Every set of instructions ends the same way - frustration, confusion, and a pile of extra pieces. Instructions are the bane of Christmas morning. Instructions make a trip to ikea filled with angst. Instructions have a gift for making us curse toy manufacturers, swearing they added extra pieces.
The problem with instructions is pretty straightforward - they tell you what to do, but they don't make you capable of actually doing it. A well-meaning department set out to make it clear exactly what steps you needed to take to complete your task, yet they've only succeeded in making you feel incompetent and angry.
The Bible often gets treated the same way. It gets treated like the instructions for a complicated piece of furniture or the manual for a toy with hundreds of pieces. We bring to the Bible our problem to be solved and look for step one. Some have even invented an acronym to describe the Bible - "Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth."
The Bible is full of instructions - do this, don't do that. It repeatedly exhorts Christians in who to love, how to love, and what that love looks like. But like any good instructions, the instructions don't give the Christian the ability to do what they say.
This is the problem with treating the Bible like an instruction manual, it takes a portion of the Bible - the Law - and leaves readers with frustration because they are left with a bunch of extra pieces on the floor. They know what they should be doing, but they are broken by the reality that they aren't doing it.
Jesus in the sermon on the mount gives some important instructions, "You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart."
Instructions at the heart of a healthy marriage. @@The problem: the instructions don't make the command a reality.@@
Jesus does the same thing with murder, "You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire."
The Bible is full of necessary instructions - instructions for wives and husbands, instructions for money-spending, instructions for prayer, and the love of neighbor. But despite the Bible being one of the most comprehensive how-to guides for the Christian life, it's terrible if it's nothing more than an instruction manual.
The Bible is not primarily about good instructions it's about Good News. It's not a list of steps, it's a story. It's a story about a promise. A promise that God became man and gave himself freely for sinners. A promise that no matter how many pieces are still on the floor, God still redeems the broken. A promise that his own sacrifice, sin, death, and the devil are defeated.
The power of the Christian story isn't in the quality of the advice, it's in the content of the promise - your sins are forgiven. That's the message of the Bible; that's Good News. @@Good news is always better than good instructions.@@ Instructions leave me picking up the pieces. Good News gives me peace. Good News quiets the burdened conscience.