But don’t let the title ruin it for you.

I find myself exhausted by claims of “what the Bible really says about X.” Not because I don’t care what the Bible says–I have an extremely high view of Scripture as the Word of God, and what Scripture says is the most important question we could possibly ask–but because more often than not when someone frames something (like immigration, refugee asylum, or religious discrimination) in terms of “what the Bible really says,” the point has already been missed.

The truth is, the Bible doesn’t say a word about Syrian refugees, Mexican immigrants, or how to deal with ISIS. And when we expect it to, we not only miss the point but fail to submit ourselves to Scripture as God’s Word that stands over the church.

Turkey syrian refugees kurds

The Bible says a lot of things. Some are uplifting, some are frightening. Some align with a conservative agenda, some could prop up a liberal worldview. Some make us nod our heads in satisfaction, others may offend or even repulse us. It also says things that seem to conflict, or at least to create unanswerable tensions (Do we focus on Jesus’ constantly subversive proclamation of God’s kingdom over against the kingdoms of the world, or do we stick with Romans 13 and say the government is good and we should always do what it tells us? Do we imitate the Israelites and slaughter God’s enemies, or do we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us?)

This is the problem with building cases based on “what the Bible really says.” If we treat the Bible as an ethics handbook to be straightforwardly applied to specific situations, or as a repository of clearly defined dogma, there are enough examples of the Bible saying different things in different contexts at different times that you can scrounge together enough verses to make a case for just about anything. And it’s all just alien enough to us to make us wonder whether some things just aren’t Bible issues at all. But this is not what Scripture is for, and it is not only problematic but also dangerous (even idolatrous) to mine through it as though it is.

The Bible is not a rulebook, a sourcebook of practical wisdom, or a culmination of religious experience. When we approach it in that way, we have already undermined the authority that we claim for it by attempting to make it primarily about answering our questions. We have decided for ourselves what the Word of God is, and in so doing have decided who God will be for us. When we do so, we miss that the Bible is not concerned with a religious system but with the man who stands in the middle of the story it tells: with Jesus Christ, the Word of God become human.

If anything should make us recognize that the Bible is not a handy guide to life or a culmination of human religious wisdom, it is Jesus Christ–himself the object of our faith, himself the way, the truth, and the life. Nothing about the life of Jesus Christ matches any of our expectations; nothing about him aligns neatly with what we hope for or expect to find when we look for God, and nothing about him is practical by worldly standards. Because in Jesus Christ we do not encounter the fulfillment of our expectations about who God is. We do not look at him and say that this is quite efficient, exactly what we would have done ourselves in fact.

If we have eyes to see and ears to hear, everything about the way that God reveals himself to the world is a direct contradiction of what we desire and anticipate from God. Where we want God to appear in glory and majesty and dazzle us with his power, we find a Jewish child born in a cave to a peasant carpenter and his bride-to-be. Where we expect God to affirm us for keeping the rules, we find an itinerant rabbi pronouncing woe and judgement not on those who know they are sinners, but on those who presume themselves righteous by their own ethical standards. Where we expect God to reward those faithful to him with comfort and prosperity, we find a Lord who commands people to sell everything they own to follow him and to expect to suffer when we do. And where we expect God to demonstrate himself as a powerful king by means of force, ridding the world of evil and bringing a swift and violent end to all who dare oppose him, we get a Slaughtered Lamb who cries out with his last breath for the forgiveness of his executioners.

Jesus Christ is not the fulfillment of our expectations but the inversion of all that we imagine to be right, the contradiction of all our natural impulses. This, ultimately, is what the Bible says. The Bible does not confirm us in our calculated assumptions about right and wrong and what it is that God wants, but by testifying to Jesus Christ as the crucified and risen Lord exposes our assumptions as utterly insufficient.

The Jesus of Scripture calls his people not to pragmatism, but to self-abandonment; not to self-protection, but to self-giving love of those who would do us harm; not to privilege but to imitation of him.

Jesus Christ is what the Bible really says. He is himself Truth and Life, and the lens through which his people must see the world–in his humility, his suffering, and his death.

And he doesn’t say anything about putting America first.