I spent a long time as a Christian. I’m able to look back on much of that time very fondly. I loved my fellow brethren, and I truly wanted to learn more about God’s will and do my best to follow it. But there was also a deep fear tied to my belief. I think that’s fairly common among fundamentalists, but it may apply to more moderate Christians as well.
Where did this fear come from? There are certainly a number of passages that talk about God’s love for mankind:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? – Rom 8:31
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Rom 8:38-39
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. – 2 Pet 3:9
But despite his love, God can get angry too. And you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry:
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. – Heb 10:26-31
The scariest thing about this is that facing God’s wrath will be a complete shock to some people. There are those who think they’re doing what God wants, but are completely missing the mark:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” – Matt 7: 21-23
What if you believe in Jesus and love God, but aren’t doing God’s will? Is your sincerity enough? This was a thought that plagued me when I believed. If some people would get to Judgment Day only to find that they weren’t acceptable, then why couldn’t such a thing happen to me? How did I know my beliefs were the correct ones? My brother and I used to talk about this a lot. Through study, he and I both began to think that a couple of the doctrines we had always been taught in the Church of Christ were incorrect. Coming to that conclusion was extremely difficult. Were we reading and understanding our Bibles correctly?
As an illustration, consider a minor passage: 1 Corinthians 11. The beginning of this chapter says that women should have their heads covered when they pray. But the passage is confusing. Paul says that since women have long hair, they should also wear a covering when they pray or prophesy. He spends several verses giving reasons why a woman should cover her head, but then in verse 15, he also says that her long hair is given to her as a covering. So do they still need a separate one? Most confusing at all, verse 16 says:
If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.
What does that even mean? Does it mean there’s not a practice of being contentious? That sounds like a crazy thing to have to say. So maybe he’s saying that the head covering is not supposed to be a practice if anyone makes a fuss over it. But that doesn’t make sense either. I mean, what other doctrines are given that caveat? Did any of the 10 Commandments have such an escape clause? The whole passage is confusing. What are Christians supposed to do? Either God wants the covering, or he doesn’t, but that passage can be read any number of different ways.
And of course, that’s far from the only vague passage. When you’re raised in a denomination, you’re taught to read the Bible a particular way. “Predestination” means something very different, depending on who you’re talking to. Who’s right? And what if you were raised in one of the groups that thinks they’re right, but to whom God will say “depart from me, I never knew you”? My brother and I realized how difficult it is to unpack all those preconceptions in order to clearly see the scriptures for what they really say. It’s scary.
Here’s the Point
But eventually, I realized that my fear was needless. The Bible says that God is fair, he doesn’t play favorites, he loves us, and he wants us to find the truth. Jesus said “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matt 7:7). If those things are true, then there’s no reason for us to be so worried about getting it wrong, as long as we’re sincerely seeking the truth.
It’s important to realize how significant that point is. If we’re really looking for the answers, then no question is going too far. So if we dig into the Bible and think “it doesn’t make sense to me that God would send people to Hell,” we shouldn’t run from that thought — we should investigate it. It’s okay for us to ask why God would command genocide in the Old Testament. It’s okay to wonder why he seems so hidden. It’s okay to ask why he would inspire people to write a message, but not protect the originals or ensure its accuracy. If God supports our search for truth, then all of these questions are valid. In fact, the people who pursue these questions obviously take the issue seriously. Wouldn’t that be more pleasing to God than those who never question what they’ve been told?
If you believe in God, then have faith in his character. Have faith in his promises. And take him seriously enough to challenge those who claim to speak for him (the writers of the Bible). Don’t let people tell you that you can’t question God whenever you express doubt about a passage. The Bible is not God. So show God the respect he deserves and critically examine the Bible before you accept the claim that he inspired it. If he’s real, he’ll be much more pleased with an honest seeker than with someone who’s too scared to ask the tough questions.
290 thoughts on “Have a Little Faith”
Speaking of Corinthians I, read chapter 14 from beginning to end, skipping entirely verses 34 and 35, then reread it, leaving them in – notice how the flow, the rhythm of the prose is interrupted, resulting in a jarring experience. Could this be the same Paul who advocated making women officials in the church? Paul’s words have clearly been played with, here and elsewhere.
“What if you believe in Jesus and love God, but aren’t doing God’s will?”
Belief and love are expressed by action, not words, feelings or intentions.. So a person cannot say he loves and believes in God if he is not doing God’s will.
When we sin we are acting against the love and will of God.
That God is reasonable and that he created man in his image, is one of the great teachings of the Bible.
Another great teaching in the Bible is that God values reason so much that he changes his will when men reason with him.
Moses, Lot and the Virgin Mary are examples of people who changed the will of God by reasoning with Him.
Excellent article as usual, Nate.
This line, though made me giggle: “The Bible says that God is fair, he doesn’t play favorites”… Except, of course, for “choosing” the Hebrews over all other people 🙂
Jewish Reconstructionists have strongly rejected this concept (rightly so), stating in their 1986 platform: “The idea that God chose the Jewish people for any purpose, in any way, is “morally untenable”, because anyone who has such beliefs “implies the superiority of the elect community and the rejection of others.”
Favoritism is not why God chose the Hebrews.
In fact, any Christian or Jew who deigns to approach God will be tested past endurance.
Being “chosen” by God is a great burden.
So, Si, you’re saying, essentially, that your god is not omniscient, as advertised. If he were, he would foresee that on such and such a day, at some time in the future, so and so was going to reason with him about something and cause him to change his course, and having foreseen that, change his course accordingly before the day arrives, leaving no record of having changed his mind. But because he lacks omniscience, we see instances where he performs such mental gymnastics – is that about it?
Bear in mind, I’m not disagreeing with you, Si, as I’ve done in the past, I just want to be clear on what you’re saying about what would appear to be your god’s handicap.
I said clearly that the Bible teaches that God values reason and that he values reason among men.
That has absolutely nothing to do with the topic of omniscience.
No telling the wondrous insights you might have if you only concentrated upon and thought about the topic at hand instead of whisking yourself off on a personal hallucination.
I find that astonishing. How could they possibly believe in the god of the Bible, and not automatically assume that since the flood – assuming Noah and his sons were – we are ALL Jewish? Asians, Africans, Europeans – just different flavors of Jewish.
Yes, you certainly did, Si, but you corroborated your statement by saying, “he changes his will when men reason with him” – let’s say I borrow five from you, however, I’m omniscient, and I foresee that next Friday, you’re going to catch me in a pub, in front of a group of my friends, and embarrass me by asking for it back – forewarned of this, I slip a five-spot in an envelope and mail it to you, designing it to arrive on Thursday – Friday arrives, I see you in the bar, and you thank me, in front of all of my friends, for promptly returning your money – see how that works?
Another example might be, say, if YOU were omniscient, you would foresee that I was going to say, “FYI, Si – it’s ‘Arch,’ not ‘Ark’ – Ark’s the funny-looking one!” and adjust your comment accordingly, before posting.
I’m just not clear as to whether you’re saying your god HAS no superpower of omniscience, or if you’re saying it only works sporadically. Care to enlighten us?
Open up your file on omnipotence.
God is omnipotent and can do anything he wants including changing his mind.
What’s more, whatever he does, he does for man’s benefit.
So you assuming that God doesn’t know what’s going on simply because of his interactions with man is simply absurd.
Here is what you need to do in order for the Bible to start making sense to you:
Assume that God is right and that you are wrong.
That is perfectly reasonable since by nature God is omnipotent, omniscient, infinite; and you are not.
This is the full platform. They reject “god” as well:
“Judaism is the result of natural human development. There is no such thing as divine intervention; Judaism is an evolving religious civilization; Zionism and aliyah (immigration to Israel) are encouraged; Reconstructionist Judaism is based on a democratic community where the laity can make decisions, not just rabbis; The Torah was not inspired by God; it only comes from the social and historical development of Jewish people; The classical view of God is rejected. God is redefined as the sum of natural powers or processes that allows mankind to gain self-fulfillment and moral improvement; The idea that God chose the Jewish people for any purpose, in any way, is “morally untenable”, because anyone who has such beliefs “implies the superiority of the elect community and the rejection of others”.
You’re not seeing what I’m saying, Si – any god who changes it’s mind, cannot both be omnipotent and omniscient, for if he were omniscient, he would foresee that he would at some point change his mind, and change course accordingly. Please try to keep up – oh, and it’s still “Arch,” not “Ark,” but if it will help you keep things straight, feel free to call me Mr. Opteryx.
Quick question, Si – when you say, “Assume that God is right and that you are wrong.” – does that apply to everyone? Or just me?
If everyone, wouldn’t it equally apply to those who wrote the Bible? Since the Bible was written by Humans, not gods, and if Humans, according to you, are wrong, then the Bible is wrong as well, at least enough of it, that it’s impossible to tell where the wrong ends and the right begins – wouldn’t you agree?
Cool! Very reasonable and appropriately secular. Please feel free to tell them I approve – I’m sure it will make a huge difference.
If my vocabulary seems particularly stilted this morning, it’s because some Australian friends sent me links to a number of episodes of “Rumpole on the Bailey,” and I’m feeling especially British this morning – but much like gas, this too, shall pass.
Oh, I grew up on Rumpole! My father’s hero, together with the very real, Geoffrey Robertson and his Hypothetical programs on ABC.
Well, I’m certainly enjoying them. It all began when my Australian friend referred to his girlfriend of 26 years, as “she who must be obeyed“.
If God can’t change his mind then he not omnipotent.
All-knowingness, all-powerfulness are infinite qualities. That means they are beyond man’s ability to comprehend.
But dumbing down the topic so that it fits inside the biased, agenda-driven atheist mind, is what atheists do.
That is why you find it impossible to look at things from God’s point of view.
Because of atheism you can only see things from your own point of view, which turns you into an intellectual invalid.
And yet you imply that you are quite capable of doing so.
And if he DOES change his mind, he’s clearly, by his own admission, not omniscient.
And finally, my friends call me, “Arch” – although I’ve never particularly had occasion to consider you my friend, I did, however, extend that opportunity to you, which you have now thrice declined, and insist on calling me “Ark.” I am withdrawing my invitation – you may now exclusively call me Mr. Opteryx.
I get the impression that you need to be reminded from time to time, that your mind has the right to remain silent. Anything you say, can, and will, be used against you in a comment of ridicule.
God playing mind games with homo sapiens hardly puts his omniscience in doubt.
But it does give us a bird’s eye view into the importance of freedom and reason; and the nature of God, man and universe.
Reason is but the doorway into the mansion of faith. And God wants man to live in the mansion of faith.
That’s what it is all about.
Getting side tracked into an alternate universe where God’s nature is called into question is a waste of time.
It’s the sound of one hand clapping, or a dog barking up the wrong tree.
Thanks for all the comments, guys!
To your point about 1 Cor 14:34-35 — you’re exactly right about how those verses interrupt the flow of the passage. And as you probably know, some manuscripts show the verses in different places within the chapter, and some other manuscripts have marks around those two verses showing that the scribe was suspect of their authenticity. I believe at least one manuscript is missing the verses entirely. I don’t think the consensus of scholarship is settled on whether or not it’s an interpolation, but it’s certainly suspected of being one.
To your point about favoritism — yes, it’s funny how the Bible maintains that God is “no respecter of persons,” yet he chooses the Jews over all others, chooses Noah and Abraham from all other people, and even chooses Jacob over Esau while they’re infants. The mysteries abound. 🙂 Thanks also for those quotes from the Jewish Restorationists.
I appreciate your comments, but you seem to have completely missed the point of my post. There are no bad questions when examining the claims people make about God. You’re saying that we must take what the Bible says on faith — assume it’s true, because who are we to question God?
BUT QUESTIONING THE BIBLE IS NOT QUESTIONING GOD!
Arch is not calling God’s nature into question — he’s calling into question the conflicting natures that the Bible assigns to him. The Bible claims that God wants a relationship with all of us, yet he’s so well hidden we can question his very existence. The Bible claims that God is purely good, yet other passages say he created evil, and others say he commanded genocide and sanctioned rape. There are so many inconsistencies that Christians are often forced to resort to the rationalizations that you’re espousing so they don’t have to deal with the problems. “The Bible doesn’t make sense? That’s just because you have to assume it’s true before you read it! Don’t know why a loving God would annihilate entire nations and send people to Hell? Well, God’s ways are higher than our own!”
Those are non-answers. They are evasions. And if there is a God, such willful blindness will certainly not be pleasing to him. If you believe in him, then treat him seriously enough to be critical of every attempt people make to speak on his behalf. Because if you’re following the wrong message (you are!), you’re no better off than Mormons, Muslims, and Westboro Baptists.
On the subject of favoritism: it’s important to note according to Genesis 12:1-3 God chose the Jews so that he might bless all the families of the earth. Not saying it always played out that way but it’s important to note the starting point.
Ben! Thanks for the comment — it’s always good to hear from you. And you’re right, Genesis does frame the choice in that light, as well as tying it to the favor Abraham had found in God’s eyes.
For me, fear comes from life in general. I just watched my sister die of early onset Alzheimer’s and lung cancer. She suffered horribly and was not able to verbally communicate her pain (for all we know, her brain was not able to rationalize/understand it either). LIFE scares the s*** out of me, not God. God (in terms of anger) doesn’t scare me at all. If anything, I fear He is apathetic – until I remember Jesus who came into this world to share in its pain and sufferings. Until I remember He submitted to death at our hand. Then my fear of any apathy on God’s part is gone.
I think if Evangelicals could really focus on Jesus’ suffering (on His coming into our plane and experiencing the very real pain and loss of life in general), they would understand that God is not angry. If Jesus is the final Word, then all the other ‘words’ of the Bible must be interpreted through Him, His life, and His teachings about the Father’s love. Truly “Perfect love casts out fear” and “God is love”. Last I checked, God is perfect, so He’s the only source of perfect love. Nowhere does the Bible ever say “God is wrath”.
Oh, well, my two cents. I enjoyed this post – you always make me think! Thanks for that, and Merry Christmas to you! 😀
Merry Christmas to you too, JudahFirst! And I’m so very sorry to hear about your sister.
SilenceofMind, I checked out your blog not too long ago and came away with the impression that you’re not a Christian, which is why I’m confused when reading your comments here.
I can get it if you’re trying to be fair, and reluctant to let anyone accuse the bible of some falsehood or crime that it in fact isn’t really guilty of. For instance, the bible does not command or even suggest that Christians stand outside the gravesites of dead soldiers or homosexuals, shouting “God hates your son,” or something similar. The bible doesn’t say that, so do not say that it does. Let’s be honest and precise in our criticisms of the bible. I agree with that. Is that what you’re more or less getting at, or have you reconverted?
On the “no respecter if persons” thing, I can see where the Hebrews (really blessed because of Abraham) and Abraham and David could be discarded as not applying.
In the cases of the above, perhaps it is that it was the individual’s holiness that caught god’s attention. Perhaps all people could be and would be blessed in similar ways if they also truly were men after god’s own heart. We’ll never know. And for me, I think it’s all fairy-tales, but there are those who do believe.
I think there are other examples of respecting persons, like Saul’s conversion, like all the people born in non-religious homes, or other religion, religious homes. I’m sure if I thought hard enough I could think of others. Hezekiah is one that comes to mind, his life being extended, but you will find plenty instances of children dying horrible deaths all the time. These are harder to rationalize away, I think.