A weekly blog about relationships, belief, and personal growth, written from a position of hope.
Disclaimer: I'm not a theologian, apologist, historian, scholar of any sort, nor can I read Hebrew or Greek. I studied business in college, and I'm in sales now. I am passionately curious, though, and always trying to better understand why I believe what I believe. This pursuit has brought great joy but also confusion and doubt. Of the many hurdles that led me to my season of doubt, the Bible was among the first.
If you haven't read my previous post, A Season Of Doubt, pause. It would be helpful to read that first for context.
Also, if you're at a place in your journey where you have peace and no struggle with the concept of scripture, this post may not be helpful or relevant.
Now, with all disclaimers out of the way...
It was Sunday morning right after church, and Lacie and I were walking to the car. I couldn't wait to get behind closed doors because of the uneasiness I felt. The moment the car door closed I blurted out,
"You believe scripture is the word of God and our example for godly living?"
This wasn't the first time I had started a conversation with a question like that, so I'm sure Lacie knew where we were headed (bless my sweet wife).
"Yes," she responded, knowing a series of questions was on the way.
"And God is our Father and we His children?"
"So let me paint a picture. We are leaving church to go eat lunch. Assume we have children. We have chosen to provide Panera for lunch. They complain and say they want Perry's Steakhouse. I'm mad at their ungrateful hearts, but I take them to Perry's anyway. Halfway through the meal, while their mouths are still full, I slaughter them."
"Well, that's the example we had in the sermon today if you read the portion of Psalm 78 that wasn't cherry-picked for the sake of a nice lesson about passing along God's truth from generation to generation," I spat out indignantly and continued.
"I don't know how to reconcile so many heinous examples I see in scripture, particularly in the Old Testament. I'm a 'sinful' man, yet I feel repulsed at a 'holy' God. I want to live rightly, but how do I follow that example?"
We already had a conversation before about a similar sermon from Deuteronomy 6,
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart...or his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land."
How about that part that's never in the Sunday school lesson? Be good or else (my criticism at the time)!
Lacie let me talk, patiently admitting she didn't have all of the answers I wanted and didn't think I would ever have the answers I truly wanted either. At the time, all I heard was the rebuttal I had grown to hate, the God-card, the "his ways are higher than mine," the trump to any unsettled question about God.
The Divine Command Theory says morality is based solely on God's instruction or character. God said it or did it, therefore it's right.
Most religions have a holy text that claim divine inspiration, with commands from a God who has the final say about how to live. If God says fly a plane into a building, it's moral. If God says enslave a group of people, it's okay. You can quickly see how my issue with the God-card could leave me desperately craving more objective reasoning for the basis of living.
What I wasn't willing or capable to admit at the time, though, was that accepting the uncertainty, the confusion, the serious doubt...is the first step to moving into experiencing God fully. Notice I used the word "experiencing" rather than "understanding."
By overanalyzing every aspect of my faith, I was killing it. If Lacie and I had a meeting every day where we picked apart every aspect of our relationship, I assume the core of what makes us in love would slowly start to fade. There is much to be described within our marriage, but there comes a point when we can't quantify or explain the mystery of this covenant.
So at my lowest moment, I decided to start over with scripture, from the beginning, as if I were reading it for the first time. I had decided to remove the "his ways are higher than mine" lens and approach it with new eyes, eyes that hadn't been raised to assume the text's validity for twenty-six years.
Passage after passage wrecked me. I won't spend time listing every verse, but it doesn't take long in the Old Testament to realize this is a bloody story, full of murder, genocide, incest, rape, etc. I asked myself,
"If I had no background in Christianity, and this was my first take on the idea of God, what would my response be?"
I feared the answer that loomed under the surface.
The famous atheist Richard Dawkins wrote,
"The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully."
Another well-known atheist, Penn Jillette, said this,
"Whatever you do, don't read the Bible for a moral code: it advocates prejudice, cruelty, superstition, and murder. Read it because: we need more atheists — and nothing will get you there faster than reading the Bible."
I've gone this far with the negative aspects of the story to hopefully help you understand the emotional turmoil this struggle can create. I'm sure for many of you, reading those two quotes made you really uncomfortable. If you've never despaired in this way, be grateful. You are fortunate. If you have, be encouraged. There is hope.
You're probably wondering now what the turning point was. I would love to say I have it all figured out, that there was a magical moment where I finally understood. There wasn't...
I realized most of my scriptural analysis was an oversimplification of the text, where I excluded social context, the author's perspective and agenda, the style of writing, the purpose of the message, etc. As my paradigm of scripture was slowly deconstructed, it allowed me to shift my perspective, to reorder my paradigm from the chaos.
But like I mentioned before, it wasn't understanding that moved me. It was experience.
It was a well-timed, powerful reminder from a friend about who I was. It was a simple prayer of submission:
"I give up, please help me, I commit to helping others through this."
It was a friend I haven't seen in over a year showing up at my house within twenty-four hours of praying that prayer and spilling his heart out about the doubts he had in a way that sounded eerily identical to my own. He had no idea what I had been walking through.
It was a "me too, you're not alone" moment with a man who has become my friend and mentor and helped me continue to rebuild my paradigm.
The skeptic in me would say coincidence. The believer in me says God.
I also came across a podcast called The Liturgists. One particular episode was all about the Bible. A guy named Pete Enns had joined the conversation and said something I will never forget:
"You can’t point to something (like the Bible) and say this objectively is better. The only way, and this sounds intellectually wimpy, but its not, it’s actually existentially, excruciatingly difficult, and that’s for individuals and churches and movements to embody the message of the Bible, which is fundamentally a message of Christ, who he is, and to live that and to demonstrate by example that this actually works. You have to embody the God speaking to you in difficult contexts and show that this is worthwhile."
Yes! I can't describe the joy I felt when I heard this. It's a message to proclaim not a problem to be solved, as Pete went on to explain. This made so much sense based on how I've experienced God throughout my life. It's not a rational argument that gets you there, it's not objective explanations about the validity of scripture, it's Jesus.
Most of the feedback I've gotten from others affirms this, as well. When I've asked why people believe what they believe, the most common answer is related to personal experience.
"...intellectually wimpy...existentially, excruciatingly difficult..."
I may or may not have shouted "yes!" out loud in my car as tears filled my eyes the first time I heard this.
So here's where I'm at...
I hope this at least serves as a framework to see the path I've been on and the current place I'm at when it comes to the mystery we call the Bible.
I anticipate some pushback. That's okay and welcome. Let's do so in love, though.
If you're without peace and struggling right now, my hope and prayer is that this post was a simple encouragement:
You're not alone.
Here's my story. What's yours?
You haven't missed your calling
From where I sit in this hospital waiting room
Accept the invitation to live
The lighted window
It was worth it
The subtle sounds of a life together
Made for the now-what
When holidays are hard
Sharing in our suffering
To my doubting friend
Ten years down the road
How long, Lord?
A season of doubt