Well-known author and speaker, Max Lucado, took on the arduous task of writing what has been titled The Inspirational Study Bible. It may come as a shock to people who have happily ingested their sedatives and floated for the past several years in la-la land, but the Bible is anything but cheery and pleasant. Even from the first actions of the very first people, the whole earth is said to have changed and been cursed by the eating of fruit! On and on there are tales of carnage, blood, human sacrifice, and sex crimes. To make the Bible meet the audacious standards of the word “inspirational,” it would have to go under the knife.
When I hear the word “inspirational” many things come to mind: lilies floating on the surface of a pond, salty ocean breezes, soft clouds drifting in an azure sky. Ah! What calm and peaceful images. However, these are not at all words or phrases that I would use to describe the contents of the Bible. Even if we look past the carnage and drama in its pages, Hebrews 4:12 says that “the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow.”
If by “inspirational” we mean that we are challenged to action, then there is no issue. Yet, somehow the word has taken on a more sedative connotation. We live in a time where to gain a wider audience musicians and radio stations have in essence neutered the Gospel by calling their work “family-friendly” and “inspirational.” In a recent episode of White Horse Inn (listen below), Warren Cole Smith, author of A Lover’s Quarrel with the Evangelical Church, posed this as a serious concern because more and more non-Christians begin listening to this music and in so doing they are helping to determine the music that the church plays based on the popularity of different songs and styles. The result is that if someone says that something is “inspirational” they do not mean that it contains solid Christian doctrine, but instead they mean that it has the same effect as a handful of Xanax.
Pulling the Plug
When we give the impression that the Bible is inspirational (and by that the “sedative” kind), we rob it of its power. The Law contained in the Old Testament has the primary function of convicting of sin. It challenges us to see how depraved we are as humans. When seeing our actions in the light of what God requires, the only reaction is to see our lives as hopeless and our wills helpless to achieve such requirements.
Perhaps where the Bible is inspiring (but certainly not in the daisy-picking sense) is the message that all that does not matter anyway. The scandal of the New Testament is that Jesus came to be our atoning sacrifice while we were still sinful and when we did not deserve it. It is Christ and Christ alone that inspires because it is as an outpouring of our gratitude for his faithfulness we are inspired to change our lives. It is this inspiration that comes by grace alone moves us into relationship with God where by faith alone our lives are changed. What an inspiring message after all!