When reading the Bible, many see man acting and God reacting. Adam eats the apple, God throws him out of Eden. Satan questions Job’s authenticity, God tests Job. The Pharaoh refuses to let the Israelites go, God punishes the Egyptians. The Israelites demand a king, and God anoints Saul. But what if it is not God reacting to man, but rather it is man reacting to Him? Some read the Bible verse by verse, chapter by chapter, perceiving that history reveals itself to both man and God simultaneously. One overlooks that not a single person in the Bible said, did or thought anything that caught God by surprise. Before the creation of the world and the flood, before the parting of the Red Sea and the exile to Babylon, before the crucifixion and resurrection, God knew everything that would happen. And by reading the Bible through God’s prism of time, one appreciates His love, grace and forgiveness that much more.
Let’s take a look at the story of David. He was the apple of God’s eye, one of Israel’s greatest kings, through whose lineage Jesus would be born. God handpicked him to succeed Saul. David starts out strong – he defeats Goliath, slays tens of thousands, unifies Israel and plans to build a temple. But he loses his way he commits adultery with a married woman and plots the death of her husband. He also orders an unauthorized census. It’s easy to read a summary of his life and think how God must have regretted picking David. Why not pick another Joseph or Daniel? Yet He chose David, knowing that he would lust after Bathsheba and abandon Uriah on the battlefield. He chose David knowing that David would sin in ways deserving of death according to God’s own law. He knew every word and deed David would say and do, and yet He picked Him anyway. By looking at David’s story through God’s prism of time, one sees the significance God gives to a heart broken by repentance and a life characterized by total dependence on Him. God picks David, knowing David would commit seemingly unforgivable sins, and would commit them long after David would come to a loving and personal relationship with Him, to show the scope of His forgiveness. Simply, He used David’s sin to express His grace.
Samson is another example. Short tempered, self-centered and driven by lust, he marries a Philistine, sleeps with a prostitute and reveals the secret of his strength to Delilah. God knew what He was getting into when He picked Samson and had His mother consecrate him as a Nazirite. A man who did what he wanted, when he wanted, was used by God to do His will. And even after it all, even after revealing the secret of his strength, being blinded and being ridiculed, God used him to fulfill His will. God used Samson’s failings to His advantage, and He knew He would before Samson was ever born.
By looking at the Bible through God’s prism of time, one appreciates that the moment God decided to create man He decided He would sacrifice His Son for His own creation. Before he formed the earth, He knew the price He would pay to save mankind. And even knowing this, He went through with it anyway. He chose David anyway. He chose Samson anyway. Despite their repeated idolatry and repeated sin, He set aside the Israelites as His nation anyway. He did things which defy human logic to fulfill His will on His terms – His gracious and merciful terms.
God knew when He created man what it would cost Him His Son. Yet He goes through with it anyway. He never needed to create man. He did not need man; man needed Him. He sees how everything will play out. And despite knowing how often His own elect will fail Him, He does not hesitate. He proceeds. He lives up to His half of the covenant knowing mankind won’t, that in fact it can’t; that man would become inherently flawed, materially depraved and that man would need saving from himself. It’s difficult to imagine a single person – if he knew what God knew – would choose as God chose. But God chose the people he did for a reason, and by seeing it through His timelessness, we gain an appreciation of the enormity of it all.
When reading the Bible, don’t simply look at the story or person on the page. Consider how that person came to be placed in that location at that time to carry out God’s will. Think through everything that person ends up doing, particularly any upcoming violations of God’s law or will. And then think through why God chose this person to fulfill His will. What characteristics made him suitable for the task? What flaws did he have and how did God use those flaws to teach him and teach us through him? Knowing everything that the person will do, how does that affect one’s view of why God chose that person, and what made that person special in God’s eyes? These questions enable the reader to look deeper into the text to gain a better understanding and appreciation of the depth and breadth of God’s love.
Applying this analysis to the stories of the Apostles leads to some fascinating insights. When Jesus picks the 12, He purposely picks men who will prove to have difficulty understanding His parables and His ministry. He knows that one will betray Him and commit suicide and that ten will die as martyrs for His name. When He picks Peter, Jesus knows that he will be hot-headed, that he will be prone to violence, and that his faith will falter. But Jesus also knows that one day Peter will speak boldly, spread the word and die on a cross, just as Jesus did. Jesus knows Peter’s heart, how it aches to have a relationship with Him, and He understands Peter’s indefatigable desire to serve Him. And Jesus knows how Peter’s story ends, and despite missteps along the way, how strongly he will finish the race. And knowing that, He picks Peter as the rock upon which He will build His church.
Paul says “that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28). Even when His people sin in small and big ways, God still uses them according to His purpose. He often brings them to their knees, where they repent and receive His mercy and grace, and their example teaches others to repent of their sins. Furthermore, the failures of David, Samson, Peter and others demonstrate man’s utter reliance on God and serve as a warning to the reader about how even a man who knows God can falter if he takes his eyes off of God. Why wasn’t David with his army instead of staring at Bathsheba? Why was Samson lusting after Philistine women rather than seeking a deeper relationship with God? At the moments when they would be tested, these men had already let their hearts and eyes wander from God. They had lost focus. God knew they would do this and used their failures to teach them and us to forge a relationship with Him and to cling to Him daily.
Man’s view of time can cause one to question God’s choices in the Bible, and by extension, God’s choices in one’s life. But God’s view of time reveals that God had it figured out all along, and that He worked with flawed people to execute His flawless plan. And by reading the Bible through His prism of time, and through prayer, one can learn His flawless plan for one’s own life.