I often doubt the things I am supposed to believe. And, when I doubt, I come up with creative solutions to solve my doubt which allow me to continue to believe, mostly what I am supposed to believe. I just want to be honest about this with myself and with others.
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Previous doubts which I have largely dealt with:
- Evolution. Historical accuracy. If evolution is true, then the Bible must be false when it claims that God created everything. If modern historical scholarship is right, then there are historical inaccuracies in the Bible. I have dealt with this by applying a highly developed hermeneutic for reading the scriptures according to ancient contexts and in their proper mythological and generic types where appropriate. This allows me to say, among other things, that Genesis never intended to be a science textbook and that Judges was never meant to be historically accurate. I have largely borrowed the systems developed by biblical scholars who are also Christians (Curt Niccum and N.T. Wright come to mind first).
- Biblically mandated oppression for certain classes of people. The Bible clearly forbids women from exercising authority either at home or in the church. The Bible clearly forbids homosexual practice. I have dealt with this by appealing, once again, to highly developed hermeneutical strategies which locate all such passages in particular contexts which neutralize their ill effects. Additionally, I affirm a narrative trajectory way of understanding what God is up to as a story which develops in plot and characterization. The result is that I affirm a story in which God is in the process of redeeming all of creation. Certain core insights—like God is Love and that, in Christ, there are no arbitrary distinctions (“neither Jew nor Greek. . .”)—showcase the end goal toward which God is slowing moving humanity. While, perhaps, in their times certain scriptures that affirmed slavery, denied rights to gays, and forbade authority in the hands of a woman were acceptable, culturally speaking, they are not acceptable in the fully developed Kingdom of God. (Here I rely primarily on Justin Lee and J. R. Daniel Kirk as well as many others).
- Genocide. The Bible has passages in which God commands very wrong things be done, like the murder, on the basis of ethnicity, all men, women, and children in Jericho. I have dealt with this in two primary ways. First, I reject outright that, historically speaking, such genocide ever occurred. The archaeological and other evidence seems to indicate that nothing on the level of complete annihilation ever occurred in ancient Palestine. Of course, that still leaves the historical accuracy of the Bible in question (which I have already talked about) and, perhaps more importantly, the theological point that the God of love ordered genocide (even if it never happened, it, at least in the story, happened). So, second, I basically assert that such nationalistic literature was necessary for pepping up the people in response to the Babylonian (or Assyrian?) invasion. Essentially, such literature argues that God kicked pagan butt in Joshua’s time and will do so again now. This might seem like wishful thinking, but the fact that Judges is right next to Joshua in the canon (Joshua and Judges have a remarkably different account of how the Holy Land got conquered) gives me hope that the ancient compilers of scripture were well aware of the historical inaccuracy and were attempting to make another point, namely that God had elected Israel for a special purpose. (I mostly associate my Old Testament classes and some of the commentaries read therein with giving me this way of reading).
- The Bible. The Bible (especially much of the Old Testament) was most certainly not penned in response to the direct verbal inspiration of God. I won’t go into redaction criticism, but I will say that it is better to say the Bible was edited or compiled than simply authored though, of course, much of it was also simply authored. It is all rather complicated. In any case, the point is that the Bible as innerant, infalible, etc just doesn’t hold up. The doctrine of inspiration is, of course, the foundation for much Christian thought. If the Bible isn’t totally free of error in “the original autographs” then how do we know anything about God or salvation? Fair point, I suppose. Basically, I have adopted an entirely different view of inspiration. This view asserts—basically—that my relationship with God doesn’t rely on my relationship with a book. That is to say, God redeems, brings salvation, makes new, etc all through the personal activity of his spirit in the world. While I trust the Bible and certainly think it is authoritative—in the sense that is mediates God’s authority and not in the sense that it is an owner’s manual—I also recognize its limitations. Inspiration, as far as I understand it, means God’s spirit illuminates it and gives it meaning to readers. Humans write texts. God inspires them. Mark is inspired not because it is Peter’s account (though it might be) but because Mark’s story gives meaning—makes sense—for me personally and, more importantly, the church at large. In any case, I have a great personal experience of God and that, in my mind, lends credibility to the biblical witness though, of course, I understand that that is totally subjective, and I am okay with that. (For this view I, again, appeal to my Bible courses at ACU and my own reading of various scholars who still believe, most notably Peter Enns and N.T. Wright).
- The Resurrection. People don’t come back to life, or so science says. The Christian story is false unless Jesus rose from the dead. On this point, I am in total agreement with Paul (1 Cor 15) and the fundamentalists. This is actually pretty easy to deal with. The historical arguments for the resurrection are very convincing. N.T. Wright’s book The Resurrection of the Son of God is all you need to convince you of the historicity of the resurrection. I will also add that my personal experience requires the resurrection to be true in order to make sense. Though, I still have doubts and, on Easter, found myself thinking that this whole “come back to life” business seems like a really convenient way to overcome our fear of death.
There are others, but I think I now want to focus on doubts I have not largely overcome.
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Current doubts which I have not really dealt with:
- Validity of personal experience. Basically, I keep citing that my personal experience helps me, at least, overcome my doubts. I honestly don’t know about the objective validity of my personal experience. When I have spoken in tongues (which I have done) or been miraculously healed (this has also happened) is it just powerful wishful thinking and the placebo effect at work? Do I just need meaning in my life and so I impose this Christian story on the world to avoid existential angst?
- Neanderthals. These guys were intelligent humanoids who could use tools, but they died out completely. Did God not care about them? Were they not made in his image? The biblical story puts humanity right at the center of God’s affections. If the whole deal with Neanderthals is true, then does this biblical story make sense?
- Religion. There are a lot of religions out there, and a lot of religious experiences. While I tend to say that God is operative outside the institutional bounds of Christianity, I still prefer my story to the stories of other religions. It seems convenient, as Rachel Held Evans once pointed out, that the true religion happens to be the one I grew up believing.
- Late development of writing. The primary revelation of God is in the scriptures. Writing wasn’t invented until maybe ten thousand years ago (maybe sooner; I’m a bit fuzzy on the history) but people have been around for millions of years. What was God doing? And, perhaps more importantly, since monotheism and ethical religion seems to be exclusive to civilization (and therefore not present to the millions of people who lived before writing was invented), is organized religion just something we made up to give meaning to the world.
- Soon. Jesus said he would come back soon. Despite the arguments I hear about what Jesus meant and whether his followers expected a return in their lifetime or not, it still seems fishy to me that Jesus is taking forever to come back. I mean, I suppose I trust God’s timing, but sometimes it feels like the whole thing was made up to keep us going. This is one reason I don’t trust pie-in-the-sky-bye-and-bye theology. This is why I don’t embrace retreating and waiting until Jesus returns. In his absence, we should work for a more just society. If he never returns, then we’ve all been duped, but at least there are elements of the Christian and Jewish stories which motivate social change. I think this is one reason I care so much about justice.
Well, there are certainly other doubts I haven’t resolved yet either. But I think this post has gone on long enough.
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No, I don’t have any neat way this time to resolve the tension and provide a solution. I have a lot of doubts. I ignore them a lot so that I can function in life. I think this is as honest as it gets. I will add this quote from David Dark.
It gives me hope, “God will not be sought or found by lying optimism. We are called to call it like we see it.”