The Bible tells the story of God's purpose with the earth and with the human beings He has created to be in charge of it. God's purpose is all about relationships, but His relationship with man has hit some major obstacles. Man tends to like to do things his own way and get by without God where possible, but that choice tends to get him into trouble. God's purpose, as the Bible reveals it, is all about God and man getting back together again - not through anything clever that we can do, but as a result of God's mercy and love.
One simple yet powerful way of looking at the Bible is to think of it as the story (or perhaps better, history) of God, man, and their interaction. The Bible tells us what we need to know about what God is like, what we are like, and what God wants from us. It also tells about consequences: what happens when we recognize God’s requirements and try to live appropriately, and what happens when we don’t.
Let’s separate out the two aspects of God’s story and man’s story, and take a look at each in turn. There’ll be another attempt to do a similar exercise in a little more detail on another page: God, man, and a plan.
First, the Bible is God’s story. It starts in absolute and uncompromising fashion with Him and His agenda. He is God, after all – all wise and all powerful, as the Bible presents Him. The very first verse of the Bible reads:
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…” (Genesis 1v1) (AV)
He creates a world according to His own design, and in order to reflect His glory and power. Everything He has made perfectly carries out His wishes with one exception: mankind, the only creature to whom He has given full free will. The worship and service of mankind would be the most precious of all to Him out of all the things that He has made, and yet that worship and service, by man’s choice, is largely withheld.
The crucial question thus becomes: Is there a way that men and women, who have gone so far astray from their Maker can be brought back to Him again?
Indeed there is. God’s plan is to make the ultimate sacrifice because of His love for His people: to send His own son to them as their representative and example. His son will teach them, will perfectly illustrate how they ought to have behaved as God’s children, and will ultimately die as a sacrifice for them. God’s purpose finds its center in the gift of His son.
For those who willingly choose to accept the salvation God offers through His son, the way back to God is made open. But that is not all. As the Bible presents it, human civilization at the moment is basically a testing-ground for men and women to prepare themselves for when God sends Jesus back to the earth to set up His kingdom. In the world right now men and women have the opportunity to find out about God and determine what response they will make. Through the knocks and bumps of this life God is shaping the characters of those who try to serve Him to prepare them for His kingdom. That kingdom (and hence, not this life) is His ultimate goal.
Man’s story is of course completely intertwined with this. Fascinatingly, so much of what there is to say about man is made clear from the very early chapters of the Bible. Man’s rebellion against God’s commands in the Garden of Eden shows the way in which he likes to test the boundaries, thinks he knows best, and puts self before God. God wrote the rules – He made us, so He ought to know! – and yet we’re always thinking His rules don’t matter or that we know better.
And the consequences of this sinfulness? In a word, death. It has to be that way – the only alternative is a world populated by immortal evil beings – hardly the sort of world God would be after. More than this, the Bible explains that sin tends to escalate and create further moral bankruptcy. The world does not get better of itself; we have proved ourselves inept at solving world problems, avoiding cruelty, torture and war. These things still go on, and might even be thought to be increasing, for all our growing sophistication. This is exactly how the Bible showed it would be.
The only remedy for a civilization always striving to outdo itself in going against God is to turn back to Him again. Man’s story without the Bible in view involves unstinting hope that he can sort himself out and resolve his problems. But the evidence suggests that the Bible is right: the problems are too great. The only solution is for man to abandon his attempt to write and manage his own story independently of God. The far better alternative is to bring his own story back in line with God’s story once again.