Less certainty means more faith

I’m not the first to say that it seems the older I get the less I know. Or perhaps more accurately the more I learn I realise there is so much more that I don’t know. When I was much younger I thought I knew it all. When it comes to spiritual matters and religious belief, this seems magnified.

Candles lit for prayer

lighting a candle

Shaken

Several years ago two close work colleagues died. They first became ill and as we found out about their illness we prayed. We prayed many prayers, asking for a cure, asking for the pain to be taken away. I believed my prayers would be heard… but it was the answer, or response, I was unsure about. And as time moved on, prayers for healing appeared to become more and more futile.

When prayer, especially for healing, isn’t answered in the way we would like, it can be devastating. Over the years, and not just in the examples given above I have prayed for people to be healed, yet they haven’t been. I have also prayed for people and they have been healed. And I think this is the issue that often shakes me. I don’t understand why some and not others. Yes, there is the medical profession involved and I personally believe that prayer works alongside these gifted professionals.

The bottom line, and for me, so often the faith shaker, is that I don’t understand why. In other words I don’t know, I don’t understand. And the more people who I see suffer and die multiplies this confusion.

And stirred

I don’t mind saying I don’t know all the answers. In fact I am more than happy to say it. The more I learn and experience life, adds to this; cause, effect and chaos happily coexist. But the question I always end up asking, whatever the outcome, is why.

Asking why means that at some level I expect an answer. Even in the deepest, darkest depths of despair, to ask that question shows a flicker of faith, perhaps mustard seed in size. A question that believes there is, at least somewhere, an answer.

Not asking why would be the greatest sadness and the domain of a completely closed mind. When the conversation stops, there can be no dialogue. And if you don’t ask the question, there can never be an answer.

Do you suffer from Bibleolatry?

What? Well it’s like idolatry but it’s with the Bible. Hold on, is he saying what I think he’s saying? Perhaps I should clarify things before I get lynched, decried as a heretic and run out of town.

Today’s WordLive contained an often misused and misunderstood passage from the Bible.

16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness
2 Timothy 3:16 (Today’s New International Version)

And in particular, the bit translated ‘God-breathed’ – θεοπνευστος – theopneustos (with a silent p 0r pi to be precise) – a word used by Paul that isn’t found anywhere else in Greek literature before he wrote it, a unique word.

Throughout history, and with as much voraciousness today, some have misused that verse to teach, rebuke, correct and train people with any old interpretation of the Bible they see fit.

It is God-breathed, therefore each word is the literal word of God, and therefore you’ll do as it says blah blah blah.

It has been used and abused throughout history, and in no small way led to today’s popular belief that Christianity is all about control. An opiate for the masses if you like.

So if the phrase shouldn’t be a carte blanche offer to impress your own interpretation of the Bible onto others then what does it imply?

I’ll start with saying what it doesn’t mean. At no point were the writers taken over by some divine force and turned into some human typewriter, churning out scripture till there was enough to keep the Pope in purple till the second coming. Each word and phrase is not divinely dictated.

If we don’t see the Bible in that light we begin to see so much more. We realise that there is a human element to it. A human element that talks about pain, struggle, victory, love, hate and so much more. We see the story of people who have lived in some relationship or other with God. We see people who lived at set times in history relating to other cultures  and beliefs around them.

And if we look carefully, and here is the real point, we begin to catch glimpses of that divine being. We’re talking emotion and feeling, and a whole lot of other subjective stuff that makes empirical study somewhat pointless.

…when God speaks, human voices ring in our ears.
G C Berkouwer

What I’m trying to get to is that it isn’t about the literal words that you see on the page. It isn’t about the pages in a book that has been given to you, that is quite likely sitting on a shelf somewhere.

For me the Bible becomes a gateway, a portal, to somewhere beyond. Through the lives of others who were touched by God’s breath and moved by God’s love, I get to make out the divinity that is beyond.

As I read the words I catch glimpses of God. I am taught by seeing how God has acted. I am guided and change the way I act (rebuked is a word with too many negative connotations to be useful for most people) by seeing the actions and consequences of others. And ever so slowly the glimpses of the divine that I catch lead me closer to what they reveal.

The problem is we can easily fall into Bibleolatry, the worship and reverence of a collection of words, instead of the worship and reverence of the one the words, little by little, reveal.

Try reading the Bible with the hope of meeting God, it’s much more rewarding that way. And when you meet God…? Well that’s another post.

What do you mean?

Just had a listen to Ian Brown’s wonderful track F.E.A.R. For those who don’t know the song, it is written around those four letters. Every line in the song, well almost every line, uses those letters to create the words, so we end up with lines like Forgive Everybody And Remember and Fantastic Expectations Amazing Revelations and so on.

Anyway, it got me thinking, which is always a bad thing, about what exactly is meaning. The song, or more accurately, those four letters mean so many different things throughout. And yet, as a whole the song has meaning – not that I want to go into song hermeneutics here.

Then we have the Bible (bet you didn’t see that coming). Many passages in the Bible are taken to mean different things by different people. As one very simple (ha) example we have the whole millennium thing; I’m not going into it here but if you want to know more have a look here.

My question is where is meaning? Is it in the single lines; the individual verses; the song as a whole; the message of the book; or something else?

I’m not asking for an answer, simply encouraging a conversation. But in closing I just want to point out that more bigotry and judgement has come from emphasising the minutiae than viewing the whole. Jesus himself would accept a summary of the minutiae quite willingly.

Ian Brown’s song isn’t called Find earth and reap, it’s called F.E.A.R.

The Bible isn’t called Psalm 68:21 or Leviticus 18:22, it’s called The Library, a collection of writings from across centuries, about how God has reached out to humanity. There is no need to rip out bits and pieces and no need to over-emphasise other bits.

You can pick up any Bible and read to begin to see what it is on about.

As for Ian Brown’s F.E.A.R. You can listen to it below, as you ponder its meaning.

Christianity in the Digital Space

Next week I’m off to Durham for a few days to take part in the above. It looks like a really interesting discussion group and hopefully will be an inspiration to all who attend.

For those who want to follow what is going on then you can either keep up with the symposium’s blog here or follow what is happening via twitter.

It may be best to use that direct link for twitter, becasue when I searched for the account I was offered a rather amusing alternative :)



Deconstructing my faith, reimagining orthodoxy

For anyone who has even a passing interest in church history, F.F.Bruce’s The Spreading Flame (can’t believe this is currently out of print on amazon) is one of those all-time classics that should be on the reading list. I’ve had a copy for years, since I was at college in fact, doing my degree. But I’ve only ever dipped into relevant sections when needed. So I decided to sit down and read the whole book, all 418 pages and 8 centuries worth of it. It took me more than one sitting to do this though.

I’d like to share a few quotes that I found particularly helpful. Recently I’ve been going through a sort of deconstruction of my faith – now before you consign me to realm of heretic along with Gene Robinson and David Jenkins, I don’t mean I’ve changed my belief, simply looked at it, reassessed it with a critical eye. In other words, if you excuse the christianeze, I’ve been spending some time in inner reflection with my God.

I’m sure I’ll return to this at a later point, but let’s get back to Prof Bruce. The Spreading Flame was first published in 1958, and so falls into the modern era. This was by no means a postmodern manifesto and yet I found plenty that resonated with this Gen Xer. I hope that you’ll find these quotes worth thinking over. I’ll try and set the quotes in context, but most of them come from when the early church was defining its faith, which leads us neatly to…

‘Intellectual orthodoxy is good, of course, if it be not blindly accepted from tradition but reached intelligently from first principles; but it is no substitute for love to Christ and life in Christ’

So often we feel that ticking the boxes is more important than what we do. What is more important, the ‘believing’ or the ‘being’? I’ve found this a challenge recently.

‘Our conception of God must fall far short of His real being, and our language about Him must fall far short of our conception.’

I think this may well be my favourite quote from the book. The western church has lost the awe and wonder of God. It is about time we stopped defining and began worshipping, and by worshipping I mean living. (Interesting point is that F F Bruce does use a capital H for the personal pronoun, well I found it interesting).

‘Christian behaviour is rooted in a lifelong response of thanksgiving for the divine gift. (In the New Testament, another epigrammatist has said, theology is grace, and ethics is gratitude.)’

Well, as I just said above.

‘Happy are those who have learned that the truth in this matter lies, as Charles Simeon said, “not in the middle, and not in one extreme, but in both extremes.” ‘

If there is anything that will divide Christians, apart from a discussioon about the carpet colour, it is a little debate about predestination. This quote came from the bit in the book about Augustine but referred to the later debate between Calvin and Arminius. But what wisdom does it take to make such a comment. And that brings me full circle to where I am in my own deconstruction.

I believe in a God who is beyond my own imagination and yet, I believe in that same God becoming one of us, human. I love to deconstruct, because everything becomes clearer, just like a foggy day.