I used to believe every single word in the Bible was perfect. Not just in the original languages, but also the English translation of the King James Version. Perfect. Because God had “inspired” it and made that possible.
These days I recognize that men wrote the Bible. It is a library of 66 (or more) books written over 1500+ years by 40+ human authors in numerous cultures and a handful of ancient languages. Some of it may have been under the “miracle” of inspiration; some things may have been revealed to them somehow ahead of time; however, there is no way you can really prove or disprove that, so I’m not taking up that argument. It’s not enough to say that the Bible says it is inspired; that’s circular reasoning.
The thing I notice now is that the God of the Bible appears to morph quite a bit from the first to the last book in the collection. What I realize now is that it isn’t God who is changing, but the perception of each author from culture to culture. These men are simply describing God based on their current understanding. So I think God gets lots of blame for commands given in the Bible that God never really gave – for example when God supposedly told the Israelites to go into Canaan and “slay every living thing that breathes”. Yeah, right. Brutally kill every man, woman, child, and animal because “God said” it’s our land now. Sure…
Now, the God I see Jesus describe isn’t like that. This God is a father – our “heavenly father”. This God makes sense to me. He loves, protects, forgives, patiently corrects, supports, provides, and shows me by example how I should treat my own kids.
Jesus even went as far as to say “he who has seen me has seen the father” and “whatever the Father does, the Son also does”. I refuse to get into a discussion of whether or not Jesus is God – that can neither be proven nor disproven. But I can say that if the example of Jesus shows us what the Father is really like, then the genocide recorded earlier in the book of Joshua could not have been ordered by God, because that’s not how Jesus treats his enemies. When his disciples wanted to “call fire down from heaven” on a village that wouldn’t let them spend the night, Jesus totally rejected that approach and said they’d just move on to the next town.
I view the Bible as sacred and helpful. It’s a great library of ancient wisdom. But it’s not perfect, it does have internal inconsistencies, and you have to read it with an open yet critical mind like any other wisdom literature. I do believe that something special can happen inside anyone honestly and humbly seeking truth in the Bible…but I think that can also happen by seeking truth in nature, in a film, in a reflection on the past, etc. If you are trying to draw closer to God, God will draw closer to you; I think the author of the Book of James (one of Jesus’ disciples) accurately depicted a truth there that I have personally experienced.
Related to this, I had a great conversation with a longtime friend who pastored a church for over ten years. He was the one who introduced me to some of the authors that led to my leap of doubt. We worked closely together and shared many, many long hours of philosophical sharing. Nothing was ever off-limits then, and nothing has changed to this day. He’s a true friend.
As I began to reveal the leap of doubt concept to him, he asked a challenging, honest question:
How do you follow Jesus if you don’t trust the book that tells us about him? Too far down that road and it becomes a faith of “whatever feels right to me”, in which case you become your own God.
I appreciate questions like that when they are genuine and not a set-up (like our banned poster). I know him and know his was an honest question trying to understand, not to pigeonhole and condemn. So I replied:
Yeah, it’ll kind of end up that way with me working out my relationship with God directly. I can see that. But there are things in the Bible that resonate within my being (very subjective, I know) and those I follow without having to convince others that I have the only right way.
In the end I think it’s that way for everyone – if what your preacher says doesn’t ring true, you’re not going to truly “believe it”, though you may go along with it for the sake of peace. Same thing for interpretations of scripture. So, in the end, everybody decides what they think is true, even if they’re part of an organized religion.
I know quite a few Roman Catholics who do not believe the Pope is infallible. I know Protestants who are evolutionists and do not take much of the book of Genesis as literal history at all. People choose what they will or won’t believe ultimately based on what makes sense to them – that’s good and right. Then my buddy asked:
How do your own assumptions ever get challenged? What if what “rings true” isn’t really? Didn’t Calvinism “ring true” at one point? Is there no authority outside your own desires and experiences? I’m not trying to be a jerk, I’m truly curious. I do think it’s important to have some anchors outside of myself to keep me from running away with things. I don’t trust myself enough to make all the judgments myself. And some, if not all of those anchors, are chosen by faith…not by reason.
These are great questions from a good friend. They deserved a reply:
I’m not threatened and I don’t feel judged – no worries. Just being honest about where I am, which frees me tremendously. I don’t have to have all the answers (or even many answers). But see – you are challenging my assumptions right now, which is totally cool. So have quite a few others over the last six months.
Calvinism indeed “rang true” at one point because of how I was processing stuff – supposedly rationally. I distrust much about that approach now. I’ve grown to distrust men who want to make judgments FOR me. They’re just men. God and I are connected vitally – I know this by personal experience, so I’m not worried about my “standing” with God. I really believe God is my heavenly father, not a psycho/whack job who says “love me love me love me or I WILL BURN YOU!” Some of that understanding came from the lips of Jesus recorded by the apostles, then confirmed by life.
I’m not talking about anyone making judgments for me, I’m just talking about having some checks and balances on my own flawed judgment.
To which I replied:
Yeah, and I’m willing to hear people out but in the end it’s still ME who has to decide whether my judgment is flawed or not after hearing people out. So in the end, each of us really IS our own judge. And I may still be led astray…by MYSELF… or by those who challenge my judgment and I capitulate to it. But I’m not worried about my connection with God, and I believe/trust that God will help me deal with it. That personal responsibility with a loving father there to support me… priceless.
This approach leaves me free to follow the advice of the apostle Paul (whom I have some doubts about, but that’s for a later post): “Test everything; cling to what is good”. So I’m free to test ALL things – whether it’s from Jesus, Moses, Mohammed, Buddha, Krishna, or even Bill Maher. “All truth is God’s truth”. I don’t have to be afraid of it; instead I should embrace it wherever I find it. And when I can’t be certain if I’ve found truth or not, I can be okay with not having to have all the answers because I’ve taken the leap of doubt into the freedom of uncertainty.