The “perspicuity” (clarity) of the Bible was real to me before I even knew what to call it. It was an experience long before it became a tenet of my faith. I started to read the New Testament just as I was about to enter college. With very few assumptions, and with no theological or spiritual commitments, I simply picked up the Bible and began to read.
I read and re-read the Gospels, and then the whole New Testament. I was without instruction in almost any of the historical, cultural, political, or theological issues of the text. I was by no means sure there was a god, nor was I sure that this text and its apparent claims were true or relevant to some possible divine being. It simply seemed to me that a literate person should be acquainted with the Bible, and so it all began.
The portraits of Jesus presented in the Gospels astonished me. The four distinct angles of vision invited me to look carefully through a set of lenses at the most important figure in the New Testament. I had feared that religion made life small and insignificant. Petty religion was repellent. I didn’t need religion to help me have a small heart or a pathetically self-interested worldview. I knew my own capacities in these areas were more than sufficient!
As I read, heard, and meditated on the witness of Scripture, I came to discover that what Jesus offered was in fact the antidote to smallness: the kingdom of God. The smallness that pervades much of our natural human enterprise, whether it is business, education, politics, or religion, was the problem of a shrunken heart and mind. By contrast, the kingdom of God—life under the reign of God’s grace and truth in Jesus Christ—expands and unleashes our heart, mind, soul, and strength for the profound purposes for which we were made.
To my utter surprise, the Bible proved itself to be clear to me, even though I knew almost nothing about it. What the Bible made plain was that I was loved, sought, convicted, called, and redeemed by the true and living God who came to save the world—including me—in Jesus Christ. The clarity of Scripture was not an abstract principle; it was an apt description.
Learning to Delight
The Bible’s plainness also made clear that to respond to this text—to the God named and made known through this text—would be to take up the most difficult, lifelong challenge I could imagine. It would be a life-enlarging, mind- and heart-expanding act of deliverance from my small self. It would mean coming to inhabit the complex story of God—a story that made claims about creation, about human identity and purpose, about moral reality, about human suffering and pain, about power and injustice, about failure and grace.
Transformation at first sounded like an exciting promise, and surely it is one. However, the promise includes the painful challenge of being remade, of being called to follow and not to be in charge, to seek first the kingdom of God, not the kingdom of self. This means a pathway that involves dying as well as living—in fact, as Jesus said, dying in order to live.
It also means being bound to an unexpected community of unlike people, the “new humanity” (Eph. 2:15) that will draw and press me out into a new world of relationships and into a deeper communion. It involves not only loving those who may love me, but growing to love those who don’t love me. In fact, our God of grace invites us to follow and imitate the mercy of an enemy-loving God. This became vividly clear—indeed awkwardly, painfully, and transformatively so.