Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Must the Bible Be 100% True?

Everything else is debated. History and science and geography and even language, are re-written daily. What can be considered "true" in our world is only what is socially accepted today. Why not the Bible, too? After all, there are a lot of people who consider its claims laughable. Why sacrifice credibility for the details?

If the Bible be only partly true, then we are left trying to decide which parts are trustworthy, and the Bible is rendered lame and disjointed, having no authority. It becomes a compilation of thoughts and experiences rather than the revelation by God, through history and culture and experience, of himself.

Then, is it necessary for God to be known through the Bible? What about our own personal experience of the Eternal?

I do understand the draw to focus simply on the individual experience of God. It is wearying to me to deal constantly with what must be dealt with if a perfect, holy God be communicated through the imperfections and complications of language and history. In addition, we are living in a period of history that is witnessing an unprecedented mistrust of the printed word. In a world thick with lies, it is indeed much easier to let go of the Bible as a revelation of God. It is so hard to obtain real, trustworthy knowledge about anything in 2007! Even doctorate-level study leaves so many questions that the experts argue bitterly about what may be known - so my measly B.A. offers me no intellectual authority. The temptation is almost overwhelming to give up and cease to strive for knowledge. Yet in so doing, humans become fools, denying our nature. We are not mere animals; the intellect, though imperfect, will not be denied.

And then, how much is lost if we lose the authority of the Bible! Through my experience, I can know with certainty that there exists a being full of love and worthy of worship. But without the Bible, there are no answers, no attempt by such a being at communication with my intellect, no reasons why the world about me and my heart within are so rich in loveliness and intricacy and yet so devastated by ugliness and selfishness. I can be certain of no savior, no one who is both able and willing to lift me out of the filth that I see all around and within. God I may know in my heart, but Jesus - he stepped into time, into space, into history. If there is no trustworthy record of the Christ, then I have no sure hope - just a blind, desperate cry to the one I have sensed. The Christian God becomes like every other God - a being who says "Come up to me"; not the one who shared the human experience - even death - in order to lift me up, to let me do what I could not.

While it is true that I have experienced God outside of the Bible, my sense of him comes and goes. It is trustworthy because it matches what I can know through cold, hard reasoned thought based on what may be read by me and verified by others in the Bible. I went through a long year of searching for God, during which he was silent to me and seemed infinitely far away. Without the promise and the appeal to reasoned knowledge I found in the Bible, I could not and would not have continued to search for him. Nor would I have known who such a person was when he did reveal himself warmly to my heart: I recognized him because of what I had read about him. The Bible continues to rearrange my assumptions about God, which can just as easily come from what I want to be as from my experience of him. My knowledge has to be continually pared and re-shaped so that I may know God as he is. Reason is not THE path to truth, else love and truth be forever separated, but it forms the fence that keeps wandering feet on the path. It tells us what truth is NOT.

If I can know God only in my deep heart, and not with my intellect, then why have I been created with the ability and the need to reason? How can I be sure that my experience of God is "real"; not merely a sense, an illusion? How can I be sure of my own sanity? Why should my God be the one who is, when others have believed in other Gods? Why should God be so subjective, when the world he created is not? If I may know such a God in a way that cannot be communicated nor made openly available to others for logical analysis, am I not arrogant to speak of him?

No, I cannot accept a God who speaks only to my soul. I am also body and intellect. I need a God who communicates with my senses, with my intellect, and with my deep self - all three, else even trusting him, I dare not trust my experience of him.

20 comments:

patrickio said...

hey jennypo. i severely recommend the book "Blue Like Jazz" by Donald Miller. very good. lots of love, your favourite brother in law.

Heather said...

Hi, Jenny.

I have thoughts, as usual. :)

**If the Bible be only partly true, then we are left trying to decide which parts are trustworthy, and the Bible is rendered lame and disjointed, having no authority.** Not necessarily. The first catch is that believing that the Bible is not inerrant doesn’t translate into the Bible only being ‘partly true.’ (Partly being interpreted as 50% or halfway true). There is a difference between being a work of inspiration, and being a work that’s literally true. Something can also be trustworthy without being literally true – one response I’ve often noticed to people who say that the Bible is not inerrant is that the Bible must then be full of lies, and those who told the stories also liars. To me, that response doesn’t work. Take Genesis 1. The creation of the universe, and the model that it sets up, is pretty much like the other creation myths of that time. Today, we would know that those creation myths are wrong. But we wouldn’t say that the creation myths are lies, because the people weren’t setting out to deceive others, but trying to find a way to connect to creation, and take part in it. The stories were true to the people of that time, and are still true today, in the sense that God creates. But the creation myths aren’t literally true.

It also depends on the viewpoints of the author. There are verses in the Gospels that indicate Jesus would return within the disicples lifetime. Early Christians also believed this, and I think that’s part of where Paul’s intensity comes from in his letters, because he seems to have also believed that. There are other verses that indicate Heaven was literally above the clouds. The fact that neither are true doesn’t mean that the writers were lying, but writing from their own perspective, and how they interpreted events.

Then again, we view the Bible differently in terms of its origin. I don’t see God as ‘directing’ it, word-for-word, but rather people writing about their encounters with the Divine, and how God was manifested in Jesus.

jennypo said...

Hi Heather,
My concern is not that the errant Bible becomes a pack of lies; it's that it becomes stripped of its authority. How can we KNOW that God is a creator unless he tells us so? How then is God communicating with us intellectually? If the Bible is not objectively true, all the time, then how can we know that it is true for us, today?
It is indeed foolish for us to assume that the absence of objective truth is necessarily a lie; but we do need to assume that information that is not objectively true is not trustworthy for me, today, just as the Epic of Gilgamesh is an interesting piece of literature, and not a lie, but carries no authority and affects me not a whit unless I am studying history. Even then, the context is much more resonant than the content. If the Bible is placed in this category, then it becomes exactly what you see it as: the story of some people's experience of a God, not the revelation by God of himself. Then why trust the Bible and not the Koran; the Bhagavad Gita; the writings of Buddha, to tell us about God? Or, trusting none, shall we accept that the God who created us with such a need and ability to reason left us without an intellectual communication from himself?
I do agree with you that the writers wrote from their own perspective. I don't think it is realistic, nor is it necessary, philosophically, to suggest that they fully understood the objective truths that they referred to.
But by what means are we to know God intellectually if the Bible is nothing more than a collection of individual views sincerely believed but unguided by the one they purport to reveal? How can we, through reason, be sure which aspects of the Biblical narratives are simply myth and which parts objective truth? How can we know that God did, indeed, create us?

Heather said...

Jenny,

**If the Bible is not objectively true, all the time, then how can we know that it is true for us, today?** The problem with this is what happens if it's applied to a historical text -- no text is objectively true, and yet much of it is still true for us today, and we can learn from it intellectually. And it can still carry authority, even if not objectively true.

**If the Bible is placed in this category, then it becomes exactly what you see it as: the story of some people's experience of a God, not the revelation by God of himself. Then why trust the Bible and not the Koran; the Bhagavad Gita; the writings of Buddha, to tell us about God? Or, trusting none, shall we accept that the God who created us with such a need and ability to reason left us without an intellectual communication from himself?** I would trust one over the other because of the principles applied. If there are certain ways the writers say one knows about God, and I try those ways and it produces the results the writers say it will, then the writing carries authority for me, and has something 'more.' I tend to see the revelation of God as Jesus, and then people trying to find ways of putting that into words -- and Jesus's presence showed othe rpeople how to 'access' God, or how God communicates (such as Paul), and then he had to find words for it.

**But by what means are we to know God intellectually if the Bible is nothing more than a collection of individual views sincerely believed but unguided by the one they purport to reveal?** I would say again it would be due to the results produced. Part of the difficulty in using the word 'intellectually' is I don't think we can know God intellectually. I think we can use it to reason out what the BIble is saying, and to understand such statements as 'God is love' on an intellectual level. But usually when I 'get' what the means, it's because it's something that's beyond intellect or beyond emotion. And then afterwards, my intellect steps in and says, "According to what I just read, that was God." And thus the writers come across as knowing something about God, about being inspired about their encounters with the Holy Spirit, or with Jesus. I tend to look at based on my encounter with the 'beyond intellect.' There's that brief moment, and then I have to try and find the words to explain it, and that seems to be what Paul does a lot. Trying to put something that's 'beyond' into words to engage the human intellect.

**How can we, through reason, be sure which aspects of the Biblical narratives are simply myth and which parts objective truth?** On a side note, I don't think we can ever know which of it is objective truth -- we don't have the means to determine that, because of our subjective viewpoints.

**How can we know that God did, indeed, create us? ** We can never really know that, 100%. Taking the Bible as truth, either inerrantly or otherwise, is a matter of faith.

joeyanne said...

Oh I am learning a lot from reading this post and your comments, Jenny and Heather. Not learning new things, necessarily, but developing thoughts and ideas to new levels. I, as you know, already think that the Bible is divinely inspired. But I hadn't really thought about how it is written from the writers' perspectives/their interpretation of the events. And I like this. It is true, they were writing from their perspectives - in their time. But, I must add to this thought and not leave it there. Their perspectives and the words they used to describe them, were inspired and guided by the Almighty God. He knew these words would be used to communicate Him - more even - He planned that those words would be used to communicate Him. Because He has proved in my experience that He is interested in me knowing Him - He communicates Himself to me - I MUST conclude that He would communicate to the world, else His character be different than I know it to be. My experience of Him completely backs up the idea of a God who reveals Himself through written word, exactly as the Bible reveals Him.

jennypo said...

Heather,
Not trying to be argumentative, but just a couple of things:
"I would trust one over the other because of the principles applied. If there are certain ways the writers say one knows about God, and I try those ways and it produces the results the writers say it will, then the writing carries authority for me, and has something 'more.' " (Heather)
Does this mean, then, that I must put each religion's writings about knowledge of God to the test before I can know which one is true of God? If religious writings are ALL true based on what truth they share, then such truth is so shadowy an idea and so slender a thread as to be almost useless! And then, what about the millions of people who disagree with me? If I be the sole judge of who God is based on what resonates with me personally, isn't this a bit arrogant? Can it be that God has revealed himself only to me and a few others, most of whom happen to be from the same culture as me?

I also need to define what I mean by "authority". By "authority" I mean something by which the possessor may be trusted without being understood. That is, if my professor explains a certain thing to me, a thing of which she is quite sure, and I cannot understand it, nor does it resonate with me, I can trust what she says. I MUST trust what she says, at least until I gain further knowledge about it, because her education gives her authority over me. If a police officer tells me to get out of my car, even if there seems to me to be no reason to do so, I obey because his position gives him authority over me. The Bible often tells me things that I do not want to accept; I do not see how they can be true. But because I accept its authority as coming from God, I can accept those things until I understand them, without making myself a fool. The God who reveals himself does reveal himself to my intellect, and I usually do understand them eventually.

"Taking the Bible as truth, either inerrantly or otherwise, is a matter of faith." (Heather)
If that faith be based on nothing that is available to all humanity, then what is it? We end up with "if you believe hard enough, it will be true for you." I could have accepted that, if I had not had an experience that flatly contradicts it. I went out one very, very rainy day, and took my favorite umbrella, thinking smugly that I would remain dry despite the rain. I fully believed that umbrella would keep me dry - in fact, it didn't even occur to me to doubt. As it turns out, there was a hole in my umbrella. I became aware of being wet even before being aware of the hole! My belief didn't make it true for me!

The character of God, and my relationship with him, is the single most important thing in my life. I need more than a hope-so, think-so, maybe-so that just might end in a big 'OOPS'! If the Bible is not a completely trustworthy revelation by God of himself, then we are each left to our own devices, and my Buddhist and Hindu friends are just as likely as me to be right about God. (More likely, since they are more intelligent than I am!) :^)

Heather said...

Joeyanne,

I'm glad the conversation is benefitting you. I know what you mean about the thoughts going to new levels -- I've had situations where I've always known something, but then really had it sink in, if that makes any sense.

Jenny,

You're not being argumentative -- we have different viewpoints, and are stuck using the written word only to explain them, without the tone to soften anything. No worries. :)

**If I be the sole judge of who God is based on what resonates with me personally, isn't this a bit arrogant? ** It's not just a matter of resonating personally, though. To me, that says, "Well, I'm going to follow this because I really, really like what it says." I'm talking more about the claims of the 'peace that passeth understanding' or 'overcoming evil with good' passages, and seeing if those truths can apply to my life. Some people do have to put all the religions to the test. Others simply know after examining the first one.

**By "authority" I mean something by which the possessor may be trusted without being understood. ** The thing with this example, though, is that the professor and the police officer have 'earned' the authority, in a way. If they ahve those two titles, we know what that entails, what their responsibilities are and what they did to gain that authority. So initially, even if we don't understand their reasonings or spefific points in the beginning, we know enough about the position to trust them. However, we also know enough about the position to evaluate what they're saying/doing against the general knowledge of the position, and they can lose that authority. Same with the Bible -- we apply our general knowledge to its authority.

**If that faith be based on nothing that is available to all humanity, then what is it? ** I may not be understanding you here -- are you saying there is a way to prove that the Bible is inerrant? I'm not sure there's a way to do that -- inerrancy seems to come across to me as accepting the Bible that way as a matter of faith. Because the thing about your example with the umbrella is I wouldn't see that as smug belief, but rather as knowledge based on prior experience. You knew the purpose of umbrellas, and weren't aware that it had a hole in it. It wasn't a matter of simple belief, but of a factor of experiences.

**I need more than a hope-so, think-so, maybe-so that just might end in a big 'OOPS'! ** I don't see non-inerrancy as being reduced to a 'hope-so, maybe-so.' Again, this is because of my encounters with God -- I don't see any sincere desire to follow God, or any sincere desire to be good, as ending up in an 'oops' regardless of what religion one follows.

MarcoPolo Press said...

"Reason is not the path to the truth."

May I test you? I shall anyway. What is the path?

jennypo said...

Hi MarcoPolo! Welcome to our little roundtable!

Your question forced me to go just where I love to go: outside of my own head, and to the Bible. Thank you.

I decided the answer was worthy of a whole post of its own.

Beautiful Feet said...

The thing about scripture is that it challenges us to define truth from within us and in our everyday lives. In the end, I learned to rightly divide the word of God - to discern what was of human nature and what was of divine.

Slapdash said...

Hi. This is a really interesting post. Let me admit up front that I have mostly scanned the lengthy comments here, so forgive me if I ask something redundant.

Jennypo, what I am hearing from you is that you very much WANT the Bible to be authoritative and infallible, that you WANT something to help you better know God.

My question to you is, on what basis do you ACCEPT that the Bible is infallible and authoritative?

I do not mean that in a hostile, challenging way. I mean it in an authentically curious way...because for many many years I accepted the Bible as the infallible, Holy-Spirit-inspired Word of God. But I did so largely because other people told me it was so, the Bible itself told me it was so, and I wanted it to be so.

Does that actually mean the Bible IS so?

There are a lot of people in the world who might point to other documents or books and claim they are authoritative, inerrant, the way to know God. They might point to the same kinds of things I think you do, and I used to - the document itself claims to be authoritative, other people have told them it's authoritative, they have had some kind of mystical or emotional experience that seems to confirm that it is authoritative.

Does that make it so?

jennypo said...

Slapdash,

Yes, you have understood correctly that the point of this post was not to deal with the veracity of the Bible, but with the need for veracity by those who accept the Bible. That is, if we aren't going to admit that the Bible must be absolutely true, then we can't use it to back up anything we say, or as a reason for accepting anything, because we have first decided which parts of it to accept.
It is not merely that I strongly WANT the Bible to be true, but that I recognize the need for truth and consistency. Without the Bible, the Christian has only a vague sense of things spiritual, which cannot be easily separated from our own personal thoughts and can very seldom be communicated. By sacrificing the inerrancy of the Bible, we have made Christianity itself into a thing so vague that almost anything may be said of "Christians" - there is nothing to define what a "Christian" even is!
That said, is the Bible really true? Is it inerrant? How do I know? And the real question - Is it possible for you, Slapdash, to know?

In order to make the statement that the Bible (which I assume we can all agree to have been written and then transcribed and later printed by very fallible human beings,) is nonetheless inerrant in its message, we have to insist that its writing was directed and overseen by an infallible God interested in revealing himself to human intellect.
Is it possible to not know that God exists and also know that the Bible is true? I don't think so.
If it were, then I could simply explain to you for which reasons the Bible were true, and then you would automatically know that God exists, and we'd never have to have any discussion at all. The real trouble is that most truth, in order to be trusted, must be experienced. And truth about God must begin with God.
It is experience that is illuminated by the Bible.
So what do you do then - just "have faith"? Please don't.
I'll try to explain how I know the Bible is true, but please do not confuse this with an attempt to convince you. I know that you can't trust what I know about God.
I originally read the Bible without needing to question whether or not it was true. Kids can do that, but it's usually a dangerous thing for an adult to do. I was also quite young when I came in contact with God, about 10 years old. Thus, I knew him, or knew what he was in relation to me, without really knowing who he IS. This was dangerous, and I began to have serious questions in my first year of university, when most people begin to have serious questions about things. Since then I have asked many questions about God. There is only one (a few months old) that I am still waiting for an explanation for - all the others have been answered. Sometimes I have had to wait years for an answer, but they have always come, almost always through the Bible. I have come to realize that there is really only one question. Either God doesn't exist, or he does exist and doesn't care about revealing himself to the human mind, or he does exist, and he does care about revealing himelf to the human mind and he does that in the Bible. After all, what other book claims to offer inerrant truth about God, let alone the kind of God that has spoken to me?
As I came to know who is the God I early experienced, I saw him reflected in the Bible, often in ways that surprised me, but offered me a broader understanding of what I had already known.
God's communication with me inside the Bible and outside of the Bible has always matched. The God revealed by the Bible matches exactly the God I have known through experience. The God I know could not allow me to be misled.
Can any of these things convince you that the Bible is true? I really hope not, because they are ultimately based on the trustworthiness and nature of a God I know through my own experience.
Without unmistakable experience how could anyone ever be expected to put their faith in God? Without intellectual understanding, how could that God ever then be communicated or worshipped intelligently by anyone but a child?
I know this will be an unsatisfactory answer to you. My mind rebels at the thought that in saying this, I will appear a fool, but I would BE a fool to sacrifice the truth of what I have experienced and known to pride. Ultimately, the only satisfactory answers we can really get about God are from God.
But I must try to communicate, not so that you will believe me, but in order to be responsible, reasonable. I do hope that my experience will give you enough hope, enough hunger, to continue searching for Truth and Love rather than for that big magician in the sky.
My point originally was that those who appeal to the Bible for truth must accept it all; but I believe that those who don't know that God exists can only read the Bible as a history book. If it is truth, then it will reveal God even when read in this way. You, Slapdash, may hope for truth in the Bible. You may read the Bible without any knowledge of its truth, but seeking truth. God doesn't ask you for faith when you don't know him.
But I who know God must read it differently and I must respond differently. Those of us who know him can and must trust that the Bible is true.

jennypo said...

Oops, sorry, that wasn't quite the end.
There is a theory afoot that the Bible never claims inerrancy for itself. What the Bible does clearly claim for itself is inspiration by God.

"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness." (2 Timothy 3:16)

If God inspires an errant book, what good is it? Either it leaves more questions than it answers, or God himself is fallible. If God is fallible, then why should we care what he says more than any other thinker?

Heather said...

There's a difference, though, between inspiration and inerrancy. Let's say a man writes a book of poetry, all inspired by his wife. He gazed at her lovliness and saw her compassion in action. But his wife had no active part in composing the poetry. Rather, it was the man writing of his encounter with his wife. Inspiration doesn't necessarily correlate into dictation.

Jenny, from how I'm reading this, you seem to be saying that either everything in the Bible is true, or it can't be trusted. But we wouldn't do this with another book. Rather, if something in another book is false, we examine the reason behind why it's false. If I found false scientific data from a book in the 15h century, that doesn't make all the data suspect. Rather, that means that the science was bound by the knowledge of that time, and must be adjusted accordingly. Now, if it was written to be deliberaly deceptive, then we would probably eliminate all the data.

Take the lines in the Bible that say the Earth was flat. That doesn't make the Bible suspect, that means that the Bible was written from a flat-earth perspective. God could've inspired those creation verses, and it had to be deciphered through the cultural context of that time. The finite mind can only comprehend the infinite so much.

It also seems that you're using the Bible and your personal experiences to verify the Bible as being inerrant. There's no outside objective verification as to the Bible's inerrancy. I don't say this as a means of attack, but just to clarify that I'm reading you correctly.

jennypo said...

**Rather, that means that the science was bound by the knowledge of that time, and must be adjusted accordingly. (Heather)

I think I know what you are saying, and I think it is similar to many Christian apologetics that say "well, it's a good risk to say that God exists." The problem I have with that is, we may very well take a risk like that in relation to something less vital. But when we are dealing with something like God, on which so much hangs, who wants to simply lay bets? I, for one, need absolute surety.
How do you ever decide what needs to be "adjusted accordingly" and if it all gets adjusted and rearranged based on society's current beliefs/values, what have you got except the absolute confusion and ridiculousness that we see in the church throughout history and today? It has adjusted with the thinking of the time, but it's a laughingstock. Honestly, if that is all the Bible has to offer me, I'll take Dawkins instead!

**Take the lines in the Bible that say the Earth was flat. That doesn't make the Bible suspect... (Heather)
If the Bible said the Earth was flat I would absolutely say that makes the Bible as a revelation of divine Truth suspect.

**It also seems that you're using the Bible and your personal experiences to verify the Bible as being inerrant. There's no outside objective verification as to the Bible's inerrancy. I don't say this as a means of attack, but just to clarify that I'm reading you correctly. (Heather)

Thanks for checking. Yes, I am convinced by what I've found in the Bible and in my personal experience that the Bible is inerrant. I'm not suggesting that my experience any more than my Bible reading is useful for anyone else in establishing their own knowledge about the Bible. I may use my experience as verification, but I don't offer it as verification for anyone else.
I do, however, believe there are outside evidences to be used as verification. While these have been in some ways helpful for me, this kind of evidence is much less convincing to me personally than the kind I have. It requires an enormous amount of knowledge to reach a place of objective surety about anything in our world - certainly more knowledge than I have! To someone who has knowledge they can trust and has used it in their reading of the Bible and their search for Truth, such evidence may be much more useful.
If the Bible is true, then so far as our understanding of science may be trusted, it must reveal the truth of the Bible. Keeping in mind that humanity's knowledge of the scientific laws has been wrong in the past, (as wrong as the church, despite the perfect laws of both...hmm...could it be the humans that are at fault here?! :)) then as far as it may, the truth of science and the truth of the Bible ought to illuminate each other.
I believe that the truths humanity has gleaned from history, geology, astronomy, biology, paleontology, archaeology, philosophy, and many other fields that concern themselves with truth, all offer testimony to the truth of the Bible. But truth in these fields is not picked up casually - it must be pursued diligently. I have not so much as a B.A. in any of these subjects, and so could not be convinced by my knowledge of any of them even if it supported the Bible 100%. That's why I need personal experience.
That said, God will never be known through the intellect alone, any more than he may be known through experience alone. Reason offers evidences, and better, it protects us from what is not truth, but truth is not revealed by mere reason. The whole person - sense, intellect, and spirit - must know God, if he is to be known at all.

Slapdash said...

Hi jennypo, thanks for taking the time to respond to this. And also to Heather for keeping the dialogue going. I hardly know where to jump in!


***That said, is the Bible really true? Is it inerrant? How do I know? And the real question - Is it possible for you, Slapdash, to know?*** (jennypo)

No, I don't think it's possible for me to know. That's why I am moving toward a pretty solidly agnostic stance toward it.

***The real trouble is that most truth, in order to be trusted, must be experienced. And truth about God must begin with God.***

I would agree with this. So what to do when God is silent? What are we to understand Truth to be in that case? The Bible became very very flat to me about a year and a half ago, because outside of reading the Bible, God was not making his presence, or his interest or care for as his child, known.

***Ultimately, the only satisfactory answers we can really get about God are from God.***

Yes. And again, to me, God has been silent.

***"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness." (2 Timothy 3:16)***

To which Scripture is this referring? Remember the canon didn't develop until almost 400 AD. Did Paul think his letter to Timothy would one day be considered Scripture? Is it not referring to the Tanakh?

Heather said...

Hi, Jenny.

**But when we are dealing with something like God, on which so much hangs, who wants to simply lay bets?**

It depends. You said earlier that a life focusing away from self was a life of God -- so anyone following a life of truth, love, light is following God. Therefore, even if the text does contain scientific errors, does it threaten one's relationship with God? Even if the text does have historic or scientific errors. It still has validity if it bears fruit from following a certain path brings peace. If the Bible says to do this and you experience God, and you come to realize that you are experiencing God, the Bible still has merit.

Then again, it comes down to the ultimate focus. It sounds here like you feel the risk of the text not being inerrant is that it might cost someone heaven and land them elsewhere?

To me, my ultimate goal isn't heaven. It goes back to what you said earlier: if one is pursuing a life of love, light, truth, a life away from 'self' then one is following God. The goal is to bring heaven here, so to speak.

**If the Bible said the Earth was flat I would absolutely say that makes the Bible as a revelation of divine Truth suspect.** Well ... there is a reason why the church was so adament that Galileo was wrong, and that was because of all the flat-earth verses in the Bible. Such as ones that say it can't be moved, or the heavens were stretched out, or the four corners of the Earth. Not only that, but the Bible was written with a three-tiered perspective. Heaven is directly above us, there's earth, and then hell is below. This can be seen throughout the Bible, in looking to the heavens above, or Jesus ascending to the heaven and a cloud hiding him from sight. Even Paul's one line about how every knee in heaven above, earth and beneath the earth bowing -- that's written from the three-tiered perspective. Even the Tower of Babel story shows this.

Slapdash,

**And also to Heather for keeping the dialogue going. I hardly know where to jump in!** Thanks. :) I do like to dialogue, and discuss. And I'm glad Jenny is still eager and willing to continue the dialogue, even some 16 posts later.

jennypo said...

Slapdash,

You haven't totally given up on me. Thanks. I know my position is similar to the one you are in the process of shedding, and I appreciate that you are broadminded enough to even discuss things with me. It's not an easy thing to do.

**Yes. And again, to me, God has been silent. (Slapdash)

Slapdash, I hear your point. I know a little of the kind of hopelessness there is for one to whom God has been silent. I went through one long year (the worst year of my life!) when God answered me not a word, not a touch, not the barest of a whisper, but a clanging silence that echoed back only my own questions. I know it's not the same as what you are experiencing - I had already had evidence of the God I was pleading with. Although I felt completely alone and questioned my own understanding of a God who could leave me groping blindly for so long, I did know that he was there, somewhere. I just knew I couldn't hear him or feel him, and my feelings cried out that he couldn't hear me.
Why did he let me cry like that? Why didn't he give me the comfort that he can surely give?
I can't say that I understand it fully, but I know this: most of what I value most in my life came to me as a result of that experience. I was ripped to shreds, and left utterly empty. I felt full of darkness and self-loathing and weariness.
Before that time I had been full - full of more or less harmless (as we humans count things) self-interest, mixed with a sincere desire to follow God. I had my ups and downs, God had helped me, and I felt that I knew him, in a way. I thought of myself as a pretty decent Christian, and I did really try to obey God, to read the Bible and to pray. I had had flashes of knowing and the certainty of being known, but I certainly wasn't one of those gush-y Christians who blathered on and on about Jesus and his love. Deep down, though, I knew there was more and I felt hungry for it. Sometimes when I read books about people who knew God, knew him warmly and deeply, I felt a creeping surety that though God was my Saviour, he was too far away to be a real friend, and on the whole, I coveted human friendship more than his.
However, I had also seen in my grandfather's life what God could be to a person. Let me tell you, my grandfather knew God as I know my sister. He was the biggest evidence, to me, that God exists in realtime. If I couldn't see or hear God, I had no doubt that my grandfather could and did. Even after Grampy got Alzheimer's disease and didn't remember me or his children or his wife, he knew God still. He spoke of God not as a madman raves, but clearly, lucidly, and with the deep satisfaction of one knows with certainty. I stayed with him sometimes in the hospital. He didn't know where he was, and couldn't remember my mother when I explained that I was her daughter, but he never failed to remember the day he met God and his sin was forgiven. He told me about it again and again, quoting the Scriptures on which hung his surety. Sometimes he prayed out loud. He spoke as I would to an old, dear friend, with utter surety that he was heard. He lay in bed, but his interest was in two things: a world that needed Jesus, and Jesus himself.
That's why my experience is different from yours, I know. I felt that God wasn't there, that he couldn't or wouldn't hear me even if he was there. I doubted my own understanding and I seriously entertained the thought that God did not exist. But every time, I had to come back to my grandfather. If he hadn't known God, then nothing could be known. Nothing at all.
I believe that in leaving me alone, God was answering the deep request of my heart - a request I'm not even sure that I prayed: I wanted to know him. His silence drove me to recognize what it was that I desperately needed. It made me sure of what kind of a God I was willing to accept - no humbugs need apply! It emptied out the holes within that I had crammed full of other things. It made me take a good, hard look at how much it might cost to know and follow such a God. Ultimately, it forced me to decide if I was willing for what knowing such a God would do to my life: knowing God as he is removes our self-possession; puts our own dreams second to his great plan; demands that our focus be shifted from within. That was the hardest decision I have ever made in my life, because it meant accepting a difficulty (and thus, the possibility of many more difficulties!) that I wanted to escape from more than anything.
I still remember the day I decided. I had no faith that God could or would ever make it worthwhile to me, and I told him that. But I had seen the spectre of my own selfishness, and I was more afraid of that. I told God that I was throwing myself on him, not because I knew him, but because I didn't want to depend on myself. If I fell, I'd fall from his hand.
He caught me, Slapdash. He picked me up. He spoke to me in ways that even then, I could understand. Every step since then has been a step further into freedom. I still have bad days. I cry and complain sometimes. But my worst days now are better than the best days I spent without really knowing God. What he has brought me into is better than I could have known to ask for. He is more than I ever even longed for.
What can I say to you, except search, search for him. Cry out for him with your last breath. I know and am glad that you have come too far to settle for a "hope-so" God. Call yourself an atheist or an agnostic, if that describes your understanding better, but don't stop hoping and searching for the one who alone can change your mind. God doesn't read the label - he reads the deep desires of the heart.

**To which Scripture is this referring? Remember the canon didn't develop until almost 400 AD. Did Paul think his letter to Timothy would one day be considered Scripture? Is it not referring to the Tanakh? (Slapdash)
Yes, I do believe that it is likely (if not entirely necessary) that Paul here had the Tanakh in mind and not all the writiings that were coming to be or would come to be accepted. I don't believe that the Bible writers were inspired in the way that they understood all that they wrote. But "Scripture" refers simply to accepted writings. The "accepted writings" of Paul's day had been added to over time to become what they were. They were still in a state of flux. More has been written, but nothing has been added to the "accepted writings" since the New Testament.
If, for argument's sake, we allow this statement to refer to the Tanakh alone, then we are left with a set of books that drop off to nothing, and offer you and I nothing, unless you are Jewish (I am not). The only place I can see that the Tanakh is fully explained and its paradoxical elements reconciled is in the context offered by the New Testament. Jesus makes all those sacrifices make sense.
That said, it that's what you believe it says, it's not really a bad place to start...

jennypo said...

Heather,

You are the kind of person I like to have around in a bad situation - positive to the end, and dedicated to calm, respectful exchange. I believe that only the Prince of Peace will bring about world peace, but you create a little oasis on the Internet!

**You said earlier that a life focusing away from self was a life of God -- so anyone following a life of truth, love, light is following God. (Heather)
Let me clarify this. Who searches for light, truth, love, searches for God, and will be found of God. None of us has a life that fully matches up.

**Therefore, even if the text does contain scientific errors, does it threaten one's relationship with God? (Heather)
No, what it threatens is my ability to trust that God or the statements that reveal him. He can't call himself Truth and reveal himself through what we know to be less than truth.

**To me, my ultimate goal isn't heaven. (Heather)
If it were, it would show a lack of understanding about heaven. Heaven is far, far better than just a place where you can eat everything you want and never be sad again. Heaven is full union with God. He alone is the goal of every heart that understands heaven.

**Well ... there is a reason why the church was so adament that Galileo was wrong, and that was because of all the flat-earth verses in the Bible. Such as ones that say it can't be moved, or the heavens were stretched out, or the four corners of the Earth. Not only that, but the Bible was written with a three-tiered perspective. (Heather)
The church was and is composed of fallible human beings. It has been wrong as many times as have the scientists. The Bible, and science itself, may be trusted. Let's be honest - the church has had many reasons for insisting on the views it has espoused, not least of them being power and financial support. I'm not a big scientist here, but I learned in public school about the security of the earth's orbit, the arrangement of the atmosphere (which does appear to be "stretched out"), and the concept of the "four corners" of the earth is something that is strikingly similar to what is commonly understood in studying wind patterns. I don't see the issue with heaven being above and hell beneath. Either heaven is above the sphere of earth (north being the "top", no?) and hell being beneath the sphere, or heaven surrounds the earth (above, from our perspective) and hell is beneath us, in the earth's core. The latter makes the most sense to me personally, but I could accept either. As I've said, although my respect for science is great, my understanding is rudimentary (high school). I'm in no position to discuss this intelligently from a purely scientific viewpoint, (wish I were!) but I certainly don't see the Bible clearly espousing the flat earth theory.

Heather said...

Jenny,

**Either heaven is above the sphere of earth (north being the "top", no?) and hell being beneath the sphere, or heaven surrounds the earth (above, from our perspective) and hell is beneath us, in the earth's core. The latter makes the most sense to me personally, **

I don't want to misunderstand this: are you saying that hell is literally in the earth's core, and heaven is literally above the earth?

**but I certainly don't see the Bible clearly espousing the flat earth theory. ** Given the context in which the bible was written, it's there. However, there are pages and pages that could back this up, so if you're very curious, I leave you to investigate it on the Internet. :) Otherwise, this comment will be ridiculously huge.