Reading the Bible Narcissistically
We often read the Bible as if it were fundamentally about us: our improvement, our life, our triumph, our victory, our faith, our holiness, our marriages, our money, our children. And it does talk about those things. But is the Bible fundamentally about us?
In my experience, most people treat the Bible like a book of timeless principles that will give us our best life now if we simply apply those principles. We treat it, in other words, like it’s a heaven-sent self-help manual. But by looking at the Bible as if it were fundamentally about us, we totally miss the Point–like the two on the road to Emmaus.
As Luke 24 shows, it’s possible to read the Bible, study the Bible, memorize large portions of the Bible–even listen to “expository” preachers who are committed to preaching “verse by verse, line by line, precept by precept”–while missing the whole point of the Bible. It’s entirely possible, in other words, to read the stories and miss the Story. In fact, unless we go to the Bible to see Jesus and his work for us, even our devout Bible reading can become fuel for our own narcissistic self-improvement plans, the place we go for the help we need to “conquer today’s challenges and take control of our lives.”
Contrary to popular assumptions, the Bible is not a record of the blessed good, but rather the blessed bad. That’s not a typo. The Bible is not a witness to the best people making it up to God; it’s a witness to God making it down to the worst people. Far from being a book full of moral heroes to emulate, what we discover is that the so-called heroes in the Bible are not really heroes at all. They fall and fail, they make huge mistakes, they get afraid, their selfish, deceptive, egotistical, abusive, perverse, and unreliable. The Bible is one long story of God meeting our rebellion with his rescue; our sin with his salvation; our failure with his favor; our guilt with his grace; our badness with his goodness.
So, if we read the Bible asking first, “What would Jesus do?” instead of asking “What has Jesus done?” we’ll miss the good news that alone can set us free.
As I’ve said before, the overwhelming focus of the Bible is not the work of the redeemed but the work of the Redeemer. Which means that the Bible is not first a recipe book for Christian living, but a revelation book of Jesus who is the answer to our unchristian living.