Challenging Assumptions

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.

He responded:

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.

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6 thoughts on “Challenging Assumptions

  1. What do you make of this comment (source omitted to avoid hints of any bias):

    “I believe the scriptures teach that there is one path to God, and it’s through Jesus. But there are unlimited paths to Jesus.”

    Basically . . . is there a “response” necessary to the invitation and reality of Jesus’ Finished Work? In other words . . . is it possible to reject His invitation, both now and in the after-life?

    • Not so sure it works way expressed by the quote. I realize it is based on a particular interpretation of John 14:6 (…”no one comes to the Father but by me.”). It begs the question “what do the phrases “come to the Father” and “but by me” actually mean in this context. That’s already in the queue as a topic we will share our thoughts on at some point.

      “Is it possible to reject His invitation, both now and in the after-life?” I can’t speak for the afterlife – I haven’t been there yet. But people reject the invitation to follow the way of Jesus (thus becoming citizens of his new society) all the time. And people also follow his way all the time without realizing that it is HIS way. Surrendering to his way (knowingly or unknowingly) and becoming an apprentice who graduates to be able to apprentice others is indeed the path, and the world is better off when this occurs. It becomes a definitive “YES!” answer to the part of the Lord’s Prayer that requests “May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.

  2. To gauge ‘consistency’ of message, how do we know that Jesus’ words and actions are captured any more accurately than that of the OT writers?

    I see the Torah (the way) primarily as a covenant from God to His Bride, Israel. The 10 commandment, Ketubah in the Hebrew wedding tradition, are a framework within which He is calling out their best life. It was never meant to be read as a list of do and don’t. It was the invitation of a loving God, proposing to a people to enter into covenant relationship with Him in order to demonstrate to the world what God was like.

    It was the culture that would eventually bring forth Yeshua.

    This frames the OT in a context that’s more satisfying, at least for me, when I think of how His jealousy and anger were expressed within the confines of (what was to be) marriage . . . and why the divorce was finalized in Jeremiah. What would you do, how would you feel, if you caught your wife pursuing other lovers behind your back, when you had given her everything? Over and over, every time you offered forgiveness?

    Agree that God’s revelation is by no means limited to a book . . . His world (physical, emotional, mental etc) is also part of His revelation to us, and He meets any honest seeker with grace and love consistent with His nature.

    Love your blog.

    • To gauge ‘consistency’ of message, how do we know that Jesus’ words and actions are captured any more accurately than that of the OT writers?

      We don’t know for certain. It could be that each of the gospel authors made it all up. But… still there is something that resonates within us, that speaks to our hearts (not necessarily yours or anyone else’s) that this is truth, that this mirrors reality. And the Heavenly Father that we see reflected in the face and life of Jesus looks much more like the “Prodigal Father” than “The Lord Of Hosts” who commanded the genocide of the Canaanites.

      We agree that the Torah indeed aligns with the Hebrew wedding tradition, and agree that applying that metaphor to us now is informative and encouraging. There is an intimacy that we (and many others) experience with God in private, and a life-long partnership where we rely on each other to accomplish the mission at hand; we have to do what we CAN do, and we rely on God to do that which we cannot. But we can’t expect God to do that which is really in our power and responsibility – that wouldn’t be fair or helpful in any intimate relationship.

      Thanks for reading, replying, and caring. 🙂

  3. One person’s take on “the Way” (from In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day)

    “Quit living as if the purpose of life is to arrive safely at death.

    Set God-sized goals. Pursue God-ordained passions.
    Go after a dream that is destined to fail without divine intervention.
    Keep asking questions.
    Keep making mistakes.
    Keep seeking God.
    Stop pointing out problems and become part of the solution.
    Stop repeating the past and start creating the future.
    Stop playing it safe and start taking risks.
    Expand your horizons. Accumulate experiences. Enjoy the journey.
    Find every excuse you can to celebrate everything you can.
    Live like today is the first day and last day of your life.
    Don’t let what’s wrong with you keep you from worshiping what’s right with God.
    Burn sinful bridges. Blaze new trails. Criticize by creating.
    Worry less about what people think and more about what God thinks.
    Don’t try to be who you are not. Be yourself. Laugh at yourself.
    Don’t let fear dictate your decisions. Take a flying leap of faith.

    Chase the lion!”

    …………..Batterson

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