A Small, Practical Comment on Biblical Theology

In our church, there is a young, sweet girl of 4 who for the last year has been in a largely vegetative state due to a brain tumor, and that cancer has now been diagnosed as spreading through her vital organs. The doctors do not have much hope of her surviving more than 2-3 months.

This is Theology 101.

What do you say to her parents? You go to the house, or see them in church, and words fail. The regular clichés surface quickly: “How are you?” or “I am praying for you,” or “Is there anything I can do to help?” Or we just make ourselves scarce.

All these are fine, and not bad in and of themselves (except the “getting scarce” part), but it strikes me that they are somewhat self-centered comments. And this is where I feel a Biblical Theology orientation to a world and life view can have an impact.

Biblical Theology is not a “way” of interpreting Scripture, in our own categories or comfort zones. It is a way, a very biblical way, of making sense of life that challenges us to examine our categories and comfort zones. It reminds us that it is ultimately not about us, but that we are part of something big and wonderful, too wonderful to understand, that we have died, been raised, and ascended into heaven with Christ, and all of our lives are now to be oriented around that union with Christ our Lord and brother.

Like most Christians, I have had a share in suffering, although nothing like this. Still, what has been of most help to me is that wise Christian counsel that, on the one hand, walks with me in my pain—sometimes without saying a word, but is also intent to remind me, even in the pain—perhaps especially in the pain—of who I am.

I want to try that one day, when I find myself in a place to bring the gospel to people walking through hell. I want to say, “Remember who you are.” Or maybe even better, “Remember whose you are.”

That is just a way of saying, “Remember the biblical story, what God did, what he did for you, and the place you now occupy as his child.”

Maybe another way of putting it is that sometimes God’s people need to be reminded of what we sometimes refer to as the “reality” of the gospel. The problem, however, is that “gospel” is sometimes understood in a very truncated way, as “getting saved.” What Biblical Theology does is disabuse us of this view by showing us that the gospel is God’s grand narrative within which we are to view everything we are and do.

To put it another way, we often need to be reminded of the indicative of the gospel, as some theologians put it, or the historia salutis as some others theologians like to put it, in order to put the present suffering in the context of God’s story and our participation in that story. I know the way I just put it sounds somewhat jargony—an occupational hazard, I know. More concerned am I that all this sounds just like another pat answer. But that is not what it is supposed to be. The challenge and beauty of words is to articulate this wonderful narrative that we participate in, in Christ, that is persuasive, warm, loving, encouraging, and by the Spirit’s work, has the power to pick people up off the floor and raise them up to live in light of what they, in Christ, already possess.

I’ll let you know when I get there. I’ll write a book or something.

What is also very important here is not so much what we might say in certain circumstances, but what churches teach their people day in and day out. What I would like to see is God’s people, who through years of preaching and teaching, are so immersed in the grand narrative, who have a Biblical Theological foundation laid already, so that when the rough times come, they are prepared to see their very painful, very real, very horrible suffering not apart from God, but in him. Such a perspective should not lead us to minimize the pain, but should, I think, enable us to look the person squarely in the eye and, without flinching, say “Remember now, especially now, who you are. We will walk this together and remind each other.”

Maybe that is a lot to ask, and I am not there yet. But, too bad. I do feel that this is a model amply demonstrated throughout the NT, and it requires tremendous maturity and wisdom. The degree to which we are not captured by the enormity of this biblical model is an indication of how very far we have to go on our journey to reflect the image of the risen Christ.

At any rate, a young girl is dying. We all have so many chances to minister God’s love to people every day, if we just take the time to look around. And what we say, if given the opportunity, will reflect God’s story to the extent that we ourselves are captured by it.

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