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The Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Word of God, represents the greatest paradox of all: He is, simultaneously, wholly God and wholly man. Is it any wonder, then, that the Bible, also the word of God, is full of paradox?
The Bible presents us with many seeming contradictions and dilemmas. These are sometimes cited by skeptics as evidence that the Bible is merely a collection of myths, not to be trusted. Didn't even Jesus say a house divided against itself cannot stand? Then what are we to do with those embarrassing passages? They are like a family fight - we can see the validity of both sides, but we wish the two parties would just work it out, especially before somebody drops in!
The classic example of the Bible contradicting itself is in the book of Proverbs, chapter 26. Verse 4 warns us "Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself." Yet the very next verse admonishes us to "Answer a fool according to his folly, or He will be wise in his own eyes." So, which is it? Do I answer the fool according to his folly, or not?
I am reminded of what Frodo the hobbit said in J.R.R. Tolkien's wonderful book The Fellowship of the Ring: "Go not to the Elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes." The answer, of course, like it is so often in scripture, is "both no and yes!"
Here is our first contradiction, how I wish they were all this easy! Learn this lesson early and well: We do not go to the Bible for answers to our questions, we go to the Lord. Quite often, He will answer from scripture, though He also answers in other ways. For instance, He answers through our companions in the Way - our spouse, our pastor, a close friend. He also speaks to us directly. Listen to Paul's testimony of his experience as a "baby" Christian: "I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached, is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ." (Gal 1:11-12)
Now you might be thinking "Well, that was Paul. After all, He was an Apostle. God wouldn't speak to me like that!" Oh really? What about Ananias? He wasn't an Apostle. Acts 9:10 says Ananias was the same as you and me, a "disciple". Yet, Jesus spoke to him and told him to go to Saul and heal him! Please do not cut yourself off from the voice of God through unbelief. At least leave room for the possibility of hearing it!
Beloved, there is a world of difference between looking to the Bible and looking to the Lord. Remember, the Bible is the word of God and the sword of the Spirit. In both instances "of" points to ownership. It is truly God's word and the Spirit's sword. Therefore, He should be consulted every time we approach it!
Proverbs 3:5 says "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding." Yet, so often we translate this is as "Trust in the Bible with all your heart and then you may lean on your own understanding!" Jesus said, in John 6:45, "It is written in the Prophets: 'They will all be taught by God.' Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me." Too often we translate this "They will all be taught by diligent bible study. Everyone who studies the Bible will come to me."
Abraham walked with God without a bible. Today, many walk with a bible without God. Which would you prefer? If you even hesitated, you're in trouble! Proverbs 26:4-5 is a perfect example of where the Bible as road map can fail us. We come to a fork in the road and we don't dare turn right or left. We know "there is a way that seems right" and the thought of its bitter end paralyzes us. But, praise God! There is an answer. As it is written, "Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it.'" (Isa 30:21)
It is the voice of God that guides us. It is his Spirit that leads us, as it is written "Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God." (Rom 8:14). Jesus declared there is a "proceeding" (present tense) word from God. In Mt 4:4, He answers the devil's first temptation this way: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." God is still speaking, if we will only listen. If He isn't, then why do we pray to him? To just read our lists to him? Do we give him a chance to speak in return? Is our praying more like a speech, or a conversation?
Jesus said we need to walk in the light while there is light. I would paraphrase the Master by saying we need to take advantage of Today while it is still Today. I mean the "Today" of God that is declared so boldly in the book of Hebrews. Listen to verses 7 and 8 of chapter 3, "So, as the Holy Spirit says: 'Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years saw what I did." Verse 12 continues the thought: "See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness."
The Today of God comes into perfect clarity in chapter 4, starting in verse 6: "It still remains that some will enter that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience. Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today, when a long time later He spoke through David as was said before: "Today, if you hear his voice, harden not your hearts."
We are in that day - the Today of God. He is speaking today. We must hear and obey. To trust merely in the Bible, apart from the voice of God himself, is foolish and insulting. Imagine ignoring the author and leaving him standing while your pore over his book, muttering to yourself "I wonder what He meant by that?
So, should we answer the fool according to his folly, or not? This time yes, that time no. In this situation yes, in that situation no. We must remember that what the fool really needs to hear is the voice of God, not our voice. We need to be the Lord's representative to the fool. Therefore, we need to ask God for the appropriate response. Remember, "a word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver." (Pr 25:11) And again, "A man finds joy in giving an apt reply - and how good is a timely word!" (Pr 15:23) But where does this timely word come from? "The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught. The Sovereign LORD has opened my ears, and I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back." (Isa 50:4-5) If we don't draw back, the Lord will also open our ears to hear him speak.
Didn't James say "If any of you lacks wisdom, He should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him."? (Jas 1:5) "For the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding." (Pr 2:6) It says "From his mouth", not "from his book". I'm not dismissing the Bible, consider how many times I have already quoted from it! But the written word should confirm the speaking voice, not replace it.
My grandfathers are dead. The only way I can learn from them would be to read something they wrote, or to listen to another who heard them speak. My father, on the hand, is alive and well. He speaks to me and I hear him. Our heavenly father is also alive and well. He is speaking to us. If we listen with ears of faith we will hear words of life.
© Matthew Schilling December 1995
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