by Kiersten Mehl on September 14, 2023
This fall season, Timberline Windsor Women's Bible is completing the study From Beginning to Forever: A Study on the Grand Narrative of Scripture by Elizabeth Woodson. To explain the value of discovering the big picture of scripture, I offered an illustration at our first meeting. I'd like to share it with you.
If you cannot watch the video, below is a written version.
Why is an overview study of the entire Bible important?
Let’s consider the Bible like a puzzle. It wasn’t written chronologically. It wasn’t all written by one person. It wasn’t even originally written in the same language. The Bible is a puzzle of various stories, of various pieces that when fitted together create one story. The problem is that many of us don’t ever fit the pieces together in the proper way to see the whole image.
Take this puzzle, for example.
Looking at the backside of this puzzle can be like looking at the cover of the Bible. It is nondescript. If I judge the book by the cover, I am not very interested in diving in. This is how a lot of people feel about the Bible. It’s boring, it’s hard to understand. Just like this particular puzzle, I don't see a reason to put it all together. But just like we know there is an image on the other side of these puzzle pieces, we also know that the content of the Bible is valuable.
At this point, you may know some pieces included in the story of the Bible.
You may know about Adam and Eve. God created them and gave them a wonderful garden where he hoped to live among them. All was wonderful until they disobeyed and got kicked out of the garden. As we flip over their pieces, we get part of an image. We get part of God’s story.
You may know about Noah, who built a big boat because God gave him instructions for how to save himself and his family when the time came that God would send a big flood to wipe out the evil world. As we flip over his piece, we get part of an image. It’s part of God’s story.
You may know about Moses who was rescued as a baby from Pharoah and then called by God to part the Red Sea so that God’s people, the Israelites, could escape from slavery. We flip over his piece and get part of an image. Part of God’s story.
You may know about Ruth and Naomi. It’s hard to have been in a woman’s Bible study without studying Ruth and Naomi, who were left widowed and desperate. Through Ruth’s loyalty and the kind actions of Boaz, who let Ruth collect the leftovers of his fields, they were redeemed. They were saved. Then Boaz married Ruth, and they lived happily ever after. As we flip over their pieces, we see a little more of God’s story.
Do you know about King Saul? He was the first king of Israel. God had wanted to be their king, but he gave the people what they wanted: a human king so they could be like other nations. Part of God’s story.
What about David? David, as a boy, was anointed to be the king after Saul. He also stood up against the giant, Goliath, when none of the adult soldiers would. Without any armor, David killed Goliath with only a slingshot and a couple of rocks. He had a heart like God’s and wrote many songs to worship God that are recorded in the book of Psalms. Part of God’s story.
Then there is Esther, another heroine for us women. Because of her bravery and loyalty to God, she saved the nation of Israel from the genocide planned out by a jealous man named Haman.
How about Job? Poor Job faced every awful thing imaginable as a test of his faithfulness to God. Despite his tragedies, he remained faithful and continued to worship and serve God.
Then there was Solomon, a super, wise king. He gave us the book of Proverbs to teach us some valuable life-lessons. He once determined the true mother of a baby by threatening to cut the baby in half. The fake mom was going to let him do it. What the heck?! A strange part, but this is part of God’s story, nonetheless.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego come along in the story. They were thrown into a furnace for refusing to worship King Nebuchadnezzar. God rewarded their faithfulness by sending an angel into the fire with them to protect them. I like that part of God’s story.
Daniel faced a similar situation. You may remember Daniel and the lion’s den. Yep, Daniel was sent into the cage with the lion overnight as punishment for not worshiping King Darius. But Daniel had always been faithful to God, so God protected him and shut the mouth of the lion. In the morning, when the guards looked into the cage, Daniel was perfectly in one piece and probably well-rested from a good, peaceful night’s sleep.
None of us Sunday school kids can forget Jonah. Jonah tried to run away from God. That was a silly thing to do. God sent a storm after him. To stop the storm from killing everyone on the boat, Jonah let the others on the boat throw him into the sea. To save Jonah from drowning, God sent a big fish to swallow him. You might have visions of Pinocchio here, but Geppetto was not in the same fish as Jonah. Jonah eventually obeyed God by preaching to the scary people of Nineveh.
And those are just some of the memorable stories of the Old Testament. What a bunch of craziness! Have you read these stories? Somehow these bits of history are supposed to work together to tell us God’s story? Do you feel lost, confused? Do you feel that the Bible is a scattered mess? That is why we need some help pulling it all together.
We often take a sigh of relief when we get to the New Testament. A lot of us spend most of our time looking at these pieces. The New Testament pieces are often a little more comfortable. They perhaps illuminate God and his story a little more clearly for us. This is probably because, in the New Testament, we meet Jesus!
In the New Testament, God himself came in human form to save his people. Still a little bizarre, though, that Jesus was born as a baby in a barn and then died at the age 33 on a cross. Why is that part of God’s story?
Fortunately much of the New Testament is made up of letters from people like Paul and Peter and James and John who knew Jesus. Their letters help explain the things that Jesus did. They explain that Jesus was perfect. He never deserved the punishment of death for sin. Therefore, when he died, he took the punishment for everyone else’s sin. Oh! Ok! Wait, what?! Huh. How does that make sense? What is this story that God is writing?
Well, Jesus illuminates things. Jesus did miracles.
He healed the blind man.
He made a deaf and mute man able to hear and speak.
He gave the ability to walk to a lame man.
He healed a woman from 12 years of bleeding and isolation.
He raised Lazarus and a little girl from the dead.
The New Testament also gives us a glimpse into the lives of people who followed Jesus.
We already mentioned Paul, the terrible persecutor of people who followed Jesus. He was the overseer of the brutal murder of a man named Stephen. Stephen was stoned for spreading the good news of Jesus. Paul was known as Saul until he had an encounter with Jesus that completely changed him. He became one of the most vibrant teachers, sharing the life and love of Jesus.
Many of Jesus’ disciples went on to make many more disciples on their mission trips. We mentioned Peter, James, and John. There was also John Mark and the young recruit, Timothy.
There are so many more stories, but the whole thing ends with John’s vision of God’s plans to right all the wrongs and return the world to the harmonious kingdom that he intended when he initially put Adam and Eve in the garden. This piece shows us that it won’t be pretty, but it will work.
Pieces. Pieces of God’s plan. Pieces of God’s character. Pieces of God’s abilities have been seen, but it is hard to connect them. It is hard to see the big picture.
Some of us have seen more of the picture by studying many of these stories. Others of us only have the images provided by a couple of these stories. Maybe some of us have little more than the Jesus piece flipped over. And that’s ok. Whatever your understanding is so far, an overview study of the entire Bible is going to help us.
Why is an overview study of the Bible important? Because we are going to get to see the big picture. For those of us who have seen much of it already, we’re going to get to fill in the blanks. For those of us who have hardly seen any of the picture, we are going to be like the blind that Jesus healed. We’ll get to see all of it. And we’ll be shocked and amazed by the beauty of it.
However much of it we already know, once we see the big picture, every detail we study after that will make more sense. We’ll see it in context. We’ll understand how it fits into God’s overall story.
Through this study we’re going to stop judging the book by the cover and find out what it is actually about. We’re going to find out that God’s story is epic.
It is a story of good vs. evil, and good wins!
God’s story is a story of rags to riches.
God’s story is a story of the little guy defeating the big and powerful.
God’s story is a love story that takes the greatest of sacrifices to overcome giant obstacles for the lovers to be together.
God’s story is a coming of age story.
God’s story is a journey story.
It’s an end times story.
God’s story is a dramatic saga of a desperate father crossing mountains and valleys and facing tragedy and betrayal in efforts to rescue his beloved children.
God’s story is the best story ever written.
And the best part is that it is a true story. It’s a story that wasn’t written for your entertainment, but to change your life and give you the best gift ever given: eternal life.
The bible is a complete picture of God’s big story. Ok, God’s story is not one of bunnies in a peaceful garden. That is why we have Elizabeth Woodson and this study. Through her study guide, we are going to decode this Bible story and put God’s big story on display so we can see its true grandeur.
Let’s get started.