Over the years, it’s been fun to see some people’s reaction when they find out that I am a pastor. Some of my best friendships have started with folks who started out very skeptical to me and the church. When I mention I work at a church, some immediately wonder what kind of language they’ve been using for the past 10 minutes. Some give me that patronizing look that says, “Huh? And you seemed like an intelligent guy up until that comment.” Other times folks launch into some story about some relative who used to go to church. One of my favorite stories was a get-together in our neighborhood. We exchanged the usual pleasantries about “Where do you live? How many kids?” I mentioned my children are named Sierra, Quinn, and Javan. He said, “Javan, where’d you get that name?” Well, my wife and I went through the 10,001 names book, and couldn’t find even one we agreed on, so I actually looked up the geneology in the Bible to find some names we hadn’t thought of yet, and Noah had a grandson named Javan. “Huh, (he was a bit nervous), the Bible huh? You’re not one of those Bible thumpers are you?” he asked. Those judgmental Bible readers who are always looking down their noses at others…. “No, No, No,” I assured him, “I am just a pastor at one of their churches…”
Over the years, I’ve had friendships with many people who have serious concerns and doubts about faith. Many people have been very angry and put off by a bad experience with hypocrisy, judgmental attitudes, and a singular focus on rules in a church they once were associated with. They’ve also shared with me how from their experience, the church isn’t a safe place to voice concerns or doubts. I have heard a variety of doubts and questions about faith, God, the Bible, life, death, truth, purpose, etc. I often hear two large categories of hesitancy and doubt about the Bible. The two large broad brush categories sound something like this.
Christianity is Depressingly Pessimistic
This objection sounds like this, “The Bible is so depressing. So negative. So gloom and doom. Always talking about sin and condemnation. A Judging God. An Angry God. Hell and Judgment. Why would anyone give up a Sunday or Saturday night to come to such a depressing lecture?”
The wife of the President of Harvard University once wrote a letter to a friend who was a Christ-follower and articulated her version of this. She heard that Christian’s read from daily prayer confessions saying something like, “I am a miserable offender Oh God. I am a worm. I am unworthy of you and your grace.” She asked her friend, “Do you really get down on your knees at church and say things like this? This is psychologically damaging to you, to your children, and grandchildren. I would never do that. I think it’s abusive to have your children do this as well. This kind of thinking will result in terrible self image, developmental problems, etc.”
Have you heard those concerns and doubts before? I have. I’ve even thought some of them at times. So how can this be? How can the Bible and teachings of Jesus be BOTH, pessimistic and optimistic? How can it be too simple and naïve AND yet also too negative and realistic about human nature?
Christianity is Naively Optimistic
This objection goes like this… Christianity is too syrupy, “Just have faith and it will all work out.” Christians seem to have their heads in the clouds and say naïve things like, “It will all work out. Let Go and Let God.” They get together and sing their little songs and have church time, but honestly… I guess it’s nice that they feel a little better about themselves. But like Karl Marx said, religion is an opiate of the masses. It’s intellectual and rational suicide to lean on the crutch of wishful thinking. The message of Jesus has little to do with my regular life, helping with real world issues. It’s irrelevant and in the category of nice children’s stories. I doubt anyone can know truth, or know they are going to heaven for sure. I doubt God can offer eternal forgiveness apart from what I do. I doubt that Jesus’s death on the cross 2000 years ago had anything to do with my life.
Have you heard or thought things like this? I bet you have. And those are great questions that need to be explored.
The other broad objection is…Everyone can engage their doubts by exploring two objections.
When you begin to explore these doubts about Christianity, you will find that the teachings of Jesus are depressingly Pessimistic as they explain the reality of evil, suffering, and the human heart. As a result, they will humble us more than we can imagine… BUT the teaching of the Bible will also exalt you higher and higher than anything you could or would ever imagine when it describes God’s ability to change anyone and overcome anything. Let’s explore these two objections.
The Bible is Too Depressingly Pessimistic
As I share the bad news contained in the Bible, it may seem shocking at first if you have never really understood all that the Bible claims. The Bible teaches us about the nature of the human heart, and claims things that go way farther than anyone else ever has or would. What do I mean? The Bible claims that the seeds of any and every evil act are active in every person’s heart. The seeds for any and every evil act are active in my heart. Your heart.
Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (KJV)
When you read the Bible, one of the first things you notice is that it goes out of it’s way to highlight and spotlight the deep brokenness of its main characters. The main characters (Noah, David, Adam, Abraham, Paul, Peter) are shown to be the most cowardly, evil, self-centered, unfaithful, and manipulative, narrow-minded, cruel, and betraying people you’ve ever known. The heroes of the Bible are guilty of all the bad things you can possibly imagine. Yet, these are the “role models!!”
I invited a Muslim scholar to come speak with me at Horizon a few years ago. As we began to chat about the differences between Mohamed and Jesus up on stage, we stumbled onto the story of Abraham. I had read the Koran in preparation for our discussion. I noted to him that in the Koran, Abraham was spotless, sinless, perfect, a real role model for what to do and not to do. In the Bible, Abraham is shown as someone who God pursued even though he loved other gods. And when God told him what to do, he immediately disobeyed. He immediately lied twice about his wife being his sister. He didn’t have the faith to fully do what God asked him to do. As I shared this, my Muslim friend was upset. He got physically uncomfortable at this kind of talk that the main characters of the Bible were broken, messed up, and out-of-alignment characters. He knew that in The book of Mormon and the Koran, the characters are…upstanding moral heroes. They are perfect. Relatively sinless, good people. People who do the right thing most, if not all the time. He was shocked that the Bible was so pessimistic about showing the inner world of the heroes as extremely corrupt.
The Bible teaches that inside every single human heart are the seeds for the worst evils of mankind. In me are the seeds for horrific gossip, greed, malice, unfaithfulness, and racism. When you think of what the worst in human history have done to their fellow mankind, realize that the seeds of that are in every one of us. Ouch! As I say that, something in you probably is screaming, Not in ME! Maybe in you, but not in me.
Why would Jesus and the Bible teach this? What possible good could come out of this kind of talk?
THE BIBLE MAKES ME REALISTICALLY HOPEFUL. The Bible’s teaching about how messed up EVERY human heart is makes me realistic about Myself and Others.
I’m Realistic About Myself Because I’m Capable of Anything
When you talk to people, almost every group blames someone else. You’ve heard this: The problem is management. The problem is the unions. The Marxists tell us the problem is the Capitalists. The Capitalists tell us that the problem is the Marxists. In marriage, my spouse is too demanding, too needy. She has the problem. He has the problem. Christ’s teaching begins with this assumption, “I am probably the problem or a huge component of it.” I am capable of doing most anything. So as I approach this situation, I am very open and aware that I not only might be wrong, but am probably wrong. So I want to listen carefully to see where my heart might have fooled me. I want to hear what my spouse, my kids, my employees, my boss might say… Because I am capable of anything, I am deeply humbled by this reality and it leads me to ask God to help me.
For a free first session of Godonomics, visit: http://www.godonomics.com/watch-session-1