·A young unnamed paralytic dropped through a roof at the feet of Jesus by four men becomes a lesson on the value of friendship.  

None of these interpretations are remotely close to the real point of the events themselves. We’ve told them wrong. You may think I’m crazy, but stick with me. I used to approach the Bible the same way. I totally missed it. Or to be more specific, I missed the point. All these events and people lead us to the person of Jesus. It’s about Jesus.

The lessons we typically draw out of the biblical stories are secondary observations at best. Usually this is because it’s all we know to do with them. Fact is, the same sort of life lessons could be derived from any contemporary biography or history. The meanings and applications we’ve given these events have nothing at all to do with what’s going on in the true story. Our approach is about the same as looking for stock tips in the sonnets of Shakespeare. This oversight is so very tragic.

Something so much greater is underway in these sacred pages. These events were not intended to be spiritualized into oblivion and dissected as lessons about raising kids or starting businesses. They are intended to be marveled at by God’s people. We stand and point at what God has done. They are each a link in a chain of redemptive history that moves from Genesis to Revelation. They’re not isolated at all. They’re amazing demonstrations of the divine continuity of God’s power. They are each the commitment of a Holy God to keep His promises and honor His holy name among men.

Our response to the individual incidents should be, “Look how God used this to get us to Jesus,” not “Look how this relates to my longing for significance.”

We’ve lost the main story line that pulls all the pieces together and gives them a consistent meaning, so we essentially take what’s available and make up a story. What we’ve come up with in evangelicalism is a bit like Little House on the Prairie. (Didn’t Michael Landon bear a strange resemblance to King David?) The Bible is now the epic tale of trials and triumph on the frontier of a long-ago land. It is no longer about what God has been doing for man and is more about what humanity has done to impress God. We approach it more as a collection of fables that indirectly offer principles for life. The Bible is no longer about how God went about saving humanity from the brink of desolation. The Bible is more the account of how God occasionally stopped to applaud the faith of a few exceptional people. It’s less about what He has done. It’s almost exclusively what we can do if we learn from the lives of heroic figures in God’s Word.  

We do the weirdest things to the Bible in the absence of the cohesive theme. No other book is treated so recklessly by people who honor that same book so greatly. Among our favorite rewrites are character sketches. We like to examine the lives of Old Testament saints—triumphs and tragedies alike—and offer various patterns for living. Almost everyone assumes this is the very reason the Old Testament saints show up in the biblical record. Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, and Deborah have all come to represent examples to live by (or not to). What else could be the reason for the focus on their lives? Therefore we mine them for spiritual and moral principles. Sermons are preached and books are written about their lives and offered as blueprints for daily life, success in business, or practical decision-making skills. 

Every Sunday kids sit in Sunday school classes, look at flannel boards or snip at construction paper with safety scissors, and learn how these ancient figures are examples of faithfulness or failure. The consistent message is, be like them and life will work out better. Or don’t be like them and life will work out better. Work harder, make good decisions, and stay out of trouble like Joseph, and God will bless you.