. Choosing a story is important, but difficult, because the major stories are mostly internally consistent and consistent with their particular interpretation of the Bible. While reading the Bible will help you rule out some stories that people might try to impose, it will not enable a person to rule out some alternatives.

Some of the tension in the Body of Christ comes from the conflict associated with the differing narratives. I saw an article recently about a politician who suggested to other politicians to pray for the death of the President based on Psalms 109:6-15. For those who have a righteousness, justice, and holiness narrative, this may make sense — especially for those who associate national righteousness (or lack thereof) to the amount of blessing the individual can receive from God. But it would never make sense in the love and relationship interpretation, which believes in redemption and change, and believes that God’s goal is not to blot out sin but to bring a change of heart in people.

If you have never considered the love and relationship narrative, I would like to encourage you to do so. To me, following that narrative more easily develops Christ-like characteristics, and more easily interprets the words and actions of Jesus.

Discussion Questions

1) Do you know what your over-arching story that you use to interpret the Bible? Is it one of the two here, is it a hybrid of them, or is it completely different?

2) Is there someone who talks about the Bible and God but just rubs you the wrong way? Can you identify the lens or over-arching story that they use?

3 thoughts on “The Lens By Which You Read the Bible and Understand God

  1. Pingback: Reasons to Embrace the Love Story Interpretation of the Bible | Awesome God Ministries

  2. Estrellita Cometa Rauan

    I find this very interesting. I have been in a prayer meeting where the leader asked that we pray for the removal of a certain world leader because of the evil nature of the leader. I did agree with this prayer. But another time it was the same prayer request but I did not think the leader was so bad and the leader had “inside” information about this world leader. I was not so sure how to pray. Out of respect for that leader, I just prayed in tongues. But I like your insight about the redemption of people. This is a biblical concept which continues to hold out open arms and give people a chance. Thank you.

    1. Tim Thomas Post author

      Thanks for bringing up real-life examples. I think there are good ways to pray, and bad ways to pray, and many prayer leaders think they are doing good when they are praying in a bad way. I think we tend to personalize things. We like to blame specific people. Oftentimes the person is not the true initiator of the “evil”, but rather the society or portions of that society. Often the removal of the leader leads to replacement with someone even more “evil” — that is, more willing to embrace the perceived evil than the predecessor. I think it best to pray against the evil itself. And for the hearts of those perpetuating it.


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