Monthly Archives: March 2008

The Center of My Bible

Blind Faith )No. 13, 2008)

Being in the center is often a good place to be. Politicians talk of
being centrist, or of being just left or right of center in the political
spectrum. Getting to the center or to the heart of the matter means finding
the key issues for dealing with important concerns.

Do you know how to find the center of the Bible? If you are looking
for the center book of the Bible, many people can tell you that it is
Psalms. Open almost any Bible to the middle, and you will be in some
chapter in Psalms. Not centrist enough? The center chapter of the Bible is
Psalm 117. Still not any help? How about the center verse of the Bible: ”
It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man.” (Psalms 118:8
NIV) Ok, that’s some better … but not much. Narrowing the focus to
either Testament doesn’t produce much more enriching findings. In the Old
Testament, the middle chapter is Job 29, and the middle verse is 2
Chronicles 20:13: ” All the men of Judah stood before the LORD with their
babies, wives, and children.” (2 Chronicles 20:13 NCV) Nice place to be,
but it doesn’t offer much direction for living. You want to center your
faith in the New Testament? Prepare to go to several locations. The center
book of the New Testament is 2 Thessalonians, and the center chapter is
Romans 13. The center verse in the new Testament is Acts 17:17, finding
Paul preaching the gospel in Athens: ” In the synagogue, he talked with the
Jews and the Greeks who worshiped God. He also talked every day with people
in the marketplace.” (Acts 17:17 NCV) Nice example to follow, but it still
isn’t very inspiring.

Maybe the metaphor needs to be changed. Instead of the center of
the Bible, perhaps thinking about the center of gravity could be more
helpful. The center of gravity is the point around which the mass of a body
is distributed equally. Supporting an object at the center of gravity
provides the maximum stability and maintains a state of equilibrium. In
military parlance, the COG (center of gravity) is identified as the most
important factor in accomplishing a mission’s objectives. Applied to the
Bible, different life situations might suggest different passages as the
center of gravity. When dealing with the death of a loved one, Psalm 23
often comes to mind. An especially inspiring experience of worship may call
attention to Psalm 100. As I prepared for worship on Easter Sunday, a TV
preacher spent several minutes detailing how everything in the Bible
revolves around John 3:16. While John 3:16 certainly encapsulates much of
the Bible’s message, I have another candidate to nominate as the center of
gravity of my Bible, 2 Corinthians 5:

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything
old has passed away; see, everything has become new! {18} All this is from
God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the
ministry of reconciliation; {19} that is, in Christ God was reconciling the
world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting
the message of reconciliation to us. {20} So we are ambassadors for Christ,
since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of
Christ, be reconciled to God. {21} For our sake he made him to be sin who
knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2
Corinthians 5:17-21 NRSV)

Obviously, the story of God’s love and grace, the revelation of God
as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the history of God seeking relationship
with his creation, and much more cannot be boiled down to the few verses
from 2 Corinthians 5, but they do concentrate the message of the Bible
powerfully, and the rest of God’s Word to us revolves around what is clearly
stated here.

God always wants us to come back into proper relationship with him
and with the whole world. Verses 18 , 19, and 21 say, ” All this is from
God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ,… in Christ God was
reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against
them…. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him
we might become the righteousness of God.” Repairing the relationship does
not depend on anything we can do, but God takes the initiative to make it
possible. The Greek word translated reconciled conveys the idea of
putting back together what should never have been broken apart. Being
reconciled is more than slapping a patch over a break and hoping for the
best. It involves restoring the break at the point of damage. Because we
are separated from God by our sin, reconciliation is possible only by
removing the root of the problem – our sin – and that is exactly what God
does in the ministry of Jesus Christ.

The passage explains what reconciliation with God and others means
for followers of Jesus: ” If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation:
everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” Verse 17
tells us that following Jesus changes everything. Much of the rest of the
Bible explains how to live this new life.

The full circle of God’s mission in Jesus Christ, the effect Jesus
has on our lives of faith, and our participation in God’s mission is
summarized in these verses. Our purpose for life is set out in verses 18,
19, and 20: “God … entrusted the message of reconciliation to us. So we
are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we
entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” Rather than seeking
the upper hand with others, we are commissioned to work to live together
with all people, from whom we should never have been broken apart. Again,
this is possible only because of what God has done through Jesus Christ, not
because of any peace talks any of us can convene on our own. But we are
God’s officially endowed representatives for doing the work of
reconciliation and telling everyone that it is possible only by following
Jesus in genuine faith.

Everything in the Bible centers around this message. Almighty God,
who is praised magnificently in Psalms and other writings, is the one who
reconciles us to himself in Christ. All of humankind rebels against God, as
the historical narrative of the Bible recounts, and only a new birth from
God can save us from ourselves and our sin. God has work for us to do,
making individuals and groups of people, tribes and nations whole again in
body, mind, and spirit, and the Bible instructs us in demonstrating God’s
love and spreading his Word to all the world. Mixing metaphors, the whole
Bible message turns on this point, the entire Bible makes sense read through
this lens, this key unlocks the truth revealed in every line of the Bible.
It is a crucial passage in my understanding of Christian faith.

Where do you find your own center of gravity for your daily life?
Can you locate it in the pages of the Bible? When you think of what
following Jesus means in your life, does a centering passage of scripture
come to mind?

What about the broken relationships in your life? How are you
letting God repair the breaks? How are you helping to reconcile people to
God and to one another? Participate today in God’s brand new creation in
your life and in the world, made possible only through Jesus Christ.

J. Edward Culpepper, Ph.D.