I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else. – C. S. Lewis
Dedicated to faithful TWW reader-Junkster
About six months ago, one of our thoughtful readers, Junkster, asked me if I had ever read the fictional book A Skeleton in God’s Closet by Paul Maier, a Christian author. I knew of Paul Maier because of my love of Christian history. Paul Maier is the Russell H. Seibert Professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan University. He is also an historical novelist, and serves as Second Vice President of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (Wikipedia). He has written over 16 books, both historical fiction and nonfiction. His book for children, The Very First Christmas is one of the most intelligent and beautiful books that I had the pleasure of reading to my children when they were young. Here is the link to Amazon to see it.
So, I downloaded the book onto my Kindle (I love that thing) and finally got around to reading it a couple of months ago. Here is the link to the review on Amazon.
Synopsis: An archaeologist supposedly discovers the bones of Jesus in a newly excavated tomb. At the same time, there appears to be a problem with one of the ancient Biblical manuscripts that is housed in the Vatican. Both issues raise big problems for the Christian faith.
Coincidentally, years ago, I read Wil’s Bones by Kevin Bowen. Here is the link to this book on Amazon.
This book is based on the same premise as Maier’s book. Both authors depicted the same responses to the news. There was a worldwide loss of faith, along with increased violence, depression and suicide amongst the formerly faithful. I shall not spoil the endings but both are predictable.
Maier brings more depth to the subject because of his understanding of history. I particularly enjoyed his depiction of the Vatican and along with the Pope who is presented as both intelligent and warm.
I have used Wil’s Bones, and now shall include A Skeleton in God’s Closet, when discussing issues of faith in Sunday school and small groups. I think both raise valid questions. How well do we, as Christians, understand our faith, believe our faith and trust God?
Our recent series on creation, as well as our ongoing emphasis on the problems inherent in legalism, make this a good time to review issues this book raises.
1. How convinced are you, as a Christians, that nothing will ever be discovered that will disprove the essentials of the Bible?
I believe that many Christians distrust science because, deep down, they are afraid that science will discover proof that God does not exist or that Jesus’ resurrection was a hoax.. This sort of faith is dependent on outside circumstances. Or better yet, it is dependent on making sure that there is absolutely no possibility that the Bible cannot be disproven. Could it be that we don’t really trust God in this matter?
Christians draw a line in the sand, a point that cannot be crossed, without making one feel uncomfortable. For example, for some this could be the age of the earth. However, this shows a misunderstanding on the nature of God’s word. The Bible is not a scientific textbook. It is written to relate to all manner of people throughout the eons which includes primitive people who had virtually no understanding of the very earth upon which they live.
Here is the bottom line, at least for me. I believe that nothing will ever be discovered that will disprove these fundamentals of the faith:
- God as Creator
- The Virgin Birth
- Christ’s existence on this planet
- Christ’s death and resurrection
We have made many discoveries that seem to negate some aspects of Scripture. For example, Jesus refers to the mustard seed as the smallest seed. We now know that there is a lily seed in the Amazon region that is smaller. Is this an error? I think not. Jesus was talking to the people of Israel about the issue of faith. He was not making a scientific observation. Instead, He was merely using an example that would be relevant to the people in that time and place.
The harder we try to make the Bible a science text, the greater the possibility we might have a few surprises that could shake our faith. Is this what God intended when He gave us this marvelous world and universe to explore? Isn’t our faith supposed to cast out all fear?
2. How well do you know, or want to know, your Bible?
I am not talking about the easy verses, the hopeful verses, the verses about God’s boundless grace. I mean the hard ones in the Bible. Like the ones in which God commands the Israelites to destroy whole people groups, going so far as to say to rip open the bellies of pregnant women.
In my interactions, I have found many Christians unwilling to wrestle with these verses. They make all sorts of excuses. “We are living in an age of grace and God only shows grace now. He was a God of wrath in the Old Testament.” However, when a hurricane destroys New Orleans, I hear some of these same folks say that God punished the people of New Orleans because of Bourbon Street and Mardi Gras with a broad exception made for jazz. This, folks, is a schizophrenic view of the Bible.
We ignore our inconsistencies. Why? Because, deep down inside, we don’t know the answers, we are afraid of the answers, we are afraid there are no answers and we don’t want to shake up our faith. So we stick our fingers in our ears and say, "La, La, La , I don’t hear you.” We mutter something about God being in control. The only problem is today’s new atheists are calling us on the carpet. So, instead of answering them honestly, we make some stupid statement like “I am not going to throw pearls before swine” thereby sealing the fact we are better than anyone who sincerely questions our faith. The problem I that there is nothing in the Bible that says we should act this way.
It is time that we look at our faith, all of it, and wrestle honestly with the difficult questions that arise.
3. Why do we like rules so much?
Legalism is one way to prevent us from having to deal with hard issues like:
- Why do I still sin?
- Why does God seem distant?
- Why didn’t God heal the baby who had cancer?
- Why do Christians have a higher divorce rate than atheists?
- Why is there abuse in the church?
- Why do our Christian leaders seem to pursue wealth like the rest of us?
Legalism gives us a measuring stick so we can pretend that we are “good” Christians.
- If I have 10 children, I am following God’s commands.
- If I don’t consume alcohol, I am a not a “worldy” Christian even if I pursue wealth.
- If I tithe, I am following God and He should bless me for this.
- If I don’t let my kids go out for Halloween, I am a better Christian than Susie who does.
- If I go to church every Sunday, go to Bible study and women’s groups, I am faithful.
But, deep down inside, we know that we are struggling. We have tied up our faith in a nice glitzy box but it is sitting over a sewer and we are expending lots of energy spraying air freshener instead of dealing with the real issues.
4. Do we really believe God is control or do we think He needs a little help from us?
Many of us mouth that we believe that God never changes and that He is in control. However, we want to add a few more things to the faith just in case God overlooked a few issues. God is not only in control of the universe but He is fully capable of managing things here as well. This means things like archeology, paleontology, and other scientific disciplines. We don’t need to worry about science disproving the faith.
When I read these books, I have to admit that I was a bit amused by the response of many believers. I actually think the authors got it right. Many people would turn away from the faith or become depressed if a discovery purportedly “proved” that Jesus never rose from the grave. Those are the people who never really got it in the first place. For people of faith, science will only add to the depth and breadth of knowledge of this marvelous creation.
I think this book is worth the read, especially for the Christian who needs to think about the basis for his belief system. Is it rooted in trust in our Father or is it built on the sand of our own insecurity?
Stay tuned: Next week we will be dealing with some warmed up legalism that is invading the faith.Also, from now until Christmas, we shall be reviewing a book each Friday. Next Friday, we shall review Son of Hamas, a NY Times bestselling nonfiction about a man who grew up as the son of the founder of Hamas, became a spy for Israel, and professed Christianity in a most unique way.His conversion is a lesson for "seeker driven" pastors everywhere.
Lydia's Corner: Exodus 5:22-7:25 Matthew 18:21-19:12 Psalm 23:1-6 Proverbs 5:22-23