Chrissy Teigen struck a nerve when she tweeted on Monday that she is “not good with” the Bible.
Teigen, a supermodel, is married to singer John Legend, who will portray Jesus Christ in NBC’s forthcoming live rendition of “Jesus Christ Superstar” that airs Sunday. Just before visiting her husband on set, she took to Twitter, joking: “John said there would be leopards today. But it's lepers. I uh, am not good with the Bible.”
I’m a professor of theology and the dean of a Christian college and seminary. So I’m supposed to be offended by Teigen’s remark.
But Chrissy has a point. None of us are actually “good with” the Bible, myself included.
The main reason we aren’t good with the Bible is that we have difficulty getting a handle on it. The Bible is a sprawling, sometimes confusing, often unsettling collection of ancient writings, purporting to reveal the nature of God and his dealings with the world.
We can’t master it, tame it, or pigeon-hole it like other books on our shelf.
But when we approach the Bible in earnest and read it on its own terms, we find that this book – written over the course of many centuries – contains the true story of the whole world.
This story unfolds in four “acts” – Creation, Fall, Redemption and Restoration.
Act 1: Creation. The Bible reveals that God is the creative force behind the world we live in, the reason there is something rather than nothing. He created the world as his good kingdom, a place for humanity to flourish, and in which there would be no evil.
Act 2: Fall. The story takes a dark turn as the first couple, Adam and Eve, tried to seize power for themselves. In so doing, they fell from their state of innocence and introduced evil into God’s good kingdom. The result is a world we’re sadly familiar with, shot through with evil, suffering, sadness and death.
Act 3: Redemption. In the aftermath of humanity’s mutiny, God promised that he would one day send a Savior to redeem us from our sins and breathe new life into our deadened souls. That Savior was Jesus, and this weekend – through Good Friday and Easter – we commemorate his crucifixion and resurrection.
It’s called Good Friday because even while powerful members of the religious, political, and military community were conspiring to kill the son of God, God himself was acting to save the world from itself, once and for all. Even while the world’s authorities were conspiring to perpetrate history’s greatest evil, God was working to bring about history’s greatest good.
In the crucifixion, Jesus “traded places” with us. He lived the sinless life that we should have lived, and died the death that we, a rebel race, deserved to die. He took our guilty record, died for it, and offers us his perfect record in return. That is why the apostle Paul declared that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1).
Act 4: Restoration. God promises that the resurrected Jesus will one day return to set the world aright. On that day, he will restore peace and make justice roll down like the waters. Under his matchless power and benevolence, people from all nations, ethnic groups, and social classes will live together in unbroken fellowship.
J. R. R. Tolkien, author of “Lord of the Rings,” was so captivated by the Bible’s teaching about the resurrection and future restoration of the world that it shone through in many of his writings.
Tolkien knew that Westerners had become disillusioned with “fairy tale endings,” preferring endings that were more “realistic.” But he wanted his readers to understand that, because of the resurrection, a deeply joyful ending is the most realistic. As he wrote through the voice of Samwise Gamgee: “Everything sad will become untrue.”
Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus because it is a guarantee that sadness, despair and death will not have the final word.
That’s the true story the Bible tells. So, if we learn how to read it, will we suddenly be “good with the Bible”?
I sure hope not.
After all, the Bible isn’t merely a story we decide we like or dislike. It’s a book of truth, of beauty and of power. We can no more be “good with the Bible” than we can be “good with” a bolt of lightning or (apologies to Teigen) an actual leopard. What matters is where we stand in relation to it – and in relation to the God it reveals.
When we read the Bible seriously, we find that the Bible reads us. As we lay bare its pages, it lays bare our hearts, showing our own complicity in the badness of this world. Apart from Jesus, that experience would ruin us. But because of his death and resurrection and his offer of salvation, we are now offered a future in which everything sad will become untrue.
And as for that … I’m good with it.