I was just reading through the book of Esther and came to the part where Esther had convinced King Ahasuerus not to kill all the Jews in all of his 127 provinces. When I read that I was relieved, thinking, "Oh good, they are going to call it all off, the Jews will live and rejoice." They did live, but the command was then given that instead the Jews should kill all who hated them in the 127 provinces. The Bible presents this as a good and glorious turn of events, but my pleasure in this Biblical story was temporarily aborted. I had forgotten some of the humbling (for sinners like us) yet glorious truths of the Bible. Fully acknowledging and accepting these truths is a prerequisite to understanding and loving the whole Bible. Parts of the Bible won't make sense or bring joy unless we accept these things.
I very much hope that none of this sours your opinion of me. I'm just trying to help us all. But, to quote Esther, "If I perish, I perish."
So, to understand and love the whole Bible we must...
Fully acknowledge in our hearts that God has eternally planned (or as the King, "decreed") everything that has or will ever come to pass in all of creation. He has never and will never "make up" new plans as history goes along. An infinite mind, with infinite wisdom, motivated out of infinite love, does not get it wrong "the first time." "For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you." (1 Peter 1: 20)
Fully acknowledge in our hearts that while we see in Scripture that God sometimes changes His mind, even the change of mind was planned from all eternity. In history and in Scripture God sometimes addresses situations from the simple perspective of what a situation deserves, pertaining to justice. In these cases He has planned to view things narrowly, from a holiness versus sin perspective, because that is what God is: "holy, holy, holy." In His astonishing holiness He fully intends to punish. There is nothing deceptive about it. But God is more than holy. He is Love. He is Holy Love. And so in His great plan He plans for and allows the interplay of His holiness and love, His justice and grace. God is, after all, all about displaying Who He is. But in viewing things from the narrow perspective He does not thereby cease to have an infinite mind. Everything- even His own threats- takes place in the broad perspective of His sovereign, eternal, and completely unchangeable plan. As mentioned, He does not make things up as He goes along.
Fully acknowledge in our hearts that the Old Testament people were saved by believing in the promise of the One to come. They were not saved by sacrifices, but the sacrifices themselves were to be understood as pointing to the Sacrifice of the Lamb to come.
Fully acknowledge in our hearts that the Jewish nation of the Old Testament (the Old Covenant) was never saved eternally as a whole nation. They were saved and favored as a nation in regard to earthly and temporary things, but no individual Jew will be in Heaven who did not believe in the coming "pierced for our transgressions" King. Likewise, no Jew today is saved except by believing as Christians must believe. There are not two people of God. "For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly... he is a Jew who is one inwardly..." (Romans 2: 28, 29)
Fully acknowledge in our hearts that while God is absolutely sovereign, absolutely in control of all things in all creation, we as humans are also fully responsible for our choices. We choose or "will" evil in our hearts. God wills what is good in allowing us- in His absolute control- to will evil. He has the power and the right to work (sometimes by allowing) all things for His glory and the good of the church. We, on the other hand, never allow sin in our own hearts out of a desire for His glory and the good of the church. God is God, and we are not.
Fully acknowledge in our hearts that God created man and woman equal in glory and dignity with each other, yet with different roles.
Fully acknowledge in our hearts our own sinfulness and that of all of humanity. Our own sinfulness is greater than we can conceive.
Fully acknowledge in our hearts the horrible nature and consequences of sin.
Fully acknowledge in our hearts that sin is so horrible that we can't save ourselves. Christ had to pay the penalty for our sin, and die in our place on the cross, so that we could receive forgiveness.
Fully acknowledge in our hearts that sin is so horrible that there are no works, no performances, we can do to get God to accept us into Heaven. Jesus said He is the only Way to the Father, and that all we need to do is believe in Him as the God-man Who was crucified for our sins, and is now risen, and we will be saved.
Fully acknowledge in our hearts that believing in Christ is not a work or performance we do, but a gift from God that He enables us- by His Holy Spirit- to exercise.
Fully acknowledge in our hearts that while there are various kinds of belief in Christ, only the belief that has love for Christ at the heart of it is true belief. No mere intellectual belief connects us with Christ. There is a loving feeling in the heart and pleasure in God when we are truly believing in Christ.
Fully acknowledge in our hearts that this loving rest- belief- in Christ shows itself in a life turned toward Christ and obedience to Him in every area of life, although far from perfectly.
Fully acknowledge in our hearts that just as Christ gives us salvation as a gift, He also gives us Spiritual gifts (note the parable of the talents) that we are to use and for which He will reward us. We don't earn the rewards. It is God rewarding- in us- His own works which He used us to perform.
Fully acknowledge in our hearts that in Heaven there will only be love and that every Christian will be as filled with love as they can possibly handle at the time. There could not possible be any jealousy of those who in heaven receive more rewards. Those who barely escape from the fire (1 Cor. 3) will be so filled with love that they will rejoice that others have received their just (gracious) rewards. Those who produced one hundred fold will be so humble that they will rejoice in the blessed company of those who were less faithful in this life. Each will receive his or her place, but all will be one perfectly happy, God-drenched, society.
Fully acknowledge in our hearts that for unbelievers to still be alive at this moment comes from the pure mercy of God, only.
Fully acknowledge in our hearts that apart from Christ we each deserve to be suffering in Hell at this very moment.
Fully acknowledge in our hearts that Hell is nothing short of everlasting conscious torment.
Fully acknowledge in our hearts that to die is simply fair, it is simply just, for we have all sinned against God.
Fully acknowledge in our hearts that this applies as much to children and infants as it does to scoundrels, for the essence of sin is a lack of perfect love for God, a love which is enabled by the Spirit of God. Infants too have inherited Original Sin.
Fully acknowledge in our hearts that God is able to save even the pre-born, as John the Baptist rejoiced in his mother's womb at the presence of the pre-born Jesus.
Fully acknowledge in our hearts that God is so infinitely Great and Worthy that it takes only one moment in time without love for God to justify our everlasting punishment in Hell, apart from Christ.
Fully acknowledge in our hearts that God's aim has always been and will always be to glorify Himself. He did not decree creation, the fall, redemption, and the eternal consummation out of loneliness, but as an overflow of His infinite joy in Himself. As Jonathan Edwards noted, a fountain pours forth because of its hyper-fullness, not because of its deficiency.
Fully acknowledge in our hearts that this Self-love is good in God, because He alone is infinitely worthy to be loved. He would sin against Himself if He did not infinitely love Himself. We were created to join Him in this love of Himself.
Fully acknowledge in our hearts that the love He has for Himself does not preclude the fact that He loves each Christian individually with a love that we could not possibly comprehend, and that He will spend eternity showering us with His goodness, grace, kindness, and innumerable and inconceivable blessings (See Ephesians 2: 7). He glorifies His own grace, goodness, and joy in giving these things to us, and at the same time it is with a love for each child more genuine than the very best earthly father could give his children.
Fully acknowledge in our hearts that God is so infinitely Great and Worthy that He did the right thing to decree the Fall of mankind and the demons, so that He might have the context to glorify Himself by displaying all the attributes of His perfection, including His glorious power in wrath, (see Romans chapter 9:17 and 22). He would have sinned against His own infinite worth had he not decreed the Fall and everlasting punishment of angels and men, for He would have failed to plan the display of His holiness and majesty, in its fullness.
Fully acknowledge in our hearts that God is so infinitely Great and Worthy that He has the right to choose some people for wrath, and others for grace, without asking His creatures beforehand or seeing who would be "worthy". None were ever worthy. Before either had done anything good or evil, it says in Romans 9, "Jacob I have loved," and "Esau I have hated."
Fully acknowledge in our hearts that being chosen by God gives one rights and privileges that are not fair... but are grace: undeserved and unearned. Again, fairness would be for them to eternally suffer in Hell.
Fully acknowledge in our hearts that being chosen by God is not reversible, that if true love for the Trinity is in our hearts, we will certainly inherit eternal life. Our pride would like to think we earn part of our salvation, if not all of it, but we must be humbled by the fact that Christ earned every ounce of salvation for the elect people of God.
Fully acknowledge in our hearts that if we are His children then there is nothing we can do to make Him love us more than He already does, and there is nothing we can do to make Him love us less than He already does.
Fully acknowledge in our hearts that our duty in this life is to get right with God through Jesus Christ: to love Him, believe Him, and obey Him.
Fully acknowledge in our hearts that getting right with God is not something we can do. We must plead with God for a new heart- He alone can grant it. As Luther said, "We are all beggars."
Fully acknowledge in our hearts that being chosen by God gives one rights to judge with Christ, in God's time, the whole world of unrepentant men and angels.
Fully acknowledge in our hearts that this right is sometimes manifested, especially in the Old Testament, by God commanding His people to kill and destroy those who are not the covenant people, including their children. Note the book of Esther in the introduction above.
Fully acknowledge in our hearts that while God gives a sort of general mercy to all while they live, those who were chosen for eternal wrath are fundamentally hated by God. It could not be otherwise if Hell is what He has predestined them to. (Again, see Romans 9.)
Fully acknowledge in our hearts that Jesus died on the cross for the chosen people only, not for those God hates and has predestined to Hell.
Fully acknowledge in our hearts that God is in Himself the very Holiness from which His commandments, threats, and promises derive, and that in being the Creator He has rights to do things that we may not do. He may kill (Cosmic Capital Punishment) when and how He pleases (Psalm 7:11-13), for all have sinned against Him. He may bless as He pleases, for He is God. God, by virtue of being God- literally infinite in all perfections- may do whatsoever He pleases, and He does so.
Fully acknowledge in our hearts that in this life we are commanded to love all, because all are God's creatures, because we do not know before the Day of Judgement who are the elect and who are the reprobate, and because we were, "by nature no better than the rest."
The above is not meant to be a full theology, but a summary of things which I believe trip up most Christians today. I have not included things like Scripture's teaching on the Trinity, the Person and two natures of Christ, or the Christian relationship to government and society. Rather, I wanted to challenge us, or in many cases simply remind us, with a presentation of truths which directly challenge our pride. If we do not come- or come again- to joyfully receive these things into our hearts there will be many parts of the Bible which make us wince, cause us confusion, weaken our faith, and be far from sweet to our souls.
May God bless you as you read and meditate on His Word.