The Bible’s Religious Orientation

“[The aim of Biblical stories] is not to bewitch the senses. Their religious intent involves an absolute claim to historical truth. The Bible’s claim to truth is . . . tyrannical. The sublime influence of God here reaches so deeply into the everyday that the two realms of the sublime and the everyday are not only actually unseparated but basically inseparable.” — Erich Auerbach, Mimesis

Virtually everywhere we turn in the Bible, we find a religious emphasis, and this, too, unifies the book.  The religious orientation of the Bible begins with the writers’ pervasive awareness of God’s presence in the world.  Beyond that, all of human life is regarded in a religious light.  Seemingly mundane events like a harvest or the birth of a baby — as well as momentous events like the defeat of an army or a cataclysmic flood — are viewed in terms of God’s providence and experienced in terms of a religious response (such as worship or repentance).

Throughout the Bible, we are aware that two worlds exist simultaneously.  One world is the visible world around us.  The other is an unseen spiritual world consisting of angels, demons, heaven, and hell — a supernatural world governed by God.  This world picture is always present and becomes a unifying presence as we read.

At times, the supernatural world is shown reaching down into the earthly, human sphere. Just as often, we see people reaching upward toward the spiritual realm.  For example, in the story of Abraham’s offering of his son Isaac (Genesis 22), we hear a divine voice speaking from some unknown height to Abraham, commanding him to offer his son, and then restraining him from doing so.  But we also see Abraham journeying to the mountaintop to encounter God.

A further dimension of the Bible’s religious orientation is the vivid consciousness of values that pervades it.  In the Bible, the concept of right and wrong is more sharply defined and more strongly held than in most literature.  Biblical writers are constantly telling us “This, not that.”  They also have an uncanny grip on what matters most and least in human experience.  For biblical writers, the issue of good versus evil supersedes all other concerns.  Good and evil are always seen in relation to God.