Imagine there is a God and imagine he wants to form relationships with the people he has created. What might we expect him to do? One possibility would be to reveal himself directly to everyone. Now perhaps the sheer immensity of his glory prevents mortals perceiving God directly. Perhaps mortal minds would simply go kaput if faced with the true reality of God. But there are other ways God could have revealed himself: say, sending an angel to visit everyone personally and explaining that God exists, explaining that God wants a relationship and performing whatever miracles that would be needed to convince each person. That, we must presume, is something God could do but it is obvious that he hasn’t.
Why isn’t God more obvious?
Here’s the problem: if the existence of God were obvious, this would severely limit our free choice as to whether to serve him. If we were faced with an angel who proved to us irrefutably that there was a God of unlimited and unquestionable power, it is likely that we would feel compelled by fear to serve God. And that won’t do. Because what God wants is a loving relationship, for people to choose freely whether to serve God or not. And therefore God needs to be subtle so that people have a real choice: to trust in God, if they choose, or to deny God and go their own way, if they prefer. So we would expect God to reveal himself to mankind, so they can form relationships with him, but we would not necessarily expect him to reveal himself directly to each person individually.
The other thing we would expect is for God to reveal himself in a specific way. Every relationship is based upon mutual understanding. For example, a strong marriage is based upon the husband understanding the needs and wishes of his wife; without this information he is likely to upset his wife. So we would expect God to explain to mankind the basis of the relationship he wants with them. This might include information about his nature and character, about his plan for the world and his expectations for human behaviour.
How does God reveal himself?
Putting these things together, we might reasonably expect God to reveal himself in a specific way (e.g. with information about himself) but to do so in such way that does not require a separate revelation for each person. The most obvious form this revelation could take is a piece of writing, like a book. This could be copied and distributed to numerous people, whilst remaining reasonably stable (unlike, say, word of mouth). It could contain enough information to form the basis of a relationship but would not be intimidating or imposing; it would be influential only over those who accepted it.
There are limitations to any piece of writing. In a world of many languages, any book would need to be translated and interpreted to make it accessible throughout the world. Any book, if it was to be accessible to its initial readers, would be written with the cultural assumptions of that society. As societies change over time, newer generations might find that the cultural assumptions made the book to be unfamiliar or even peculiar. But none of these limitations would be insurmountable provided that as readers we focused on the purpose of the book: to build a relationship with God.
The book I have been describing is, of course, the Bible. The point is that it is not unexpected that God should use a book like the Bible to reveal himself. The key question is how to be we know that the Bible is that book – that is what we will explore in the next essays.