Varani was a Fijian chief who lived in the mid-1800s.
He was a great warrior and respected spiritual leader of his people. He believed in many gods and that he, as chief, was a living representative of the spirit world.
Thus when Varani spoke, he believed he spoke not as a human but with divine power (matanitu).
Varani understood himself to be a guardian of the world in which he lived, the vanua. The vanua was not only the soil, plants, trees, rocks, reefs, birds, fish, sea and land but also a spiritual place—a “land as Place of Being, as Place of Belonging.” There were numerous gods in Varani's world. These gods belonged to certain places and to the deified spirits of dead ancestors.
They were both revered and feared.
Certain tabu or holy places were set aside out of respect for a particular god or gods. On returning as victor from a tribal war, Varani would bring back women and children with him as slaves, and prisoners of war to be killed and eaten during the victory celebrations.
John Hunt, a missionary to the Pacific islands in the 1840s, translated the New Testament Bible into the Bau dialect and read to Varani the story of Jesus—His life, death and resurrection.
Something in the story touched the heart and mind of Varani. His search for God, for meaning, for spiritual connection, for life now and for life to come began to take on a new form— a new experience. He began to see his world, his community and his position as chief with new eyes. With this personal revelation of God through the Bible came immediate behavioural change—apart from other things, Varani no longer took part in the killing and eating of prisoners of war.
My youngest child is a little over three and her favourite game is hide-and- seek. She has her own rules about how the game is to be played, however.
For instance, there are defined areas in terms of “my hiding spot” and “your hiding spot.” Interestingly, the game of hide-and-seek is often played between people who already know each other.
It adds to the safety and security of the game. Although a trip to the park can result in children previously unknown to each other hiding and seeking.
In that context, there are some children who have the confidence to boldly go forth to seek and find, while others shyly hold back, retreating to their father's side. However, for those who are bold enough to play, friendships are often discovered, formed and developed through the act of hiding and seeking.
Is our search for God like some great cosmic game of hide-and-seek? Maybe.
Maybe, like the shy child, we have been unable to start the journey. We have not found the confidence to leave the “safety” of the known—the life we have experienced so far—in order to consider and search for the unknown. Then again, perhaps the fear of finding God may be greater than the fear of not finding Him. What if He is not the God we expected Him to be? What if He lets us down and leaves us disappointed? Or maybe, like Varani, we have already started the search but, without a light, have found ourselves floundering a little. We have been drawn to God through the natural revelation found in the earth, the sky, the universe, the animals, the sunrise, the waterfall, other humans and our relationships with them. Yet uncertainty, fear and meaninglessness are still very much a part of our experience. And so we continue to search. But where do we turn?
Someone once said, “We read to know we are not alone.” Are there others who have searched for God and have recorded their experiences? What if there was a book written by many people, from various backgrounds of education, social status and culture that may give us confidence to start a search for God or take us further in our search than we have already come? There is such a book. It's called the Bible.
The Bible is made up of a total of 66 books. Thirty-nine of these form what is called the Old Testament (Genesis to Malachi) and 27 form what is called the New Testament (Matthew to Revelation). Quite generally, the Old Testament is concerned with the relationships between God, people and His natural creation. The New Testament writers accepted that God revealed Himself to us in the person of Jesus (see 1 John 5:20). Thus, their focus was to tell and retell their encounters with Jesus and what His life, His death and the resurrection meant to them and how He could bring relevance, meaning and life to all who listened and believed.
Throughout the Bible is the claim or at least the assumption that the Bible was written by people “inspired by God” or literally “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16*) in a way that other literature is not. This can lend itself to the criticism of circular reasoning. However, this is not necessarily the case. I would like to give you some reasons as to why I believe the Bible is a legitimate source of spiritual direction for anyone who has begun to search or is considering searching for God.
If a person is taken to court, the defendant is permitted to testify on his or her own behalf. While this testimony does not necessarily end the matter, his or her testimony is admitted. Of course, additional testimony is also called for and evaluated in order to determine whether the defendant's claims are credible or not. The Bible is the same. The testimony of the Bible writers about their relationship, connection and mystical or physical revelation of God may not end the matter but they should be allowed to be heard, evaluated and considered as part of the evidence.
The Bible writers themselves recognised that God does not limit His revelation to only one source—the Bible. Paul wrote to the community at Rome, saying “Through everything God made, people can clearly see His invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature” (Romans 1:20). Paul also spoke to the men of Athens, saying God's “purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward Him and find Him— though He is not far from any one of us” (Acts 17:27). And although people responded to God in ignorance without the Bible, Paul says, “God overlooked people's ignorance about these things in earlier times” (Acts 17:30).
The Bible writers recognised that God does not limit Himself to a certain people, group, time or space—God desires to bring all people into a relationship with Him by many and varied ways. The fact that the Bible writers acknowledge this at a time when religions were more exclusive than inclusive adds credibility to its divine origin.
The New Testament writers' views regarding the Bible of their day (what we now call the Old Testament) is another source worthy of consideration.
Peter said in 2 Peter 1:20, 21, “Above all, you must realise that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet's own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God.” Peter affirms the God-breathed nature of the Scriptures. For Peter, they were not merely historical writings of ancient peoples but rather, God had inspired the writers in a special way by His spirit. This being the case, the listeners and readers of the Bible were to take heed as these thoughts were not merely from men but from God. Peter, Paul, Jesus, John and other New Testament writers believed the Bible of their day to be divinely inspired. They therefore encouraged others to read these writings, so they, too, could have a spiritual relationship with God, with the practical purpose of assisting them to live satisfying, meaningful and wholistic lives (see 2 Timothy 3:15, 16).
The writers of the Bible referred to the “God-breathed” or inspirational epiphany moments in their writings.
For instance the prophet Micah states “The Lord gave this message to Micah of Moresheth” (Micah 1:1). And for Jeremiah, “The God of Israel, says: Write down for the record everything I have said to you, Jeremiah” (Jeremiah 30:2). Isaiah states, “The Lord has given me a strong warning” (Isaiah 8:11). Statements like these are repeated throughout the Scriptures, suggesting that the authors were well aware of what it meant to be “moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).
Jesus, the subject and inspiration of the New Testament, spoke concerning the Old Testament's authority and permanence.
Jesus is recorded as saying, “the Scriptures cannot be altered” (John 10:35) and “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God's law will disappear until its purpose is achieved” (Matthew 5:18). Jesus affirmed the permanency and importance of the Bible above anything else on earth—even the temple (see Matthew 24:2).
David challenges the reader to “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). I and others whom I respect and value have “tasted” the Bible and found it to lead to a communion with God that ignites passion in the heart, motivates and brings about change for good, restores a broken soul and provides hope for the future.
For my daughter to play hide-and-seek, she needed to know, at some level, who she was searching for. I would suggest the same is true in our search for God. For us to consider searching for God, for us to begin the journey, for us to accept our need of something or someone greater, more divine—God must already have revealed Himself to us in some way. It may be through natural revelation or through a spiritual experience when, for a moment, the mist is lifted, so to speak, and we see with spiritual eyes.
Maybe it is as if we are playing hide-and- seek with God. We being the seeker, with God hiding and yet in the middle of the game He jumps out and says, “I've found you! I've found you!” A little confused and a little startled, we ask ourselves the question, “But wasn't I the one searching for You?” Would you like to play? Are you searching for more to life? Why not pick up a Bible and begin by reading the Gospel of Mark today.
* All biblical references are taken from the New Living Translation, Holy Bible.
Bibliography Ian Breward, A History of the Churches in Australasia, Oxford Universidy Press, 2001, page 61, <http://fds.oup.com/www.oup.co.uk/pdf/0-19-826356-2.pdf>.
Jacqueline Ryle, “Roots of Land and Church: the Christian State Debate in Fiji,” International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church, Vol 5, Issue 1, March 2005, page 62.
William Nicholson, Shadowlands, 1993 Millard J Erickson, Christian Theology, Baker Book House, 1986, pages 199-203.