The Best, Best Seller

Why do only a few books rise to the New York Times bestseller list? Why do some stories leap across cultural and language barriers or get passed down from generation to generation?

In other words, what makes a good story? That was a question in the previous post on the Front Porch Swing.

A great story has a plot with a protagonist (the good guy in the white hat) and an antagonist (the evil vermin). Sometimes it seems that the evil villain is winning and all hope is lost, but we know better, don’t we? We know that, eventually, the hero will win. Meanwhile, we are drawn into the struggle as we identify with our hero.

That, in essence, is the story in the Bible. But in this case the struggle between good and evil is not fiction. It is reality, and has cosmic consequences. The Bible not only records historical events but also predicts them. The Bible has even shaped history.

Today, the Bible remains a bestseller and the most quoted and translated book ever written. This is in spite of the fact that, throughout history, it has been banned and burned by its critics. (I have added a link to a poem about the durability of the Bible entitled, The Bible: There It Stands at the end of this blog.)

So why has it lasted through the millennia? How can we explain its durability?

Consider its claim to be the eternal Word of God: “Forever, O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens” (Psalm 119:89, esv).

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8,  esv).

Jesus also affirmed Scripture. Remember His words in the Sermon on the Mount? “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17–18, esv).

The Bible claims to be more than ink on paper: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:12–13, esv).

Majestic claims for sure, but does the Bible live up to them? Yes. A resounding yes!

I believe there is another reason the Bible remains a bestseller. It is great literature. Consisting of 66 books written by several authors over millennia, the Bible contains hundreds of stories with thousands of characters. Yet it is one great story—the story of the epic struggle between good and evil. There is one major protagonist and one antagonist in the story. Each has their loyal followers, either defending the kingdom or revolting against the King. Each story records part of this struggle between good and evil.

A few years ago, Mary gave me a jigsaw puzzle for Christmas. She thought it might help me occupy my spare time in my recent retirement.

Believe me, it did.

The entire puzzle, called “I am Buck,” consists of the head and cape of a deer. Unlike a typical jigsaw puzzle, there are no border pieces. The ears and the tips on the antlers stand by themselves, and there are only four shapes of pieces. Each piece could fit almost anywhere. My sanctification was tested severely. Only my stubborn nature and ego kept me on task. I swore that I would never again attempt to such a puzzle. In case you wonder, I assure you that “My name is Buck” was never stored in the closet with other puzzles. Buck was evicted from the house.

Perhaps somewhere along the line you took up the challenge to read your Bible all the way through, “cover-to-cover.” As with every other book you have read, you began on page one. But this wasn’t like just any other book. As you began in Genesis and started reading the books in order, you encountered—maybe thousands—of characters. And you may have begun to wonder, “Is there a bigger story here? A big picture?”

With a jigsaw puzzle you have the benefit of seeing the completed puzzle on the box lid. But the Bible doesn’t come with a picture like that. So how do you know how the pieces come together?

Last year I set out to write a book to help people discover the bigger story in the Bible. That’s what I would like to share over the next few weeks here on the Front Porch Swing. So let’s open the box and place each piece face up to we can discover where they fit into the picture. The vast panorama. The Big Story.

First, let’s put the corner pieces in place, and begin to assemble the border.

Corner Piece One: Creation (Genesis 1-2)

The story begins with creation, or to say it another way, the Creator. “In the beginning God….” He is the protagonist, the good King ruling over the entire universe. But His focus throughout the story is on one small planet tucked away in one rather ordinary galaxy. The emphasis in the first two chapters of Genesis is not on the how or when of creation. The focus is on the Who. The Creator of everything. The storyline begins simply, “in the beginning” or before time, in eternity. God speaks and the universe comes into existence. The earth becomes habitable for plants and animals and most of all, humans bearing the image of their Creator—making them unique from all other living things. The story is about them, and their relationship with God.

Soon we are invited into an earthly paradise. Everything is perfect. Unity marks every relationship between man and animal and between man and his Creator.

Each day was filled with anticipation. Adam’s vocabulary grows with each new discovery—another animal or plant or, best of all, a woman, a helpmate! The most anticipated event every day was the visit with the great King, their Creator.

Corner Piece Two: The Fall and Judgment (Genesis 3)

Enter the antagonist, the serpent, who deceives Eve to join the rebellion against the great King. New words are added to the dictionary that day. Words like guilt, shame, fear, estrangement and death. For the first time in their lives, Adam and Eve fear the daily arrival of the King. They hide. They cower. Soon they begin to point fingers in a blame game that continues to alienate people today.

Paradise is lost. Adam and Eve are evicted from the garden. A high angel with blazing sword blocks their return. Adam will now struggle to put food on the table. Eve will experience pain. She will no longer trust her lover to lead, nor will he naturally place her first. Each will seek their own will.

Corner Piece Three: The Promise (Genesis 3:15)

The evil serpent, leader of the rebellion, is put on notice that he will ultimately be defeated. Genesis 3:15 contains the first promise in all the Bible: a baby boy will become the greatest king ever and will put down the rebellion and destroy the devil once for all. This promise becomes the thread that will bind all the stories into one.

Oh, yes, another word was added to human vocabulary that fateful day: hope. Not the kind of hope like we “hope it doesn’t rain on our picnic,” or, we “hope our team wins the game.”

This hope speaks of a confidence that anticipates something supremely good, just over the horizon, even when it doesn’t seem possible. Even when everything is chaotic and the bad guys are winning. Hope appears 65 times in the older testament and 70 in the new. Hope is what motivated the heroes listed in Hebrews 11.

But hope in what? In whom?

Corner Piece Four, Paradise Restored: (The book of The Revelation of Jesus Christ)

Everything that was polluted by the fall back in Genesis 3—including the perfect garden paradise—will be restored to perfection. God will once again walk among His people. Relationships will no longer be hindered with feelings of guilt or shame. No more death or disease. All things are made new, even our earth!

Meanwhile, the struggle between good and evil continues to rage millennia after millennia. That is the story that binds each Bible story into the greatest story of all.

Hope in the promised “seed of the woman” (Jesus Christ), is the thread that stitches the Bible stories into the Holy Bible—the unique book, the book of all books and the best “best seller.”

Remember the old hymn, “Standing on The Promises”?  If I ever finish writing the book about the Bible, I would consider the title: Standing on The Promise (singular), with the subtitle, Finding Hope in the In-Between Time.

I believe that is the message that unites 66 books into one.

Next week let’s try putting a few more pieces into the puzzle as we trace the promised seed through the story.

Here is a link to the poem, “The Bible: There It Stands” by A. Z Conrad.

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