I’ve heard that (and thought that) many times as a student. That phrase has ruined the fun of more than one book for many a person. The reason is because someone is trying to reduce the excitement, truth and downright joy of a book into a moral lesson. You ask most authors what they were trying to write about and they’ll tell you about the characters and the plot. Most authors don’t sit down to try and teach people a lesson. They just tell the story.
I was a really bad student. Looking back, I think it was basically due to my immense authority problem. I loved learning—I was always gathering up information about this and that—but as soon as someone told me I had to learn, I was scribbling drawings of superheroes in my notebook. I’m sure I’m not alone here. So, why do we do that?
The law ticks us off.
I grew up listening to the stories in the bible and, to this day, I don’t think I have a favorite bible story. I don’t have one that I recall fondly from my stay in Sunday school. They’re all neutral to me. That’s probably because they were always sold to me as some sort of moralistic puzzle. They weren’t just cool stories about warriors and miracles, they were grassy fields that I had to push through to find hidden meaning. I don’t recall them fondly because I probably never saw them as stories at all, I just saw them as work.
“What is the author trying to say here?”
We want morals. We want David’s story of killing a giant to be about conquering that tough interview, getting through a Cancer diagnosis or our struggle with porn. We think of Noah’s story in terms of the bad people getting theirs and the good earning a place on the boat.
We never stop to think that maybe not everything has to have a moral, and that God is not one of the Brothers Grimm. Perhaps all the stories collected in the bible aren’t to teach us how to be better people but rather that God is gracious and will provide a substitution, or that he’s just but has a stubbornly soft heart. Perhaps the bible isn’t a book of stories from which we are to draw morals, but the narrative of a God whose love is greater than our sin, and is insistent on our redemption.
In short, the bible might not (gasp!) be about us and our sin as much as it’s about God’s pursuit of us despite our sin. It’s a love story, but not one where, Pygmalion-style, he teaches us proper manners and how to pass as some highfalutin beauty. No, God’s love itself sets fire to our love for him and for others.
The bible is the story of a patient Father who will not allow even death to stand in the way of his quest for his children. He will pass through life’s final door and kick it down for good—not to teach us manners, but to be by our side.