Before we get any further into this series, it’s worth taking a moment to discuss the Bible, considering that the Bible is the foundation of the Christian story. Since it’s so important, this will probably be the longest post of this series.
The Bible has been the “victim” of endless attacks over the past two centuries. It has been labelled as myth, derided as historically inaccurate, viewed as just another spiritual book, or seen as nothing more than a product of its times. To say that the issue is complex would be both accurate and severely understating the issue. So, without going into detail, what can I say about the Bible?
- It’s historically pretty solid. I say “pretty solid” because there are a lot of questions, and those questions get a lot of attention – the creation story, the flood, the exodus from Egypt, the birth of Jesus. Those things are understandable. But despite that, a few details are worth noting:
a) There is a ton of evidence to support the history of the Bible. Archaeology has benefited tremendously from what the Bible says. There is tons of support for the historical figures and places named, events, etc. The questions exist, but they pale compared to what is supported.
b) Many of the questions deal with ancient history. Understandably, the further back you go, the more questions arise. And there is lots that is disputed – but there is very little or nothing (despite claims otherwise) that shows that it is wrong. But boy, are there a lot of questions, both historically and literarily (were some stories history, or just allegory to make a point, or some other literary form?)
c) It’s constantly proving skeptics wrong. Time and time again, when doing historical research, you will find the comment, “historians didn’t believe that such and such a person, [or place, or title, or people group] actually existed as the Bible claims, but recent discoveries show that they did.” It actually makes it harder to believe skeptics when they say something doesn’t exist or didn’t happen. I prefer to wait for more evidence and analysis. Archaeology is actually still a fairly young science, and the art of interpretation can be, at times, somewhat subjective.
- Most skeptics (and most people) begin with an anti-supernatural bias. This is totally understandable, but the Bible is a pretty supernatural book. The result is that much is “written off” for the sole reason that it is supernatural – especially in the life of Jesus. I don’t find that to be a good place to start an honest and open investigation, even if I can understand why people have that bias.
- The Bible requires faith. There is no way to prove all (or even any) of the God parts. The historical parts being reliable can give us some confidence, but ultimately, it requires faith. Those of us who are Christians would argue that it is reasonable faith, not just because of the historical reliability, but because of other factors like the overwhelming evidence of spirituality and morality in human beings, the cohesiveness of the story it tells, and the explanations it gives to life. But at the end of the day, it’s still a matter of faith.
- The Character of God, as revealed, is good. God gets a lot of flack for some of his “judgmental” actions, but there are three factors that stand out as part of his character:
- His love – From the creation of a good world for humanity, to His patience with our sinfulness, to His faithfulness despite humanity’s unfaithfulness, to the full forgiveness and offer of life that He gives us through Jesus, God’s love shines through.
- His justice – God hates sin. When He gets angry, it is due to the sinfulness of people and the destruction that sin brings. And He doesn’t just ignore it – He actually does something about it. We see this in many stories of God bringing about justice, and many words saying that He will one day bring about perfect justice. I must also note that we have no problems clamouring for justice when people offend and hurt us or others, so it’s a bit unfair to get angry at God when He actually punishes people for their misdeeds, or threatens them if they don’t obey.
- His fairness – At times, God’s justice makes Him appear “evil” according to some, but when we combine His justice with His constant warnings, extreme patience (decades or centuries of waiting and warning), pleadings to repent, and relenting from judgment very quickly when someone actually does so, we see a different picture. There is justice, but only when there seems to be no other option and no repentance from those He is trying to get to obey. As well, the Bible constantly talks about how God sees and judges our heart, as well as our actions (which usually flow from our heart), so there is every evidence that He will judge fairly and appropriately.
- Jesus. The central story of Christianity is Jesus. There is a lot to back up both his life and also his death. There are a lot of reasons to believe in his resurrection as well, but that would be a whole complicated post. There are arguments against the resurrection, but I find they include a lot of speculation and the assumption that the Bible is wrong (instead of showing that it’s wrong). The simplest explanation for the rise of Christianity, the radical change in Jewish theology to Christian theology, and the willingness of the first disciples to give up everything for this new faith is that Jesus actually rose from the dead, which radically changed them and their approach to life.
- It is different from other religious books. Again, this would take a long time to get into, but for me, there are two key points. The first is the strength of its history and cohesion through two millennia or more of stories. The second is the person of Jesus and his claims. Again, this does not prove anything, but I do believe that the message and the worldview it presents are distinct from all other holy books (while acknowledging that there are similarities at times, especially when it comes to ethical teaching).
- Its ethical teaching is pretty solid. Of course there are ideas that people disagree with, and some that are hard to understand, but for the most part, when I read the list of things that we are to do and not do, it’s pretty clear to see why, and following its teachings sure leads to the avoidance of a lot of heartache and trouble.
There is much more that could be said, but I want to keep this as simple as possible, so I’ll wrap it up there.
So, are there questions surrounding the Bible? Of course. There are tons of questions from all angles. But at the end of the day, it gives me a story for humanity that makes sense, and allows me to find my place in it. It shows me a God that I can both love and yet also respect and even fear (appropriate fear of One much greater than myself) – Someone who is worthy of worship, especially as He is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.
It’s simple, really. Despite the questions that remain, I believe the Bible is a trustworthy guide to know God and to live a godly (and good) life.