There's a story in the Bible that always bothered me when I was younger. Located in 1 Kings 13, it's the story of a young prophet living in Judah whom God sends to Bethel in order to pass along a message to King Jeroboam of Israel. When he arrives, the prophet calls out to the altar in Bethel and prophesies that a king named Josiah will one day sacrifice all the false priests and prophets on it, and that it will be destroyed.
Virtually everyone knows that it’s hard to square the differences between the Genesis account of creation and what we now know through science. For centuries, people believed that the earth was less than 10,000 years old, because the Bible doesn’t seem to go back any further than that. Now, geology, biology, chemistry, anthropology, archaeology, and astronomy agree that the earth (and our universe) is far, far older than that. Now, it’s certainly possible that God spoke everything into existence 10,000 years ago, but with the appearance that it had been here for billions of years. That’s what I believed when I was a Christian. Others think that the “6 days” spoken of in Genesis is figurative for simply “periods of time.” But even if one of those theories could answer some of the problems, it can’t solve them all.
The average person living at the time Genesis was written did not know that the earth is a sphere, or that the sun is a star, or that the earth is just one of at least 8 planets circling the sun. Of course, if God miraculously inspired the writing of Genesis, then it doesn’t matter what people understood at the time it was written, because God knew everything we know now, and more. But that’s the thing: Genesis has more problems than just the age of the universe. When you read Genesis carefully, you get a view of the universe much like the one depicted by these images:
Let’s look at some passages, and I think you’ll see the similarities. Take Genesis 1:6,7, for instance:
And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so.
What? This is probably one of the most confusing passages in this chapter if you’re trying to apply it to what we know of the cosmos. What does it mean to separate the waters from the waters? And what’s this “expanse” that it talks about? Well, verse 8 answers that for us:
And God called the expanse Heaven.
In other words, the expanse is the sky. It’s not “Heaven” in the spiritual sense, as we’ll see from some of the other verses. But how does the sky separate waters? We learn more starting with verse 9:
And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.
So the waters under the expanse (sky) are oceans, rivers, etc. What are the waters above the sky? We can’t say it’s water vapor for two reasons: One, it doesn’t make sense in the context of the passage. But the second and more important reason is explained here (vs 14-18):
And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.
According to this passage, the sun, moon, and stars are stuck in the sky — the same sky that keeps back the “waters above.”
Now look again at the two images I posted above. Genesis is describing a system in which the sky acts as a dome around the earth. This dome has pretty lights stuck in it to help us see, even when it’s night. The business about water being above the sky makes sense when you think about it — why else is the sky blue? And where do you think rain comes from? We see this in Genesis 7:11-12, when God decides to flood the earth:
In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights.
For people living at the time Genesis was written, this was not a bad job of explaining things. It explained why the sky was blue, where rain came from, and why we have the sun, moon, and stars. We can easily understand why they held these beliefs. However, in today’s age, the Genesis account is absurd. Efforts to make it fit with what we now know about the universe is a bit like trying to rationally argue for the existence of Santa Claus. Why not just put an end to all the mental gymnastics and accept that like every other religious text in the world, the Bible is just the product of mankind’s imagination? It may be a difficult proposition to accept, if you’re a firm believer. But I can tell you from experience that the whole thing makes a lot more sense when you stop assuming God had anything to do with the Bible.
One of the many difficulties the New Testament presents for scholars is dating and sequencing the books in order. Some of the books were written anonymously and did not specify an author. Dating of documents was also not undertaken. Using a range of textual clues, scholars have developed approximate dates for the books. While timelines can be found from a number of sources, I had trouble finding any that were annotated with other significant events of the period.
In the comment section of my last post, several points were made about Matthew 24. It’s not the easiest passage to come to terms with. When I was a believer, I had trouble nailing down exactly what was being talked about in this chapter, because much of the language is figurative, and… well… a straight reading of the chapter can be a bit problematic for Christians. To illustrate, let’s jump in and take the entire chapter piece by piece:
Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 2 But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
3 As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
So Jesus tells the disciples that the temple will be torn down, so they ask him 2 or 3 questions, depending on how you read this: 1) When will the temple be destroyed? 2) What will be the sign of your coming? 3) What will be the sign of the end of the age?
“Your coming” and “end of the age” could be tricky. They’re vague enough that people could get into some heavy speculation about what they might mean. Most of us, if we’re just allowing the passage to speak for itself, probably assume these terms are talking about the “Day of Judgment,” the “end of the world,” the “final reckoning.” And there’s good reason for thinking that. The book of Matthew talks about the Day of Judgment a fair amount (Matt 10:15, 11:22, 24, 12:36, 42). In fact, there are two passages that are worth looking at in more detail. We’ll look at one now, but we’ll save the other for the end of the post.
The first is the “Parable of the Weeds,” which can be found in Matt 13:24-30. The explanation of that parable is given in verses 36-43:
Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
Verses 47-50 say the same basic thing. This is what I think the disciples are asking about here in Matt 24. I’m sure some of you feel differently, and I’d like to hear your thoughts in the comment section. But for now, I’m going to assume they’re asking about the Day of Judgment.
4 And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
So the disciples seem to be asking about the destruction of the temple, as well as the Day of Judgment. It could be that they were wrong to assume that these 2 or 3 questions they asked had anything to do with one another, but Jesus doesn’t correct them — he simply starts answering. He says there will be false Christs and political unrest, as well as natural disasters. But the end won’t happen yet.
9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. 10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
So after the false Christs, political upheaval, and natural disasters, Christians will become persecuted by everyone. Many Christians will fall away because of it, but the gospel will still be preached and it will go throughout the entire world. Then the end will come.
Of course, much of this is still pretty vague. When are there not wars and rumors of wars? When are there not natural disasters? And what degree of religious persecution is Jesus referring to here?
15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 19 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22 And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.
This seems to be speaking more about the destruction of Jerusalem, since it focuses on Judea. Referencing the “abomination of desolation” could refer to almost anything. In the Book of Daniel, it seems to reference Antiochus Epiphanes, but he had died long before Jesus’ time. It’s hard to say what Jesus may have interpreted it to mean.
Since this section seems to deal with the fall of Jerusalem, it would have been a great time for Jesus to tell the disciples that Judgment Day would come many centuries later. But he doesn’t do that. Instead, he seems to roll right into a description of the end times:
23 “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand. 26 So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.
He warns them to not be led away by false Christs. And I think verse 27 is saying that when the “Son of Man” comes, everyone will know it. There will be no need to “spread the word” — it will be evident.
29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
This passage says that after the preceding events, the Son of Man will come with great power and glory. His angels will gather the elect from the entire earth. What could this be, but the Judgment? It matches up very well with Jesus’ explanation of the “Parable of the Weeds” that we read earlier. Matthew 24 then follows up with this section:
32 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
So when you see these things happen, you’ll know that the time is near. Verse 34 then says that these events would occur within their lifetime. Which events? All of them. Of course, that didn’t happen. And that’s why so many Christians wrangle with this passage and try to find another meaning for it. It’s also important to notice an earlier passage in Matthew that says the same thing (Matt 16:26-28):
For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
Jesus apparently expected the end of the world to occur within a few decades at the most. 2000 years and a lot of other failed “end of the world” prophecies later, and we’re still here.
But what about the rest of the chapter? Does it say anything to make us rethink the notion that Jesus’ prediction of the end of the world was so wrong?
36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. 42 Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 47 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. 48 But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ 49 and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, 50 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know 51 and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
So Jesus goes on to say that no one, only God, knows the day and hour that the end will come. Jesus himself didn’t even know. Does that change things? Does that mean that his earlier decree can be ignored? I don’t think so. Jesus (more than once) said that the end would come within a generation. The passage we just read simply says that the exact day and time was unknown. Jesus gave them a time range of decades, but could be no more specific than that.
This chapter, both in the way the disciples asked their questions and in the way Jesus answered them, gives the impression that Rome’s destruction of Jerusalem would herald the coming end of the world. If you think about it, that’s not all that surprising. Jerusalem fell in 70 AD, and most scholars believe the gospel of Matthew was written 10-20 years after that event. We don’t know who the author of Matthew was, but he was obviously very focused on the Mosaic Law — it’s likely that he was Jewish, or at least a proselyte. Imagine the shock he would have felt when Jerusalem fell! How could God allow that to happen, especially so soon after the “Messiah” had come? I don’t find it surprising that such a Christian would assume that signs like these must mean the end of the world was coming. And if Jesus was a real person, it’s possible he preached that the end was near as well. Every generation, a handful of people make doomsday prophecies. Some of the Old Testament prophets did too. But regardless of the author’s motivation, the end result still seems rather evident: Jesus (or at least the gospel writer) believed the end of the world was a few short years away, and he was dead wrong.
Like I said, when I was a Christian, I struggled to “make sense” of Matthew 24, because I just knew it couldn’t mean what it “seemed” to say. Now that I no longer have to make passages fit the end result I’m looking for, passages like this seem much clearer to me. But what do you think? Am I totally off in my analysis?
Not long ago, fellow blogger John Zande wrote an excellent post titled “Jesus Christ: Just Not Worth a Sheet of Paper.” It’s actually not as derogatory as the title suggests. Some apologists have suggested that the reason we have no contemporary accounts of Jesus’ life is that paper was so expensive. That’s the argument John deals with in his post.
His post is great — you should read it. But what I actually want to write about is one of the comments that someone left on it. Diana of NarrowWayApologetics.com left a lengthy comment that I decided to include here in its entirety. I identified with it a bit. It reminded me of some of the thoughts I used to have as a Christian:
One of the main reasons people believed Paul was because he explained the reason for Jesus coming into the world. His teachings were amazing. They explained how Jesus “fulfilled the law and the prophets.” I wrote this comment in response to John Zande’s comment on my blog last night. Forgive me for posting it here. Just ignore if you don’t want to read it.
“This passage about Jesus fulfilling the law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17-20) is one of the main reasons I believe the Gospel message. The incredible ways that Jesus did this are beyond human ability to create. I don’t think any mystery writer could have weaved together the incredible ways Jesus fulfilled the law and the prophets.
I know this post is long, so if you want to skip the parts between the dotted lines, I understand. I just wrote it for anyone who might be interested.
First of all, there are many ways Jesus fulfilled the law. In fact, believers are constantly astounded by how intricately Jesus fulfilled the law.
One way he fulfilled the law was by fulfilling the Sabbath. The Sabbath was the seventh day of rest that the Jews were commanded to obey. Jesus fulfilled the law of the Sabbath by becoming our rest for us. (Hebrews 4:9-11) He said his burden was light and his yoke was easy. Christians no longer practice the Sabbath. They worship on Sunday, rather than Saturday. They enter into his rest and no longer do religious works for salvation. (They are saved by grace through faith.)
Jesus fulfilled the law when he became the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. His death on the cross was similar to the Exodus story, which described the lamb, whose blood would be placed on the doorposts of the home, causing the death angel to pass over that home. (Hebrews 9)
Jesus fulfilled the law when he became the unleavened bread of the Exodus story. Leaven is a symbol of sin and false teaching (1 Cor. 5:6-8, Matt. 16:12). Jesus fulfilled this feast by being sinless and being the TRUTH.
Another way that Jesus fulfilled the law was by becoming a tithe (firstfruits) for us. (Leviticus 23:10) He fulfilled the tithe by becoming the firstfruits from the dead when he was resurrected. (1 Cor. 15:20) Christians are no longer bound by a tithe, instead we are told to be cheerful givers. We are also promised that there will be a resurrection for us because of what Christ did for us.
Jesus fulfilled the law when he became a light to the Gentiles. In the law of Moses, the people were commanded to leave behind the gleanings (or leftovers) of the harvest for the poor and aliens. (Lev. 23:22) This would be fulfilled at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came down and the gospel was preached in all languages, offering salvation to all, not just the Jews. (Acts 10:34-35)
These fulfillments of the law were actually the first 4 feasts that would be celebrated every year by the Jews. They would be celebrated according to the seasons. The feasts celebrated during the early rains were the fulfilled at the time of the early church. Three more feasts are waiting to be fulfilled at the end of the age (or at the time of the latter rains). These three feasts are the feast of trumpets (representing the return of Jesus), the feast day of atonement (representing the salvation of the Jews), and the feast of tabernacles (representing the time when we will all be with the Lord).
There are so many other ways in which Jesus fulfilled the law and the prophets. And none of it has to do with Jesus expecting or commanding Christians to obey the law to perfection. It has to do with how it’s impossible for anyone to keep the law. That is why Jesus came. How could any human conceive of a way to have even a made-up, fictional character fulfill all these things? And I’ve barely scratched the surface of the way Jesus accomplished these things.
The greatest concern I feel burdened about is how to convey the magnificence of what I’m trying to explain. He was the manna from heaven. He was the living water. He was the high priest in the order of Melchizedek. He is the “I AM.” He is the Word become flesh. He became a slave for us. (Philippians 2:7) He became a curse for us. He became sin for us, so we could become righteous before God. He offers us mercy because his blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat. All of this is explained in the scriptures.
I haven’t even begun to explain the way Jesus fulfilled the prophets.
The story of Jewish history and the giving of the law is actually a way to PROVE the reality of God’s plan for the salvation of humanity through Jesus Christ. One random fact doesn’t prove anything, but the cumulative effect of ALL the fulfillments makes the Bible a miraculous book. This is why some of the brightest and best minds in the history of the world have loved and received Jesus. It isn’t a decision based on emotion alone, but a decision based on knowledge. And the more I learn, the more I am in awe of what God did and how he accomplished it.”
To say that the story of Jesus was just created by pasting together myths, fictional narratives, sayings, and borrowed phrases (as Ken Humphreys does) is a ridiculous claim because only a Christ could have conceived of a Christ. Who could have created the amazing Jesus portrayed in the Gospels and explained further by Paul?
Of course, I now see that there are several problems with this line of thinking. In 2015, Star Wars Episode 7 is supposed to hit theaters. Will it shock anyone if the movie syncs up perfectly with the previous 6? The thing is, when there is already an established back story, it’s not impossible to construct a narrative that builds upon it. The fact that we as readers see the parallels between the stories of Jesus and events in the Old Testament is not an accident. The authors intended for us to see those parallels, and there’s no reason why they couldn’t have invented them — even if Jesus was a real person.
Matthew is one of the best books to look to for evidence of this. Matthew is the only book that tells of Jesus’ family fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod’s infanticide. Both events, fleeing to Egypt and the infanticide, seem to be inspired by Matthew’s reading of the Old Testament. Hosea 11:1 says, “out of Egypt, I called my son.” Matthew says that this prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus’ family returned after fleeing to Egypt. But when you read the entire chapter of Hosea 11, it’s very evident that the passage has nothing to do with the Messiah, but is simply talking about Israel’s period of captivity in Egypt.
Matthew also claims that Herod’s slaughter of infants in Bethlehem was to fulfill this prophecy:
A voice is heard in Ramah,
lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more.
But once again, when we read all of Jeremiah 31, this was no prophecy at all. The chapter is talking about Israel’s captivity in Assyria. Nothing else.
The author of Matthew took these passages and used them to add parallels to the story about Jesus’ birth. It didn’t require magic or divine inspiration to do that — it only took knowledge of these passages. Just like the people working on Star Wars 7 don’t need divine intervention to let them know about Darth Vader.
Diana ends her comment by asking who could have created such a compelling story. Who could have created Christ? But why couldn’t we ask this about anyone? Who could have created Darth Vader? He’s quite a compelling character himself. Who could have created someone as magnificent as Santa Claus? Or Paul Bunyan? Or Achilles? Or King Arthur? Just asking this question doesn’t really mean anything. If Jesus never existed, then someone did just create his story. Or if he was a real person, but not divine, then his story was embellished. We have to draw our conclusions about Jesus based on the evidence, including the fact that Matthew seemed to feel the need to create “prophecies” to give Jesus credibility.
Just added a new page that shows you how to format your comments for quotes, italics, bold, etc. Hope it’s helpful!
Yesterday, the discussion on this thread got into the subject of the problems of evil and suffering. One of the participants in the discussion suggested that the dilemma could be resolved if God had reasons for allowing evil and suffering to exist, even if we don’t know what those reasons are. On the surface, this is not necessarily a bad suggestion. For instance, we’re familiar with the idea of enduring suffering when there is a larger payoff at the end: surgery and chemotherapy to remove a life-threatening tumor, or even something as mundane as the pain we feel from exercise, knowing it makes us stronger in the long run. There are even cases where we inflict suffering on others for their own well-being, even though they may not be aware of the benefits, such as immunizations for young children.
So is it possible that God uses some of the bad moments in our lives to teach us important lessons and help us grow as individuals? Well, it’s possible that someone could learn how relatively unimportant possessions are if he lost his home in a natural disaster, or spent some time living in poverty. Those experiences could help him grow into a better person. Or perhaps someone could overcome a severe illness, and through that, learn that she wasn’t spending enough quality time with her loved ones. Now, none of those examples are miraculous in nature, so they don’t require God’s involvement to happen. Nevertheless, I can see why some religious people view things like this as an explanation for the evil and suffering that exist in the world.
Unfortunately, examples like the ones above are not the upper limit of the tragedies that can occur in life. If God is real, what is his role when a child dies? Before you say that God doesn’t cause things like that, but only allows them because he’s given man free will, I have two objections:
First of all, children don’t just die because some person kills them. Many children die each year from “acts of God,” like natural disasters, house fires, and illness. God could stop all of those deaths without infringing on anyone’s free will.
Secondly, if God intervened in the murder of a child, he would not be infringing on the free will of the murderer, only on the outcome. The murderer would still have the ability to decide to kill the child, and even to put the plan into action. But just as God supposedly stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac just before the knife made contact, God could similarly act whenever a child is in danger. No harm to free will.
So when children die, is God teaching us a lesson? Are we learning how to become better people for it? Studies have shown that parents have a shorter life expectancy when they suffer the loss of a child (not that we probably need a study to tell us that). They’re more susceptible to illness and depression as well.
But beyond that, let’s talk about the ethics of killing a child in order to “teach the parents a lesson.” We see this kind of rationale in movies, sometimes. How many gangster movies have you seen where someone threatens a character’s family in order to make them do something? Is it the protagonist or the villain that typically does the threatening in those movies? In Gladiator, when Maximus’s wife and child are killed, does he then rally support by trying to kill the wives and children of his enemies? It would be hard to like such a character. We instinctively know that targeting someone’s family, especially their children, is the lowest, vilest act a villain can perform.
So why would Christians be willing to attribute such actions to God? If you think about it, the Book of Job does just that. In the first chapter, Job has 7 sons and 3 daughters, who were apparently all quite close to one another. But when God and Satan make their wager about Job, all of Job’s children are killed. But hey, not to worry, Job gets 7 more sons and 3 more daughters at the end of the story! Happy ending!
Such a story should fill us with revulsion. Don’t harm my children to teach me a lesson — I’ll gladly remain ignorant of whatever education you’re passing out.
But maybe such a story made sense to the people living at that time. There have certainly been other cultures that didn’t seem to value human life (even that of their own children) in the way that we do today. But this is just another reason to see the story of Job as a man-made fable, and not a literal, God-sanctioned event.
Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and tortuous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistant that we call it the word of a demon than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and, for my part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel.
– Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason
When I see throughout this book, called the Bible, a history of the grossest vices and a collection of the most paltry and contemptible tales and stories, I could not so dishonor my Creator by calling it by His name.
– Thomas Paine, Toward the Mystery
If we think about the level of evil and suffering that exists in our world, it makes the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God seem extremely improbable, if not impossible. And if he allows evil to occur in our world just so a few of us can “learn something” from the experience, then we can certainly cross out the “all-loving” quality. It’s possible that a God exists, but if he/she/it does, it’s not the version we find described in the Bible, so why bother hanging onto it? Yahweh and Jehovah belong in the ranks of mythology, along with Zeus and Thor.
To my friends that read this blog, I’ve run across another that you should check out. I haven’t actually read his blog entries yet — instead, his landing page is an intro to his journey out of faith. And it consists of multiple pages, much like reading a book. The layout is brilliant, and the writing is superb. I haven’t gotten very far in it yet, but his account reminds me of my own experience. Definitely worth checking out:
I value open-mindedness over most other things. When I was going through my deconversion and having frequent religious discussions with my family, I often felt that they weren’t being open-minded. I know that it’s hard (perhaps impossible) to judge how open-minded someone else is being, so I hesitate to even pass that kind of judgment. At the same time, it’s not like they were answering the problems I brought up with actual solutions — it mostly centered on how arrogant I was to question “God’s word.” On top of that, they never read any of the books or articles that I asked them to — I don’t think they even read all of the stuff I personally wrote to them.
It was the seeming lack of open-mindedness that shocked me most, in many ways. During my time as a Christian, I tried to be as open-minded as possible. I was part of a strict denomination that thought most other Christians were wrong, so I often had discussions with my Christian friends to try to help them see “the truth.” In those discussions, I often admitted that I could be wrong:
Either I’m wrong, or you’re wrong, or we’re both wrong. We can’t both be right…
I firmly believed (based on Matthew 7) that as long as I was searching for the truth, I would find it. Also, if what I believed about Christianity was true, then more study would only bear that out. In other words, I had nothing to fear by discussing and examining Christianity with those who disagreed with me. If they could show me where I was wrong, then that was good! It would mean that I had believed the wrong thing, but learning that would give me the opportunity to correct it and be more pleasing to God.
Now that I have come out of Christianity, I still feel just as strongly about the merits of open-mindedness. Recently, someone suggested that I read In His Image, by William Jennings Bryan (which I’m now doing), but when he gave me the suggestion, he then backpedaled and said I might not like the book because it supports Christianity. I was disappointed by that statement. I told him that I don’t read things based on whether or not I will agree with them — I take religion very seriously, because all religion is an effort to explain reality. If this book by WJB can provide some arguments I haven’t considered before, or answer some of my questions about Christianity, then I want to know that!
But now for the admission. Now for the part that I haven’t been able to say to my family yet: I don’t see any way that I’ll ever believe Christianity again. On the surface, that may seem like it runs counter toward my goal of being open-minded, but it really doesn’t. The fact is, I’ve just seen too much. “I once was blind, but now I see.” The fact is, the Bible can’t fix its problems because it’s a closed document. No more material is going in or out of it. Nor is God going to speak to me directly or perform some miracle to overcome my skepticism. We’re stuck with what we’ve got.
We’re left with a god that’s supposedly omnipotent, omniscient, and loves us all, yet we still have evil in the world. He remains hidden from us, but supposedly wants a relationship with us. He supposedly left us a message, but no one can agree on what it says, and its books look pretty much like all the other things that were being written at the time. As this post said:
Let’s face it – I may still be open to the idea of being convinced on the matter, but this is a genie that’s not going to go back into the bottle easily. I can’t unlearn what I’ve found; I can’t simply deny the truth that I’ve been able to discover without the fear of uprooting my faith. To ask me to believe again would be to take on the herculean task of not only providing sufficient evidence but also dealing with all of the logical and evidential problems or to ask me to knowingly deceive myself – and I’m not sure I’m willing to do that for anyone.
I am still an open-minded person. But I also know enough about Christianity now to know what it is and what it isn’t. I didn’t lose my faith by forgetting things, but by learning things. And if I had known years ago what I know now, I never would have been a Christian in the first place.