OK, here I am and I still have not written my deconstruction post! I suspect that this is going to be an ongoing post, where I will keep thinking of extra things and adding them to my argument.
Basic point of view:
I am a Christian.
If you as a Christian have been questioning your faith, I would like to encourage you to keep holding onto your faith.
In this deconstruction series, I would like to make the case to you for holding onto your faith. I will split it up into the following sections (which are subject to change as I think of new ideas):
Firstly, I believe Christianity is true, in three very important respects:
1. Firstly, I believe that the message of the Bible is factually true, that is, there is a loving God who lovingly created the earth and the Universe. We as human beings have fallen away from Him because of our sin. Jesus died for us on the cross to reconcile us to God, and by believing in Him we have the hope for eternal life.
2. Secondly, I believe that the message of the Bible is symbolically true. What I mean is that the values that the Bible teaches us are the correct values or the best values to make our world work. These are values such as living in peace and harmony with one another, what the Bible calls love, respecting one another’s humanity, forgiving one another, caring for people who are sick, weak, or who have less money, caring for all of the created world around us.
The Bible teaches us that we are all precious, and have a deep inherent worth as human beings, and we are all loved and worthy of love just as we are.
And yet, the Bible is not all sunshine and rainbows. There are some values from the Bible which seem a lot more difficult, even jarring. Guess what, I also believe that those are true too! As hard as it sometimes seems, even for those of us who are Christians, those more difficult values of the Bible are necessary for creating a strong and consistent moral framework. I know that this might seem difficult if we believe that the Bible outlaws our particular sexual orientation, for instance. However, the way I look at it is that the truth of the readily acceptable symbolic values of the Bible make a very strong case for the factual truth of the Bible; because the values of the Bible resonate with what deep down we know to be true of ourselves and others.
So then, if it is all true, and if God is real after all, and He created the world, then He has the right to make the rules. And if He is real, then He can also give us the strength to live by His rules. And that then makes the case for the validity of the more difficult values of the Bible.
That said, we need to understand that some of the ways God instructed the Israelites to deal with certain things were limited in time and space to the Old Testament. However, it does not make sense to me that God would pronounce hate for something in the Old Testament, and then suddenly love it in the New Testament. Jesus may have said “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”, however, adultery is still wrong , because He also said to the woman caught in adultery who had been about to be stoned in that passage “Go, and sin no more.”, acknowledging that it was indeed a sin all along. It just means that capital punishment is no longer the prescribed way to deal with it in this, the age of grace.
As I write this, it occurs to me that many other faiths also have broadly correct symbolic values. Yet to me it seems like it is the Bible that has the correct permutation of symbolic values, with the correct weight given to different things. And then the symbolic values correspond to the factual values to give a faith that is true, it makes sense of our human condition, it is weighty enough to be an adequate explanation for creation, human life and our place in it.
3. The framework that faith gives us is the one that helps give us the most joyful life, filled with the most meaning. To be brutal, in a real way it does not even make sense for an atheist to seek meaning in their life, if an atheist believes that this whole world, this entire, vast universe was created by a blind but staggeringly implausible accident of chance. And yet, this is one of the deep truths that our heart instinctively knows, that our existence is not just meaningless, but rather we exist for meaning and purpose. Which is why humanists still talk of purpose and meaning, as this is a basic human need which needs to be fulfilled regardless of your belief in God or otherwise. Furthermore we also instinctively know that our lives are bigger than our earthly existence, that our spirits continue to live on. Which is why I have also heard atheists talk about dead people “going to a better place.” When pressed, I have heard many people, even supposedly avowed atheists, concede that “there must be something out there”.
The particular framework I am talking about is not just a general belief in God, but all those smaller things that the Bible instructs us or guides us in; such as the wisdom of the book of Proverbs, which is in many ways not very “religious”, yet full of good, down to earth and practical wisdom, also managing our relationships, community life. Also putting values in the right places, knowing that mere wealth will not make us happy, but we need healthy relationships to function.
4. Fourthly, I want to consider some reasons why people come to a point of questioning their faith.
Some of these things include Biblical inconsistencies, and to be perfectly candid, there are some inconsistencies in the Bible, like in the New Testament Gospel accounts. Furthermore there are some weird things that simply do not make sense, or no-one understands.
My take on the inconsistencies is that:
1. They are broadly all saying the same thing
2. Some of them are due to scribal errors, which is almost inevitable considering the thousands of times that the New Testament was transcribed by hand in antiquity (Even when we use computer technology to digitally replicate text there are sometimes still omissions and corrupted copies possible.)
3. They involve stuff that we do not understand now, but we will understand later.
There is more than a little pragmatism in my approach, in that I think to myself “Well, this thing is clearly true. What it tells me about myself is clearly true. What it says about God is simply beautiful. Additionally, and crucially, there is no comparable framework that teaches me how to live. If I were to remove my faith, what would I replace it with that would give me meaning to the same degree, or indeed, to any degree?!” In the light of that, I can afford to trust that these few, tiny inconsistencies are simply glitches which will eventually be resolved, but I can ignore them for now while still embracing the totality of the thing, like a tiny blur on a magnificent photo of a sunset.
Weirdness? Yep, there is plenty of weirdness in the Bible, or things that we don’t understand. But you know what, weirdness is a fact of life anyway! If we remove the Bible, there would still be plenty of weirdness and things we don’t understand! So we are one way or the other going to have to embrace weirdness, so the weirdness we do embrace might as well be in the context of the almighty God and the Gospel that He gives us which is clearly, resoundingly true.
Other big reasons why people question their faith:
They don’t see what the Bible promises, especially miracles and signs of the supernatural
They feel that God has not answered their prayers
They are disappointed at the way that some Christians have treated them
You know, God answers my prayers. This is a simple fact. However, in candour I invest a lot of time into praying. Honestly, the more time I spend in true communion with God, the more truth, and light, and love that He fills my life with, to such a deep level of certainty that absolutely no-one can persuade me that God is not real.
If you are questioning your faith, I encourage you to bring yourself before God, and pour out your heart before Him. If you are struggling to believe that He is real, tell Him! Ask Him to fill your heart with certainty. Above all, please be honest with yourself and with Him. If you can’t truly feel Him, tell Him! If you feel frustrated that He has not answered your prayers, tell Him!
You know, I truly believe in God, and I truly love Him. However, I complain (respectfully) all the time, often sounding something like this: “Lord, I’m really tempted to feel frustrated right now!” Also, speak to God in your normal voice. Be real with Him. What will often happen is that as I am praying, my heart will be filled with peace. So the actual matter might not have been resolved, but I will feel at peace about it, and I will feel able to take it on.
Even though God answers my prayers, there are still some things I have not seen answered. So the things I have not seen answered, are they automatically going to invalidate the countless prayers that have been answered? No. Rather I choose to believe that these unanswered prayers have simply not been answered yet.
Example: I honestly have so many examples of times my prayers have been answered. This one that I am going to share with you is special, because it involves a prayer that was unanswered for a very long time, until…
So I have had this lifelong health condition which has severely impacted the quality of my life at times. And you know what, I prayed for this thing as a child. And it was never healed. So I mentally started thinking of it as a prayer that would never be answered, a little like my cross to bear.
But literally just a month or two ago, something occurred to me: as of approximately 20 years ago I have embraced a new, deeper understanding of prayer. And I have seen countless prayers answered. And yet, because I was still mentally holding on to this health condition as an “unanswerable prayer” from my childhood, when my prayer was not so sophisticated, it had never occurred to me to pray for this health condition in this new, deeper way, which is literally just praying for a longer time.
So for the first time ever, I actually prayed more intensively for this health condition. And you know what? It has not been healed completely yet, and yet I have already seen improvements. By God’s incredible grace and favour, He has blessed me with generally outstanding health. This one condition has been the bane of my life for so long. And to think that the answer was within reach, all along!!
And you know what, with this particular prayer, as with others, it is not even as if God just heals the thing. Rather, He has given me wisdom as to how to deal with it. And yet this is still an answer, because at the end of the day, the issue is still going to be resolved, by God’s grace.
So if God has not answered your prayers, I encourage you to press in. Give solid time to your prayers. If a certain prayer in your life is going unanswered, it might be because the devil is attacking that particular thing. Prayer is the one way that we as Christians can thwart the devil’s attacks on our lives.
Marriage is clearly one prayer that has not been answered in my life. But you know what? I have never truly given solid time to this prayer request. Not because I don’t want to; I sincerely do want to get married and I would love to pray consistently for it. Rather the issue is that my life has been lacking the stability that would enable me to be able to pray consistently for this. And yet, I have prayed consistently for other things…Perhaps I need to think more creatively, and/or pray for God’s guidance and/or wisdom in knowing how to pray.
Seeing the supernatural?
This is a particular interest of mine. I believe that as Christians we need to press in to prayer, and we need to persevere until we see the miraculous signs and wonders that the Bible, and Jesus in the New Testament, promise us. To be fair, the answers to prayers I have seen have been miraculous. It is just that we all want to see them with the kind of speed and dramatic flourishes that accompanied the miracles of Jesus.
Finally, this is question I would like to ask my deconstructing friends: what habits are you going to take up if you leave your faith? How do you envisage that your life might be different from what it is now?