If you’ve recently been in the market for a home, you may have used a mobile app to search for houses in the area, all neatly presented on an interactive map. With just a finger, you can roam streets and doughnut shops in one of two settings. The map setting shows what is basically a two-dimensional cartoon of the streets, rivers, and buildings in the area, providing a basic view of the area’s layout. But when you tap the satellite setting, that same map unfolds to a three-dimensional image representing the same information. The satellite mode gives a photo-realistic view of the area, providing richer depth. You can see how pristine yards are kept, how much tree coverage an area has, or how densely cars are parked on the streets—all the things that would matter to your daily experience of the place where you might live. The map setting gives you information. The satellite setting gives you a picture.
I have found that many Christians read the Bible in map setting rather than in satellite setting. Sermons, books, and devotional readings rightly focus on the knowledge to be gained in a given passage of Scripture—the truth values represented in words that form our knowledge of who God is, who people are, and what exactly God has done to redeem sinners. All of this knowledge is essential. But we often seek it in a one-dimensional way that does not consider how that knowledge maps our experience of the world in three dimensions.
The Bible and Your Daily Experience
The result of two-dimensional reading is we often have trouble applying Scripture to the fine nuances of our daily experience. How does an ancient book help us understand the low-grade annoyance we feel about a certain person at the office, the empty pleasure of sin, the gloom of a Monday morning, or the comfort of a good meal?
In this series, I want to explore different ways the Bible addresses us three-dimensionally—as people whose experience is made up of countless little responses to the unique situations that make up a day. The Bible helps us understand why we do what we do—specifically how we think, feel, and choose in response to our context. To put it simply, God designed people to respond from the heart to the unique situations He has placed them in. It speaks to everyone from college professors to housewives to coal miners, guiding their responses so that they take on the shape of God’s character.
In the coming months, I will be considering this context-and-response dynamic in the way Scripture instructs people. Even when Scripture does not mention the specifics of a particular experience—like regret or annoyance—it nevertheless provides a framework in which to understand it. We will consider everything from anxiety to self-pity, amazement to boredom, regret to annoyance, and more. All of these are different heart responses to the situations He places us in, and He’s given us the Bible to sort out how to understand them in light of His purposes for His people.
We ought to start this little journey, however, by looking at the model of human experience.
The Bible and Jesus’ Experience
The Bible, particularly the Gospel narratives, carefully notes both the context in which Jesus found Himself and His response to that context. When Jesus took on human flesh, He took on the limitations of a creature bound to one location, operating in one body, within a limited set of face-to-face relationships. In His humanity, He had to learn and grow. He had to acquire knowledge by discerning what is true and false. He had to learn to desire what is best by weighing the comparative value of different options. He had to make conscious choices in light of those options. For creatures of limitation, that growth requires effort and, perhaps more alarmingly, it requires suffering.
Jesus “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom” (Luke 2:40). He had to be made perfect through suffering what was common to human experience (Heb. 2:10), which meant being “made like his brothers in every respect” (v. 17). Perhaps most remarkably, although He was the perfectly righteous God, Jesus as man “learned obedience through what he suffered” (5:8). The biblical picture of Jesus’ experience is certainly not Jesus on autopilot. Jesus’ experience involved His active trust in His Father to respond rightly to the situations that surrounded Him.
Jesus cried out to the Father, “I will put my trust in him” (Heb. 2:13), in every moment, every thought, every desire, and every choice that made up His experience. This trust was not automatic; as Jesus was tested in each new situation that came into His experience, He had to exercise trust in a new way. Jesus took on the structures of the human heart so that He could fulfill what the heart was designed to do: to love and trust the Lord with all its capacity. Jesus was the first and only One to fulfill this design.
Jesus, Our Merciful Brother, Speaks to Us Appropriately
What Jesus’ response-in-context means for us, amazingly, is that when we read Scripture, we are not downloading information from a distant source, then having to unscramble it for ourselves for use in our daily lives. Scripture communicates in a way appropriate to our design as people who dynamically respond to the world around us.
Jesus is our Brother who did for sinners what they were unable to do on their own. We fail to respond rightly to our contexts—our thoughts are corrupt, our desires deceitful, and our choices foolish. But Jesus never failed to respond rightly to His context. His thoughts were true, His desires pure, His choices wise. By undergoing life in this world, He redeemed the full potential of our experience. This aspect of His atoning work is crucial for truly appreciating His qualification to redeem us from our sin and transform us into His likeness. And it’s crucial for understanding our own experience (Heb. 4:14–16).
Jesus experienced the world as we do—as a person who responds to situations in a flowing stream of thought, desire, and choice (albeit without ever sinning). So did the other biblical authors (although they were sinners). When the biblical writers speak to people, they do so three-dimensionally. In the pages of Scripture, we find the whole spectrum of human response to a wide world full of diverse situations. This provides a framework to help us understand anything we could go through.
Let’s read the Bible as it was meant to be read—in satellite view, not just map view.
Editor’s Note: This post was first published on December 6, 2017 and is part of a series on Bible study. Next post.