The real difficulties – Questions 1
In my “mission statement” post on 1st Dec, I said that I wanted
To help people, including myself, to stay Christians by honestly facing and exploring, from within the faith and before God, the real difficulties that many of us see when we sing modern worship songs and read the Bible on one hand, and look at modern scientific atheism, the church’s history and that of the world, on the other.
Why do people leave the church (I mean leave one church without finding another one)?
Perhaps because…they have been hurt by one or more Christians in one or more churches. This is sadly all too common. Churches are imperfect, and we sometimes hurt each other.
Or because…life has got too busy for church. Demanding boss, children’s after-school activities and sports on Sundays, support for elderly parents, house and garden, hobbies, relaxing time with spouse to protect marriage… Add the fact that we all know that the church, like any organisation, is also keen to sign newcomers up to rotas, and make them even busier. (I am one of the people who recruits, so I know.)
But for some, perhaps, because they have a few questions, and find the traditional answers too glib…
- Does the existence, and unequal distribution of, suffering make it impossible to believe in a good God?
- Has modern science done away with the need for God as a first cause and sustainer of the universe?
- Does post-Biblical history, including the history of the church, reveal the activity and purpose of a loving and all-powerful God, and if not why not?
- The Bible – with all its apparent inconsistences, contradictions, oddities and incomprehensibilities, what does it mean to say it is the Word of God?
- What does God really want 21st century Christians to do with their lives, individually and together, and why is it so hard to reach a common understanding on what is important?
It seems to me that people, including the writers of the Bible (Job, Ecclesiastes and Psalms, in particular) have been pondering the first of these questions for a long time. The study is called theodicy. The second is also widely discussed and argued over. My complete ignorance of science makes it difficult for me to say anything relevant or helpful.
I have seen astonishingly little on the third question (God in history), which I find fascinating. I decided to make it a bit of a Project a few years ago, but I had not finished reading St Augustine’s “City of God”, which apparently is the basic text, when Dorac Kingsbrother arrived in my life and took over all the space left from work, church and family. Seriously, no one has been able to tell me what particular branch of theology I am looking for, let alone supply a booklist.
And then, fourthly, there’s the Bible. I think two things are self-evident (really) – a) that there are a lot of parts of the Bible that are apparently inconsistent or impossible to take seriously. (Apparently, note.)
And b) that after two thousand years, it is highly unlikely that any question or idea I have about the Bible has not been thought by someone else first. Many of these thoughts are available on Google.
If I were a more practical or more loving person, I would be more concerned about question 5…
Are there other basic questions to be addressed? What have I omitted? (Homosexuality, the issue that is plainly going to tear most of the larger churches apart in the next few years, unless God protects them by His grace, is covered under questions 4 and 5.)
These are the questions that sometimes make atheism seem the appropriate response.
But on the other hand…
I am a Christian because:
- I still don’t see how something comes out of nothing, and life out of unlife, without God;
- Joy, altruism, beauty, love, consciousness and the perception of beauty must have come from somewhere. (Basically the mechanistic explanation of the universe doesn’t satisfy me, and I haven’t found any other that betters Christianity);
- I believe that Jesus rose from the dead;
- I have not personally witnessed any miraculous answers to prayer, but other people have;
- When I pray, I sometimes don’t feel alone;
- And if I’m really honest (full disclosure) because being a Christian brings me joy, hope and purpose, and an opportunity to hang out with lots of wonderful people, living and dead, and after 40 years I would be sorry and embarrassed to walk away.
I want to address these topics. Is anyone else interested? Once again, I have no qualifications for this. I’ve been reading the Bible for a long time; that’s all. I am partly looking for, and looking to share, assistance from those who do. I’m currently reading “Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask (With Answers)” by Mark Mittelberg, and have just finished “Christianity and History” by Herbert Butterfield. On the pile by the bed post-Christmas are “How to be a Bad Christian” by Dave Tomlinson, and “Good Disagreement” edited by Andrew Atherstone and Andrew Goddard (forward by Justin Welby, chapters by Ian Paul and Tom Wright).
What else should I read? What websites should I look at?
Until next time… The Partial, Prejudiced and Ignorant Blogger