Thursday, May 28, 2015

Credibility and the Bible

So this dude, Andy Gill, followed me on twitter for a little while a few months back. I have few enough followers that I generally check out who's following me. I hadn't heard of Andy before, but he's got a sweet looking website and a lot of twitter followers, so people must know who he is. He seems pretty cool and progressive and looking to take new angles on issues of faith (much like myself). He's also been soliciting guest posts on his blog with suggested topics. I decided to take a crack at one. It took me an embarrassingly long time to finish it up, but I did and I sent it off. Of course I'll share the link if it's ever actually published, but I wanted to share the content here with my readers in any event. Without further ado...

There’s a lot of well-earned skepticism when it comes to the Bible. Between historical analysis challenging some long held assumptions and the relegation of scripture to a weapon in the culture wars, it seems pretty easy for just about anyone to say just about anything using the Bible for support.

I think the real question people ask when they ponder the Bible’s credibility is really how credible are those who interpret it. How do I know that Preacher X is getting things right, especially when Preacher Z says something different?

I’m not sure you really can know.

The world these days is pretty comfortable with uncertainty, but when it comes to matters of faith, we’d all really like to find some. A sense of certainty has sort of become the Holy Grail in this post-modern world of skepticism and doubt.

But we only find certainty when we choose to believe. That’s faith. I won’t say we should believe blindly, but at some point we must choose to know what we can’t really know. We can doubt everything, but in the end that leaves us with nothing.

So perhaps the question isn’t whether the Bible is credible, but rather “How do I find anything credible in the Bible?” That’s a far more interesting question, because it has a real answer.

The first step is understanding what the Bible is as opposed to what we’d like it to be. Things would be simple if scripture were simply a direct communication from God: do this; don’t do that. There are lots of dos and don’ts, of course, but they’re filtered through human writers, across cultures, and buried in deep layers of history and context.

The Bible is a testimony of God’s interaction with God’s people over a huge span of time. It represents the best attempt by a ragtag people to collect, compile, and care for a unique understanding of the world, its creator, and how to best live.

If we expect it to speak authoritatively on science or history or psychology, we’re going to get burned. If we expect it to possess encyclopedic clarity or even a unified vision, we’re going to be deeply disappointed. If we expect the Bible to be a self-contained oracle of wisdom, we’re likewise going to come up short. It is these endeavors that have harmed the Bible’s credibility.

The Bible doesn’t purport or pretend to be anything but those words God’s people found helpful in understanding our place in the world. For me, it’s credible because of that tradition, not in spite of it. Yes, there were things left out and things included for all manner of strange and biased reasons, but that is precisely the point. It’s not a compendium. It’s not a history. It’s the Bible. It’s a carefully crafted message, but one with minority reports, contradictions, and competing voices. It’s not self-evident and its meaning, despite what some may tell you, is anything but plain sense.

Scripture is credible for what it is.

The Bible has a history. It was authored by real people and passed down – first as oral tradition, then written. It was compiled by editors, enlarged, enhanced, and expanded. Eventually some people chose which books would become the Bible and which would remain merely good.

The Bible has a history, which means it can be explored. We can search the realms of science – psychology, anthropology, sociology, biology, economics, physics, linguistics – to give us insight into what exactly these writers, editors, and compilers might have meant for us to know. We delve into diverse and divergent contexts, cultures, and conditions to give ourselves fresh eyes and new perspectives.

To find something credible in the Bible we ask questions and we do our best to answer them, using all the resources at our disposal. There is a long tradition of faithful people – the very community who preserved and passed on this Bible – still active and alive today in all its wildness and activity. The world in which we live is a testament to the God from whose being it sprang. Our own experiences are paramount in helping our mind approach credible conclusions, asking ourselves not necessarily, “can I prove it,” but at least, “does it make sense to me?”

In a world where we challenge everything and we’re not sure there is such a thing as truth, it’s the best we can do. There is certainly some measure of faith involved. We must believe there is a God out there to find. If so, we must believe also that this God gave us some way to access the divine. We must have faith humanity is important enough to stumble upon some measure of truth, if only dimly and clumsily.

In the end I do believe these things. I do so because, as improbable as it seems, with all my explorations, through every question and test, through as much research as my little brain can manage, the Bible always seems to stand up.

I believe the Bible is credible because it points to Jesus Christ and I have chosen to have faith in Jesus Christ. Not the words about Christ or the religion founded in his name, but Christ himself. I believe the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is important, because the message of radical, sacrificial love, extending even to our enemies, is unique.

I might be wrong about Jesus and the Bible, but for me, the notion that love really does win – over power and violence and hatred and selfishness – that if we give love enough time (an eternity, maybe) it can make not just us, but all of existence into what it’s supposed to be, this notion just somehow seems worth living (and dying) for regardless of its ultimate credibility.

I have faith that God is love and that Jesus accurately represents God to the world. I interpret the Bible in light of these beliefs and I think it’s allowed me to find credibility there.

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