Doubt and the Bible

A good friend of mine recently challenged me to write more on how to create community that is more receptive and better at walking with people through doubt. The truth is, I'm not sure how to do it. What I can do is lay it all out on the table and share my journey in the hopes that it might provide some safe space for people to experience and work through doubt themselves. If you know someone who has serious doubts about God, The Bible, Jesus and other aspects of Christianity, I think the best thing a person can do is listen. I've done the evangelism thing and I've had it done to me. But when I was going through life altering doubt, the last thing I wanted was to be evangelized. I could smell it a mile away and actively avoided it. I wanted someone to listen.

Unfortunately here, the best I can do is (hopefully) empathize.

Work Out
The Bible is a crazy collection of documents. There are 66 books in the Bible, and most of them can give us ample reason to be launched into serious periods of doubt.

There are moral dilemmas like Abraham being asked by God directly to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 32:1-14), even though we learn that God is very much opposed to child sacrifice to gods such as Molech (Leviticus 20:2-5, Jeremiah 32:35). One explanation for this strange discrepancy is that God never really meant to go through with the sacrifice of Isaac (and in fact doesn't go through with it). Somehow, this explanation is supposed to make it O.K that Abraham in tandem with God emotionally scar a young child for the rest of his life ... because God needed to prove a point.

And then when you look ahead to Jesus, he says ""Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." (Matthew 19:14) Honestly, this can just compound the problem but here's the kicker. If reading Jesus' words compounds problems you find in the Torah, I submit that it's because you were taught from a young age to read the Bible forwards, when you should have been reading it backwards. Confused? Here's a few more examples to further muddy the waters.

Israel is directed by God (whom the Apostle Paul calls "the God of peace" in Hebrews 13:20) to essentially commit genocide by wiping out an entire nation (Hosea 13:16 among others). There are also apparent problems of God's nature throughout much of the Bible, but the discrepancies are most apparent in the Torah. At times, it looks very much as though God changes God's mind (Exodus 32:14), and then other times we are told (straightforwardly, I would add) that God never changes His mind (1 Samuel 15:29). There are even inconsistent details in various accounts of the same event (Chronicles 21:5 vs 2 Samuel 24:9).

These aren't bedtime story or fairytale problems.

Before I continue, the Talmud, which was conceived in both Jerusalem and later in Israel's Babylonian exile, was an oral law for Israel that explains how to carry out the written laws of Torah. It's basically what Christians do now through Christian lifestyle books. The Talmud is better though. It is an official Jewish partner to the Torah and records both majority and minority views that respected Rabbis held on the Torah. The idea behind adding minority views was that minority views are profitable for future generation to see every angle, and to ensure that no stone is left un-turned in the search for truth.

Take, for example, Moses' commands on divorce. There were two main Rabbinic opinions on what exactly constituted a legal divorce. First, there was the school of Hillel, which contended that divorce could happen for any reason. The school of Shammai contested this, saying that divorce could only happen with cause, and the only cause worthy of divorce papers was sexual immorality. Then Jesus comes along and sides with Shammai, but his reasoning cuts through both views: He says that Moses gave commands regarding divorce because people's hearts were hard. So, no hardened hearts = no need for divorce laws.

I'm going to come back to this.

As for the many apparent contradictions and other problems we can find in the Bible, there seems to be just about as many explanations. In a way, the internet has created it's own decentralized version of Talmud. From Got Questions' mind bending re-interpretation of scripture to "make it fit" to Peter Enns throwing the idea of Biblical inerrancy all the way out the window, it can be too much to figure out. I just spent an hour reading through a labyrinth of material on Bible contradictions, and that was from just one website.

You can see it here:

One of the themes that came up in several of the AIG articles was the idea that our approach to Scripture is what often leads us to find problems that aren't otherwise really there. I couldn't agree more! However, the standard Evangelical and fundamentalist/literalist approaches to the Bible from which this statement arises are a big part of what caused my own "Oh no! There are irreconcilable contradictions in the Bible!" crisis of faith.

I wonder how many more people are going down that same path?

I can't put all of the pieces back together (I don't have the will power), but I hope that with the help of some friends, I can provide an important missing part of the puzzle: Jesus.
When we look in the gospels at the interactions between Jesus and the Pharisees (and we focus on the Pharisees here more than the Sadducees and other groups because they, like us, put a high value on all of Scripture), we see the helpful correctives he offered them regarding how they should use their own Bibles. I am convinced that our current Evangelical church needs to hear these same correctives today.  
I think of passages like Matthew 12:1-8 where Jesus’ disciples scandalize the Pharisees by eating grain on the Sabbath, and Jesus responds by teaching the Pharisees how to read their own Bibles. Jesus says to them, "Haven’t you read in the Scriptures what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He went into the house of God, and he and his companions broke the law by eating the sacred loaves of bread that only the priests are allowed to eat. 5 And haven’t you read in the law of Moses that the priests on duty in the Temple may work on the Sabbath? 6 I tell you, there is one here who is even greater than the Temple! 7 But you would not have condemned my innocent disciples if you knew the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ 8 For the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!” (Matthew 12:3-8, NLT)
Excerpt from "The Authority of the Word of God in Flesh and Print" - Bruxy Cavey

I have come to believe that the answer to the contradictory dilemmas found in the Bible are resolved in the person of Jesus. With the divorce example above, Jesus resolves the problem of divorce laws by making us into a new creation, which includes our hearts (2 Corinthians 5:17). The Bible itself can do no such thing. It can only instruct. Yet I think we tend to look to the Bible for such a salvation.

Reflecting on Jesus, the apostle Paul writes concerning 'God's perfect Law'.

"The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming--not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship." - Hebrews 10:1

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ." Colossians 2:16-17

For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." - Galatians 5:14

This isn't a slam against Torah. The Apostle Paul is merely pointing out what I have been pointing out. If the Law is only a shadow, then so is the rest of the Torah. Shadows are incomplete representations of the realities casting them. What Paul is doing is pointing to the fulfillment of Torah. Jesus is the true and better Moses, who leads us out of the exile of sin and death, and into the promised land of right relationship with all of creation and God himself. Jesus gives us the Law of the spirit, which is ggain by faith and is true freedom. Jesus is the true seed of Abraham, through whom the whole world is blessed (Galatians 3:16). Jesus is the true and better David, who faced the last giants to be faced and won. Just as David's victory was imputed to all of Israel, so Christ's victory over sin and death is all the more imputed to us: both Jew and non-Jew (Romans 2:29).

Instead of wringing our necks and breaking our backs to please God by being good, Jesus gives us a new way to be human. We don't need to seek God's approval, because we are already accepted,  loved and forever forgiven as his Children through Jesus, even if we are yet resisting Jesus. There's no need to convert from one culture to another, no need to follow certain religious practises or rituals. The only need is Jesus himself. Because of what he has done, we are free to be ourselves and approach God with confidence, speaking to him directly as one speaks to an old friend or a wise mentor.

Doubt then, as it concerns the contradictions of the Bible is only faith shattering if Jesus himself is not the centre of that faith. I will boldly say that If Jesus is not the absolute centre of the Christianity you know, then it's a faith worth the risk of shattering for something better to emerge. Again, everything in the Bible that is not Jesus is essentially incomplete until Jesus is placed in the key central position of final authority. This is by the Bible's own admission. 

"If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him. Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us." Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? (John 14:7-9)

"Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me." (Matthew 28:18)

Wind Down
In many protestant conceptions of Christianity, we've functionally eliminated the idea of Talmud from our doctrines and are quick to punish minority views. This comes in part from how the reformation reeled against the Roman Catholic church, which views church tradition as having equal weight with scripture. To be fair, the Roman Catholic view lead to all sorts of problems like the Church charging people money to light candles to get loved ones out of purgatory. Lucrative? Yes. Moral? No. The printing press blew up Roman Catholic dominance of Christianity, and now the internet has seriously disrupted the quaint island of protestant orthodoxy. But by placing the Bible at the centre of Christianity, protestantism essentially did an equal but opposite (and equally problematic) about face to Roman Catholicism.

The protestants argued that The bible, not Church tradition was the final authority. But the Bible itself makes no such claim. The Bible, in contrast to both Church tradition and Scripture as final authorities tells us that Jesus has final authority (Matthew 28:18) and that scripture is useful for instruction.

So, by all means Read the Bible. Read it daily. Meditate on scripture. Fill your head with the knowledge of God and let scripture instruct your heart. But in all of that, follow Jesus and look for Jesus in all of scripture. Without Jesus, the Christian faith is nothing more than a house of cards waiting to come crashing down.


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