The Bible is a perennial best seller. There are more copies of it in print that any other book. Yet we have a tendency to take this great book for granted. I would like to share with you why I consider it the greatest book ever written.
Most book critics would suggest that there are 5 common elements found in a great book. They are: a great opening line, a complex and believable central character, a real and dramatic conflict, a complex and believable character who respond to the conflict, and a satisfying ending that resolves the conflict. Let’s talk about each of these elements in greater detail.
A great opening line. Opening lines are very important. They grab our attention and they set the stage for what is to come. In the comic strip Charlie Brown, Snoopy was always trying to write the great novel. His first line was where he always stopped. “It was a dark and stormy night….”
Here are a few opening lines from some great books.
“In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly-fishing.” Norman Maclean in A River Runs Through It.
“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…”A Tale of Two Cities”
All children, except one, grow up.” J.M. Barrie in Peter Pan.
“Call me Ishmael.” Herman Melville in Moby Dick.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice.
What is the opening line of the Bible? Most people can recite it from memory and even those who can not remember it immediately recognize the quote as soon as it begins.
In the Book of Genesis we find these words, “In the Beginning God created”. Authors have been trying to improve on that line since the beginning without success. Opening lines are very important. They grab our attention and they set the stage for what is to come. Most of us would think it was foolish to try and jump into the middle of a novel and expect to understand what was going on. Yet, many people will read the Bible without an understanding of how it started and the context behind what they read. Is it any wonder that they have limited their own understanding and enjoyment of the text?
With that in mind, look at the opening words of the Bible again and listen with a critical ear to the very first thing that God wants us to know. “In the beginning God created…”
Moses, the author is setting up the premise for the book of Genesis and the Bible as a whole. Moses wanted us to know that God has always existed. God created everything, including time. In the beginning God was, is, and always will be. That is a lot of information in 5 short words. We could talk about these 5 words for the next month and never run out of things to explore. What a great opening line.
A complex and believable central character. The central character will carry the story and remain the primary focus through out the book. Secular Literature is filled with many great leading characters. From Robin Hood, to King Arthur, to Sherlock Holmes, the list could go on and on.
But who is the central character of the Bible? The answer may surprise you. If you look in the 1st chapter of Genesis you will see that the central character of the Bible is mentioned about 30 times. Surprisingly, the answer is not man but God.
This is God’s story about his relationship with his creation man. It is not about us, but about the God who wants us to know Him.
If we read the Bible and fail to understand this is about a relationship with Him, then we have wasted our time. We will have missed the point. It is not simply a self-help book or a collection of cute moral based stories. It is an invitation to come and get to know the God of the universe.
The more I have read this book through the years the deeper my hunger has grown to know God the central character of the Bible.
A real and dramatic conflict – It must present real choices that involve opposing points of view to keep our interest.
Some of the greatest stories of all time have made us pull for the hero but yet sympathize with villain because their opposing views were both attractive to us in some way.
In the Bible we see a great conflict, the conflict of good and evil. We see on every page what man is like and the evil that he is capable of.
The truly frightening and sobering thought is when we realize the evil that even good men are capable of. From Adam and Eve’s original sin, to Cain killing his brother Abel, to King David committing adultery and killing a man to cover his sin, it is not a pretty sight. Our own lives and our struggles with doing the right thing are a ringing validation of this truth.
We all need someone to save us from ourselves. The Bible presents us with a great conflict, the war between good and evil.
We have a complex and believable character and we have a great conflict but what makes the book interesting is how this great character will respond to the conflict.
Secular literature is filled with examples of this. Our hero has to determine whether he will save his wife or the nation of England. He can only save one. Who will he choose? What will his choice tell us about him as an individual?
How is this presented in the Bible? We see God responding to the conflict, coming in the form of a man, Jesus Christ taking on flesh in response to our failures in the conflict of good and evil.
We see him willing suffer and die for our sins even though we are undeserving of this precious gift of forgiveness and eternal life.
In the Garden of Gethsemane we see this internal conflict as he prays, Father take this cup from me… We see the Son of God struggle with his choice and we know the conflict is real and will have an impact on him. It will cost him everything he holds dear to make a way for us. What will he choose?
This conflict in secular literature is usually followed by a satisfying ending that resolves the conflict.
In fairy tales they all live happily ever after. In suspense novels the mystery is solved. In horror stories the evil is vanquished or else every one dies.
In the Bible we see a great ending, a triumph over death and the grave, lives changed and transformed by his continued resurrection power and renewed hope in our lives because of this message.
Great books extend an invitation for us, the reader, to become a part of the story.
The Bible, documents God’s personal invitation to us to become a part of His story.