As you read or hear Bible stories did you ever wish you had access to the ‘backstory’ – the interesting stuff that wasn’t recorded in the official account? For example, when Simon (Peter) and his brother Andrew abandoned their fishing business to follow Jesus and become “fishers of men” (Mark 1:16-18) do you ever wonder what their wives had to say to them when they returned home? (“You’ve decided to fish for WHAT?”) Wouldn’t you really like to know how Jesus’ host at the meal in Bethany acquired the name “Simon the Leper”? (Mark 14:3) Was this perhaps a lucky guy that Jesus had previously healed? Or was this just a real bummer of a nickname? And just what exactly was the deal with the young man dressed only in a cloak who slipped out of it in the garden of Gethsemane and ran away naked? (Mark 14:51-52) Who was he and why was he running around there in such an incomplete state of attire? (It had to have been an interesting story how he made it home in that condition.) Perhaps most perplexing of all: why was this oddball anecdote considered important enough for Mark to include in his otherwise somber passion account? Inquiring minds would love to know!
Yes, the Bible leaves many interesting questions unanswered. We can presumably all agree that this doesn’t represent a deficiency. The Bible after all isn’t some kind of ancient reality show scripted to titillate our idle curiosity, but rather the answer to the most important question posed by man: “How am I saved for eternal life?”
Yet we still wonder about all those people we read about. What were the reactions of the bride and groom at the wedding of Cana when they realized that their inadequate supply of wine had been miraculously supplemented? (John 2:1-11) One would like to think this became a “signature moment” of a long and happy marriage – an event they lovingly recounted to their children and grandchildren. Or were they perhaps too caught up in the excitement of the festivities to really appreciate what happened? (Or did the groom prudently keep mum with his new bride about his poor planning?) Or here’s one: what was it like to be one of Jesus’ kid brothers or sisters? (Mark 6:3). Were you always getting caught in the short end of a comparison: “Why can’t you behave like your brother?” Really, wouldn’t you like to be a mouse in the corner of that home?
Some might find it a bit uncomfortable to entertain such ‘irreverent’ speculations. Perhaps they grew up thinking that Bible stories transpired in a different kind of reality than we live in today. And surely that was the case: in terms of the specific physical circumstances they lived in, things were different in pretty much every possible way. Yet – these were still real people that had problems, feelings, and behaviors just like ours. They got hungry and tired, were desperately concerned about their sick children, grieved for loved ones who died. And we also empathize with their failings: they could be insensitive and argumentative, miss the point of a sermon, fall asleep at really inopportune times, and even abandon and deny the one that they knew to be the Son of God. Yup – we recognize them all too well!
The Bible is not a fairy tale about some kind of “once upon a time” fantasy world painted in pastel colors and populated like a Hollywood movie set by unrealistically pious and attractive people. No, it is a gritty account of real folks – people like us – struggling to find ultimate meaning in life while dealing with the challenges of everyday existence and relationships. It’s the story of how God invaded our crazy world of fatally flawed and self-absorbed people and showed us the only way out. A way that was deceptively simple (just believe) but came with a terrible price – the torture and death of God’s own beloved Son. That’s a story of supernatural love that transcends anything in human experience. Yet it’s anchored in earthly reality, as witnessed by the real human stories that fill the Bible – both those written and the untold ones that hover in the background.
“Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain all the books that could be written.” (John 21:25)