For the Bible Tells Me So

I wish I was good friends with another me... except more intelligent, better read, more knowledgeable and comprehending of the Bible and theology... and nicer.

Sounds kind of vain, eh? Well, it sort of is. BUT, what I really mean is that I'm really keen on the idea of 'spiritual directors', that is, someone much more mature than yourself, particularly spiritually, who's committed to helping you through tough times. And for someone to be that for me, they have to be at least as philosophical and theological as I, and have a much better grasp of Scripture. The dark nights of my soul fall during times of intellectual struggle which quickly overtakes the heart. Whereas some people struggle with loving God with either their heart or their head, at the expense of the other, this has rarely been a temptation for me. I very quickly internalize, and even moralize, knowledge--especially biblical knowledge.

I was thinking earlier this morning about stumbling blocks. To some folks, hypocritical, nominal Christians are stumbling blocks to faith in Christ. Others are tripped up by the existence of evil amidst the sovereignty of a loving God. Many are offended by God's insistence that they admit their sinfulness and ask His forgiveness. And several simply cannot stomach the exclusivity of the claims of the Judeo-Christian Way. None of these have proven significant barriers to faith for me. They simply resonate with the depths of the knowledge of my heart.

My stumbling block, rather, has been the Bible itself. I cannot escape the utter vitality of it as the foundation of Christian belief. It is the sole guardian against human flesh, will, and intellect, that from birth is maligned by the cancerous virus of sin. If the Bible is not perfect, then nothing on earth is perfect. The vast diversity of philosophies and ideologies--social, political, psychological, moral, religious--that have existed for thousands of years is indisputable proof of that. If there is no Rule of rules, no baseline but consensus, they you and I and the rest of humanity is in a big heap of doo doo. We are naively, dangerously flattering ourselves if we claim that lasting, universal consensus on any of the aforementioned ideologies has been achieved in the company of humanity. No doubt some substantive efforts have been made to do so, with relative success among certain groups of people in certain places at certain times in history. But nothing has been ubiquitous and lasting. Nothing.

Nothing within the capacity of humanity is ultimately reliable enough on which to entrust one's life. Nothing. Not the "best" philosophy, nor the most accurate scientific observation. Nothing.

And so the saying rings true: "Ignorance is bliss!" Those who ignore the fundamental questions of life must surely be the most content, at least for a time. Oh, you know the questions-- Why are we here? How did we get here? Is this present reality all there is? Is death the end of our existence, or is there something beyond it, some kind of immortality? If not, then who the hell cares what happens now, except that I get exactly what I want, when I want it, in the amount I want, for as long as I want it? If immorality is an illusion, then power and domination and exploitation and abuse (survival of the fittest) is the rule. And it has been for many people throughout history--people whose lives we reflect on and shudder--the totalitarian dictators, the mass-murderers, the rapists.

But what if there is something more? What if humanity is in some way destined for one or another form of immortality? What if C. S. Lewis' observation was correct, that the reason life is so often confusing and disappointing is that "we were made for a different world"? What then? Is there a place? Will it be good? Could it be bad? Will we all go there, or are their multiple options? Who or what decides who goes where? And what's the basis for such a decision? Is there any thing I can do to influence the outcome?

Believe it or not, a great many people completely ignore these questions which are most basic to human existence. That is, at least most of the time. No one above the age of, say, ten has altogether avoided asking the question, "Why?" But many people are simply too put out by contemplating such things as purpose and meaning. They just follow their instincts--eat, sleep, poop, pee, talk, sing, sit, stand, lie down, roll over, wipe drool off of cheek, play, go to work to make money so they can do more of this--just like animals who do their thing, and stay busy drinking, hunting and/or gathering to keep themselves alive. They don't care about ultimate matters, much less are driven in all things toward a particular purpose. They are zombies--that is, until they are injected with enough meaningful knowledge to awaken to their need to recognize such a purpose. For all the cynicism directed towards him, you have to give Rick Warren credit for awakening hundreds of thousands of spiritual zombies (yes, "Christian" zombies) to their need to recognize and live for an ultimate purpose. And we ought to be rejoicing over the fact that he has pointed them to the True Purpose, and not some self-help pop-psychology or new age philosophy.

So, to oversimplify things a bit, we see that apart from some Ultimate Purpose, life is utterly void of meaning. And a life of meaninglessness, history will attest, is a life of exploitation of others and ultimately, of self-destruction. In many ways, I consider myself an existentialist, though I have not studied in any great detail those renowned for its scholarly formulations (Kierkegaard, Sartre, et al). And my quest for meaning, during a period of intense deconstruction, brought me to an all-time low. For the first time since middle school, I was contemplating suicide. No loved ones had died. I had not suffered financial collapse. I did not endure wide, public humiliation. I was not without several, very intimate friendships. The world had not turned its back on me. Simply enough, my academic study had "enlightened" me to the probability that the Bible was not an inerrant, infallible repository of The Ultimate Truth. It couldn't be, so I thought. After all, if the Bible "is" perfect, then what is the purpose of the ever-increasing volume of English translations? (For increased clarity and accuracy they say. Hmmm...) If it is perfect, then why do various census numbers of the Old Testament contradict one another? If it is perfect, then why does it teach in one place that Jesus rose from the grave "three days later" and in another, "on the third day" (that is, two days later)? (I have blogged on this issue here.) I could not reconcile the seeming discrepancies. It seemed to me that all hope was lost. Plainly before my eyes, the copy of Scripture that I held in my hands was inconsistent, contradictory.

And so I fell into a deep depression. My pastor couldn't counsel me out of it. My friends couldn't comfort me out of it. Not even my wife could console me. No one stood up to the task that my circumstance demanded. Their efforts, however, were not expended in vain. They may not have had the answers I needed to ultimately rescue me from the pit of despair, but their love for me and their common sense advice was enough to keep the wheels of my car between the white and yellow lines when Satan nearly persuaded me to do otherwise. They told me to hold on tight, because the storm would not last forever. They reminded me of God's tangible faithfulness, both to me and to them, in this life. They promised me that God knew the answers, and that in his perfect time, he would impart them to me. They asked me if I had truly received the Spirit of God through a genuine encounter with the Lord, Jesus Christ. I remembered. Yes, I had. And in time, God exposed the lies Satan planted in my logical framework to derail my faith. Piece by piece, He restored my faith, not just in Him, but in His word. You see, I continued to believe in Him all along. In fact, I wanted to end this wretched earthly life plagued by gutwrenching soul searching and inadequate answers, and go to the perfect bliss of His heavenly presence. I believed in God. I just didn't trust the Bible, my only "infallible" source of sure hope.

Today, I trust it. Even in spite of lingering questions, I trust it, because I have nothing else to trust, because I recognize my fallibility, and because God Himself has proven it true time and time again, to me and to millions of others. My soul resonates with the testimony of the Westminster Confession (1643), that "The authority of Holy Scripture...dependeth not on the testimony of any man or Church; but wholly upon God...Our full persuasion of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof is from the inward work of the holy Spirit, bearing witness, by and with the Word, in our hearts." Yet I remain grieved by the many apparent contradictions, manifested by the broad, historic divergence of theologies and ecclesiologies of the universal Church. I am deeply troubled by the fact that, from a time very soon after Jesus' departure from earth until the Reformation, the preaching of personal conversion and salvation by grace alone through faith alone was largely absent in the Church. That the majority views, both doctrinally and ecclesiologically, from the 3rd or 4th century until the 16th century, presented a Christianity wholly other than that which evangelicals such as myself today profess, is rather frightening to me. Even more so, when I consider the disparity even between the Protestant Reformers and the bulk of modern evangelicals.

While all this is up in the air for me, this I know: that

God stooped down from His heavenly throne,
captured me, washed me, and made me His own.
Entered my soul, my heart and my mind,
Persistently refining me, one day at a time.
Overwhelmed me with peace that defied comprehension,
stilled the storm, and relived the tension
between what was and what I should be,
relinquished my sin and rendered me free.

No longer my conscience crippled by guilt.
For all of my sin, His blood was spilt.
Not merely the past, but present and future.
Adopted, his son, a wholly new creature.
Included in him and forever shall last,
For nothing can wrench me from His unbreakable grasp.
All this I know for His Spirit is mine,
is true to His Word, alive and divine.

My doubts come and they go. They are not steadfast. God is. Prayer is a refuge. His Word is a refuge. In them I find shelter from the storm. By them I am rescued from the bottomless well of despair. On Christ the Solid Rock, I stand. All other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is truly sinking sand.

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