This is Part 1 in a series of posts about the Bible. The format of this series is an imaginary conversation between 2013 Me (in bold) and present-day Me (in regular type). 2013 Me is experiencing scary, disorienting, faith-related doubt for the first time and instinctively hoping to fix everything using the Bible….
2013 Me: I have so many questions… Can I just look up the answers in the Bible?
2016 Me: The fact that you have to ask that question should give you a pretty clear answer. Plus, even the Bible isn’t long enough to answer all of your burning questions.
But in the Bible, God wrote down everything that I need to know – at least that’s what I learned in church. Maybe I just need to read the Bible more carefully and then I’ll find all the answers that I need.
Yeah, I’m sure that if you only look harder, you’ll eventually find the hidden Bible passages that address epistemology… (Not really.)
But let’s take a step back. Weren’t you taught to pray?
Of course I was taught to pray! Prayer is probably the most important part of my faith! What does that have to do with the Bible?
Well, if God already wrote down everything that you need to know, then why would you bother praying? Why would the Bible itself tell us to pray? Besides, a lot of religious people claim to have heard some pretty contradictory things through prayer. Why not keep it simple and just read the Bible instead? A Bible with all of the answers can make God functionally irrelevant.
But you were taught that God is often surprising regardless of how much you read the Bible, and your own journey of faith can certainly attest to that! If you had to pick one, which would you rather believe: the Bible has all the answers, or God is worth praying to?
I’d like to believe both! But maybe you’re right – maybe the Bible doesn’t have all of the answers. But surely it has some answers – at least the most important ones! After all, the Bible is Absolute Truth… at least I think it is…. I guess I’ve never really questioned Scripture before.
Oh no! I’m questioning Scripture! I’m not supposed to do that!
I hate to break it to you, but you’re not going to be able to make the doubts go away, whether you like it or not. You’re too curious for that. You’re going to have to face your doubts about the Bible and see where they lead you. There’s no easy way out. Looks like it’s time to ask some hard questions about the Bible
But how can I do that? I was told that the Bible is irrelevant unless I believe that it’s completely true, and I was also told that the only way to interpret the Bible is to accept everything it says as true. By that logic, now that I’m questioning the Bible, it must be irrelevant and un-interpretable! I’m stuck!
It sure doesn’t sound like your relationship to the Bible is very well suited to dealing with inevitable questions.
I have to make it work! I miss how clear and certain everything used to be. Don’t some smart Christians prove that the Bible is true using science and history? I think that’s called apologetics. Maybe if I read some apologetics, I can be convinced that my old beliefs are true after all. I want my old certainty back!
I’m afraid that apologetics won’t quite do the trick for you. Anxiously trying to justify your earlier beliefs will be counterproductive – the harder you try to prove them, the more uncomfortable your doubt will make you. The more you stifle your own capacity to think critically, the more unlikely your beliefs will seem. If there’s any chance of salvaging them at all, you need to let go of them.
But how am I supposed to let go of my beliefs about the Bible? The Bible has always meant a lot to me. I interpret my otherwise scattered and ambiguous life using the Bible. I’ve felt the presence of God while reading the Bible. Almost everyone who I’ve ever looked up to loves the Bible. I can’t give up on the Bible!
Having questions about the Bible is not the same as giving up on the Bible. You can’t turn your brain off, so the sooner you get used to navigating tough questions, the better. Yet because the Bible has been so meaningful to you in the past, you can’t just casually leave it behind, either. In order to navigate the complex relationship of faith and doubt, you need to rethink your relationship to the Bible.
That sounds so risky! Where would I even start?
Like it or not, you’ve already started. We’ve already established that your endless questions make it impossible to treat the Bible as an unquestionable book of answers. Next, we need to dig deeper into the Bible-related beliefs that you grew up with. We’re just getting started!
Click here for What is the Bible? Pt 2: Inerrancy