What is the Bible all about? What's in it? Why is it so important for Christians? Is it really relevant for people in the 21st century? Should I care about what's in the Bible? Why? What difference will it make in my life? The study series, What's in the Bible and Why Should I Care? offers opportunities to explore these questions and others by opening the Bible, reading it, prayerfully reflecting on what the Bible readings say, and applying the readings to daily life.
The title of this unique and exciting Bible study series points to the two essential features of meaningful Bible study: reading the Bible and applying the Bible to life. First, we read the Bible to discover answers to the question What’s in the Bible? and second, we reflect upon what we read in order to discover answers to the question, Why Should I Care? and apply these answers to our lives.
What’s in the Bible about Us? is one of the study books in the series, What’s in the Bible and Why Should I Care? What’s in the Bible about Us? will help readers explore biblical perspectives of human beings in relationship to God. Chapters include: “God Created Us,” “God Cares for Us,” “God Saves Us,” and “God Invites Us into Relationship.” Each chapter contains the following features:
Bible Readings - Each chapter explores specific readings from the Bible.
The Questions – Each chapter begins with focus questions that will be explored in the Bible readings and the chapter information.
A Psalm – Each chapter begins with verses from a psalm. These excerpts from the psalms give readers the experience of using the Bible for personal and group devotion.
A Prayer – A brief two or three sentence prayer at the beginning and end of each chapter
What's in the Bible? Participants will read and reflect upon key Bible readings in each chapter and use the space provided to write personal and private reflections.
Reflection Questions – These questions are related to the chapter information and are designed to help the reader consider key ideas that emerge from this information and from the Bible readings.
Bible Facts – Additional related information about the Bible readings.
Here's Why I Care – This activity near the end of each chapter contains questions that invite the readers to grow in faith as they prayerfully reflect about what they have learned
|Series:||Why Is That in the Bible and Why Should I Care? Series|
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About the Author
Alex Joyner is author of Restless Hearts: Where Do I Go Now, God? (Abingdon Press), a curriculum on vocation for young adults. He is also the author of What’s in the Bible About Us? and What’s in the Bible About the Holy Spirit? (Abingdon Press). He is a published poet, photographer, and essayist on the online magazine Catapult.
Joyner is pastor of Franktown United Methodist Church on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. He has served as campus minister at the University of Virginia and in appointments in Virginia, Texas, and England. A regular writer for the FaithLink adult curriculum, Joyner began his career as a news director for a radio station. He teaches theology and church history as a summer faculty member at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Texas.
Read an Excerpt
What's in the Bible About Us?What's in the Bible and Why Should I Care?
By Alex Joyner
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2008 The United Methodist Publishing House
All right reserved.
Chapter OneGOD Created Us
Genesis 1–2; Psalm 139; John 1:1-5; Acts 17:23-28; Colossians 1:14-17
The Christian faith teaches that humans were created by God. What does the Bible say about human beings as God's creation? How does the knowledge that we are created by God affect our understanding of ourselves? of other human beings? Take a moment and write responses to the questions. _________________________________________________________________________ _________________________________________________________________________ _________________________________________________________________________ _________________________________________________________________________
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Psalm 8:3-4
God, you are beyond words. You are beyond the capacity of my mind to understand, but I trust that you can enlighten me. You are beyond all things, but I believe that you are here. Remind me who I am. Speak through and beyond these words; but most of all, speak in me; in Christ's name. Amen.
Listening for God
In order to talk about what it means to be created by God, the best place to start is probably with a time when you could not talk. What did you describe? Was it when you received a great gift you were not expecting? Maybe it was at the birth of a child. Perhaps it was when you took a hike on a trail and turned a corner to see a marsh or a mountain that was impossibly beautiful—the kind of scene for which the word inexpressible was invented. Or was it in the midst of an argument when you were suddenly confronted with another dimension of the person in front of you that you had never seen before? Maybe you saw something about yourself in the argument that left you without words.
Try to imagine the last time that you were speechless. Describe the circumstances. Who was there? What happened?
Why should you care what the Bible says about who we are as human beings? Because moments of speechlessness are rare gifts, and they are the beginning of new questions—questions people have been taking to the Bible for centuries. Before we go looking for answers, though, let's allow the Bible to help us wonder.
Try this: Find a place where you have some space to "be." Maybe it's at a table by a window with good natural light. Maybe it's that chair in the coffee shop that you know so well that you can tell someone exactly where the rip in the fabric is. Maybe it's under a tree at the park or at that spot down by the river. You know the place. Give yourself time to be with the Bible and this book.
Turn to Psalm 8. Read the whole psalm slowly, out loud if you're alone or unafraid of social consequences. Then go back to verses 3-4, which are printed at the beginning of this chapter. Ask yourself the questions. What are human beings? Who are you?
Read again Psalm 8:3-4. Meditate on these verses for a few minutes; and, while you do, write down words that you might use in answering these questions. What are human beings that God cares for us? Who am I?
A Story About God That Is a Story About Us
If you believe that the universe is a place best explained without resorting to words such as mystery and purpose, then the Bible will not be an easy companion. If you believe that human beings are adequately accounted for through the natural and social sciences, then the Bible will seem rather strange and unnecessary. However, if you have ever looked at the world around you, felt a deep sense of gratitude, and wondered to whom that thankfulness is due; if you have ever marveled at the ways light and shadow play in the journey of your life; if you believe that some deep meaning resides in the complexity of your relationships or that some greater truth informs your soul; if you believe that there is something holy about serving and loving others; if you are thirsting for a richer, fuller life than the ones offered in television commercials, then perhaps the Bible has a word for you.
It's part of our nature to wonder who we are. Biologists tell us that one of the things that distinguish humans from other creatures is the extended period of development that goes on after we are born. Other creatures come into the world with an instinctual self-awareness. The curse of life for a wildebeest, what it will do and how it will seek a mate, is fairly clear from the first moment. For humans such things can be influenced by a number of other factors. A duck-billed platypus is not confused about what its purpose is. It won't start a garage band or write a poem or develop a significant business partnership, but a person can.
The Chilean poet Pablo Neruda once wrote, "Whom can I ask what I came to make happen in this world?" It's a question that has accompanied human beings through the ages, and it is evident throughout the pages of the Bible. This ancient text at the heart of the Christian tradition may be an account of the nature of God, but it is also a story about who we are. In the stories of the Bible we encounter men and women who find themselves as they struggle more or less successfully to be faithful to God.
The Crescendo of Creation Genesis 1
You might think that one concern of the Bible would be to prove the existence of God, but God's existence is taken for granted in the story. Genesis 1:1, the first verse in the Bible, doesn't begin by saying, "We believe in God, and we do so for the following excellent reasons." Instead the story starts with God already in action: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (New International Version). From there creation moved quickly on so that by the time the first chapter is finished we have sky, stars, sea monsters, and swarming birds among other things. God moved swiftly and with purpose. The suspense in the story is not whether there is a God, but what this God is up to. Where is this all headed?
What's in the Bible? Read Genesis 1. What does this Bible reading say to you about God? What does it say about the creation of the man and the woman?
By the time we get to verse 26, it is clear what God is doing. God is capping off the world's first workweek with the creation of a man and a woman. It is not the case that all of the other days were somehow less important or that the things created before human beings were inadequate. No, in fact, God saw each day that the things created were good and delighted in the flourishing of life. However, the concert of creation did reach a crescendo with the coming of creatures made in the image of God; and there is a special role that humans play in relation to the rest of God's handiwork. God gave these humans dominion over the creatures of the sea, land, and air, indicating that they would share in the Creator's work of ordering the world (verse 28). Later, God extended this partnership to caring for the land when the first human was charged with tilling and protecting the garden of Eden (2:15).
The word translated as "dominion" in Genesis 1:28 is a word used of kings. What does it mean that human beings are given the role of dominion in creation? Since human beings are also given responsibility for caring for the earth, what does dominion look like? When have you felt that you were connected to the rest of creation in a way that felt like a holy partnership with God?
Humans are created in God's image. What an astounding thing to consider! God, this great artist and lover of the universe who flings stars through the heavens, has gifted human beings with the role of partners who bear the image of the divine. It is tempting in this era, when we tally the environmental cost of human fruitfulness and multiplication (1:28), to think of humans as somehow defective and hopelessly invasive. When we look at the effect of greenhouse gas emissions, runaway land development, and intensive agriculture, we rightly believe that we should tread more gently upon the earth. We ought to learn again how to value our connectedness with the rest of the natural world; but we have not, for all of our current problems, lost what God gave us in the beginning. Being made in God's image means to be invited to join in what God is doing as co-creators.
Male and female are equal before God, both bearing the divine imprint and likeness and meant to live in a life-producing unity.
What does being created in the image of God suggest to you?
The Gift of Intimacy Genesis 2
The picture of Creation given in Genesis 2 shows the depth of relationship human beings are designed to have.
What's in the Bible? Read Genesis 2. What challenges you or makes you curious about the reading? Why? What does this Bible reading say to you about God? about human relationship?
After all the affirmations of goodness in the initial story of Creation, God declared that something was missing. Having made one human from the dust of the earth and breathing life and spirit into the human, God decided that it was not good for the human being to be alone (Genesis 2:18). When a parade of animals failed to produce a proper companion, God went back to work, sent the lone human into a deep sleep, and created a woman from a rib taken from the man's side.
The man's exclamation upon seeing the woman for the first time is one of the deepest expressions of the joy of human companionship in the Bible. "This at last," he says, "is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" (verse 23). The words echo God's own delight expressed in Chapter 1. You can just hear the two humans saying, "This is good. This is very good."
When has a close relationship helped you experience something you might call holy delight? How do our relationships help us understand who we are? When can they distract us from God?
Bible Facts The name Adam is closely related to the Hebrew word for the earth: adamah. It might be just as appropriate to talk about this first human as an earth creature rather than as a "he." The Hebrew words for a male person (ish) and for a female person (ishshah) are first used in Genesis 2:23.
Does God Need Us? Acts 17:22-28
Behind all of these pictures of who human beings are created to be lies a larger question, though. The Bible may take God's existence as a given, but why should there be human beings at all?
What's in the Bible? Read Acts 17:22-28. How do you respond to Paul's speech to the Athenians? What words or phrases stand out for you? Why?
The grand scale of the universe suggests that it could get along quite well without us. We see our impact on the earth; but it, too, would go on, and life would continue to proliferate without humans living on the planet. God doesn't need us in order to be God either. That's not to say God doesn't care about us; it's just a statement of biblical fact.
Paul, one of the first Christian missionaries, made this same point as he talked to the philosophers on a hillside in Athens. He talked with them about a shrine to what the Athenians called "the unknown god." In essence, Paul said to them. "I know this Unknown God. This God made the world and everything in it. This God is Lord of heaven and earth and won't be contained by a shrine, even one erected in a city considered the most learned and religious in the world. This God doesn't need anything from us in order to be God."
Bible Facts The Areopagus where Paul delivered his speech on the unknown God was the site of a court for the city of Athens in ancient Greece. The translation of the name is "Mar's Hill." Mars was the Greek god of war.
This is the wonder of creation then: God, who did not need men or women or bottlenose porpoises or redwoods or monarch butterflies or sunsets, made all these things. It is not something we can understand because we have come to know who God is through this created order. If God could get along just fine without us, why are we here?
It is hard for us to conceive of this "God who doesn't create" because the world around us tells us that it is in the very nature of God to create. It would be as easy to ask an accomplished artist why they paint or a great basketball player why they play. To experience the full joy of their gifts, the things within them have to be expressed and shared. So we might say that all the wonders, all the love, and all the potential that reside within God overflow in creation. We are the fruit of God's abundance and a source of pleasure to the God who knows that all things are good.
What is it that you have to do in order to be you? What is it that you have to give to the world that you can't hold in?
Excerpted from What's in the Bible About Us? by Alex Joyner Copyright © 2008 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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