What does the Bible have to do with God?
I've been reading questions and answers on your site, and I really like how you stick with the Bible without adding any opinions that aren't in there. You see, I have a problem, and I was hoping you would be able to help me. I've been agnostic for most of my life, but when I met my girlfriend, I knew she was Christian but wasn't bothered by it at all and slowly got to know her. Over time we have started to discuss spiritual matters more and more, and she has talked about having a relationship with God. I've become very close to her; hence, her now being my girlfriend. This has gotten me seriously thinking about God and the Bible, since they are very important to her. I've come to the conclusion that I need to figure this out.
On the one hand, I've never been able to call myself "Christian" because I have no justification for it. Sure, I can understand the concept of God in my own way. I can even give meaningful definitions for other religious concepts such as sin, heaven, hell, creation, etc. I can see meaning in those words when I think about them in my own way, but that makes them seem to resemble mathematical truths of existence, which is certainly not the way most people seem to think about these things. When I hear others talk of these things, it just sounds like they are using storytelling and figurative language as a crutch to describe these things but then going one step too far and claiming that those things they said are literally true, which just doesn't make any sense to me.
And yet I can't deny the reality of this person that means so much to me, who has become my very best friend. I believe in her mind, and in her belief, and that it is genuine. I know that there is meaning behind her assertion that she desires a relationship with God, to love God, to worship God, but for all my effort I just can't understand why she associates God with the Bible. That's my problem. I can agree with her in the assertion that God exists, but when she mentions Christ, or the Bible, I can no longer follow what she means by those words. I can't see anything special about the Bible. From where I stand, what's in the Bible is clearly not the word of God. What is the word of God is the fact that I exist in this world with such and such regularities (think physics), and that other people exist who think things and say things, and that those people just so happen to have this book, the Bible, which has been passed down through the ages, and that many of them view the contents of that book as important, and that they speak about it using such language as "word of God."
Do you see what I don't get? The existence of my body is the indisputable word of God, as is the existence of time, space, matter, and energy. The fact that I experience life from my own perspective is also the word of God, as is my mind, and the fact that I think things. Any fact of reality can only be the word of God, but what fact of reality is there to the Bible? Only that it exists as a book that people use and discuss frequently. Even if the words within the book claim that the book is the word of God, and even if people repeat those words to each other often, in the same manner in which they speak of other things that are objectively true, the fact remains that what God himself has presented to my awareness is the fact that there is a book that has such things written in it, and there are people who read out of it. This of course says absolutely nothing special about what is contained within the book; it is not hard to imagine that humans wrote the whole thing themselves in an attempt to establish good social rules to help them in a form easily readable to most people – stories. Of course this is the attitude of someone who does not believe that the Bible has anything at all to do with God, besides being yet another (very good) attempt of humans to figure stuff out about their reality. Literature produced by humans.
Of course, if I did believe the Bible to be the word of God Himself, then I would know that I have to live by it, and of course I would not desire to be led astray by the falsehoods of mankind, and I could be assured in my belief, and so I could worship God in everything that I do, and based on what my girlfriend has said, to love God and have a relationship with God is the best thing a person can do. If the Bible is the word of God, then I want to embrace it fully. The only problem is that I can't just blindly start from the assumption that the Bible is the word of God. I just can't see how that is true, for I have seen nothing divine in it. I see God in mathematics, the physical universe, life, and humans such as myself, but where is He in the Bible, or in any religion?
The fact that humans produce literature and form belief systems says something about human nature, which says something about God. But a particular work of literature, or a particular belief system being the word of God? In what sense? How is such a statement justified? It seems that religious people are just following the crowd, and that their choice of words for talking about God is just arbitrary cultural stuff. Of man, not of God. But then why doesn't my girlfriend have the doubt that I have? Why does she care to read her Bible? Why does she feel the way she does? I just can't shake the feeling that I've missed something vital. How can I claim to love her while dismissing her faith? I want to understand. I want to know the truth. Maybe you can help me see what I've missed. Thanks.
What you are missing is what is called "faith" or "trust." Based on the evidence that your girlfriend has seen, she trusts that the Bible is a book written by God. You want to claim that your life, mathematics, physics, etc. are God's Word, but here I would disagree. These are things which exist and operate under a set of rules, but there is no communication through them. When we talk about the word, it isn't a vague metaphysical concept, it is the means by which information is communicated.
You claim to discount the use of figurative language as a means of communication, but I had to laugh because you worded it as "they are using storytelling and figurative language as a crutch to describe these things." "As a crutch" is figurative language -- you don't mean it literally, yet the concept comes across clearly. Every language uses figurative expressions to color statements. We are so used to it, we don't notice when we use it; yet, you are objecting to your own use of language because you want a different standard applied to the Bible that your own communications. The existence of figurative language in a book does not tell us whether or not it comes from God.
Since you see the hand of God in the universe, then I assume you accept that things are too orderly and too interwoven to be a mere product of chance. The universe shows that there is purpose behind it. If I find a watch lying beside the sidewalk, I do not conclude that it just happened to randomly came together. I perceive that it was made and that it serves a purpose.
If we understand the world is purposeful, then did the owner -- the creator -- discard it after making it, or does he direct the world? You lean toward the former, and I claim the latter is the only sensible position. Christianity claims that the Bible is God's communication to His creation, "as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue" (II Peter 1:3). You claim that the Bible is just like every book that man has written. I find your argument empty because it makes an assertion without evidence. If this book is a product of man, it remains unique of all the works of man.
Consider for a moment that the Bible is a work written over a 1,500 year span of time. About 40 different people were involved in its writing, coming from all walks of life. Some were shepherds, others were kings. You find some to be counselors and others to be fishermen. Some are rich and well educated, most are poor. Yet the Bible displays a harmony not seen in books by a single author, let alone one produced by 40.
When men write histories, we understand that they paint events in far rosier terms than reality. Strangely, the Bible doesn't shy away from exposing people's weaknesses. Abraham is revered as the founder of the Israelite nation, but we are told that twice he lied in an attempt to save his own life. Moses is the author of the first five books of the Old Testament, but he tells us that he lacked eloquence (Exodus 4:10-14) and that he sinned (Numbers 20:11-12). What world leader today would authorize the publication of his adultery and attempted cover-up with murder? Who reveals that one of his sons raped his half-sister while another had sex with his father's concubines in public? Yet, David has his "dirty laundry" hung out and his descendents didn't try to clean up the record. Does this sound like books you know?
When men write histories or laws, the shelves groan under the weight of the books produced. Yet the Bible contains a wealth of information compacted into a book easily carried around. As a computer scientists, I find its error checking amazing. There is just enough repetition of ideas in various forms scattered throughout the Bible that when people try to alter it for their own designs those alterations stand out as mismatches.
Every author of the Bible agrees that he has sinned, but all agree that Jesus was without sin -- an unusual difference in position. When men compose a religious book, they write books that are greatly different from the Bible. In their books, heros are incredibly good and strong. Founders are amazingly moral. With the exception of Jesus, the Bible shows men who have both good and bad points; men with weaknesses and who make mistakes.
People tend to set standards for themselves which are easily reachable. Even when some tell us they expect more of others, they expect less of themselves. Such shows up in the Book of Mormon and the Quran where the "prophets" make exceptions for themselves. We see this even in our laws. How often do we see lawmakers handing down rules which contain exceptions for the lawmakers? So what motivated the writers of the Bible to discuss standards which no one was keeping?
David looked like an incredible hypocrite when Nathan exposed his sins (II Samuel 12:1-13). Would a king or his heirs have allowed this story to have been passed on? What did they gain from people knowing about this story? These type of stories are normally kept in the closet. And who made up the standards which made David look so bad? Why was that standard more important than the reputation of King David? No, human wisdom would not create books which exposes their sins. Humans write books of about gods whose own standards are similar to their own.
What nation would treasure a book like Jeremiah? Jeremiah constantly drummed the beat of how horrible Israel acted (Jeremiah 8:5-12). He warned them not to do things, and they turn around and did them anyway (Jeremiah 37:7-10). What nation would treasure a book as inspired of God that made them look so bad and so foolish? Why weren’t Israel’s virtues trumped? Actually most of the 39 books of the Old Testament make Israel look bad. There are more failures than heros recorded within them. Is this the way men write the history of a nation?
When men make up a story about the coming of a mighty king, they speak of the awe they have in the man as they see the prophecies being fulfilled. The books written long before the coming Savior of the world spoke of people’s blindness (Isaiah 53:1-3). The Old Testament speaks of his humiliation and rejection (Isaiah 53:4-12). Human wisdom would not have prophesied that their Savior would be rejected by the bulk of his own people (Psalm 22:6-21). Or that because of their rejection their own city and nation would be destroyed (Matthew 23:29-36).
Would human wisdom direct Jewish writers to predict the defeat of Israel and how various succeeding empires would rule over them, as recorded in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Daniel? There are things predicted in the pages of the Bible that men could not have guessed would take place. Even if men could accurately write such, which book of man contains the record of the humiliation the very nation which treasures these books as inspired of God?
There are many books which attempt to predict the future. It is amusing to read some of them to see what they managed to get right and how often they missed major points. You need to understand that we have physical copies of Old Testament books which predate Jesus by 200 years. Who would predict that a child called “Mighty God” (Isaiah 9:6), would be
- born of a virgin in a tiny town? (Isaiah 7:14; Micah 5:2)
- rejected by his own people? (Psalm 118:22)
- save only a few of his people? (Isaiah 10:22-23)
- slaughtered by his own people? (Isaiah 53:7)
- yet not left in the grave? (Psalm 16:10)
Who among men could have predicted the tiny details?The casting of lots for Jesus’ garments (Psalm 22:18)? The piercing of his hands and feet (Psalm 22:16)? But leaving no broken bones (Psalm 34:20)?
Imagine someone accurately predicting the fall of the United States, naming the nation that overthrows it two hundred years in advance? Then going on to detail that nation's downfall and the nation that overthrows it, continuing until a series of five successions are named without ever missing a beat? It is so difficult to imagine, that people have insisted for years that the Bible could not have been written as early as it claims. The Bible predicted the rise and fall of kingdoms like Assyria, Egypt, Babylon, Tyre, Sidon, the subjugation of the Medes and Persians to the Greeks, and the rise of Rome. It is just too accurate -- yet we have hard evidence that it was written before these events. The Bible is filled with direct prophecies, subtle use of foreshadowing, and seemingly obscure references which all play together as the story unfolds. And preserved for the future by a people whose own books degrade them.
Now, how is it that you say the Bible is like all the other books written by men? I think you are painting with a very broad brush without proper analysis of what you are claiming. This won't settle things in your mind, but I hope you will think about the points. The problem is that you are so certain that the Bible cannot be a product of God that you have examined it to see if your assumption is correct.
""Present your case," says the LORD. "Bring forth your strong reasons," says the King of Jacob. "Let them bring forth and show us what will happen; let them show the former things, what they were, that we may consider them, and know the latter end of them; or declare to us things to come. Show the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods; yes, do good or do evil, that we may be dismayed and see it together. Indeed you are nothing, and your work is nothing; He who chooses you is an abomination"" (Isaiah 41:21-24).