One of my first after school jobs was working in a butcher shop. I learned to trim fat and cut meat, how to wrap and freeze properly, sharpen knives, and as a corollary, how to stop bleeding quickly.
As good as these things were, they were about as relevant to my life as a high school student as knowing the price of rice in China. There was no connection between the world of high school and that of the butcher shop. Only later in life when I became a hunter, had to choose meat at the grocery store, and owned knives of my own did I see the relevance of that knowledge.
My experience with the butcher shop job is like that of many Christians who struggle to relate to Scripture. Preachers say it is relevant and applicable to life in the 21st century, yet for many, there is a huge disconnect.
This disconnect exists because of difficulty relating to the world of the Bible. The times were different in every way. People we never knew did things we don’t comprehend in places we’ve never been in times we never lived. It really was a different world.
Or was it?
One reason we might not see Scripture’s relevance is because we focus on the discontinuity between the world of the Bible and our world and conclude Scripture’s irrelevant. Instead, we need to look at the points of continuity. It is these that provide the relevance for us. Here are three of them.
The first point of continuity showing Scripture’s relevance today is the main character, God, does not change. He says, “I am the Lord, and I do not change” (Malachi 3:6). His character and attributes are eternally the same. The God that Bible characters related to is the same God we relate to. There is continuity in that.
What about all that horror and bloodshed we see in the Old Testament? Is God still like that? The short answer is yes. But we have to understand that Christ’s coming ushered in an age of grace. We are in a time when God is patiently withholding judgment and giving people a chance to repent (2 Peter 3:9). So although He hasn’t changed, His way of relating has changed.
The second point of continuity showing Scripture’s relevance today is that God’s Word has not changed. Our eternal God breathed His Word so it too stands eternal. “The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8). It is always able to speak to anyone’s situation because it, “…is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires” (Hebrews 4:12).
But because Scripture was written when and to whom it was means we have to bridge the gap to our world today. We do that by asking, “What is the theological truth of this passage? What is it teaching about God, man, and the world?” It is the theology that we apply to our lives today.
The final point of continuity showing Scripture’s relevance today is that another main character of the Bible, mankind, is the same now as then. Human nature has not changed. We live in a different era, with different languages, cultures, and technology, but human nature is not different. As long as mankind exists, human nature will always be the same.
The Bible characterizes basic human nature as proud, self-centred, and independent of God, which it calls sin. It is this separation from God that leads to all kinds of ungodly behaviour. We like to think we are morally superior to our ancestors, but we’re not. We sin like they did because we are sinners. Just as putting a pig in a tutu doesn’t make it a ballerina, so changing language, culture, and technology doesn’t change human nature. We are born separated from God and until, and unless, God intervenes in our life, we stay that way. Forever.
This is why we can relate to Scripture: Bible characters are just like us! We see ourselves in their actions and attitudes. Also, the same Word that commanded, encouraged, rebuked, or corrected is the same Word speaking to us today. And finally, the same God who dealt with them in judgment, or grace, is the same God we deal with today.
My butcher shop job taught me some of the most practical skills I ever learned. What I thought was totally irrelevant turned out to be totally applicable. And Scripture is the same. We just need to learn how to cut away the fat to get at the meat of what really matters now.