Recently, in a Facebook group that I’m part of, someone asked quite an interesting question:
“If y’all had to pick one verse (or small passage of Scripture) to summarise and unpack the meta-narrative of the Scriptures, which verse would you choose?”
To me, this is a brilliant question, though it is worth unpacking what on earth a ‘meta-narrative’ is. A meta-narrative (joining together two words, meta [meaning self-referential] and narrative [meaning, simply, story]) is “an overarching account or interpretation of events and circumstances that provides a pattern or structure for people’s beliefs and gives meaning to their experiences.” The Bible is certainly that – and my answer to the question posed, I hope, both reflects that, and sketches out some parts of it.
I’d love to know what you think, or how you would answer the question.
My answer to the question is actually the simplest, shortest verse in the Bible. Obviously, the Bible wasn’t written in verses (or even chapters) but they offer us a helpful way to arrange and understand the various stories, law, poetry, history and other forms of writing we find within the library of Scripture. But I think these two words, from John 11:35, beautifully sum up the message of Scripture:
Recently, the place I work at (a Christian mission organisation) considered what it might look like to explain the Gospel in a minute. This was an outworking of an exercise I started – how could you explain the Gospel in the shortest number of words? Or in a minute? From three – “Jesus is Lord” – to twenty-eight words (and beyond) “Jesus came that we might have life, and have it to the full, forever, by the power of the Holy Spirit, with all God’s friends, in a perfect world” (ref John 10:10, and other things!) the key word, the key name, is Jesus.
This is because Jesus is the main character of Scripture. He is present at Creation (Genesis 1:27, John 1:1-5), and pops up at various points in the Old Testament (Rom 3:21, Genesis 12:3, 22:18, Psalm 72:8-11, Isaiah 53) in various guises. The New Testament is focused on him, because his name is the one by which we can be saved, and his character and attributes make sense of everything.
Jesus is the key to the Scriptures – every story is ultimately about him.
But there is another word in John 11:35, a word that can be understood only in the wider context of that passage, and the bigger and deeper dream of theology. Jesus, who we must focus on, wept. Weeping is a common theme throughout the Bible – just as it is a common theme, if not a common practice, in life today. Jesus wept because his friend had died. God wept because of the pain humanity’s rebellion had cost him. We weep because of pain, because of corruption, because of injustice, because of sin. Weeping occurs throughout the bible, because it is the right and proper response to painful circumstances.
Weeping is human – it makes sense of the divine.
To say that ‘Jesus wept’ is to acknowledge who God is (Hebrews 1:3) and also to recognise that we live in a time between the times, before the time when, as we read in Revelation 21:4, in a picture which gives me as a person made in the Image of God who wrestles daily with depression, hope: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away“. For now, we weep, as Jesus wept. For now, we live in a time when pain exists. But we long, because of who Jesus is, and what Jesus does, for a time when we will not.
So, when someone asks me for a Bible verse to explain why I believe what I believe, or one that points to the bigger and better story of Scripture, I can offer them hope in the name of Jesus. Because Jesus wept.
Ian Paul suggested 2 Corinthians 5:19, in this blog post.