I have a very old suitcase in a closet upstairs. It has not latched for generations; its hardware is broken and rusted, its leather cover torn and dried. I keep it because it came from my parents and because it is stuffed with pictures.
In one of those photos, taken around 1902, I see my grandfather, my dad’s dad. He is about thirteen-years-old, I would guess, and is sitting on a horse. In another, I find my mother at about twenty-three, posing in front of a palm tree in Florida in a skimpy (for 1950) bathing suit, with a man I don’t recognize. Then there are pictures of my brother and me in our infancy and childhood. In addition, there are many pictures of people I have never met and whose names I don’t know. The photos are in no discernable order. Some are from more than a hundred years ago, some are more recent.
Every once in a while, I will go to that suitcase and begin pulling out pictures. I pause for a while over the ones that portray people I recognize (or think I do) and pass quickly over the ones I do not know.
Many people come to the Bible the way I go to that suitcase. They rummage through it, looking for anything interesting or anyone they might recognize. They see no order in it, no connecting links. They treat the Bible like a jumble of unrelated snapshots – one theological, one moral, another liturgical. But the Bible is much more like an enormous panoramic photo than it is like my suitcase. It gives us a unified picture of God as he pursues his purposes in the world.
Craig Brian Larson always kept coffee table books on a stand on his desk at work. For a while he had “America’s Spectacular National Parks” displayed. He kept it open to a breathtaking photo of the Grand Tetons. The picture stretched from the page on the left to the page on the right. After a few days he noticed that the right-hand page was doubled over. It was extra long and folded in half. In other words, he had been looking at only part of the picture. It opened up another sixteen inches to reveal a magnificent mountain landscape he had not yet seen.
When we explore the Scriptures with a wide-angle lens, we discover that the Bible – from Genesis to Revelation – tells the same story. Its pages unfold to reveal various aspects of an enormous panorama, too large to take in at a single setting … or a hundred settings. Whenever we open the book and turn the pages, we find that the picture extends further than we had imagined, from Creation to New Creation, from the Beginning to an Ending that never ends.
It is the picture of the compassionate and gracious God, who is slow to anger but abounds in love. The focal point of the picture – the place where the panorama comes together and makes sense – is on a hill outside Jerusalem. Somehow, when we look there, when we look into the face of Christ, we see the gracious God (who is otherwise too grand to take in) and his loving purpose for the world he has made.
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Cor. 4:6)