Thursday, September 23, 2010

Thoughts to my mystified friends

This is a note to the mystified reader who wonders how an otherwise intelligent guy ended up not only as a Christian, but as a person seemingly obsessed with some kind of controversy about some fine point of faith that seems frankly irrelevant.

I am not out to convert you. I might be out to convince you, but there isn't a person on earth who doesn't hold some kind of opinion and who doesn't want to be persuasive. There is a difference between respectful persuasive intelligible dialog, and weird angry evangelistic fervor. I'm posting this as a public service so some of you who don't get this can understand where the heck I'm coming from. It is supposed to be respectful and persuasive.

First, I do not believe the earth is 6000 years old. I do believe in Biblical inerrancy (the whole Bible is true) but you have to understand that there is room to think straight within that world. Look at it like this: if the story of the creation of the universe and all of life was written initially in the language of ultimate science, and was fully accurate, no one in antiquity could have even begun to understand it. Even today we couldn't understand it. However, it was not written this way.

Here is a way to understand this. My father was the manager of a large insurance office when I was young, and was an expert in worker's compensation claims. As a child, I asked what he did when he went to work. He said, "I make money." I pictured him melting down copper and pouring it into little molds making coins. When I went to visit his office, asked to go see where they make the money. They laughed, and I was confused. Was he lying or inaccurate? Was he trying to mislead me? Of course not. He simplified his answer because he could not explain worker's compensation and the complex machinations of his office and how they used an IBM mainframe computer to run actuarial numbers or whatever to a 6 year old. I completely misinterpreted his answer in a literal way that wasn't even close to accurate.

Genesis 1 is a one chapter rundown of the creation of the universe and all of life on earth. Not only is it meant to be intelligible to mankind in antiquity, but it is only one chapter. It sets the stage for a much more focused and larger story, and the larger story is really the point. Let's face it, the details of Genesis 1 don't even make sense. It says there was evening and morning, and even vegetation, before there was a sun and moon. That just doesn't make any sense. Does this mean I don't believe? No, it means I am a 6 year old trying to understand the creation of the universe, and I am getting a 6 year old answer. The fact is, the universe exists, and was somehow created. The actual details of what really happened in what order in concert are still way beyond our comprehension. Thus, I put Gen 1 in a right perspective. It is true, it is even literally true, but it is an explanation of an unspeakably complex thing written in a way that is minimally intelligible to all people from antiquity forward.

This brings up another point for my mystified friends. Belief doesn't mean you can't doubt things, you can't think for yourself. There is a place to say honestly, Genesis 1 sure is weird in its details, but I still believe it. You can put things on the 'I don't get this' shelf, without throwing the whole idea of belief and faith out the window. You say, I have trouble believing that a perfect and good loving God could have ordered his people to commit genocide down to the last Canaanite man, woman, and child, when they entered the promised land. I have trouble with that too. I don't get it. I don't even like it. In fact, it makes me sick, and I have some serious questions for God when I get up there. It calls His justice and mercy and goodness into question. I would be a fool to cover this over and pretend I just 'believe' without having doubts about this. I DO have doubts about this. However, I still believe. Where John the apostle says 'God is love' and that 'in this is love, ... that God loved us ... " and all of that, I believe it. Some of this weird stuff, I don't get, and I think I am allowed to believe and to hold out with some doubts. Any Christian that won't own up to having doubts is not very well grounded in the truth of their beliefs.

In fact, one of my favorite guys these days, Peter Rollins, has this byline on his blog: 'to believe is human; to doubt divine" - go check it out:

Here is another thing for my mystified friends to understand. This is such a huge point. When you think of Christians, or the Christian community, you think of the absolute buffoons on television or whatever. No one I know or love is like that. You think that the Christian church is all wrapped up in right wing politics and a weird and harsh form of American patriotism. I lean to the left politically, and I'm concerned for the environment, and I don't poo-poo climate change! Yes, and there are MANY others. There is a huge world of extremely intelligent and extremely large-minded people in the Christian community. There are people on the very cutting edge of culture and thought, who are the people you really ought to be listening to. Can you imagine if all Germans were judged by their association with Naziism? It is no service to anyone to judge or ignore or write off THE GERMANS because of WWII. It is no service to anyone to judge all of christendom by the Spanish Inquisition, Robert Tilton, and that crazy church down the street. There is a gargantuan world of people with great free-thinking principled lives that are part of Christendom that you would probably love to sit down with for a few hours to sip coffee and really talk to.

Finally, the whole point of this blog, the scandal of grace, is that most people outside the church, and a lot of people inside the church, don't get that the point of Christian faith isn't to trick you into being more moral. It is about believing that even when you are not perfect, not moral, not successful, even then you are deeply and truly loved and cared for. When you have problems and grief, there is somewhere to go with that. It is about a love and a joy that cannot be taken away, about significance that cannot be lost. It is about being freed from having to engineer your own significance and success and fulfillment. I have to say, if I am trying to persuade anyone of anything, it is to invite you to try jumping in, the water feels GREAT! Don't let legitimate doubts about a few weird things in the Old Testament prevent you from experiencing what C.S. Lewis called being "Surprised by Joy." If I said anything to you, I would say, I really love walking in this way. I still have plenty of problems, plenty of frustrations, plenty of failures, but I also have an assurance that it will all work out and that God is truly with me.


Chyntt said...

1) I can live with you not accepting the earth to be 6000 years old, but I would like to point out that the rest of the Bible seems to accept that as a foundational premise.

2) Why would it not make sense to have plants without the sun and moon for one solar period, especially since there was still light available, just not from these two astral bodies? Plants survive sun/moon-less days days quite often in the present time. There may indeed be details in Genesis 1 that don't make sense, but I don't deem this as one of them, unless you're bringing into the text something that is not inherently there, that these days are long periods of time rather than one period of an alternating light-dark cycle as described.

3) The text doesn't say it's the sun and moon; it says it's the greater and lesser light. We just assume that means the sun and moon (which is a reasonable assumption, but not a necessary assumption).

4) I absolutely agree with your sentiment in the section in which you say "I would be a fool to cover this over and pretend I just 'believe' without having doubts about this," and that Genesis "is an explanation of an unspeakably complex thing written in a way that is minimally intelligible to all people from antiquity forward." I find wisdom in your statement that "Any Christian that won't own up to having doubts is not very well grounded in the truth of their beliefs."

Yahshua warned some Pharisees that they were not guilty for being blind; they were guilty because they claimed to see (end of John 9).

Sometimes the best answer is "I just don't get/understand it". I bless Yah that you've highlighted this point.

5) I am a little disturbed that you label those with whom you disagree "absolute buffoons", and "crazy", and imply that they are unlike a huge number of your peers who are "extremely intelligent" and "large-minded", although I do very much appreciate your point that the Christians you see in the mass media are not really representative of Main Street USA Christians. Believing that the Bible presents the earth as 6000 years old, and also believing that the secular position that it is not is based on a skewed interpretation of the data, I'm afraid I would be labeled by you as a crazy buffoon who is not intelligent, and maybe that's who/what I am, but dialog will go a lot better if we don't label each other. I'd rather be thought of as "coming at it from another angle which you don't accept".

Conclusion: I appreciate your blog; it offers much to consider.

Jim McNeely said...

Chyntt: Thanks for your comments!

1. I don't really see that the rest of the Bible takes it as a premise.

2. That may be true, I just don't get it.

3. OK

4. Thanks!

5. I really came across the wrong way on this one. I don't label everyone I disagree with as a buffoon at all. I label the Robert Tilton's of the world that way. A LOT of my best friends definitely lean to the right. Some believers I respect very much disagree with me on the 6000 year old earth thing. They say it was created with the appearance of age, which I suppose is consistent. We disagree, but they aren't fools.

Thanks again!