Compelling Holy Books. Is the Bible evidence for the existence of God?

Does the existence and nature of the Bible point to the existence and nature of God? Some people just love the Bible. Others find reading it a head-scratching experience. Perhaps, of course, there is some selective reading involved. I suspect that many who love it, and are never driven to question their faith by it, stick to their favourite bits. Likewise, I suspect that those who question Christianity tend stick to their favourite tricky bits. We want to consider the Bible in its entirety as we ask whether it is a compelling aspect of Christianity. Does the existence and nature of the Bible actually point to the reality of God?

Our expectations of the Bible play a big role in how we respond to it and whether we will find it compelling or not. There are two expectations that people often have as they consider the Bible. Either it is written by God, or it is written by men. Let us consider how these expectations pan out.

If the Bible was written by God, and if it was simply downloaded to us as if God sent us an email, then it is not what we would expect. It is convoluted. There are obviously so many authors writing at different times, under different circumstances, writing for different reasons, using different genres which reflect the kinds of writing humans do. It is not simply a “Here are some messages from God with all humans, at all times, and in all situations in mind” kind of book. Indeed what we think of as one book is really many writings written and collected over a very long period of time. That much is obvious.

In addition, the Bible answers questions we are not asking today. Have you ever wondered who the great-great-gandson of Esau was? The Bible gives us the answer.  However, the Bible does not answer questions we are asking. What about the dinosaurs? Who did Cain marry? How do we ethically use all our advances in medicine? If the Bible is simply a direct message from God, would we not expect it to be a simple message that anticipates all the questions of humanity?

Therefore the Bible is not what we would expect it to be if it is simply a message written and sent by God.

However, if the Bible is purely written out of the imagination of humans then likewise, it is not what we would expect. There is an amazing consistency in the presentation of God, the nature of humanity, the human dilemma, and the relationship between God and humanity. Despise the number of writings, the differing authors from different centuries living under different conditions, there is an incredible sense of unity in the Bible. There is also an incredible storyline that spans the many, many, many generations that lived while the writings were being written. Each generation would have had trouble making up its own part in that overall story.

Therefore the Bible is not what we would expect it to be if it is simply a product of the human mind.

So what is the Bible, then, if the Bible is not what we would expect if God simply sent us a direct message, or if we made God up? The writings we find in the Bible are the kinds of writings we would expect, if God created humanity, then humanity rebelled, then God chose and called a specific people for the working out of His purposes, making covenant promises with them, rescuing them from Egypt, giving them the law at Sinai, establishing covenant promises and consequences, bringing them into a promised land where the people kept breaking the covenant, then God appointed leaders and prophets to get them back on track while continuing to reveal more of His purposes, then He came to us as a man, teaching, working miracles, was killed, then rose from the dead, appeared to many, gave the Holy Spirit, then the many people who saw him alive went about as witnesses telling others what they knew to be true, while God gave the Holy Spirit to people who were not from His specifically chosen people so they could be in relationship with Him also, while groups of believers gathered together in assemblies which sometimes needed instructions which was given through letters written by Paul and others, while the stories about, and teachings of, Jesus, were committed to writing by four men in what came to be known as the Gospels. If all these things happened and more, then the Bible is exactly the collection of writings we would expect.

The opposite is true. If these things did not happen, then why do the writings that make up the Bible exist, why do they take the shape they do, and why do they say the things they do?

The writings that make up the Bible are records of the ongoing relationship between God and humanity throughout many centuries in history until God finally revealed Himself most fully through Jesus:

Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. 2 And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe. 3 The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven. Hebrews 1:1-3 (NLT)

So are these writings from God, and therefore to be considered “The Word of God,” or are  they simply what humans wrote? They are both. As the Bible says of the sacred writings, what we now call “The Bible,”

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:14-17 (NIV emphasis added)

The writings that make up the Bible are “God breathed.” That means they are not simply written by God and downloaded to us, nor are they simply written by men without God’s involvement. Both God and humans are involved. They absolutely passed through the minds of people, they were absolutely penned by people, but they absolutely have God’s blessing as expressing well what we need to know. God would not have a long, long history of relationship with humanity, culminating with His very coming to us to enable relationship with Him, without providing for an accurate representation to be written and collected for future generations. So the writings of the Bible are “God breathed,” which means they are neither “God written,” nor “human invented.” Both God and humans are involved. When the writings of the Bible seem to be from another time and place, we are not surprised. They were written by people in another time and place. When the writings of the Bible seem timeless we are not surprised. The creator of time, Who still relates to us in our time, was involved!

This being the nature of the Bible, we want to check our expectations. The Bible is described by Paul as being “able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus,” and useful for “training in righteousness.” This means it is not a handbook to answer every question and satisfy our curiosity. Neither is it an idol to be worshipped. It does help us know God in Christ, Whom we do worship. Knowing about reconciliation in Jesus is infinitely better than knowing about the dinosaurs, or where Cain found a wife!

The Bible is not what we would expect if God simply sent us a direct message, nor if we made God up. However, it is what we would expect if God has had a long relationship with us, interacting with us throughout history. The Bible itself, in all its convoluted mess, in all its wonderful consistency and amazing storyline, is compelling evidence that God exists and that God loves us.

(This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.)

Was the Flood of Genesis a Hate Crime?

Was the flood in the days of Noah a hate crime?

Imagine you are alive sometime between Noah and Moses but you are not part of the Hebrew people of Moses. There are stories of a great flood being passed down from generation to generation. How do you suppose people accounted for the reason behind this flood? You might think of a god or several gods hating people.

Indeed there were stories of a flood being passed down in those days which were quite similar to the Biblical account. One such story is called the “Epic of Gilgamesh”. According to it, the people of the earth were so noisy that they were disturbing the peace of the gods. Extermination would fix that! These are the kinds of things people came up with as they tried to make sense of life’s experiences in a prescience and very superstitious time and place. However, the Bible was coming into existence. The Biblical account of the flood, though being very similar to other flood accounts in some ways, is very different in others. It sets the record straight.

In setting the record straight, the reason for the flood is given:

The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. 6 And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. Genesis 6:5-6

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 And God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth. 13 And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth. Genesis 6:11-13 (emphasis added)

The evil of humankind was the reason for the flood, and a very specific kind of evil; violence. Indeed, upon leaving the ark, violence is addressed as being of first importance:

For your own lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning: from every animal I will require it and from human beings, each one for the blood of another, I will require a reckoning for human life.
6 Whoever sheds the blood of a human,
by a human shall that person’s blood be shed;
for in his own image
God made humankind. Genesis 9:5-6

The very first ethic given to Noah and his family for dwelling on the earth is an ethic of flourishing in a world of non-violence. The flood was to be a new beginning for humanity, a new beginning without the violence of the past.

The Biblical flood account of the flood continues to set the record straight in our day. Did God flood the earth because He hates people? Was this a hate crime?

What God hated was the violence people committed against one another. Had he hated people we would just be talking about the flood, and not Noah’s ark. Of course we would not be talking at all for humanity would have ceased then and there! God would have acted in complete justice to end all life at that flood.

. . . the wages of sin is death. Romans 6:23

But instead there was a new beginning, and a promise of mercy. This is not a story of God hating people, but of God heading down the road of loving and loyal relationship.

Most translations have “bow” where we expect “rainbow”. This is on purpose for the Hebrew word behind “bow” literally is the kind of bow used to fire arrows. The bow is a weapon. Some Bible teachers have pointed out that when God puts the bow in the sky, it is symbolic of how He is hanging up his weapon. God is refusing to use a weapon to bring about justice. He is giving mercy rather than letting His perfect justice roll.

A rainbow is a very fitting symbol for God’s love and mercy. To have a rainbow you need just the right amount of light and moisture. To have the existence of life itself requires just the right amounts of light and moisture. God commits to keep providing both. Jesus speaks of light and moisture when He teaches about love:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. Matthew 5:43-45

God has been keeping His promise. He has been holding back the immediate execution of His justice. He has been merciful to every generation.

As Bible teachers have pointed out, if mercy is not being treated as we deserve, then grace is being treated as we do not deserve. The Biblical account of the flood is a prelude to grace. God hung up His bow, His weapon, and called for humanity to do the same. But then God came to us in Jesus and we hung Him up on our weapon of choice for violent execution. God Himself was the One to suffer human violence in Jesus. If ever a worldwide flood was appropriate it was as Jesus hung on a cross. But instead of letting justice roll, God let forgiveness flow:

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23

If the flood account in Genesis is setting the record straight as to what God is like, how much more is Jesus Christ setting the record straight as to what God is like.

“God is love” 1 John 4:16

Far too many people think they are rejecting God when they are rejecting an image of God created in their own minds or in the minds of others. Let God speak for Himself. Let Scripture set the record straight. Let Jesus set the record straight. Let us not create an image of God according to our own way of thinking, but look to God to set the record straight on His Justice, His mercy, and His grace. The Biblical account of the flood sets the record straight on these things, Jesus Christ does even more so.

Was the flood a hate crime? It was the justice of God rolled out upon a hate filled world. The fact that humanity is still around speaks of God’s mercy. The offer of eternal life in Jesus speaks of God’s amazing grace.

Shall We Make Alterations to Jesus?

Does what the Bible say about Jesus fit you or would you like to make alterations? You love Jesus but perhaps you would rather he did not make such exclusive statements like “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)? We might prefer that he had said “I am a way, one truth among many, one road to life, and people can come to the Father in various ways”. In our pluralistic day we might be tempted by a view of Jesus that seems more inclusive of other religions.

In New Testament times, Christians were being tempted by an early form of teaching later known as Gnosticism. This teaching speaks of Jesus, but does concur with what the Bible teaches about him. The apostle John deals with this temptation in a letter known as 2nd John. In John’s letter we discover three reasons to resist the temptation to make alterations to Jesus.

First, if it is not the Biblical view of Jesus, then truth falls off a cliff. John uses the word “truth” four times in the opening verses, then in verse seven he warns against deception:

Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist! 2 John 1:7

The Gnostics were making alterations to Jesus to fit their worldview, rather than making alterations to their worldview to fit Jesus. They were messing with truth.

Why are you a Christian? Is it because you were raised a Christian? This can be a great introduction to Christianity, but is not, in fact, a reason to embrace it. Why was John a Christian? It was not because he was raised a Christian. He gives us some clues in 1st John:

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— 3 we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 1 John 1:1-3 (emphasis mine)

John was a follower of Jesus because he met Jesus, learned from Jesus, saw Jesus crucified and then risen from the dead. John was an eyewitness, he knew these things to be true. John does not write a warning against heresy because he is concerned about religion, but because he is concerned about truth. If we do not follow a Biblical view of Jesus, then truth falls off a cliff.

Second, if it is not the Biblical view of Jesus, then love falls off a cliff. Love is a prominent theme in John’s letter:

It has given me great joy to find that children of yours have been living the life of truth as we were commanded by the Father. 5 And now I am asking you — dear lady, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but only the one which we have had from the beginning — that we should love one another. 6 To love is to live according to his commandments: this is the commandment which you have heard since the beginning, to live a life of love.

7 There are many deceivers at large in the world, refusing to acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in human nature. They are the Deceiver; they are the Antichrist.  2nd John 1:4-7 (NJB)

You might think it strange that I would include verse seven, about deception, along with verses five and six, which speak about love, but in fact John connects them. Verse seven begins with a rarely translated connecting word ‘for’. We might give a rough summary of the line of thought like this: “It is great to find your children living according to truth. Now you, yourself, must double down on living a life according to truth, a life of love, because false teachers are coming, and they have a very different ethic than the love ethic you learned from the teaching and example of Jesus.”

Love is important to the Christian because Jesus, in his existence, life, teaching, death, and resurrection, is an expression of God’s love. If Jesus is something other than that, then love is no longer the main thing. Under the gnostic teaching facing the Christians in John’s day, the main thing was the separation of the body from the spirit. This led to an ethic of either extreme asceticism, because you must care less about your body, or extreme indulgence, since you could care less about your body. Either way, a life of love was no longer the main thing.

There is a popular notion that all religions lead to a very similar ethic. However, some religions in the history of the world have required human sacrifice. Not all religions lead to the same ethic and not all religions are equal. Christianity offers love as the main ethic, for Christianity was born out of God’s love. We won’t be strongly pursuing a love ethic if we are listening to an alternate views of Jesus. If all religions lead to God, then who are we to condemn human sacrifice as an unloving practice? If it is not the Biblical view of Jesus, then love falls off a cliff.

Third, if it is not the Biblical view of Jesus, then souls will fall off a cliff. John speaks of this in verse 9:

Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God; whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 2 John 1:9

If Jesus was not executed then raised, we still have a separation from God problem.

But isn’t Jesus being too exclusive when he says “no one comes to the Father but by me”? A specific problem calls for a specific solution. Suppose my motorcycle stops running and a mechanic tells me that I need new ignition coils. Will I then say, that sounds too exclusive, perhaps we should replace the carburetors, tires, wheel bearings, and piston rings? A specific problem calls for a specific solution and nothing else will help. Our sin problem calls for a God’s grace solution. When Jesus says he is the way the truth and the life and that no one can come to the Father except through him, he is not being arrogant, but accurate. Greater effort can not deal with our separation from God problem. More religion just makes things worse. Only the grace of God will help us, and that grace has been expressed through Jesus. If we are not sharing a Biblical view of Jesus, then souls will fall off a cliff.

Accurate teaching about Jesus is important enough that we should not allow false teachers to set up shop:

Do not receive into the house or welcome anyone who comes to you and does not bring this teaching; 11 for to welcome is to participate in the evil deeds of such a person. 2 John 1:10-11

In other words, when heresy knocks, don’t send Jesus out to make room for the heretic.

We may be tempted to run after alternative views of Jesus, but truth, love, and souls are in danger of being destroyed if we do. While it might sound tempting, if Biblical teaching about Jesus is not at the heart of our Christian faith, then our Christian faith has lost its heart.

(The full sermon can be heard here or through iTunes podcast here, while available. Unless need otherwise, Scriptures are taken from NRSV)