I consider those words, uttered by the inimitable Ulysses Everett McGill throughout the clever 2000 film, O, Brother, Where Art Thou?, appropriate in light of the threats we citizens of Earth feel cornered by daily. Like Ulysses and his fellow escapees, we’re constantly looking over our shoulders, trying our best to avoid being surrounded and trapped by problems – both personal and those we share with the world at large. In the U.S. we have basic freedoms stated clearly in our Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson included in that great document one of our inalienable rights is “the pursuit of happiness.” To me the key word isn’t happiness but the pursuit of it. In this country we’re free to chase it at will. But, as anyone who’s made it out of puberty has come to realize, that pursuit is never-ending. The truth is there’s no such thing as complete and perfect happiness on this planet. Peace will sometimes stick around for a season or two but eventually someone or something steals it from us. Nobody can prevent tragedies, trials and difficulties from rudely barging into their life from time to time. We’re no strangers to weariness, discouragement, angst, grief and so on. And we don’t have to search outside ourselves to find conflict. (I’m fully capable of generating it within my own heart and mind, thank you very much.) Furthermore, whenever we think we’ve discovered genuine contentment we find there’s inevitably a Catch-22 clause hidden in the fine print. In essence, we’ve learned there are inherent problems in simply being alive. The highway of existence is dotted with axle-breaking potholes and patches of treacherous black ice and nobody seems to be doing anything about it.
A voice inside tells us this isn’t the way things are supposed to be. Everything in the cosmos around us proceeds in an orderly, predictable way but that’s not how things go down here on terra firma. We don’t like where things seem to be heading one bit. All of humanity cries out for an end to this mess. A way to put things right. A solution. But it never comes. Every day brings a fresh load of bad or confounding news. In this age of instant communication nothing goes unnoticed for long. Recently (the morning following an inspiring weekend spent celebrating the resurrection of Christ) I browsed through the front section of the Dallas Morning News, an activity that’s always good for a punch in the snout. One headline screamed “Easter attack kills 65.” In Lahore, Pakistan a radical Islamic terrorist calmly strolled into a crowd of Christian families that’d gathered to worship the Lord and blew himself up in order to please Allah. Over 300 men, women and children were injured and the death toll is still climbing. Riots broke out in Belgium in protest of a similar blast that, days earlier, killed at least 31 and injured 270. Tens of thousands of refugees fleeing from oppression in Iraq and Syria continue to live in squalor, pressed up against the borders of Greece and Macedonia. Another item informs me that Syrian militias armed by the U.S. “war machine” have begun to fight each other on the plains between the besieged city of Aleppo and the Turkish border.
All the presidential candidates are still slinging mud and pointing fingers at each other like spoiled toddlers. One article says some education “experts” suggest passing a course in algebra should no longer be required of high-schoolers. Evidently it’s too hard and it’s causing 1 out of 5 students to drop out before graduating. Of course, the Op-Ed page is a reliable head-scratch instigator, too. One guest columnist touted the contributions of a legendary hip-hop group that recently lost one of their core members to complications arising from his diabetes. Nothing wrong with honorably eulogizing a fallen hero. But what concerned me was the writer saying the band’s lyrics were an inspiration to him growing up and he offered this example of their artistic profundity: “Listen to the rhyme, cuz it’s time to make gravy/If it moves your booty, then shake, shake it baby.” And he was serious. (I’m not making this up. Maybe I just don’t “get it.”) To top it off, on the front page of the Metro section there appeared a story about a local church that had to cancel an advertised Easter event over the weekend. They were going to have a helicopter drop thousands of candy-filled plastic eggs onto an open area next to the church. The weather was nice so 10,000 people showed up. The organizers feared things would get out of control because folks “ignored communication and rushed the field.” Seems the adults were more interested in grabbing up as much “free stuff” as possible than they were in letting the kids have a fun time. Selfish greed on that level is beyond shameful.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones once preached, “Quite apart from major world wars, there’s always some misunderstanding and discord, people working at cross-purposes, pulling against one another, rivalries, jealousies, sects and parties. The whole world seems to be nothing but a repetition on a grand scale of what we all experience in our personal lives.” In other words, there’s a struggle going on everywhere we look whether external or internal and it’s beyond our ability to fix it. We need divine help and guidance. The irony is both have been readily available to us for hundreds of years in one book called the Bible. Yet too many people dismiss it as impractical. They say religious thought in general is strictly an intellectual exercise and is of no use in solving real problems. In their minds studying God’s Holy Word should be considered no more than an admirable leisure-time hobby like antique furniture restoration and such. To say they’re missing the boat entirely is an understatement. Those of us who’ve made reading the Bible part of our daily regimen know there’s nothing more applicable and useful for developing a productive, fulfilling life than the instructions printed on its pages. Its very purpose is to teach and enlighten us about the claustrophobic “tight spot” mankind has gotten itself wedged into and how to get out of it. That’s why God gave it to us. The Bible is our owner’s manual. It’s not a textbook about philosophical theories or metaphysical escape techniques. It’s about men and women from beginning to end. I’m in there. You’re in there. We’re all in there. It’s God telling us about us.
Too many Millennials and Generation Xers insist on labeling the Bible passé, saying it’s worn out its welcome and is woefully out-of-touch with 21st century society. That’s precisely how the devil wants it to be viewed. But it’s a huge fallacy for anyone to underestimate its unique power to transform us and the world we live in. Everything we could possibly need to know about why things are the way they are is contained in it because not only is it a moral guide but, just as importantly, it’s an inerrant history book. Authentic men and women abound – Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, David and an assortment of kings, Jesus’ disciples, etc. The Bible reveals its truth to us through people by telling us what they did and said and what they went through collectively and individually. Therefore it’s as practical as any book can be because the folks it talks about are no different from us in that they, too, were sinners in desperate need of a Savior. Are you dissatisfied? The Bible is filled with dissatisfied people and it tells us all about them. They had questions, too. “Why am I unhappy?” “What’s making me stay unhappy?” “Why are so many unhappy?” “Why isn’t this utopia?” “Why do we have to work so hard just to survive?” “Why are fanatics sneaking about, plotting to murder as many humans as they can?” “Why are there horrible diseases like cancer and debilitating viruses like HIV?” “Why do we all have to die?” Those are legitimate questions. And every one of them gets answered in God’s Holy Word. The sad thing is, too many don’t like the answers it gives.
The reader shouldn’t allow themselves to become distracted by trying to approach the Bible as one would a science project because that’s not how it approaches us. It confronts us right where we are in this very moment. It’s God saying, in essence, “I’m here and you’re special to me so let’s discuss why I created you.” In this series of essays I’m going to focus on you, me and all of us en masse as we try to make sense of this crazy, mixed-up world. I’m going to highlight what the Bible has to say about what’s happening because, when it comes right down to the nitty gritty, one either accepts the Holy Word’s explanation or an entirely different explanation altogether. The Bible says it’s the genuine truth and we know truth is not negotiable. Thus, since I’m a Christian, any other explanation that directly contradicts what God has told me is the truth should, logically, be left by the wayside. It’s not a matter of discriminatory personal preference, for I’ve found the Bible stands erect on its own unique merits. It makes claims for itself no other book has or dares to. After decades of investigation I finally decided I would accept the premise of the Bible is true. It offers the only explanation that makes sense to me as to why I and the rest of the inhabitants of this planet are a “tight spot.” All the other religious and/or science-based books I’ve delved into either trip and plunge into the pit of ambiguity or hit a brick wall at one point so from here on out it’s going to be God’s Holy Word I’ll be using as the foundational source of truth to base my arguments on. So be it.
There are times when one should examine the Bible one chapter (or even one verse) at a time. The vastness of the knowledge it contains renders that approach a very wise one to take with most subjects. On the other hand it’s vital we sometimes step back and embrace the entirety of the Bible’s message as a complete whole. We so easily fall victim to our age-old tendency to not see the forest for the trees. On and off during this series I’ll ask the reader to join me in shifting into the “forest mode” of viewing God’s Holy Word in order to gain a broader perspective on why the world’s in turmoil. By doing it that way we’ll more easily notice there are rudimentary facts it stresses are crucial to understanding humankind’s current predicament. All those facts are contained in the first three chapters of Genesis. No joke. We need look no further. It’s no mystery; rather, it’s printed in black and white for all to read. The answers to “What is this thing I have called a soul?” “How can I possibly wrap my head around why I think and behave the way I do?” or “Why do I have to deal with heartaches, let-downs, betrayals and depression?” are there to peruse and absorb. Again, I’ll reiterate those aren’t foolish questions. Each of us has the right to ask them of our Creator.
The Bible starts with establishing unequivocally, “In the beginning God…” God is behind the whole shootin’ match. It therefore behooves us to slide questions regarding ourselves onto the back burner temporarily and start with the basics like “Where did the universe come from?” “Where did I come from?” and “What constitutes life?” Some major hang-ups the world has today are a result of its myopia. It’s too close to its problems to see them for what they really are. Wordsworth was on the mark when he wrote, “The world is too much with us.” It’s like being caught up inside a tornado. You know you’re in something catastrophic but you can’t see it. All you can see is dangerous debris swirling around you. You won’t be able to put your hair-raising experience in its proper context unless you live through the storm and count your blessings. In other words, if you want to appreciate clean, running water go to a country where there isn’t any. The Bible wants us to contemplate what we do have before we start complaining about what we don’t have. And what we do have is, as the praise song says, a “Good, Good Father.” Lloyd-Jones wrote, “The only way to understand yourself or your life is to start with God. And right at the very beginning the Bible takes us there. If you’re not clear about this, you will go wrong everywhere else.” Determining for yourself whether or not there is a God takes precedence over determining anything else. Atheism is spiritual suicide but it’s also an option. Your Creator will actually allow you to spit in His face and proclaim that you and everybody else are the result of an accidental but fortuitous congealment of atoms if you like. Atoms, by the way, that either appeared from out of nowhere or were brought into being by an impersonal, unfeeling power that dwells somewhere over the rainbow. The Bible forces us to deal with that issue first. “In the beginning God…”
Secular psychiatrists won’t begin with God. He/she will start with you and end with you. That’s their only approach to solving your dilemmas. The Bible begs to differ. It states you won’t be able to understand anything about your problems unless you first acknowledge that behind everything is God and that we must trust He’s holy because we can’t define Him or even fathom His awesomeness. “Can you discover the essence of God?” (Job 11:7). “…The world by its wisdom did not know God…” (1 Corinthians 1:21). While the smartest of non-believing mortals may conceitedly deny God’s existence, the Bible confirms Him right off the bat. It asserts the Holy Word is the revelation God has given of Himself. One must come to terms with this bottom-line disclosure before another step is taken. We either take issue with its bold declarations or accept unconditionally what the Bible tells us is true: God is I AM and He’s eternal. We mustn’t reject Him simply because none of us understands what forever entails. Our minds are limited to the modest space in our craniums. God’s mind is limitless. For example, if we get away from the city lights at night we can view the Milky Way galaxy but we’ll never be able grasp the immensity of what our eyes are actually seeing. And that galaxy we’re part of is microscopic compared to the rest of the universe. We can’t comprehend God and we were never meant to. If we could do that we’d be on a par with Him and we could write a best-seller about what it’s like to be God. Yes, that’s an absurd thought but, since pantheists believe we’re all an equal part of the summation of whatever God is, there’s a whole lotta folks who don’t think that pompous idea’s so far-fetched.
So let’s settle this now. There is a God and He’s not you or me. He warns Moses, “…Do not approach any closer! Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5). A few verses later Moses asks what His name is and God announces to Moses in no uncertain terms, “I AM that I AM” and then adds “This is my name forever…” (Exodus 3:14-15). Unless you think the Bible is an elaborate piece of hollow propaganda then you must put all your faith in the fact that God is real and He speaks to us through His Word in terms we can savvy. God ain’t “The Force.” It’d be ridiculous for a conscious human being to try to have a relationship with an unconscious deity. There’d be no purpose in praying to it, either. It couldn’t hear or respond to pleas for mercy, forgiveness, healing or guidance. We’d be on our own. But if we accept God is the same God who made Adam & Eve our whole outlook on life must change. God is personal. He is “I AM.” He’s our Heavenly Father. He’s the Son. He’s the Holy Spirit. Three persons coexisting before time began in an everlasting oneness. He is sovereign over all creation. God’s the epitome of righteousness. God’s love is pure and absolute. And He loves us madly with what the late Brennan Manning called “a furious longing.” God is our solid ground, the starting point we plant our flag in and venture forward from in order to find answers to our questions.