The Cycle Goes Round Again…

I’ve written before, a couple times actually I think if you look all the way back, about the same thing that haunts me now. God. Is he real? Does he exist? Does it matter if he does or doesn’t? Does it matter what I think of it all? Why do I repeatedly find myself here? I’m going to again lay out my honest thoughts. Thoughts that feel close to as deep as I can go within myself. Why do I doubt?

I’m tired of being scared of hell. I’m tired of feeling like God, if there is one, is pissed off because I am some ugly sinful worm. I’m tired of feeling like this pissed off God is going to send me to hell if I don’t jump through a series of hoops (some sort of “sinner’s prayer,” baptism, communion, some “second work of grace,” tithing, some sort of ministry, some special amount of prayer/reading/devotional time) to prove my devotion to him. Does God really need that? An all powerful God demanding that I do all of these things that seem like trinkets? Really? If God really is about love, why would he need that? If he is all powerful, why does he need that?

But then I wonder, is God really about love? I find that probably mostly, I am not sure. We have this human convention of the trinity as a description of how we look at God. How God is. Three in one. All equally God yet separate. That word, “trinity,” is not in the bible, but we sure hang a great deal of our theologies on it. Well, God the Father part of that looks a lot like an angry bully who would be fine with sending my butt to hell. Sure he has a softer side that is kind and loving. But that just makes him seem bipolar. I don’t know that it is helpful, to be honest, to see that he has a softer side. Because then you don’t know which side you’re gonna get, that is, I guess, unless you jump through the proper hoops.

On the counter side of this God the Father image we have a different image of Christ, the second part of this trinity. He is loving. He is sacrificial. He exudes grace. He accepts. A much better side of God I think we would all say. And I see and hear a great deal of thoughts and words that say in essence that Jesus is the lens with which we are supposed to view God. Well, who says? It is a nice idea to be sure. But is it correct? Where does it say in scripture that humanity is supposed to do this? And is that just sticking our heads in the sand? I mean, if God is there, he is who he is no matter what lens we decide to use. Using a lens to see God differently, to ignore the angry part,  just distorts the truth? If there is an angry, jealous, vengeful side of God that will send me to hell, what good is it to blind myself to that by looking at Jesus? God is still who he is. If he is there.

Another sticking point for me is the fact that this all could be just humanity fooling itself. Our phyche’s, our emotion, our minds, can do some crazy and amazing things. It is certainly reasonably possible that it is all in our heads. That God is all in our heads. That Jesus is no different than Zeus. That the bible is no different than any other scriptural book. That the “warmth” of which Wesley spoke is nothing more than psychology. Emotion. Neurons doing what they do. I don’t see that it can be proven that it is not this. So what does one believe? How do you know? I’m just not sure right now.

A final sticking point is how screwed up we are as humans. The culture of the church teaches Christian perfection. I’ve been on call this week, and I again realize, as I do over and over again, how we are all screwed up in our own way, so much so that the idea that there even is anything called perfection seems ridiculous. We all hurt in ways of which we are not even aware. We all have protection mechanisms of which we are not even aware. We all have systems of thought that influence everything we do, think, and say, and we are not even aware of them. With that in mind, the idea that there could even be a series of hoops that we could all jump through properly in order to be acceptable to God is just ridiculous. And if that’s true, then it seems to me, if the story of Jesus is true, that God either set out to save everybody, regardless of the hoops, or we are all going to hell. Considering the state of humanity, it seems that it has to be an all or none proposition. The way I have been taught to read scripture and the doctrines of the church and the cultures of the church though go against that. That confuses me. What seems most correct to me is that we are fooling ourselves if we think that some of us are doing good enough and some of us aren’t. We are all screwed up.

I don’t know why I find myself here over and over again. If I am deeply honest with myself, it feels like I have been carrying around this God thing, hoping that it is true, really trying to believe that it is true, trying to find a way for it to be true, but if I am honest, that seems like all it is. Hope that it is true. And I am not certain that any of my hoping and searching and thinking and wondering and praying has really gotten me anywhere different. How can I know? Why are some people so sure?

But why do I hope? And what does it mean that I hope? I’m pretty sure that I am stuck here, at this point, without an understanding of how to get past it. I know this probabaly comes across as angry and cynical, but I don’t mean it that way. It’s honest. It’s what is deep inside, at my core. I apologize to anyone who reads this and finds their faith shaken. That is not my intent. These are honest questions for which I am in search of honest answers. That’s all.

If it is the case that I am saying things you find to be heretical, destructive, unhelpful, please ignore me and forget the address to this blog. I don’t want to do any damage.

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34 responses to “The Cycle Goes Round Again…

  1. great to see you posting again! hope your summer is going swimmingly.

    i have my doubts but for some reason i don’t really doubt God’s existence. i doubt how God is viewed and how the bible is used and interpreted. to doubt that there is a God is to me, like saying that you doubt existence. to say that it is random is like saying a bomb went off in a junk yard and suddenly a 747 assembled itself after a few million years of time.

    what i see you struggle’n with is more of the God of the bible and the claim that the bible is God’s Word. it’s not. at least that’s not how i see it and how those who are teaching me here at seminary see it. i view the bible not as a “God’s eye view” of things but of a human view of God. it is a record of people’s experience with God, inspired by God but in no way written by God, at least not word for word. more of a spiritual diary and vision for the world (lions laying down with lambs, justice prevailing on earth, etc).

    the bible is invaluable. but don’t worship it. it’s like the hand pointing the way, not the way itself. hope that is of some help and sounds somewhat reasonable.

  2. Luke: I like the 747 analogy. Attributing the current natural order to a random process takes a boatload of faith.

    FRT: I don’t believe this god you’re skeptical about is the one the Bible describes. God is love, but not in a marshmallowy sentimental kind of way. God is judge, but not in a childish, vengeful, capricious way. I do agree with Luke about one thing: the Bible is invaluable. I would advise you to keep reading it, and read commentaries on it from a variety of perspectives. I think you’re smart enough to sort out the suitable from the unsuitable interpretations — and if the Bible is true, you’ll have the Holy Spirit helping you out with that. Be patient about it, though — it will take time.

  3. I am so in that boat with you Doug – it seems the faith we have been handed and learned comes with it’s obvious downfalls and things which just don’t make much sense…we have to doubt – if we don’t then what good are we as robots?

    I doubt a lot of things and like you some to some of the same conclusions and even consider not even having faith…consider it is all I really do.

    However, I am the churches best friend due to my criticims of it (that’s how I think of my ramblings). I seek improvement of theology and living life – and doubting is at the base of most of my concerns for the church (plus I want the truth of what Christianity really is and was – but that’s another story).

    But like you – I see those glaring inconsistencies also – but I really like how you pin point it – the fears and the illogic in the trinitarian viewpoint. I have abandoned some of those things because they mean nothing (ie: the trinitarian viewpoint and creedal affirmations) – in that they do nothing of any real substance (for some it creates hope – for some it creates this cognitive dissonance you mention).

    I hope you dont forgo faith because versions of it are theologically inept to answer your questions – maybe you are meant to seek those answers out – who really knows. With true and living faith – I find nothing comes as easy and pre-packaged as we would like.

  4. Doug

    Sometimes riding the wave, sometimes crashing into shore, most times paddling to get another wave………….This too shall pass. :)

  5. Your honesty about this struggle must create anxiety in some people who love you very much. That being true, if that’s where you are then withholding it is in no one’s best interest.

    It seems that there is at one additional factor that complicates the journey. (Good news :)) our theology talked “mystery” but only when our logic failed us. Our default theology was systematc, logical, analytical and our “faith” was as rational-based as the rationalism it tried to combat. What we lost was the significance of the narrative whole and allowing real mystery without needing to piece all the details into a puzzle where everything fits so we can “believe it” and “prove it.”

    A modern (rational) search to prove God exists will not be very effective in our post-modern mind-set.

    Hope that makes sense.

  6. OK. Time to get all of you responded to. I’m on call this weekend but done for the day and have the evening all to myself since Karmen and the boys are in KC for the weekend. Watched Lance ride The Monteaux this morning while I rode on my trainer to take 3rd in this year’s Tour. It’s good to see him back. Luke. This notion of the bible not being God’s word in the sense that it is humanity’s experience of God is very interesting. Of course, some of has God’s word in it, but I like your view (and the view of your faculty) that it is more about how humanity has viewed God than it is about God dictating something to us. I have had exactly the opposite view as you astutely point out, and I think your assessment, that I am reacting to the traditional hellfire and brimstone interpretation of God, is probably spot on. Ihave to get away from that. I have to be able to read the bible differently. That’s tough, but I wonder if this is the final nail in that coffin. I have not really felt much like reading the bible for a couple of years so haven’t, partly with the the idea that I could pick it up and read it differently, freshly. I want that to be the case, and in recent weeks I have felt my desire coming back a bit. I hope that it is time. You’re 747 analogy is good and one that I’ve heard and read similarly many times. I realize that there will is never going to be hard proof of God’s existence. It’s hard getting away from the scientific thinking to a philosophical answer. There is something in The Matrix about this, something with the Oracle not knowing but choosing to believe. I’ll track it down. Sounds like my next post.

  7. 2 Reasons. Thanks for the encouragement. Thanks for continuing to check me out. I will continue searching and questioning and being honest about it. It is very hard getting away from a view of God that you have had all your adult life, especially when that view was glued to your brain with the threat of hell behind it. Please keep reading as your input is valuable to me.

  8. Thanks, John. I am warmed by the fact that you have taken the time to know me well enough to use the surfing analogy. That’s exactly the right analogy for me. Did you get my email about the golfing?

  9. I don’t think you sound angry or cynical. I think you sound very honest and very real; what more could God want? I understand your questions, and often have many of the same ones myself. I do not have the answers…and, it has taken me a long time to be able to say this, I think I am okay with not having the answers to your questions…though, admittedly, I would like to have more answers than I currently possess.

    I cannot prove that God is real. I cannot prove that God is not real. I hope that who my heart hopes God is, is real. Have you read, “The Shack”? I wasn’t going to…but I did…and the words were like hope and a hug from God all rolled into one. Is it all theologically accurate…not sure…and not worried about it. I love the message behind the book. The first few chapters are very emotionally difficult to read, but after that, it was amazing. The man who wrote it has a website and a blog; he is not a member of any church or any religious group.

    For many years, I was the ‘perfect’ Christian. I did all the right things, and I did feel close to God. I wanted everything that I believed to be real. If I had a doubt about anything, I prayed harder, fasted more, etc. I made sure my heart was pure, and I felt doubts were something that would put a wall between God and me. I read the Bible through multiple times, attended church multiple times each week, was part of Bible studies, memorized verses, and had two quiet times each day. I witnessed, went on mission trips, and was convinced that God had a specific plan – a specific job He wanted me to do.

    Due to circumstances that would require a lengthy explanation, the walls to the religious fortress I had built around myself did not just crack or crumble, they exploded. I found myself sitting exposed to the world and questioning every belief I had ever held. Needless to say, that time in my life is neither a time I consider a highlight nor even one I like to remember. I prayed harder…I sought God…I cried…for months and months and years. I had nothing left…no hope…nothing. The world I looked at held no color and no future. Everything was gone. I could no longer even open my Bible. The Bible used to give me hope…I trusted every word, but every time I tried to read it, I felt God hated me and that the words on the page mocked everything that I could not be…but that I was once. I knew I couldn’t go back. I could never be who I had been. I was jealous of the people who could. Faith seemed so easy to them…they trusted implicitly. Why couldn’t I just believe? It seemed so simple. If I could just believe again and recite the right Bible verses over and over to clear my doubts, surely I could be that confident Christian once again…I tried. I tried different churches…I tried Bible studies. My anxiety level rose. I couldn’t agree with something that my heart screamed was wrong. Perhaps my heart had been screaming for years, but if so, I had found ways of keeping it quiet. As you said, the mind, emotion, etc., is amazing and has amazing capabilities. My heart would be silenced no longer. So, I walked away from the Christian I wanted to be and tried to learn who I was. Could I ever accept just me the way I was? Could God?

    Over the years, I had lost myself. I wasn’t sure who I really wanted to be or what I really wanted to do. I was so convinced that God had this higher calling for me that I never considered what my hopes and dreams even were – I just tried to make sure that my dreams were what I believed God wanted of me. This journey was not easy. I was deeply saddened and disappointed. I missed the life, the confidence, the friends, and the reassurance I once had. I missed God. I couldn’t find Him anywhere. I couldn’t hear him. I felt like I had lost a part of my heart.

    Like I said earlier, I still don’t have the answers…but I will tell you my hopes and my heart. Someone once told me that if I didn’t know the right answer, to just follow my heart.

    I hope that God is real, and I hope that God is nothing like who I thought God was. I believe that true love accepts you where you are…doubts and all. I do not believe that my doubts or questions intimidate God. In fact, if God is omniscient, then he already knows that I am uncertain, so why not be honest and talk to God about it. I also do not believe that my doubts, as long as I am honest with both myself and with God that I have them, separate me from God. I do not believe that my inability to keep up the Christian activities and perfection disappoints God or surprises Him. I hope that a relationship with God is a journey and not just a destination that one gets to and tries to do everything possible to not anger God so that one gets to stay at said destination. I hope that God is willing to walk with me through every difficult step of this life and every joyous one too.

    I do not read my Bible everyday. In fact, I rarely read it at all. I still cannot see past the messages I once saw there. I used to think of the Bible as a guidebook to life…not a rulebook, but that is really how I treated it. I should do this…I shouldn’t do that…etc. I like to think of it now as more of a human experience about interacting with God (I think someone posted a similar concept). I don’t think it is a rulebook; I think it is a book about people who often questioned God. Just look at the psalms. Some of them are trusting, but some of them seem like they are written by people who are pretty desperately looking for some answers. I think it is easier to think that everyone who ever believed in God had all the answers and life went well, but that really isn’t the case. The Bible is full of wars, murders, adultery, jealousy, incest, abuse, etc. I guess the question is…in the midst of moments of despair, do we find God or does God find us?

    If you have no idea what the answers are and which way to go, follow your heart. Not all who wander are lost (I don’t know who said it, but it is one of my favorite quotes).

  10. Dr. Paul. Thanks for taking the time to continue to involve yourself in my life. It is invaluable to me, and I am honored by it. I know that you have hundreds of people that you can follow, and maybe you do, and I am honored to have a tiny chunk of that. Thanks for reminding me of something I have figured out, that our systematic theologies are logic and reason based and that too much logic applied to God and the bible (fundamentalism) is the same error as too much logic applied to the world (atheism). I have to be able to get away from needing something I can hold in my hand on which to anchor my belief. I know that. But the problem I then have is knowing how to believe. It doesn’t seem that I would have any reason to believe in the biblical God over the Buddhist Path of Enlightenment. But, I guess if all our holy books are descriptions of humanity’s experience of the same God, it wouldn’t much matter would it.

  11. JeepGirl. “If you have no idea what the answers are and which way to go, follow your heart.  Not all who wander are lost (I don’t know who said it, but it is one of my favorite quotes).”   I know who said it, JRR Tolkein, and it’s on my “Stuff I Like” page as one of my favorite quotes. Thanks for reminding me of it.   You have an amazing story there, one that I feel is very close to my same experience. My explosion is somewhat intentional though as I have been sick and tired of that old Christianity. I moved away with a great deal of intent. I think I just expected to find some other place that seemed a bit more settled than I feel by now. But maybe that place of feeling settled is actually the dangerous place to be. As my friend John points out with his words of the waves of life and how we must surf them, I would rather be out on the waves than watching those who are.   Please keep stopping by.

  12. wow! now this gives me hope! it’s like the movie Doubt states “doubt can be as powerful a bond as certainity.” the search and the questions are what bind us. i’m happy to have such companions on my journey!

    great replies and thanks for the kind words Doug. can’t wait to read more!

  13. FRT, I am exactly where you are right now and looking back I realise I have been going in circles and living with this cognitive dissonance for approximately 8 years. I didn’t know it was called cognitive dissonance until recently. I had heard of the words but didn’t know what they meant. It seems to be worse lately and I’ve been randomly crying more frequently than usual. Thanks so much for putting into words exactly how I feel.
    And I especially appreciated Wanderer’s reply.
    Julia

  14. I’ve been a pastor for 42 years and I don’t have all the answers. But I think we don’t ever graduate from faith. And we couldn’t have faith without doubt. Faith deals in unproveable matters. In the end we have to choose what we will believe. If there’s no God then we’re not screwed up because there’s no standard for normality or reason to act better. We have hope because it’s part of our nature. And through the Bible comes a message of a Creator who initiates redemption and pays for it himself. I choose to put my faith in that great one-of-a-kind message of love.

  15. Julia. Glad you found some assistance here. It’s also good to know that I am not the only one who struggles. There is way too much of everyone acting like they have it all together all the time. It is helpful to all of us for all of us to show our chinks. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  16. Ok, Dad. I’m going to ask some honest questions and make some honest pointshere. Why do you choose to believe? Is it fear of hell? Be honest. I’d like to know. For me, it has largelybeen fear of hell, and that is a weak reason to believe. That reason to believe has fallen apart for me because of its emptiness and its coldness. That reason to believe does not go along with the other side of the message that God is loving. Hence, the confusion within me that has been surfacing over the last decade, confusion which I have been ignoring and trying to cover with more faith/prayer/work or whatever. It is no longer going work. I don’t want to lose faith and don’t plan to do so. But it cannot keep ignoring the way it doesn’t fit together within me. I have thought in the past that the morality argument was good evidence for God, but I’m not so sure anymore. You say that if there is no God that there is no reason to act better. I just don’t really buy that. There are quite a few reasons to act better. People without God choose to act better all the time. People who have outright rejected God decide to be moral and respect life and respect humanity and respect the environment. And a lot of the time, I see them doing a better job of it than those who call themselves Christians do. Atheists and agnostics for the most part are good people doing good things. They have plenty of reasons to act better. My faith can’t hang on the fact that without God I then fear I will turn into some evildoer. That also seems a fairly weak position to me. It is not a strong enough place to anchor my faith. I have been alone most of the weekend with Karmen and the boys OOT. Just training and thinking and sometimes praying. And I think I’ve come to a resting place on this issue of God’s existence. It’s not any great revelation as it is all stuff I have thought through before, but looking at it again I think allows me to say that this is where my feet are. This is solid ground. I can stand here. That point is this: if God is not there, then this complexity that we call life is random. Everything other complex thing of which I am aware (granted those are all human things)has some source of creation. My friend John, TitForToat, I believe would refer to this as a “format” that he sees in the universe that reveals the presence of a God to him. It is really hard for me to believe that the human mind, the human body, the laws of physics, etc etc etc, just happened. So the other option is that it is not here by chance. If that is true, then some super intelligence had to be responsible for it. So I am faced with one of two choices. And to be honest, it seems much more likely to me that it is not by chance. Itfeels likea greater leap of faith to believe that it is all random. I like this resting place because it does not follow a line that seeks proof for God, something which is not possible to prove and which, if it was possible, eliminates faith. Faith can’t be based on proof. This position gets me away from that problematic search which The Canon tried in their own words to warn me about last fall when we all took up together, but which I did not see until now. So I feel very very comfortable with God’s existence. Now I have to work on the angry God issues. I am going to re-read scripture, trying to go from a clean slate, eliminating biased lenses through which I have read it before. I realize that this is somewhat impossible. But a fresh reading is never a bad thing.

  17. freestyleroadtrip

    Doug,
    Good job and well said. It sounds like you’re starting from scratch and maybe there’s no better place to be in the mind of a God who wants you to know Him as He wants to be known.

    I think the framework from which we’ve come needs to change altogether. Otherwise we keep comparing apples to oranges. It’s not about the act of ‘acting’ better or needing motivation to avoid hell and make it to heaven. In my very humble opinion, I think that’s missing the point.

    I don’t have a problem with God’s existence, but I have had (and continue to have) problems with what to do now or where to go from here. Ideas are forming and although they are few, they give me hope.

    The greatest of these ideas that has struck me is the very gift God gives us in giving us ourselves. We are not taught to think this highly of ourselves…not very humble and dangerously close to ‘self-centered carnality,’ but I have to think that the greatest commandment of loving God and other’s as ourselves is hinged on the fact that after loving God that we must have a fairly good idea about loving ourselves (and not in a selfish way….because that’s not real love). I think that after allowing that journey of discovery to begin, it snowballs. Mind you, I’m still a ‘newbie’, but learning to love, marvel at, and appreciate the creation that I am has birthed a desire to look at other people differently…..albeit not perfectly.

    I think God’s delight is in our delight….following our passions, loving ourselves and others, taking in the beauty that is around us, and living rich, abundant, free lives. My belief tells me that Jesus is the one who made it possible (‘for freedom that Christ came to set us free…’)—not a saving from a future heaven or hell, but whether or not we’re going to live believing that we were bad from the time of birth, have never been and never will be good enough. God said all His creation was good.

    We now get to choose if we’re going to live in a hell of our own making or a heaven on earth and be co participants/creators of God’s coming Kingdom. I’m not concerned about heaven and hell as much any more. I’d be lieing if I said it’s all been settled in my mind, but it doesn’t scare me anymore.

    A have faith in a loving God who sees His creation wrestle and struggle with how to know Him. I want to encourage you to continue on the path you’re on. Take a break from heaven and hell and enjoy your cute little wife, 2 beautiful boys, your passions, and all that makes you…you. You have so much to offer that you leave buried deep inside. And although it makes me extremely insecure for all that richness to come out, you are robbing yourself and others around you from allowing it to come out. As well as not fully living up to the potential God put you here for.

    I love you desperately and am proud of you everyday. I’m sorry I fail to say it. You are so self sufficient and do so much well that I forget that you need to hear it. Forgive me for the times I criticize you, or at least make you feel that way. It’s never my intention.

    Don’t give up, whatever you do. Thank you for sharing your life with me.

    Karmen

  18. I think the “format” concept is a good basis for believing in God. I’ve got a couple of other thoughts to add.
    1. God isn’t a theology any more than you or I are a psychology or a profession. He is a person and we know him personally, not theologically.
    2. An angry God isn’t the God Jesus presents us. Jesus presents a God who goes looking for a single lost sheep; the Father who runs to meet his returning son. Jesus doesn’t seem to be just waiting for people to trip up so he can write them off. He’s never seen carrying around a checklist and marking up demerits. So I don’t think God is upset by our wrestling or confusion or even anger, as long as we are trying to know him.

    I would argue also that the reasons we have for doing better all come from a higher nature that is created into us. Animals don’t hope and don’t aspire to be better.

    Our nature seems to be in desperate need of love. A God of love corresponds to and answers that need. It seems to me that God made us for knowing and enjoying him. Anger on his part would only damage that very purpose. The most concise statement in Scripture about God is that he is love. His love nurtures our nature; our soul and spirit.

    Only a God of love would offer us life.

  19. I didn’t answer your early questions there. Fear eventually becomes an inadequate reason for knowing God or believing in him. So I’m believing in him for his love and offering of life; for his giving of his Son to make possible my reconciliation with him and knowing him in love.

    I think most, if not all, thinking people pass through this trial of doubt. Neat, tidy constructs come apart in the tests life inevitably brings. Honest seeking and wrestling brings us out to new personal faith that is really our own.

  20. I’m hoping (and experiencing to a greater degree) for joy and abundance in the here and now. For me there’s no more putting off for the future (death or 2nd coming) what is available to us now.

    For whatever reason, I hadn’t experienced much of that kind of thing myself or witnessed much of it in the community of people of which I was a part. I realize it’s not unique to just that specific community, but it’s my only point of reference. It feels like the greater effort was put into preaching and teaching how to think correctly about God. Relationship was also taught, but it seemed to me to be conditional.

  21. In some ways I like what Laryr has to say – concerning acceptance, love, and hope – as being the main reasons to seek this God out further. I tend to agree – I think God has these intents also…or at least scripture can point in that direction.

    On a side note, I think you do well to read it without general bias before you come to the book – no neat and wrapped up theology to filter it through – which colors everything you read.

    In fact, if you read just one gospel and imagined that was all you had to go by (which would of been quite common in early Christianity) – what would your picture of Jesus be? I choose Matthew personally. I also like James as a letter – since it lines up with Matthew.

    Problem is most Christians don’t admit they follow certain books as their primary focus (for most it’s Paul’s letters and John).

    Pretend you only get one book about this faith – and maybe one letter – then focus on the 2 things and see wha picture of Jesus emerges…do you pull out an atonement theory? Is the virgin birth included? Do you see a Trinity? Does Jesus seem like God or just a messiah?

    Things change once you remove the clutter and focus on just a few things. For me I am a Matthew and James follower of Jesus – those 2 I can stand on and move theologically from – John and Paul just don’t speak the same to me.

    There is a difference and when you read them with no colored glasses but as they are – in context – things change quickly.

  22. Alright… this is fun. I need to cut out some more time to finish all the comments.

    This “lurker” just wanted to check in.

  23. Doug,
    You asked me about my approach to Scripture so I’ll jump off the deep end here. I was raised in a church setting where the “dictation” of Scripture was taught. I later learned that the theory doesn’t hold up to examination and there were “softer” versions of dictation offered but it was still dictation. We may have said “plenary inspiration” and meant “everything needed for salvation but not history or science” at a high level in the church but it never really got down to the lay level. In fact, it never made it much down to the college Bible Class level. On that level questioning dictation theory (or the absolutely detailed fulfillment of OT prophecy) led to being considered a heretic.

    Our denomination got caught up in the fundamentalist’s “battle for the Bible” even though we were not traditionally fundies. It was part of the logical/rational defense of the Bible so that if any thing was not “true” (factual) then any truth claim based on it was at risk. [People are still looking for Noah’s Ark to ‘prove’ the flood and the accuracy of the Bible; others claim God just created fossils that appear millions of years old to confuse humanity].

    My journey is too long to put here but one way of saying where I am today is that I believe the church confuses the Word (Jesus) of God with the word (scripture) of God. In fact, many people practice Bibliotry and worship the Bible.

    One way of thinking about the Scriptures is like a group blog where the writers attempt to accurately reflect their experience of God through their world view. [The fact that one story talks about the sun standing got Copernicus condemned until recently but how could they have said it differently?]

    Larry said it well – the Christian faith is a love story about a relationship between a personal Trinity and all humanity. It is not a relationship with the Bible but with the Trinity mediated through the Incarnation. Western theology made it a legal relationship when it was an eternal loving one. Western theology replaced the essence of holiness as the dynamic loving relationship among the Trinity with a “purity code” (following part of the OT model) . Western theology’s dualism made God into an abstract, distant, impassive, Unmoved Mover and lost the essence of the passion of the Trinity to bring humanity into relationship (the dance) with them.

    The filter through which we read Scripture makes all the difference. Jesus is reported as saying as much in John 5:39 “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me,”

    I have settled in my mind that the only filter for me as a Christ follower is the life of Christ as the full, complete and and adequate revelation of the Father. Matt 11:27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” The “no one” includes Abraham, Moses, the Prophets, etc – no one. So, the Word (Son) is the living revelation of the Trinity.

    One more step about filters. Most of us have been trained to read Paul through the filter of the Gospels. Further, many of us have been indoctrinated in the “penal satisfaction theory of the atonement” – we teach it to our youngest children at Easter. However, most of Paul’s authentic epistles were written before the Gospels. People came to faith, lived and died as believers without ever knowing there was a Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. All they had was Paul’s gospel. IF we honestly read Col, Eph, Phil and even Romans without the filters of the Gospels or the penal theory then the story is quite different.

    The problem that those of us who have grown up with one filter that is not working for us is that it is much harder to unlearn it than it is to learn another one. Questioning it is like questioning everything because it was so encompassing of everything we thought we knew. The process of questioning can generate a lot of anger, “shame for being so blind,” hostility to all believers, a sense of futility and sometimes a lot of anxiety on the part of others who want the best for us.

    Maybe I’ve exposed myself enough for you to get where I am today. I’ll have to handle the significance of the Trinity and the Incarnation in another blog. Please ask if it’s too confusing.

  24. Doug

    Ive been thinking lately about this Jesus guy. Now you know Im no Christian, though I very much believe in a Creator. My thought is, if you want Jesus to be the main focus of your relationship with G-d, why not just take him at his words in this scripture. I believe that if you truly believe what he is saying here, you wont ever worry about hell and being left out again.

    John 12:32 (English Standard Version)

    And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

    Pretty simple, wouldnt you agree? Why jump through other peoples hoops when there is just one to step into. Belief in these words(hoop). Man, do people ever like to complicate life.

  25. I agree with Dr. Paul and TitforTat. All that is true about God is seen in Jesus. Scripture says, “He is the image of the invisible God…” (Colossians 1:15a). Jesus is the center of Christian faith; nothing to the right and nothing to the left, just Jesus and all we can learn and know from Him.

  26. Karmen, Thank you for your loyal commitment to me. Most of the growth that I have been able to squeeze out has been as the direct of your involvment in my life, pushing me to be better, pushing me to go farther, not letting me settle for some isolated existence, lonely and cold. If I didn’t have you, I’d be some reclusive weirdo, angry and bitter. You are my soul mate who brings color to my life. I am sorry that my thick head gets in our way too often, causing frustration and distance. I don’t know why I have been dealt this lot of doubt mixed with this need to earn everything. But I feel I am getting to the place where it is not working for me, not working for us, and I am ready to be free of it, the chains loosened. I love you deeply, my dear. Doug

  27. Dad, I am a bit surprised that you like the “format” thing. Mostly I have understood you to be a believer because the bible says so. I think I am understanding some different things about you and your faith including the fact that you have allowed some degree of change within yourself as it pertains to your faith. Some of the things you have said are not mainline Nazarene ideas, and maybe you have felt that you couldn’t or shouldn’t express those things as a representative of the church. Now that you are done, maybe you feel more free to express. I appreciate your contributions but mostly just your willingness to talk and not to freak out because of my wrestling. Thanks. Doug

  28. Dad. Did you used to believe out of fear?

  29. Karm. I know exactly what you mean. Very well summarized.

  30. Jason. I can honestly say that I don’t follow any one book. I have just been wrestling with whether God was even real. That seems to be much more settled for me now.

  31. Dr. Paul. Thanks again for your time, thoughtful detail, and attention to my blog and questions. I know you have much more on your plate. I do appreciate it. I am deciding to change the way I view scripture. But man, it is hard. I think my honest view of scripture, you know what is at your core and governs your behavior instead of what comes out of your mouth, is the dictation view of scripture coupled to the penal theory of redemption. And that is not working very well for me. I am now understanding the bible as a way a bunch of writers experienced God. That is much more usable. I’m actually excited to begin reading it in that manner. I feel greatly assisted.

  32. John. That’s good stuff. And as usual from you, very simple. You will be glad to know that I am reading a book called Chi Running. I am just at the beginning but can already see its value in not only running, but life. Simple. Honest. Life giving. I’m working on a post centered around it. I am amazed that you have actually gotten my dad to say a couple of comments down that he agrees with you. Amazing. I would never have thought it to be the case.

  33. Dad. I know John and I know Dr. Paul and I know you and I am amazed that you are finding that you agree with them. I realize it’s only on one point, but I would never have thought it beforehand. In some ways, there is some real openmindedness going around here. Seems infectious. I like it.

  34. Fear was once a large component of believing for me. It didn’t change overnight. And I still have great awe and reverence for God. But over time, learning, experience and insight enable us to evolve to greater health in our relationship with God and in our spirit. I view this as normal. When we are a small child, we may have some degree of fear toward our earthly father. As we grow and age and gain perspective we grow into a healthier relationship with our dad.

    It has taken me a long time to come to faith that God loves me for just myself and because He, himself, is love. I agonized over anything I viewed as a failure. But God’s love isn’t whimsical, emotional, or conditional. It isn’t performance that impresses God. It’s humble sincerity and the return to Him of the love he gives to me.

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