Editors’ note: This is an adapted excerpt from Lauren and Michael McAfee’s new book, Not What You Think: Why the Bible Might Be Nothing We Expected Yet Everything We Need (Zondervan).

Do you remember when you would dream of what your life might be like at a certain age? When you reached that age, were you surprised by how differently things turned out? Some would say that this experience can best be described as maturing. Maturity is the reconciliation of dreams hoped for and life lived. Pleasantly, sometimes these two things reconcile perfectly, and the life you experience is as good as or better than you ever could have hoped.

Lauren and I feel this way about marriage; we were high school sweethearts and dreamed of one day being married. The reality of our life together has been more difficult but also more wonderful than we could have imagined at age 17. We married at 21, while still in college. We took a fun vacation for our honeymoon, and it was like a dream. Once we returned home, immediately we both got sick. A few days later, we had our first fight. A few months later, the quirks that were once cute were now annoying. Years into marriage, we hit a rough patch that left us questioning what our relationship would look like in the future. Through the journey, there have also been beautiful moments. Each time we worked through a conflict, we grew closer. We learned how to communicate with one another, we gave and received grace, and we came to believe that we truly are better together. In the space between the dream and the reality is our story, where we grow and mature.

His story and our story

One of the reasons we are so committed to reading generally and to rereading the Bible in particular is that immersing ourselves in a variety of stories helps inform our story. As we just examined in the previous chapter, the Bible is the singular narrative of God and his creation. But that larger narrative is composed of many micro-narratives, stories we can relate to and characters we can’t but empathize with. Reading about their different lives and their similar struggles, their failures and their relationship to God, the same God we know now, helps inform our life and our struggles.

When we read the Psalms and see the various authors crying out to God in true honesty and vulnerability, it invites us to do the same. It gives us permission to approach God with the same kind of rawness. Or when we read about Esther as she risks her life to stand up for her people, it can provide us strength to stand up for our beliefs about what is right. There are countless ways the stories and characters in the Bible have shaped our lives and brought us comfort.

The Bible is a beautiful, unique text in that its micro-narratives and metanarrative provide us with insight for life. As we sit with God’s story, it not only informs us and makes us more complete; it also teaches us about the consistent character of God — his faithfulness and love, his mercy and justice. Reading the Bible gives us the opportunity to see God through the lives of others. While the times may change, and the people, the languages, and the cultures all may change, the God whom people interact with does not.

There are two constants that you will encounter in reading the Bible: the first is the human tendency to fail; the second is God’s steadfast love and patience. It is true that God’s love is never changing. It is also true that God is just, and therefore God judges people for rebelling against him and hurting others. But that judgment doesn’t discount his love; it actually makes it more real, for he loves people so much that he is willing to make things right in the world by punishing those who perpetuate injustice. The interplay between these two constants — human failure and God’s steadfast, never-changing love — is what makes the Bible relevant to our lives today. Both are just as true now as they were two thousand years ago. People still fail — on that we think we can all agree. We also hope you are increasingly open to the idea that God is still faithful.

Far more than meets the eye

Both of these truths, these constants, are not always apparent early in our lives. Realizing both truths requires the same reconciliation between hope and reality that produces maturity. What happens when life doesn’t turn out the way you thought it would, when you don’t get into that school or marry that person or work that career? What do you do when people fail you, emotionally, physically, financially? Do our lives matter at all, or is it all just a bunch of nothingness, coming from nothing, leading to nothing, and in the end signifying nothing? We are all in search of solid ground. Some thing, some relationship, some job, someone to anchor our life and provide stability.

What we discover as we age is that there are very few solid rocks on which to stand. Most if not all of those relationships and jobs will shift and sink, just like sand. Many of you know what we’re talking about; you can relate to a time when life stole your hope, a time when disappointment shook you to your core. We’ve sure had our fair share of disappointments. But through it all, the God we’ve discovered and encountered in the Bible has remained ever true to his Word, steadfast and never-changing in his love toward us.