AUTHOR’S NOTE: This post reflects innumerable things that I now reject. I’ve kept it to show where I come from.
Let’s get a few things straight. First, I can’t prove the Bible is true. Nor can I prove that Jesus is who he said he was. I can’t even prove there is a god of any faith, let alone mine. If, after reading, you conclude that I haven’t proven anything, we would be in hearty agreement.
Also, there’s a popular belief that, even if there is no god, one should live according to Biblical principles because, for such an adherent, doing so has everything to gain (salvation in Heaven; a good life on Earth) and nothing to lose. This idea was first formally articulated in the 17th Century by French philosopher, Blaise Pascal, and is often referred to as “Pascal’s Wager.” I think it’s important to emphasize that, despite the fact that I cannot prove there is a god, I wholly reject this line of thinking.
First, who’s to say whose faith to follow? Taken to it’s logical conclusion, one would have to adhere to every faith in order to make sure they are saved. Of course, this puts Pascal in quite a dilemma: If Faith A rejects Faith B, to which faith should one adhere? Second, and more importantly, the very Bible that Pascal was defending itself rejects Pascal’s argument. (See 1 Corinthians 15:19). The faith and life required by the Bible is, by worldly standards, dangerous and uncomfortable. Following Jesus will subject one to persecution and sacrifice. Unfortunately, American Christianity has largely become a health, wealth, and comfort religion—one which it’s earliest adherents would hardly recognize as their own.
What follows is a summary of why I choose to follow Jesus. The discussion must be considered as a whole: I believe the sum of its parts as a group greatly exceeds the sum of its parts individually.
My faith in Jesus is in large part based on the Bible. There is no body of literature in the history of the world that resembles it even remotely.
The Bible is remarkably coherent, despite its decentralized authorship. It is made up of at least sixty-six books. Its authors include kings, soldiers, shepherds, government officials, farmers, a doctor, a tent maker, and fishermen, among others—hardly the kind of group that would sit down and concoct a grand religious conspiracy. Further, the first book was written in Arabia by Moses around 1,500 B.C.E and the last book was written on a small Greek island by John around 70-90 A.D. If the Bible was such a disparately authored, man-made conspiracy, it was a millennia and a half in the making.
Impossible? No. Highly improbable? Um, yeah.
Yet, despite such an disparate, motley assemblage, these sixty-six books work together in some of the most fascinating and beautiful ways. In a nutshell, the Bible begins with the creation and fall of humankind and what follows is the world’s greatest love story. First, God prepares His originally chosen people (the Jews) for the coming redemption of the world. The books that make up this story constitute what we now call, “The Old Testament.” Then God sends his Son to redeem the world from their fall and this offer of redemption is spread throughout the world. This latter narrative makes up what is popularly called, “The New Testament.”
Interlaced throughout this narrative are inter-testamentory themes, symbols, and prophecies that fascinate literary scholars (believers and non-believers) to this day. For example, about two-thousand years before Jesus would begin preaching that “the first will be last and the last will be first,” “blessed are the meek,” and many, many other like passages, the Old Testament books in no uncertain terms had already foreshadowed the principle that the weakest and least among people would be considered the greatest.
Consider Jacob, who took Esau’s birthright, despite being the younger and weaker brother. Consider Jacob’s son, Joseph, who was the youngest of his eleven brothers, was sold him into slavery, and yet would become second in command of all of Egypt and rule over his brothers. Consider the Hebrews who, following the death of Joseph, would be subject slavery for hundreds of years by the Egyptians before being rescued by Moses, an insecure Hebrew with a speech impediment. Consider Gideon, whom God allowed to win in battle with only 300 soldiers, despite Gideon’s estimation that 32,000 would be required. Consider David, who, as a young boy, would kill Goliath, the Philistine giant with a mere sling and a stone. Consider Josiah, who would become king of Judah at the wise age of eight, yet was one of the greatest kings in the history of the Hebrew people. Consider Jesus, who was born a carpenter’s son in a barn in a small and obscure town and grew up poor and uneducated.
Again, this theme—essential to the Biblical narrative—spans two-thousand years of history and is consistent despite coming from such a disparate group of writers.
Speaking of Jesus, he was prophesied of not a few times before his birth. If you are interested, the following link will take you to a chart of notable fulfilled prophecies of Jesus from the Old Testament. Admittedly, some references are vague, but some are quite specific. In their entirety (over three-hundred Old Testament prophecies are fulfilled in the New Testament), ignoring such a sum of fulfilled prophecies seems intellectually dishonest to me.
The Bible is unmistakably unique in literature. Has any book assigned such a prominent role in any world religion contained so much counterproductive material? The Bible is crammed with teachings, claims, and stories that make its work harder on itself. Take off your 21st-century-skeptic hat and put on your fool-everyone-into-following-your-own-made-up-religion hat. What would you do if you wanted a following that, even if only nominally, would encompass the majority of the world and remain intact throughout history? For starters, would you write a text that even remotely resembled the Bible? There is no way!
To begin, unlike most religious texts, much of the text of the Bible is intentionally designed to alienate its readership. Whether it was violating the social mores of its day (and of the present day), introducing teachings that were difficult for its earliest recipients to understand, introducing teachings that are difficult to follow, and flat out offending the most well-respected personalities of its day, the Bible does not read like a document prepared by a group of conspirators seeking to create a popular following.
To take just one example, the Bible placed women in roles of prominence that were, to say the least, uncommon in its time. Now, I wish the Bible did more to promote women; had I written it, it would have. But it is a mistake to base your belief in the truth of something on how much you agree with it. If God really exists, if God really did design the universe, then we can’t challenge his judgment any more than we can design the universe.
That digression aside, one of the most important moments of the Bible involved Jesus talking to a Samaritan woman in John’s account of Jesus. It is in this passage that Jesus claims that physical things will never fill a person like God will. For purposes of this discussion, I want you to focus on the weight of Jesus carrying on a conversation with this Samaritan woman. For one thing, people from Judah harbored a strong prejudice against people from Samaria. In addition, men at this time were not prone to converse with women generally, let alone women of a despised nation such as Samaria. Today, this passage has little impact. To Jesus’ peers, this could not have made it easy to follow Jesus.
In another account, Jesus defended a woman caught in adultery from a crowd ready to stone her to death. So, this Jesus associated with women (taboo) who were from hated regions (double taboo) and who were considered too immoral to even deserve to live (triple taboo).
To me, these stories that subjected the Bible to greater unpopularity add to it’s credibility. I get it if you’re thinking to yourself, “So, the Bible’s authors lacked the PR skills for their time. That does not mean I should believe ?” And you would be right! Bear with me further.
The Bible is also notable for large sections that are utterly devoid of sensational qualities. Some parts of the Bible are truly boring. However, a unenjoyable as those parts are, they are crucial for at least one reason. Have you ever listened to a salesperson tell you for hours on end that their product was mediocre? My guess is no. Instead, salespeople are trained to keep your attention with short, dramatic language. The words they use are always superlatives—”this is the BEST car,” “this is the FASTEST computer”—and they do not waste time.
My experience tells me that when someone speaking to me frequently sensationalizes things, a red flag ought to be raised. It is frequently a symptom of insecurity. Don’t believe me? In the most extreme cases, read the propaganda of any dictator. So when I read parts of the Bible such as 2nd or 3rd John, or passages like Paul’s when he says he avoids using “clever speech” to win people over, it is at least an indication that the writers of the Bible felt that it could stand on its own.
The Human Being, the Universe, and the Rest of Science
I realize the universe is inappreciably large, that we have WAY more to discover. I admit that I am a sucker for reports of UFOs, extraterrestrial activity, and planets capable of sustaining life. However, do you, like me, sense the overwhelming uniqueness of the human being on the Earth and in the universe? Scientists and philosophers are prone, with some justification, to dismissing this as homocentric and arrogant. I get it—the universe is huge and we are really, really small.
And that’s exactly my point. We are helpless in the universe. We are utterly dependent on a seemingly never-ending set of circumstances that just happen to exist on our tiny blue ball. Consider that human life would not be possible on Earth if any of the following circumstances did not exist exactly as they are:
- the Earth’s distance from the sun
- the Earth’s tilt
- the moon and its distance from the Earth
- the salt composition of the ocean
- the Earth’s size
- the percentage of oxygen in our atmosphere
- the Earth’s magnetic field
These are just a few. There are many, many more.
It’s almost as if these circumstances were arranged the way they were just for us. The universe is utterly hostile to human life. We are not welcome outside our planet. Do you really believe this is a mere accident? I can’t.
If you’ve heard Christians claim that science and the Bible are incompatible, allow me to apologize. I take issue with neither evolution nor the Big Bang. If God formed the universe through a big bang, great. If the Earth is billions of years old rather than thousands, a reasonable interpretation of the Bible allows for this. There is nothing in the Bible that requires species of animals to remain static. I do believe homo sapiens are a special case, that is to say, our origin came directly from God. Thus homo neanderthalensis may have evolved from homo erectus. However, I don’t believe modern homo sapiens evolved from homo neanderthalensis. This may be a slight departure from the scientific field but I don’t believe it is a radical one.
Experiencing Redemption, Experiencing Jesus
Far more important than the academic world of apologetics, proofs, and arguments (coherent or otherwise), my experience confirms that Jesus is the one person worth following. When I see injustice, fear, and suffering in the world (and in my backyard, Little Rock, Arkansas), I am convinced that there is an invisible enemy bent on destruction. The Bible calls him Satan. When I see the most impossible healing, reconciliation, and rescue, I am convinced that there is a quite visible savior. And let me impress this: I have seen these things over and over and over.
I have also observed that when people make themselves vulnerable, when they intentionally put themselves in situations in which relying on God is the only option, people become empowered to do things that ordinary people just cannot do. Before Jesus left the earth, he spoke of the Holy Spirit who would come to take his place. Though I fully appreciate the skepticism that many have because of innumerable false claims to the Holy Spirit, I have witnessed the Spirit do things in others and in myself that force me to acknowledge God.
This is the most important component of my faith. It cannot be explained, only experienced. However, to even remotely appreciate it, one must resolve to accept that there is a world outside our own and that we cannot comprehend that world. I can’t see the wind, but I see what it causes. I can’t see God, but I see what he causes. I have experienced God, but nothing in my vocabulary or comprehension explains my experience even somewhat well.