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.