4 Faith and the Bible or What Happened Next?

This part of the Star Course has the following sections:
  1. What happened next
  2. What is Faith?
  3. How can we be sure of our faith?
  4. Why Should I Read the Bible?
  5. Knowing that we have Eternal Life
  6. Learning from the Bible in Practice
  7. Conclusion
There are also Appendices on

1 What happened next?

What is the difference between a collision and an explosion?

Well, with a collision - there you are.

But with an explosion - where are you?

Scientists are now generally convinced that the universe began with a 'big bang' because they can detect its 'echoes' today (the Cosmic Background Radiation for the technically-minded). We can still see, all over the world today, the echoes of the first Easter. It has, quite literally, transformed the world.

Something extraordinary happened that first Easter. The disciples were utterly convinced that they had encountered the risen resurrected Jesus. They then received a new power to go out and proclaim the amazing news, that God had decisively broken into history in Jesus and raised him from the dead, so that through him people could have the eternal life of God. They spread the good news to the people in Jerusalem, in Galilee, and in all the countries that they could. The news reached Egypt, Ethiopia, Asia Minor, Greece, Rome itself, and beyond. And as the news spread, letters were written and written records were made. Some of these were circulated widely within the various Christian communities. Collections of these were made, and over time the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, recognised 27 of the writings as the new scriptures.

Throughout the centuries, God has used these writings in the Bible to nurture the faith of His people. But what is faith? What is the Bible? Why do Christians think of faith as a virtue? Why should we treat the Bible any differently from any other book? 

2 What is Faith?

"Now I'll give you something to believe.' [Said the White Queen to Alice]. I'm just one hundred and one, five months and a day."
"I can't believe that!" said Alice.
"Can't you?" the Queen said in a pitying tone. "Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes."
Alice laughed. "There's no use trying." she said: "one can't believe impossible things."
"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast'.

Some people think that faith is like this, that Christians are people who persist in quaint old-fashioned beliefs in the After Life and Creation and the Resurrection long after 'science has disproved them'. Of course this is nonsense. Anyone who thinks that 'Science has disproved Christianity' either does not understand Science or does not understand Christianity, and many leading scientists are Christians. Faith is not opposed to reason, indeed it is impossible to discover anything much about the world without some beliefs. Physicists believe in quarks - no-one has ever seen a quark, but the belief makes their work intelligible.

As we have seen, there is solid evidence for Christianity and no remotely plausible alternative 'theory' that fits the facts about Jesus. At one level, the point about Christianity is that it is true. But there is even more to it than this. It is not some abstract fact, like 'Big Bang' or the dates of Queen Victoria. It is much more like a truth about medicine: "antibiotics kill bacteria" is more than just an abstract intellectual truth: appreciated and acted upon it saves millions of lives. "Jesus is LORD" is a living and active truth, that changes lives and changes the world.

Jesus shows us, by his words and his actions, that the fundamental purpose of life is: Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and love your neighbour as yourself. We are called into a new and deeper set of loving relationships. Jesus shows us that God is not some remote and abstract being, but the creator of all that is is one who we can call 'Abba - Father', a father who loves us more completely and totally than any earthly parent.

You cannot love without faith, you cannot have a mutual loving relationship without each party having faith in the other.

Faith is an essential part of love. Faith is faith in, trust in, the beloved. In the baptism service we proclaim: "This is the faith of the Church. This is our faith. We believe and trust in one God, Father Son and Holy Spirit". It is not primarily a matter of 'believing that'; although of course belief in Jesus entails certain beliefs that, for example that he is the Son of God. But as St James says, belief that is not the point: 'You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe - and tremble' (James 2:19). 

3 How can we be sure of our faith?

So Christianity is about a loving relationship with God in Christ, based on faith and trust. St. John explains that Jesus enables all who receive him and believe in him to become children of God (John 1:12). Is this a matter of always feeling wonderful, or always feeling loved? Of course not. Sometimes we are acutely aware that we are being led by our loving Father, even when overshadowed by death and despair (Psalm 23). But at other times we will cry out "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" (Psalm 22:1).

God is always present. Even if we do not feel his presence: the scriptures are always available to us. St John says "I write these things, that you may know that you have eternal life" (1 John 5:13). We are always prone to doubt (not trusting in God's love) and error (trusting in our own ideas instead of God's). God corrects us in many ways, but particularly through the Bible. Let us try to explore why, and how, God uses this amazing book to transform our lives. 

4 Why Should I Read the Bible?

The Bible is a remarkable book. Of course it is a collection of books, a 'little library', of very different types and styles (History, poetry, ceremonial rules, visions, proverbs, each to be read in the appropriate ways, God speaks on so many different levels) - for simplicity we will call it a book for now. It is, purely at an intellectual level, required reading for anyone who is interested in western civilisation. It is the most quoted book in literature, indeed it is almost impossible to understand anything written in English literature before about 1970 without some knowledge of the Bible. Many languages were first written down when the Bible was translated into them (Russian is the most notable example). It is also by far the best selling book in the world. But for Christians, there are even stronger reasons why we should read and study the Bible:

4.1 The Record of Jesus

The New Testament provides the best record of the life, character and teachings of Jesus. Even if he were 'only' the greatest teacher that ever lived it would be essential reading. But Christians recognise that he is the Son of God, so any information about him is of truly cosmic significance.

4.2 The Example of Jesus

Jesus studied the Old Testament and knew it thoroughly. In his disputes with the religious leaders he continually quotes from the Bible. When he was tempted in the desert, he quotes scripture (Matthew 4:1-12). He often stresses the vital inspiration of the Bible, saying that 'scripture cannot be broken' (John 10:35), 'do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets' (Matthew 5:17). Jesus quotes the Scriptures as 'the commandment of God' (Mark 7:5-13). If we are to follow Jesus, we too must study the scriptures diligently. All his early followers did so, every book of the New Testament is full of quotations from the Old Testament. St Paul writes: 'All Scripture is inspired by God' (2 Timothy 3:16). St Paul and many of the earliest Christian teachers saw how the pattern of God's working in the Old Testament was fulfilled in the new, so the New Testament can be said to be cradled in the Old.

4.3 The Teaching of Jesus

Jesus collected disciples and taught them: in that respect he resembled a Rabbi. Any Rabbi's disciple would have to learn the sayings of his master and be able to repeat them and pass them on to others. Jesus also told the disciples that, when he had gone, the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth (John 16:13). This had many aspects, but one of them was the extraordinary outpouring of the writings that came to be called the New Testament. Christians throughout the ages have always held that these books were inspired by the Holy Spirit as Jesus had promised. Jesus said: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God' (Matthew 4:4, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3). Not "every word that came from the mouth of God." God continually communicates with his people and refreshes them through the Bible. 

5 Knowing that we have Eternal Life

5.1 The Promises of God

We divide the Bible into the Old and New Testaments but what does 'Testament' mean here? It's not a Will but a Covenant, a set of promises between God and humankind. The old Covenant was given through Moses, but the new Covenant is given through Jesus to all who believe in him. And the Bible has many promises: promises of God on whom we can rely. Here are just a few. Jesus says, in the last book of the Bible:

'Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me' (Revelation 3:20).

Loving communion, in both senses of the word. He stands at the door and knocks, patiently and repeatedly. But he will never force his way in, we have to invite him because he respects our freewill.

<<The Light of the World picture may be helpful here>>

As he says to his disciples in St John's Gospel:

Anyone who loves me will keep my word,
and my Father will love him,
and we shall come to him and make a home in him (John 14:23)

This is not just some temporary accommodation. The word in the Greek means to stay, to continue, to dwell, to persevere, to be permanent, to be in close and settled union. As Jesus says to his disciples at the end of St Matthew's gospel: I am with you always (Matthew 28:20).

And his promise, we discover, is not just that he fills our life, but that we are invited into his. As St Peter says:

Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God's sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4-5)

5.2 The work of God

Jesus did not die and rise again in vain. God is not incompetent! We know that, in his life, death and resurrection, Jesus makes it possible for each one of us to become a child of God, and have within us the life of God's kingdom, eternal life. Not because of anything wonderful we have done, not because of our virtue, - we cannot possibly deserve eternal life, but because of what Jesus has done for us on the Cross.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life' (John 3:16).

In human terms it is inevitable that we should all perish. We are not biologically endowed with Eternal Life. But, through God's initiative, He offers us union with Him in love, through the triumph of His son on the Cross.

This does not mean we should be complacent: it is not a matter of lip-service but of a deep inner commitment (Matthew 7:21-23, Matthew 25:31-45, James 2:14-26). One analogy I find helpful is a climber stuck at the bottom of a crevasse. His friends let down a rope. All he has to do is to tie it on and he will be raised to safety. If he simply were to say, 'Look, a rope, I'm saved' and never fix himself to it, then he would still be stuck. But it would be equally ludicrous if he were to claim any credit for getting out of the crevasse. God gives us the 'rope' and gives us the strength and skill to fix ourselves to it (see eg John 1:12). And our journey up the rope is not always a smooth one. We keep trying to un-hitch ourselves from it. We keep sinning, and our sins become like building blocks, which make a wall that obscures our vision of God. But the rope is always there: If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins, and cleanse us (1 John 1:9).

Even though there may be times in the Christian life of dryness and darkness, as many of the greatest saints have testified from their own experience, the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth (John 16:13) and those whom the Church honours as Saints are those in whom the life of the Spirit has been seen and known. 

6 Learning from the Bible in Practice

6.1 Guidance for Life - God has Spoken

We are not all-wise and all-knowing. Too often, things that seem to us unimportant turn out to have been major blunders. God gives us guidance in the Bible about our conduct so that we will know what really constitutes loving God and our neighbour as ourselves. To achieve this we need a deeper understanding of how the Universe really works, at a moral and theological level. What is love like? What is God like? What is our neighbour like? What are we like? How do these inter-relate?

'Gurus' arrive producing 'inspirational' books. Many of these are best-sellers. 'How to win friends and influence people' 'Having it all' 'The way less traveled' 'Seven basic habits of highly effective people' Some of these are helpful. But the deepest advice, the wisest insights, the books that have truly stood the test of time and been the inspiration for the holiest men and women throughout the centuries, is inspired in a special way by God and is in the Bible. Everything that is important about how we should live can be summed up as Love the LORD your God with all your heart…and love your neighbour as yourself. All the rest, the Law and the Prophets, is in a sense a commentary and an elaboration on this great commandment. Jesus' life and teaching, and the work and teaching of the Apostles, is all about bringing us into that Kingdom of love: showing, teaching, declaring and living the love of God. And what a commentary! As St Benedict says: 'What page, what passage of the inspired books of the Old & New Testaments is not the truest of guides for human life?'

We need to know. There is an old saying in computing: 'when all else fails, read the instructions'. But life is more serious than setting up computers - we cannot just switch off and start again. Although often, as the Israeli statesman Abba Ebansaid, 'Men and women generally act wisely…when all other alternative courses of action have been exhausted' it is immensely helpful that in the Bible, God has given us what we need to know. "Do this, and you will live" says Jesus (Luke 10:28). It is not 'easy'. Having a map does not make a difficult journey easy, but without a map we are almost certain to get lost.

6.2 A love letter from God - God speaks

Continually God renews and strengthens His people through His active words in the Bible. Even at a human level, great art or literature or music can speak to us again and again as we come to it anew. Throughout the centuries it has been the experience of Christians that God uses the Bible to speak.

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; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12).

That is one of the many reasons why Christians should make a habit of daily Bible reading. The Holy Spirit speaks to them and us and will go on speaking to the end of time. In the words of the great former Archbishop of Canterbury, Donald Coggan:

From one point of view, [the Bible] is the story of man's search for God… But from a much more important angle the Bible can be viewed as the age-long story of God's search for man: "Adam, where art thou?" Here lies the permanent value of the Bible, for Christians believe that God is still on the search for man, and that His great heart of love is not satisfied until man comes to himself and comes to his Father, and so finds his rest in God…The Bible is a book through which, as through no other book, the Spirit of the Living God speaks to men, under the varying conditions in which they find themselves.

6.3 Guidance for Worship - Rejoicing in God

Great is the Lord and highly to be praised!
in the city of our God is his holy hill, beautiful and lofty, the joy of all the earth!...
Your praise, like your name, O God, reaches to the world's end! (Psalm 48:1,2,9)

Throughout the Bible the joyful praises of God echo and re-echo. The Psalms, the 'hymn book' of the people of Israel, are the most quoted book in the Bible. To this day most Christians with a serious prayer discipline use the Psalms daily in their prayer and worship. There are at least 50 other Bible passages in common use as 'Canticles'. Most of the thousands of hymns are based on the Bible, as is most of the other liturgical material. The Bible is such a rich treasury for worship that to speak about it is almost superfluous. As we experience it, it seeps into us, and we rejoice.

6.4 Practical Hints

People sometimes talk as though you should only pray, or read the Bible, when you feel like it. 'Love should be spontaneous'. No-one with any experience of children should fall for that. Of course love should be spontaneous but it should also be disciplined. Indeed, you don't really love someone unless you love them when you don't feel like loving them. You can't just feed your baby 'when you feel like it'. Christianity is not a 'hobby'. If you want to get fit, you don't exercise only when you are in the mood. It is important to establish a pattern: something realistic and sensible and not too demanding at first.

Everyone's pattern will be different, according to their circumstances. I set aside time to say Morning and Evening Prayer, and study the Bible during this time, if I am not otherwise worshipping in Church. Evening Prayer tends to be after everyone has gone to bed. Morning Prayer is generally before the family is awake, but sometimes it gets squeezed to the end of the day, unfortunately!

It is most important to begin with prayer. As well as asking God to guide you, it is good to have a period of silent prayer - open yourself up to God. Often saying a Psalm can be helpful. If you are a beginner, you might start by reading the gospels in short passages - they divide very naturally into short sections of 3-5 verses. Don't try to plough through it like a novel: although there is a place for reading the Bible in this way it is far better on a daily basis to read small sections and then meditate on them.

Again there are many ways of doing this. One helpful approach is as follows:

  1. Read the passage through. Pause in silence and let it sink in.
  2. Try to understand what the passage means. If you are that way inclined, look at a commentary if you have one, or compare two different translations. Follow up one or two of the cross-references if your Bible gives them.
  3. Read the passage again.
  4. Consider what it means for you, now. Remember, God is speaking to His people on a daily basis through the Bible. You cannot necessarily expect that every day there will be a clear action point, but there often will be. We are not meant to be hearers of the word only, but to act on it.
Jesus said, 'Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock' (Matthew 7:24) 


Let's end by putting this into practice, with one of the most beautiful poems in the world. It is on the sheets, and we can say together the parts in bold.

The LORD is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want
He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters
He revives my soul, and guides me along right pathways for his name's sake
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil
For you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me
You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me
You have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over
Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

There will be troubles, there will be temptations and failures. There will be doubts. And there will be, not only the valley of the shadow of death but death itself. But God is with us, He gives Himself to us in his words in the Bible, and in the Bread and Wine of the Eucharist. And we can know that, if we come to Jesus and put our trust in him, His goodness and mercy will follow us, all the days of our life.