The God Puzzle

Michelle George —  February 28, 2011 — 25 Comments

I started back at uni this week. I’m squeezing in one subject, because that’s all my brain can manage at the moment. This time round I’m doing an Introduction to the Old Testament. The concepts are building on the stuff I learned in last semester’s Intro to the New Testament. Digging down into the way the books were put together and who wrote them and looking at strategies for understanding the way these books were intended to be used.

I’ve only done a week’s worth of reading so far, and my brain is already spinning.

To be honest, I feel as though the rug has been ripped out from under me. I have had questions about the historicity of Old Testament accounts for some time — I never knew if they were actual literal accounts of stuff that really happened or if they were stories to illustrate a point. Were the people real? Or are they merely characters in a story? I grew up in a religious tradition that taught that it if it was in the Bible it was literally true…but is it?

The proverbial rug has been moving for awhile…now it’s well and truly gone. I have to go back to square one, strip away all of these childhood indoctrinations and denominational assertions and try and get an objective view of what these writings were intended to be. Which in reality is not entirely possible all theology is subjective to a degree, but I have to look at these writings at the very least from an academic, theological stand point rather than looking at the Bible through the sanitised and stylised lens of Sunday school stories or through the lens of the church (whereas the church should probably be viewed through the lens of Scripture). I need to find out what these writings were intended for. How are they meant to be used if not to beat me over the head with and have me living in a perpetual state of guilt and angst? How am I to relate to this book?

Discovering that it is accepted scholarship that the accounts in Genesis of the creation, and the flood have been taken and adapted from cultural stories and traditions (some books call them myths) of the region that predate the Israelites and not a unique account of the origins of the earth and the following years was a revelation. The thought that the Hebrew manuscript account of creation indicates that God brought order to chaos rather than creating from nothing in the beginning is an interesting theory that brings more questions about creation versus evolution and the age of the earth. The thought that the creation account is not a statement of fact or scientific description, but a poetic liturgy is a curious twist.  The differences in how the two Genesis creation accounts talk about men and women is another curiosity. The possibility that Moses’ brother Aaron might not have been a man at all, but a representation of another competing religious system….mind blowing! I had no idea that there were other theories or explanations for these things! And I’m only just beginning to scratch the surface. What will I find next?

Learning that the Bible is not a book of historical reportage when I thought it was, is mind-blowing. I don’t quite know where to turn now. I feel as though I’m floundering.

I need to learn to understand how these ancient cultures worked and how the Bible came to be and how it has endured as the normative representation of the origins of Judaism and the Christian faith (not to mention the other canons) and about the the adaptive nature of the canon itself through history.

So many questions!

What does the Bible mean when it says to let nothing be added or subtracted from the word of God….and yet the whole development of the Old Testament appears to have been a process of cobbling together multiple accounts and traditions and a continual reimagination of the stories to suit the needs of the audience…when the Bible as we have it today wasn’t “closed” until the 1600s and yet the majority of it was written thousands of years beforehand …or that the same words appear in other canons and yet by virtue of the fact that it’s a different canon, has had material added or subtracted? I don’t yet know how to reconcile this stuff!

It has become startlingly clear to me that I have been idolising the Bible. The Bible has been my anchor all these years…and now that I am digging and relearning a whole bunch of stuff about it that I don’t yet know how to process…I feel as though I might be sucked into a black hole. But for my personal experience of Jesus in my life, I fear I would be lost. I can no longer just “take it on blind faith” I have to dig and test and discover and find my footing again.

I don’t want to do the typical evangelical thing of swinging to the polar opposite view and ditch the Bible altogether!

I have to rediscover how I am to relate to this collection of reminiscences…to this epic story…to this relating of how people interpreted God’s actions through the millennia. How it came to be viewed as the word of God. I need to find out if and why the Bible has authority.

This picture came into my head very vividly as I prayed and journaled about this the other day:

I have a 3000 piece jigsaw in a box in the cupboard. The problem is that the puzzle pieces in the box are not right. They don’t match the picture on the outside of the box. The box represents the Bible and the picture of God that I currently am familiar with. My historical picture. I have opened the box and started to put the pieces together. The puzzle is God. I know there’s a coherent picture there somewhere if I can manage to put some of the pieces together, but the thing I thought would be the greatest aid in putting the pieces together is no help at all. I have to take my view of God and the Bible out of the tightly controlled box it has been in and check it out in a broader context. I need to get the puzzle pieces to click together so that I can see what sort of picture it presents. It’s a challenge of discovery. I am getting the impression that God is not who I thought he/she was. And that’s probably not a bad thing.

I don’t know how to approach the Bible any more. I need a re-jigged interpretive framework. I still believe it is my best bet for understanding the God of the universe…but how to interpret it, understand it, appropriate it in today’s world…I don’t know. If this collection of traditions and stories has sustained life and faith for this long, there’s got to be something to it.

Sorry for the long, brain dump of a post. I know this stuff probably sounds heretical. Maybe it is. I don’t know. For me they’re just questions that need to be answered, and I have a whole semester of study to go yet.

Have you ever thought about this stuff? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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  • Michelle Neate

    I am hanging for the next post about this. I have often asked myself who decided what books to put in the Bible and why. I like that you are asking these questions. So are we lied to as children at Sunday School???? Are we silly and gullible to take the Bible literally???
    Like you I don’t think my faith could be taken away with different answers but maybe the world could shift a little and perhaps for the better.

    • Michelle George

      Hey Shell,
      Looks like you have some curly questions too. I’m not sure if we’re lied to in Sunday School, or if it’s just sanitised to the point where the actual stories are unrecognisable. I mean, most of the OT stories are pretty brutal!

  • http://spirited.net.au/dean Dean Tregenza

    Just like the institution(s) of the Church, the Bible is a tool of the people of God. It is there for us to read as a community together.
    One of the problems that our individualistic western Greek thinking worldview has created for us is that we forget this.
    In lots of local gatherings of the Christian community the Bible is read and the reader then states “this is the Word of God”. It would be better to say, “in this is the Word of God”. For in the text we may be able to experience the transforming presence of God… but then again we might not! Sometimes we look to hard or read our own ideas into the text.
    I believe that the Bible is something that we must read together to learn about how to wrestle with God.

    • Michelle George

      I like the idea of reading the Bible together…working at understanding it all as a community…provided we are free to ask questions and explore the options without being cut down or ostracised.

  • http://www.eatshootblog.com Trish

    My parents stopped going to church when they were old enough to make that choice for themselves and so I was not raised to believe in God. As I get older I do wonder more and more about spirituality, and I am curious about some religions, but these are usually half-baked musings of a woman staring down the barrel of the big four-oh rather than a serious meditation on the possibility of a Higher Power. Anyway, the point of my comment is that I think it is very healthy to ask questions and challenge your own beliefs, no matter how scary or overwhelming that process might be. The fact that you are taking it to that next level – to actually study theology – must surely be a good thing. You may find yourself looking at things far more objectively as a student, rather than as someone who grew up with a particular view of God, instilled by your teachers at Sunday School. I think what you’re doing is very brave, though I can’t fully comprehend how it must feel to question such long-held beliefs. Good luck.

    • Michelle George

      thanks Trish :)

  • SubwayGeoff

    OK, I suspected that this may have been the direction you were headed, which is why I was asking you questions.

    I went through a similar path, at least superficially, quite some years ago.

    There’s a lot of things I will leave alone for now. Including that so many theological students learn the stuff you are learning but so few teach it once they are ordained.

    OK, one of the most positive things I learnt from a small dip into OT studies wa about the power of myth. Myth always meant fairy stories to me.

    But what I learnt was about the powerful meaning behind the story, and about the effect it can have. To look at the story of creation or the ark, and to debate about whether it is literal or not, misses something powerfully important about the story itself and what it can mean now, or what it did mean then.

    I can illustrate by what Superman comics meant to me as a boy. I loved them, even though my parents hated comics. Yes, I was an avid reader as well. But Superman made me feel that perhaps I had a secret identity, and that I could fly or be powerful over things in the world around me.

    Another view of the power of myth in modern society is provided by Bruno Bettelheim (check Wikipedia) who argues that many fairy tales enjoyed by children are enjoyed over and over because they really help children to find things which help them to cope with a nasty and antagonistic world outside. Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White and the like are stories which young people latch onto, an enjoy, because unconsciously they help the readers to cope with a hostile world. In the same way identified with Superman.

    In old Hebrew days they did not have scientific explanations so there were soany more unknowns. The power of “myth” (in the strongest sense of the word) helped them to understand and to make sense of the world they lived in.

    There are a few examples of myth, in this sense of the world, which I can immediately identify- and two examples I have read theses about myth.

    One example is the stories of CS Lewis. The Narnia chronicles provide many levels of meaning, and can be enjoyed and understood by many age groups- and messages can be understood on many levels.

    The other example is an Australian one- and one where there was a conscious effort to create “myth”. It was the effort to create a formal celebration of Anzac Day. The one minute silence, the playing of the reveille and the last post, and the “Lest we forget” were conscious efforts of committees to find ways of celebrating stories of nationhood which were so lacking in a very young nation.

    Sorry to have taken so much time and space for a response. They are just things which arose out of my own journey- and the most positive things.

    • Michelle George

      thanks for sharing part of your journey Geoff! I agree with you about the power of myth (story) … what I want to find out is how to reconcile this identification with story and the modern need for scientific verification. I think that even today we identify more with a compelling story than with dry scientific fact. Are the two mutually exclusive? Great thoughts! Thanks for contributing to the discussion!

      • SubwayGeoff

        I’m not sure what you mean by scientific verification. I think that’s what I was trying to steer clear of.

        Are you asking if the Genesis story is scientific fact?

        My belief is with the majority that it us not. It is something I struggled with for many years as the messages from my studies in science did not agree with what I was learning at my Baptist church. But that bypasses the message.

        There are many messages in the story and I am not in a position to offer any messages. It’s been too long since I looked.

        I found a great deal of value in looking at what the intention of the writings was. Who wrote what bits, why they wrote, what it meant to the people at the time.

        That’s where I got value from the story/myth angle.

        You’ve reminded me that when I looked at this stuff the first time I went with a much older family friend. At his funeral, somebody said that when he first encountered some of these ideas (I was with him at those sessions) he was quite angry. Not with the ideas or concepts- the reason was that nobody had ever told him these things before.

        I hinted at that in my previous response. This is covered in many theological studies. You are studying OT for the first time, studies which so many students will have already covered. I learnt some of this at the Baptist theological college (I was a resi there) and from a Baptist minister. But I never heard a hint from my years going to a Baptist church. It made so much sense and helped me to resolve many anomalies. But nobody ever dared breathe it from the pulpit. (Well, not before that one guy).

        Just some thoughts which I have really neer expresses before because nobody has ever been thinking along those lines afaik.

        • Michelle George

          when I talked about scientific fact I was referring to the tendency today to not believe something is “true” unless it’s repeatable and verifyable through the scientific method. A naturalistic approach to life that discounts the possibility of the supernatural.

          With regard to Genesis, I was always taught that the Genesis account of creation is literal fact…ie a scientific fact/historical fact. I’m starting to see evidence of other schools of thought about the account and the intent of the first couple of chapters of Genesis that make a great deal more sense in light of the state of creation (geology, archeology etc)

          I think coming to understand that “myth” doens’t mean “fairytale” has been important for me too.

          These are terribly emotive topics and I think that a great many preachers/teachers stay away from controversial subjects in order to keep bums on seats and money in the offering plates. (Cynical I know)

  • Janet McKinney

    Awesome Michelle. I went through this particular challenge too when I did some theological studies on the OT. All I can say is do not be afraid of the questions, and the challenge,. Out of it will come a deeper faith and an awesome love for the message God has given us. This will not be in a literal sense – in fact you will have the literal interpretation that we grew up with blown out the water.

    You begin to see the humanity of the Bible story – how it is an expression of how humans came to grips with their understanding of the almighty and the mystery of a human/divine partnership.

    Ohhhhh joy, – God bless you and keep you through this joyful time as your foundations are rocked, and in place you will find a deeper foundation of a relationship with the divine.

    Bless you

    • Michelle George

      Thanks so much for your gracious encouragement! I appreciate your experience and perspective. :) you are a rare soul :)

  • http://benrhughes.com Ben

    I didn’t grow up with religion, other than Scripture classes in primary school. As an outsider with an interest, it’s always surprised me that anyone takes the Bible literally when it seems so apparent that it’s all myth and symbology.

    One of my favourites is in Gensis where God clothes Adam in a suit of skin and sends him out of Eden into the world. People seem to think God literally went and skinned a cow and made Adam a cool outfit. In their literallism, they miss out on the (somewhat beautiful) symbology of a man’s transition from purely spiritual to physical form. Eden doesn’t exist in this world, at least not according to the Bible.

    Although I’m not sure how, a lot of people maintain their faith once the veil of “ultimate truth” is lifted from the Bible. I hope you’re happy with wherever this leads you, be it to a better understanding and affirmation of your belief, or perhaps to a completely new perspective.

    Congratulations on investigating and widening your world. It’s a suprisingly rare and hard thing for people to do.

    • Michelle George

      I love the possibility of interaction between the divine and mortals, between spiritual and physical. The mystery of it is utterly fascinating to me.

      A lot of people spin off and reject God once they start digging in this stuff. It’s confusing and confronting. A guy called Don Miller wrote a great post about truth and paradigm shifts ( http://donmilleris.com/2011/03/03/when-truth-is-the-enemy-of-truth/ ) worth a read if you have time.

      Learning how to apply and understand the myth and symbology is where I’m at at the moment.

      (I don’t think Eden is a literal place either…from what I’ve read I think it’s a representation of the Promised Land for the Isrealites at the time when Moses was writing. )

  • sharyn

    When I did my 4th year of Uni I did some theology units. Having done 2 years of Bible College previous I went in with a narrow view of what was being studied. I was suspicious and perhaps overly critical of the course work because it did not come from my denomination. We were required to keep a journal thoughout the course and I was very honest about what I thought and why I thought it. It was interesting for me as I read through what I wrote at about the middle of the course to find that I had changed my view on some things. It shocked me at the time to realise that I had been so closeminded at the start. As I continued through the course I adapted a broader look, willing to consider “other” ideas. It was an enlightening experience. I was always careful and prayful (remembering that man is fallen and tries to put God in a box). It is a brave thing to study as you get older. We are less willing to broaden our horizons and perhaps change our decades old beliefs. I hope you enjoy your studies and that they deepen your walk with God and I concur with Janet above. Enjoy!

    • Michelle George

      It’s interesting how we adapt and change as we come to understand more about the truth as we peel back the layers and analyse the concepts closely. This would be a much more disturbing exercise without prayer!
      Thanks for commenting Sharyn…appreciate it :)

  • http://www.bellsknits.com Bells

    it blows me away that you’re going through this process Michelle. That anyone wouldn’t think that the old testament was simply story telling to help a nation understand its culture is amazing to me. The fact that they are just stories doesn’t render them any less important. I wish you bravery and strength in your journey.

    • Michelle George

      Thanks Bells. It’s amazing what we take for granted when we hear it repeated often enough :)

  • Naomi Vear

    Apologies in advance if this breaks blog comment protocol – I haven’t done this before! It’s a bit long …

    Thanks, Michelle, for writing about your experiences – I admire your courage. I’ve had (and probably will continue to have) times where I’ve felt a similar overwhelming confusion as my beliefs were challenged and my questions led to more questions and uncertainty. As you know, I was raised in a Christian home. I became a Christian at the age of four. For me, the questions began in high school with challenges from a teacher about the historicity of the Bible and also the creation/evolution debate. Then for my 18th birthday a friend gave me John Shelby Spong’s Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism and that really rocked my boat. After Year 12 I went to study at Bible College for a year, hoping to sort out some of my questions. There were a lot of complexities to that year and my thinking about theology that I won’t bother with now, but in many ways I came out the other side even more troubled than I began. I was sick of pat answers to things that just weren’t clear cut, that were nowhere near as certain as people wanted to make out. In particular I hated it when people waved the 3 I’s at you: “the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God.” It seemed a man-made overconfidence out of a sense of need for certainty that just wasn’t there.

    Combined with personal issues to do with perfectionism, this confusion led me into deep despair and depression to the point that I no longer wanted to live. However, in the midst of that, I could not deny a conviction that God exists, that he created me and had made himself known to me. Like you, when all else was for a time stripped away, I clung to that experiential knowing. It seemed logical that, if God made me, then I was answerable to him for my life. I couldn’t take my life: that was his business. And so, given the need to live, I turned to the question “who is this God and how can I know about him”? Although I couldn’t answer the intellectual questions, it seemed the Bible was the place to look.

    I began reading it again, particularly the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs. Psalm 86:11 became my regular prayer: “Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart that I may fear your name.” Reflecting on Ps 9:10 (“Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you.”), a journal entry from that time reads: “I must simply trust God. Most beautiful and wonderful of all is the fact that God is fully and completely trustworthy. The foundation, the hope of my life is One who is absolutely dependable. … All l can do is trust Him to be God.” I learnt that to trust God is to love him, to love him is to obey him. I asked him to teach me how to live to honour him and depend on him and he began to teach me. The Bible came alive to me as his word. I had no intellectual grounds for this, I simply chose to do it out of trust and my experience confirmed that it was right to do so. If you’d asked me about the Bible at that time, I would have said something like, “There are a lot of questions I can’t answer, but I know this is a book through which God speaks. You can read it and ask him to speak to you, and he will. You’ll find God in this book more than anywhere else.” So, my trust was in God, and only by extension in the Bible as a means to know him.

    A few years later, new challenges arose to cause doubt. This time the questions centred around authority structures and the role of women in church and society/family. Like a true Aussie, I had a good dose of dislike for authority and really wasn’t at all sure about this submission stuff. I set out on a study quest to investigate. I claimed a desire to know the truth, but I really wanted the truth to be what I wanted, for God to show me that my idea was his idea. Almost without noticing the shift, I stopped coming humbly to the Bible for God to teach me and began standing as judge over it. I was interrogating the meaning of things everywhere, finding things that didn’t make sense, demanding that God explain himself. How could I trust a book that didn’t make sense? What were the authors thinking? Why didn’t they express themselves more clearly? I scoffed at naive people who just accepted things at face value. I never really got to the bottom of my quest regarding authority, but at some point, my life fast becoming a spiritual wasteland with nothing but dry tumbleweeds scattered around by hot angry winds of accusation, I came to God with a genuine desire to know the truth, whether I liked it or not, and I asked him to teach me. I realised that the problem lay with me and not with the Bible. I started reading the Bible with a humble heart again, just accepting that there were lots of passages that I didn’t understand. When I came across them, instead of waving an accusing finger heavenward, I just acknowledged my lack of understanding/acceptance and asked God to teach me in his time. For a while the authority question had to sit on the shelf – probably until I calmed down enough to listen. Then God began to teach me. I won’t go into all the details now, but I learnt that authority is a wonderful thing. God rightfully has all authority by nature of who he is and he has chosen to delegate that authority in certain ways. I came to see submission to God as the most noble and appropriate response of his creatures and the one that brings them true delight and fulfilment. True fulfilment rests in being/becoming what God created me to be. I can trust him in that. I discovered that there’s no happier place to be. I learnt to know God as my provider. I can ask him for anything and he delights to provide for me. He asks for my unquestioning trust and obedience. I will do whatever he asks, knowing that I can trust him. I want to conform to his culture. That’s where I got to about 3 years ago. It was a rich time of growing.

    One of the things I’ve been learning about since then is principles of Biblical interpretation. I think this is the underlying issue behind so many other questions. We are able to communicate with each other by means of language: words with meanings, connected by rules of grammar, expressed in a cultural/historical context. If we use a figure of speech or symbols, then in order to communicate effectively, something in the context has to indicate this. These are the normal rules of interpretation that we use in daily life. The Bible consists of written language. Assume for the moment that it is a message from God and that his intention was to communicate with us. Then it follows that he consistently used the principles of normal communication and we can apply them to interpret his message. (See Charles Ryrie, Dispensationalism, Ch. 5. Hannah, my sister, also recently gave a paper on this topic with respect to Genesis: http://www.understandingthebible.shutterfly.com ).

    Another reason for taking the text literally (which includes recognition of figures of speech and symbols) is that OT prophecies regarding Christ’s first coming were all fulfilled literally. For me, the fulfilment of prophecy is also a strong argument for the divine authorship of the Bible. Foretelling the future with specific, accurate detail is something only God can do. Trial attorney Thomas T. Anderson makes this point in Verdict: Jesus Christ is who he said he was (I have spare copies if you’d like one). As an agnostic, he was challenged by a friend that the Bible is verifiably true. He set out to prove this false, but, after several months’ intensive study concluded it was true and would hold up as evidence in court.

    A third reason Ryrie identifies in favour of literal interpretation is the logical one that, without using a literal approach to interpretation, there can be no objectivity; you will have as many interpretations as there are people. If you go one step further and say that the Bible is only human musings about God, to be interpreted subjectively, and that its greatest meaning is in myth, allegory and symbolism, then you have no way of knowing that anything about Christianity is true. You’re left with making God in your own image (idolatry). All religions would be equally (in)valid and atheists would be right to mock. Richard Dawkins recognises this when he comments to the effect that, unless Adam was a real man, Christianity is meaningless (http://creation.com/dawkins-on-compromising-churchians ). Postmoderns might argue that truth doesn’t matter, but I would ask them to examine if that’s really how they live (for instance, that claim already asserts one truth: that truth doesn’t matter!). See Ravi Zacharias for this topic (www.rzim.org ).

    The idea that the Bible text has a deeper spiritual or allegorical meaning has its roots in Greek philosophy, not in Biblical thought. It was Origen who first developed and propagated this idea in biblical interpretation, taken up shortly afterwards by Augustine. There is an aspect of dualism in it – a separation of the spiritual and physical and denial of the value of the physical or literal. There is also the idea from Plato that anything in this world is only a form, a dim copy of some greater reality. The church at that time had broken away from its Jewish roots and Origen’s style of interpretation helped to deal with passages about Israel which, if taken literally, were not to anti-Semitic Gentile liking. Perhaps it also seemed more learned, more intellectually satisfying.

    I don’t deny that symbolism, parallels and analogies can be seen in many Bible accounts, but I think you have to have your cake before you can eat it. In other words, the literal meaning has primacy and constrains all secondary observations. To give what may seem a ridiculous example from life, when I saw the spark from the bushfire set my balcony alight in 2003, I didn’t stop to consider the symbolism, I ran for a bucket of water. I think the literal message of the Bible is just as crucial to understand. God has told us what he is going to do in the future, and we need to respond and be ready for it.

    Today, one reason many people are unable to accept what the Bible literally says is that it conflicts with other beliefs, such as evolution. From the evidence I’ve looked at, I don’t think the theory of evolution has a leg to stand on. The only reason the scientific community hasn’t rejected it is an ideological commitment to secular humanism/materialism/atheism. It is belief despite the evidence. Some scientists are honest enough to admit this. For example, Lewontin writes,

    “We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door” (R. Lewontin, “Billions and billions of demons,” The New York Review, January 1997, p.31, quoted by Frank Sherwin in http://www.icr.org/article/responding-internet-accusations ).

    I see no reason to question the account in Genesis on the basis of the theory of evolution. Further, it seems to me that the evidence of geology and archaeology supports a global flood catastrophe. I have shelves of resources on this subject if you’re interested.

    My understanding of the Bible has been greatly helped in the last couple of years by the teaching of Dr Arnold Fruchtenbaum. (See http://www.ariel.org.) Now in his 60’s, he is an example for me of someone who has been applying the literal hermeneutic to the Bible since he became a Christian at age 13. His work shows what coherent sense the Bible makes when you take the time to study it in a consistent literal way. As a messianic Jew, he also provides insight into the Jewish context of the Bible. There are many things he says that don’t yet make sense to me, that I can’t yet take as my own, but I’m encouraged to work at understanding the Bible for myself. What I have understood is that the Bible is God’s message about his purposes in history past, present and future. His ultimate purpose is his glory. His plan of salvation from sin through the substitutionary death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, is one of the key ways he is doing that, but there are also other significant themes, such as his purpose for Israel, for the Gentile nations, for the Church, all of which will culminate in the Great Tribulation, 1000-year Messianic Kingdom and then the eternal order. Most of this I’ve just begun to study, but my first sweep through gives me the sense that there’s something to this, the pieces fit together like they belong and I want to go to the next level of detail to confirm whether this is so.

    Sometimes I wish God would make things all a lot plainer, but I think he wants to leave room for us to trust him, so there aren’t any water-tight proofs. I believe there is sufficient evidence, however, to trust the Bible as a unique book in which the words, while written by human authors, were yet, as Paul writes, breathed-out by God (2 Tim 3:16-17 See also 2 Pet 1:19-21, Deut 18:18). They were the words God intended to be written. In 2 Peter 1:16-21, Peter is saying that he saw Jesus glorified with his own eyes, but that we have something even more certain than this, the prophetic word. Most English translations aren’t so good on this verse and reverse the comparison. Then Peter says that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation – it’s referring to the writing of it in the first place, not our subsequent interpretation, although this is also true by implication. So, no prophet spoke of his own initiative, he spoke from God. This is part of the antinomy of God’s sovereignty and man’s free will.

    God’s character and nature provides for the truthfulness/flawlessness and accuracy of the original manuscripts. Based on his sovereignty, it follows that the books we have are the ones he intended us to have. Of course, we no longer have any of the original manuscripts, but comparison of copies reveals a remarkable lack of error in transmission.

    I still need to work on these topics to really have a better grasp of them, but I’m beginning to put the pieces together. As C.S. Lewis concluded with respect to Jesus that he was either a lunatic, liar, or the Son of God; so I think the claims of the Bible are such that they are either delusions, outright lies or they are true. There’s no room for fudging and taking some bits and leaving others or blurring it with symbolic generalisations. I guess I would like to ask people to test it out and see if this book, read as a message in which God says what he means and means what he says, doesn’t speak for itself. From my own experience, I can say that this will only happen if one is willing to lay aside one’s preconceived ideas and beliefs and hear what God has to say, like it or not. It takes a lot of work and dependence on God in prayer. Spiritual truths are foolishness without the regenerating and enlightening work of the Holy Spirit.

    Like you, I’m frustrated by much of the Sunday school experience. What I think would make all the difference is for children to be taught from the whole Bible (ie not sanitised stories, although age-appropriateness should be considered) with explanation as to why and how to interpret it. I also think adults should be more genuine in allowing children to see their lack of understanding and letting children be part of an authentic learning process. We should never feign a confidence we don’t have. I also think it’s important to distinguish between doctrines, which are man-made summaries and syntheses of what they understand the Bible teaches, and what the Bible itself says. Sometimes theologians get so caught up in what they think is the logical outworking of a doctrine that they end up trying to make the Bible fit their theory instead of letting it truly define the doctrines. For this reason, I’m not too keen on the idea of catechisms which some children are taught. At best, they’re like giving children the answer book instead of helping them to discover things from first principles in the Bible itself. With the latter approach, children will know the reason for the teaching for themselves and will be better equipped to accept or reject it.

    I’ve been going through a rather dark and difficult patch at the moment, but I know that, in the midst of it, God is working on some of my rough patches and inconsistencies. In my struggle my confidence in God is strong and I am confident that the Bible is his word, his chosen revelation of himself. I am excited about studying it more to learn what he has said, from the small details to the big picture. I am convinced that he is working his purposes out in my life and in all of history past, present and future and I look forward to being part of that unfolding. I want to be faithful in working to understand what God has told me through the Bible.

    So, thank you for sharing your thoughts. By prompting me to review where I’ve travelled so far, you’ve helped me in my difficult spot. I hope my thoughts might be of some use to you too.

    • Michelle George

      hi Naomi, sorry for the delay in responding. Thank you for your response to my post, and for your vulnerability in posting such a personal testimony. It is certainly an interesting journey that we are on. There are some things we’ll end up on the same side of the fence on, there are others that i’m sure we will disagree on.

      Thank you for your encouragement!

  • bleach

    If you go one step further and say that the Bible is only human musings about God, to be interpreted subjectively, and that its greatest meaning is in myth, allegory and symbolism, then you have no way of knowing that anything about Christianity is true…

  • naruto0506

    There are some things we’ll end up on the same side of the fence on, there are others that i’m sure we will disagree on.

  • rain0506

    I believe that the Bible is something that we must read together to learn about how to wrestle with God.

  • grandydula

    If you are confused on reading the Bible, pray first and tell God to give you wisdom to know His words and surely he will give you the wisdom to know it by heart.

  • diamond56

    The bible is the instrument of finding God’s way closer to God. Thanks for sharing this blog, have a nice day, keep it up!