We all do it. It comes naturally to every human being. Since the Fall, every man and woman, every child, everyone imagines he can use experience and knowledge to figure out God. Specifically, to be God in God's place. For example, in Luke's Gospel [10:25], when the lawyer puts Jesus on trial, asking, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus says, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” The lawyer says, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Then Jesus says, "You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live."
That should be the end of the conversation. The lawyer wants to work his way into God's good graces. Jesus seems to lead him to the answer he's hunting up. But, instead, the lawyer zeroes in on a single point: "But... who's my neighbor?"
Even after Luke recounts Jesus teaching the lawyer about his neighbor, by telling a parable about the Good Samaritan (which isn't about the goodness of the Samaritan, or about the Samaritan, so much as it's about the man robbed, beaten, stripped naked and left near death in a ditch because he's the primary Christ figure in the parable), what do we do? We make the parable about what we must do to be a "Good Samaritan" or a "little Christ" to our neighbors in need. We take Jesus' parable about his death and resurrection for us and turn it into a moral about what we can do to inherit eternal life. We take Jesus' words and twist them into the very answer the lawyer was looking for all along!
We just can't help ourselves. We can't take God at his Word. Since the Fall, we can't accept that God's in the business of saving sinners through His Word of promise, through the Son, Jesus the Savior. We fight the suggestion that the Bible is primarily about Jesus, not us.
We turn ourselves in knots trying to avoid being grasped by the simple truth of Scripture: we can't come to God or know him, we can't get ahold of him or bring him to heel, by our own reason or strength. We can't think our way into knowing God and we can't bull our way into heaven. Apart from the Scriptures, we can't know the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. More important, apart from what God says about Himself in the Bible, we can't know anything about Jesus' bloody suffering and death for us.
Instead of accepting what the Bible teaches us about the world's Savior, we philosophize. We speculate. We use the words of Scripture to invent wild and wonderful stories about God and men, life, the universe, and everything.
This is also why Martin Luther argued with Erasmus of Rotterdam that unless a man is possessed by God's Spirit he can never interpret Scripture correctly. Apart from the Holy Spirit, old Adam can't stop himself from making himself the hero of every narrative, especially the Bible.
But we can't fix our "God problem" by diving deeper into philosophy, science, or any other discipline that's fueled by human curiosity and ingenuity. As useful and necessary as they are to human life, no philosophy or science can lead us to Christ. Only Scripture can do that. Only a preacher who's had his nose shoved into the published will of God can point us to our Savior, who's revealed on every page of Scripture, from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22.
Once this is established for us by God's Spirit then Scripture excites and invites us to rifle through it, hunting up the Savior with every turn of a page. Then the whole of Scripture is revealed to be published for our constant comfort and consolation because it all points to God's Word of grace and truth made flesh for us.
We can worry endlessly about our piety or morality or what we must do to inherit eternal life, and as a consequence fall victim to the temptation to make the Bible primarily about us. Or, we can pray the Father overshadows us with His Spirit so our noses can be shoved ever deeper into His Word. We can pray God would interpret and translate us into His kingdom with His Word of Truth. Only then is it possible for us to be caught up in the narrative of God's faithful, loving, kindness to His promises. When God acts for us, then we're yoked to His Word. He binds us together with the Son. Whether in Leviticus or Galatians, we're held captive by God's Word of Truth, that every word of Scripture is recorded in order to reveal Jesus to us.
Then when we follow the lives of the Patriarchs or dig into a Parable, we're always asking, "Where's the Christ?" "How does this reveal Jesus dead and risen for me?" "How does this text deliver Christ Jesus for my comfort and consolation?" Then it's not us who've gotten hold of God, as if we ever could do that by our reasoning or abilities, but it's God who's gotten hold of us in the best way of all - in Christ.
Donavon Riley is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author, Online Content Director for Higher Things, a contributing writer at 1517 Legacy Project, Christ Hold Fast, and LOGIA. Pastor Riley co-hosts the podcast: 'The Higher Things Simul Cast'. He is pastor of Saint John Lutheran Church in Webster, MN. A graduate of Concordia Universities in St. Paul, Minnesota and Portland, Oregon, Pastor Riley received his seminary and post-graduate education at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He colloquized into the LC-MS from the ELCA in 2008. He is married to Annie, and is the father of four children: Owen, Alma, Hoshea, and Hallel.