The Bible is an encounter with God’s love

Published: November 8, 2018

This is the 10th column in a 10-part series.

By Cackie Upchurch
Director of Little Rock Scripture Study

En Español

Centuries ago, in caves believed to be located beneath what is now the Church of St. Catherine’s in Bethlehem, a man by the name of Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus began an arduous task. He studied Hebrew so that he could translate the Old Testament into Latin, the language of the people in the Roman Empire. He produced numerous biblical commentaries.

Better known to us as St. Jerome, this scholar was far from perfect. It is said that he was “intemperate in controversy,” “singularly agitated, impatient, and proud,” and that his harsh opinions made him so unpopular in the Roman church that his time in Bethlehem was in fact self-imposed exile.

St. Jerome’s years of biblical study could have led him to an additional and certain arrogance but instead, in the midst of it all, he offered this gem: “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” For all of his intellectual pursuits, everything came down to the necessity of encountering Christ in the Scriptures, the Word of God that remains alive and relevant in every age.

Over the course of this 10-part series we have asked “Why bother with the Bible?” Ultimately, we “bother” because the Bible is a place of encounter. It provides the opportunity not simply to learn about Jesus but to know him in an intimate and relational way. Likewise, we recognize that Jesus knows us, each of us, and his way of knowing is to love. The classic children’s hymn proclaims this truth: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

Think for a moment of the many ways Jesus reveals God’s love. He gathers children to his side, those who were counted among the least in his day. He touches the unclean and heals the sick, restoring them to their communities. He forgives sinners, even some who do not think themselves worthy of forgiveness and do not ask for it (such as the Samaritan woman at the well).

Jesus calls out hypocrisy, providing an opportunity for repentance and conversion. He speaks the truth even when it is difficult to hear. He assures those who are anxious and proves himself worthy of trust. He nourishes the crowds with fish and bread and solid teaching. He entrusts his mission to his followers. He sacrifices his own life for our sake. He shares eternal life with mere mortals like ourselves.

This love of God revealed in Jesus is not reserved for the afterlife, but is real and tangible, something to be seen and tasted and felt. It creates the foundation for a fully human life, even in times of peril. Paul writes words of assurance to Jesus’ followers in Rome who are suffering persecution, telling them that absolutely nothing can separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus: “In all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us” (see Rom 8:37-39).

In John’s Gospel, Jesus tells his followers, then and now, that the love he has for us is personal, intimate, and life-changing: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. … Love one another as I love you” (John 15:9, 12). Our experiences of God’s love move us to love, taking Jesus and his actions as our guide. Of course, that may be easier said than done.

It is difficult, for example, to love an enemy, to be single-hearted, and to reserve judgment about others. While these challenges are real, they are nonetheless part of the mandate given us by Jesus in his preaching (Matthew 5?7, Sermon on the Mount; Luke 6, Sermon on the Plain). These actions and others are signs of the love we receive, and a reminder that God’s love is not a possession to be guarded but a gift to be shared.

So, why bother with the Bible? Because it reveals God’s love for us. And because God’s love is transformative.

Some people describe the Bible as a school or a library, a place of learning and understanding. But the Bible could also be described as a sanctuary, a place of God’s presence set aside for true encounter with the Divine. When we open our Bibles I hope we come with both expectations – eager to learn and to discover new understandings, and equally eager to respond to God’s initiative and to grow in love.

Study Questions

  • Typically, when you read the Bible, what do you expect to find there? How do your expectations help to shape the experience of reading and praying with Scripture?

  • “Jesus loves me.” How has your understanding of this simple statement changed over the years? What more do you understand about Jesus? About love?

  • When you consider the ways that Jesus revealed God’s love, what strikes you as the most surprising? The most challenging? The most comforting?

  • Why do you bother with the Bible? Why would you encourage others to do the same?

This article was originally published in Arkansas Catholic Nov. 10, 2018. Copyright Diocese of Little Rock. All rights reserved. This article may be copied or redistributed with acknowledgement and permission of the publisher.