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  • Writer's pictureShelli Owen

The Bible Illuminated



Bible on the edge of a picnic table outside with a page turning in the wind.

Jesus said to His disciples:

“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—

he will testify about me.” (John 15:26)

 

Not long after I met Jesus, there was something else I soon discovered. I have to admit it also surprised me.[1] The Bible had become an entirely new book!


The contrast between reading the Bible before and after I met Jesus was like night and day. The whole Bible went from being just another one-dimensional book in black-and-white print to something that in comparison was like four-dimensional, virtual reality in high-fidelity stereo and living, breathing color!


Illuminated by Jesus' Spirit of love and light, it became vibrantly, joyfully alive. It has, ever since then, been like an ever-relevant, personal love letter through the living Christ of God. Everything in it has glorious, practical, personal meaning and significance straight from the Lord’s heart to mine. Having His Word so near—in the very heart of my soul—often still causes a spontaneous response of great rejoicing and gratitude to the Lord within me. No other book can compare with the Bible ever since I met its Author, the Lord, and central character, Jesus Christ.


Because of what I believed about the Bible due to my upbringing in the LDS Church,1 you might see why this transformation was so very unexpected. I was more than a little dismayed when the other writings considered to be scripture in the LDS Church did not also come alive in the way the Bible had—with Christ’s love, with new light and meaning, under the influence of God's Spirit.


In contrast, The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price were Spiritless and flat. Nevertheless, I continued to loyally love and revere these writings as I always had. While I wondered about this distinction of the Spirit at the time, I just couldn’t—wouldn’t—accept that these other LDS books of scripture were not inspired by God. I reasoned that they did not need to be illuminated by God’s Spirit in the same way the Bible did because they had not been “corrupted”—as I had always been taught that the Bible had been. I decided this was why they didn't need to have the illumination of God’s Spirit like the Bible now had for me whenever I read from it.


I wasn’t fully at peace with this “conclusion”—or rather choice. But, because I had previously put the other LDS scriptures to the test—just as we had been taught to do—and I had sincerely “felt good” about them, I believed I had sufficient proof that they were true. I still believed, with all my mind and heart, that these other scriptures were more directly from God than the Bible was, especially The Book of Mormon. I therefore made an almost desperate, deliberate decision not to dwell on this disparity anymore. So, this is where I left things, and this is how I understood things intellectually, for many more years to come.


You might ask, considering my perspective on the Bible at the time, why was I reading it in the first place? Even though the LDS Church doesn’t consider the Bible to be as pure or undefiled as its other scripture, it still considers it to be the word of God—though to an undefined degree or measure. I was reading the Bible mainly because I had been following the example of one of the apostles in the LDS Church at that time, whom I admired because of his loving demeanor. In one of our General Conferences, he mentioned that he read from one of the four Gospels every day. In my recent zeal to try to make myself righteous enough to receive the Holy Spirit as a constant companion, I had added this goal, of reading from the gospels every day, to my list of activities to pursue.


Also, after meeting Jesus, and after Jan’s inspired personal counsel to me from the Lord, reading about Jesus from the words of His earthly witnesses held great appeal. Not long after that, I also began to fall deeply in love with the intimations of and prophecies about Jesus in the Old Testament. Some of these I’d learned about already, but the Holy Spirit helped me recognize even more. As time went on, I saw more and more of Jesus in the symbolic witnesses, illustrations, and examples of the Old Testament. This was something that gave me a lot of joy and was very exciting to me.


Speaking of the Old Testament, it ended up being a paradoxical blessing that I was raised within the LDS Church and not in the “progressive” North American Christian circles—where I very well may have been afflicted with their common strong allergy to the Old Testament. Although the LDS Church has developed its doctrine by picking and choosing and using most Bible verses out of context, it has at least held both the Old and New Testaments in equal esteem. The LDS Church doesn’t shun the Old Testament in the same way many people, including many “Christians” do.


After the Spirit of Christ began illuminating the Bible for me, my love for the witnesses of Jesus in the Old Testament continued to grow and grow. I came to see for myself that the whole Bible points centrally to Jesus Christ—along with emphasizing why we (humankind) have always needed Him.


Now, I’m fully convinced that understanding the centrality of Christ is fundamental to understanding God’s revealed nature and purposes throughout the various books of the Bible. As the book of Hebrews records, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). The Lord of the Old Testament, who Jesus perfectly represented throughout His earthly life, does not change. The Lord is One throughout the Bible.


But you may ask, Isn’t the Old Testament full of the wrath of God and totally missing the love of Jesus? The “common allergy to the Old Testament” didn’t come from nowhere—right?


The light and love that God’s Spirit has given to my understanding of the Bible has also emphasized for me that there is a great difference between reading, studying, and interpreting God’s Word by human means alone and reading, studying, and interpreting God’s Word by the illumination of His Spirit. I’ve observed, especially later when I was taking university-level classes in Biblical studies, that even some people who have spent most of their lives supposedly studying the Bible have missed this. It seemed like some, while they had thoroughly studied the Bible—the container of the words of God—they had somehow altogether missed the heart of God. I pictured these scholars spending their lives studying, examining, evaluating, and re-evaluating the exterior of a deep well from which people draw pure, cold water, without ever actually drawing up or drinking any of the living water themselves.


What kind of blindness is this? What keeps souls from seeking to understand and draw near to the Author? What prevents them from praying, from believing in Him, and from receiving for themselves the Spirit-filled water of life His true words contain? I believe inordinate pride in or reliance on human understanding, abilities, and accomplishments is what causes people to reject the Spirit of the living God.


Many, including my younger self, have thought that Jewish prophets, priests, kings, songwriters, and others were the original authors of the Old Testament. They were the ones with bad tempers and no love. God told them to write, but they didn’t get it all right. Similarly, Jesus’ twelve apostles and other men in their circle are thought to be the original authors of the New Testament. They could describe Jesus and write about His love because Jesus gave them His Spirit at Pentecost. All the same, one had to be wary of Paul the Apostle and how the church probably corrupted the two Testaments afterward.


The Holy Spirit’s illumination of the Bible has since taught me the truth of the apostle Peter’s words, that “prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:21, emphasis added). Also, as the apostle Paul testified, All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17, emphasis added). Jesus, Himself, declared, to the Jewish leaders of His time, who did not believe Him:

The Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:37-40, emphasis added)

The Old Testament books were “the very Scriptures” to which Jesus was referring. After His resurrection, when He appeared to a couple of His disciples in a physical body, they did not recognize Him at first. He replied to their inquiry and story with these words:

“How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27, emphasis added)

Again, the Scriptures to which Jesus, Peter, and Paul were referring were the books now compiled into the Old Testament. It is clear from these and other references that Jesus Himself considered the Old Testament to be Scripture—the unchanging word of God.


Over time, I’ve come to believe that without God’s Holy Spirit, none of these ancient yet still relevant writings could have entered the minds or hearts of any of these people in the first place. These men were all instruments, but they were not the authors. The writings contained in the Bible have the spiritual signature of God’s Spirit on them. Of this, I am certain. I’m not alone in seeing and understanding this. Many other believers throughout history and alive today have also seen, understood, and added their witness to this reality. But we humans can only understand the Spirit-inspired words of God in the Bible through the same Spirit who gave them.


Human beings can't even understand one another rightly most of the time. Even when we do get a glimpse of someone else’s mind or heart, it is always brief—and we can never be sure we have completely understood. How then can we, at any time, claim to comprehend the mind or heart, words or actions of the all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful, utterly holy, absolutely perfect, only good, wholly loving God on our own? Especially when He dwells and works both inside and outside the material realm of time and space, in dimensions and ways we can’t even begin to understand. How, then, can we, who were created by God, comprehend Him, our Creator? We cannot. That is, unless He intentionally reveals aspects of Himself to us through His own Spirit, as He has done—a little at a time, beginning mainly as God did in Old Testament times with symbols, pictures, or types in the material world to demonstrate spiritual realities.


Without God’s Spirit, even the Bible is Spiritless, flat, and subject to human misunderstanding. Many merely look at it as ancient wisdom literature—if they look at it at all. (Many just believe the rumors about it and leave it alone.) God’s Spirit illuminating His Word has taught me to reexamine my own and other’s suppositions about God and His Word in the Bible. I can’t rely on human understanding or assumptions to always be right or true. I’ve learned to humbly and prayerfully seek to understand God’s mind and heart each time I read and study the various Bible accounts and teachings.


When I do this, every time I go through the Bible, I learn something new about the Lord because I’m in a different place of understanding in my own life and walk before Him. Light from the Lord, in turn, often causes me to see my life, other people, and the circumstances all around me very differently than is my human tendency. He can even help me to have empathy for and love my “enemies!” Even when each of us and our worlds are a mess, there is always hope in God’s promises and work, past, present, and future. The Bible record and writings reiterate this over and over again.


So, what difference does all this make for you or anyone else? Why should you care? Why is it important to understand God’s word in the Bible through His very own Spirit of love and light?


As the Lord has indicated throughout the Bible, one day we will all be judged by Jesus, and these words God has taken the trouble to preserve for us. Words that in every place point to the life, death, resurrection, and eventual return to the earth of Jesus Christ, whom God sent on our behalf. Paradoxically, if we choose to misjudge God and His word—if we don’t seek His Spirit of love to enlighten us—our own misguided ideas will come back on our own heads to judge us.


God’s judgment, or the manifest wrath of God against injustice, isn’t just a phenomenon that was relegated to Old Testament times. Jesus repeatedly talks about God’s judgment in the New Testament as well. There will come a last day, a final day, a Day of Judgment when all beings and spirits who continue to misjudge and hold relentlessly onto evil will be destroyed or separated from God and His people forever. God’s Spirit-inspired words and symbols throughout the Bible warn us about this. It is part of God’s passionate, unchanging, eternal love that He hates injustice, no matter the source, no matter how well-meaning, well-dressed, or well-presented it is.


What is incredible, in truth, is God’s mercy, not His wrath. The only beings His wrath falls upon are those who refuse the release from His rightful condemnation of them—a release which God Himself has provided. A release He planned for before He created humankind with free will. A release He foreshadowed and ultimately fulfilled through the blood or life sacrifice of Jesus Christ, His only begotten-in-the-flesh Son and earthly representative. A release that includes total forgiveness of every sin, every injustice a person has ever committed against humanity and therefore against God.


In reality—which only God can ultimately define—it’s essential to the life of one’s soul, to one’s potential eternal life, to find out about Jesus—especially from God’s own word about Him. It is a life-or-death proposition. You’ve probably heard at least part of these words of Jesus before:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (John 3:16-21)

The Holy Spirit’s light has repeatedly taught and affirmed these foundational teachings in the Bible to me and others. But each person needs to seek for themself to know the truth about Jesus and who He was and is to them. Only God’s Spirit, through Jesus Christ, can reveal the truth about God and His Word to you, to me, or to anyone else.


It certainly has been true for me that meeting Jesus caused the Bible to go from being a somewhat revered good book to becoming a present, living word from a present, loving Father. The illumination of the Bible by the Holy Spirit is the means God has used to bless me with a love and regard for His Word that many other people do not seem to have, whether they are LDS or otherwise affiliated. Meeting Jesus and His Spirit’s illumination of the Bible has played a vital role in my spiritual walk and continuing relationship with Him. The two, Jesus Christ and God’s words about Him are now deeply connected and embedded in me.


The Lord’s Spirit has helped me to discern the difference between man-made religion about God and a living, Spirit-led relationship with God through His Word embodied in Jesus—particularly as the various illustrations, prophecies, and witnesses throughout the Bible proclaim Him to be.[2] Institutions based on human rules that merely use God’s name for their purposes are dead compared to a life of faithful, loving, obedience to the instructions of the True Lover of one’s soul. Systems or agendas created by human minds in the image of what they believe to be good cannot compare with the Source and Spirit of Goodness Itself.

 


For a long while after I met Jesus, or Jesus met me (at the end of myself), I wasn’t able to share this whole experience with anyone. I did try a couple of times—very unsuccessfully. I didn’t understand it myself. In the LDS Church at the time, a “spiritual” experience of this magnitude was seen as an indicator of personal worthiness. In the deepest part of my being, I knew that what I had experienced wasn’t because of any personal worthiness on my part. I didn’t know how it had happened. It just did.


Even though I’d experienced it, and God’s Spirit was now helping me, I didn’t understand the grace of God. I didn’t know His guiding Spirit is truly a gift—free—through the worthiness and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.


It took a long time for my mind and personal beliefs to catch up with what God had done and was continuing to do in my life. A relationship with God (as with all other relationships) doesn’t require full understanding or comprehension at the start. Though we never will have a full comprehension of God, because He is God, there is a knowing that will come and grow with time as this relationship continues. It does require constantly keeping in touch and communication. Real conversations back and forth. Prayer, studying and meditating on God’s word in the Bible, heartfelt prayer, the examples and fellowship of other believers, and prayer—did I mention prayer? These have all helped to keep me connected with Jesus and growing in my walk with Him.


This whole thing has taught me that God’s Spirit knows no human bounds. I continued in the LDS Church life and doctrine for at least two more decades. But I began to see His Spirit living in and at work in people outside “the only true church on the earth.” God’s Spirit cannot be contained. The Lord will give His Spirit to whomever He wills—not necessarily by LDS priesthood “authority.” His Spirit led me and my young family into fellowship with believers—in and out of the LDS Church. And eventually, His Spirit exposed LDS teachings and practices that were not of Jesus, ultimately leading us out of the LDS Church altogether and into new opportunities for solid Biblical teaching and Christian fellowship. Meanwhile, being a member of the LDS Church didn’t keep Jesus from working in my mind and heart by His Spirit.


Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. (John 4:23)

 

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[1] To understand my previous LDS perspective on the Bible see chapter 20, “Beginning the Study of Greater Things”; https://www.wordsintime.net/post/beginning-the-study-of-greater-things

 

[2] See John 1:1, 14; Isa. 55:11; Rev. 19:13; Gal. 4:4; Phil. 2:7-8; 1 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 2:14; 1 John 1:1-2; 1 John 4:2

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