For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4.12
The Bible is filled with people. Some we meet only once. Some we know from birth to tomb. All of them are alive. Some of them are family. I hope we have come to know some of them as friends.
The people we meet in the Bible are alive because we meet them in the pages of a book. We meet them as readers. God has given us a book. God has also given us the capacity, as readers, to invest ourselves in the lives of the characters we meet in a book. If Americans had not been so invested in the fate of Uncle Tom, our history might have unfolded in a radically different direction. How many of us feel that Huckleberry Finn, Neville Longbottom, Jo March, Charlotte the Spider, and Peter Parker are lifelong friends. God designed our brains to form intense connections with people we meet on the page. They are alive for us. We care deeply for them. This is a capacity we bring to the Bible.
The writers of the Bible understand they are leveraging this capacity to communicate with their readers. In I John 1.1-4, John asserts that the experience of Jesus he had as an eyewitness can be fully shared with the reader through the written word so that our joy will be as full as his. In his gospel (John 20. 30-31) he has absolute confidence that the reader will come to life-giving faith as a reader - as she experiences the written record of Jesus’ signs. The people we meet in the Bible are alive for us because as readers we have the capacity to experience them as such.
But I am asserting more. They are alive because the book they inhabit is alive. The word of God is alive and active (Hebrews 4.12). I doubt we full grasp or respect this truth. When we read the Bible we engage a living organism – and one that engages us, diving the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. All through my childhood I heard adults debate whether we experience the Spirit as an indwelling presence, or only through the inspired word. This is a silly debate. The categories are invalid. The Bible is not just wise words written in ink on pages of papyrus, vellum, or paper. A living word necessarily invests us with a present Spirit. The scripture is alive with the breath of God, just as we are (II Timothy 3.16). The people we meet in the Bible are alive because they inhabit a living book.
But I am asserting more still. The people we meet in the Bible continue to exist apart from the page. They are still alive. Even if we cease to exist here on earth, we continue to exist. Jesus insists upon this truth with the Sadducees, who rejected any notion of an afterlife. I Am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” God tells Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3.6). Jesus points out that God says “am” not “was,” and concludes that “God is the God of the living, not the dead (Matthew 22.32). Jesus insists that Abraham is alive. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Jepthah, David and the rest are all part of the cloud of witnesses interested in our race (Hebrews 12.1).
The people we meet in the Bible are alive. Before we were born many of them worked for our salvation. Those who belong to God care for our outcome. The Living Word, and our God-designed brains allow us to know them in full, and to make real connections with them.
I hope your Bible is filled with old friends. I hope Jesus is the dearest friend of all.