O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith


Rob Stennett on the Genesis of Doubt

posted by Jason Boyett

I first ran into Rob Stennett around the time his first novel, The Almost True Story of Ryan Fisher, released in 2008. He was doing research on the End Times for his satirical rapture novel, 2009′s The End Is Now, and ended up with a copy of Pocket Guide to the Apocalypse. We share both a sense of humor and suspicion of end-of-the-world movements.

robstennett.jpgAnyway, both of Rob’s books are excellent — religious and funny in the best kinds of ways — and he and I have kept in touch since. I’m looking forward to his next book, which releases in the spring. It’s a supernatural thriller about a man-made haunted house, and because religious people are involved, you can bet there’s some sweet demon action in it.

I have no idea what that last sentence means, but already I regret writing it.

I’m pumped that Rob was willing to contribute today’s “Voices of Doubt” entry. Enough of me…

—————-

It’s not that I don’t have doubts about God. I wonder the same things we
all do: Is God really out there? If God can heal people from cancer why
not make it obsolete as a VHS tape? Why is there suffering at all? And
what were you thinking when you created the Kardashians? Or BP Oil, for
that matter?

But I was raised as a good Pentecostal Christian,
so I feel guilty about doubt. I was taught faith moves mountains. Doubt
turns you into Bill Maher.

Still, today I’ll try to give a
broader reason for my guilt — the book of Genesis. So many stories in the
first book of Bible seem to have a clear-cut moral: Have faith in God
and you will be rewarded. Doubt and your life will unravel in Biblical
proportions.

Let me show point to two stories in particular that highlight this idea:

1. Adam and Eve: Most
of you know this story. And if you don’t — if you’re on a religious blog
and don’t know the story of the first couple — then what a crazy place
the Internet is! For that one person, here’s a recap: Adam and Eve are
in the garden where Satan himself appears (in the form of talking snake,
which always make me think: Were there other talking animals in the
garden? Talking pumas? Speaking otters? Insightful velociraptors?). God
says not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, or they
will die. The snake says, “You won’t die, you’ll be like God.” He’s half
right. They don’t die but they’re kicked out of their cushy existence
of walking around naked, naming talking animals, and eating succulent
fruit.

2. Abraham and Isaac: God tells Abraham to
sacrifice his son. Literally sacrifice. Stab your son to death, and then
burn him on a pile of wood. Abraham ties his son to the altar. In
Genesis 19, we’re given no dialogue at this moment. No internal
monologues as to what Abraham is thinking. Father Abraham just ties his
son up and raises his knife until an angel of God says, “Abraham stop!”
He reveals a ram for them to sacrifice and says he’s so proud that
Abraham’s decedents will be like stars in the sky. As an added bonus, a
song will be named after you that children at Bible Camp will sing
tirelessly until the end of time. 

These two stories are the Ying and Yang of doubt to me.

Adam
and Eve doubt the command of God and all of human history is changed.
They get a lot of flack for this, but really I might have done the same
thing. I empathize with Adam and Eve because they could not take God’s
word at face value. They had to test things out for themselves.

Abraham
has faith, but he seems to follow God with a robotic obedience. I think
maybe if I could have seen Abraham wrestle — if I could have seen him ask
God, “Is there any other way?” — then I could latch onto some humanity in
this story. But we never see Abraham doubt. He is celebrated for this
in the Bible and in Sunday morning sermons.

So shouldn’t I be
like Abraham? Shouldn’t I have faith, no matter what I’m facing? Maybe I
should. But I don’t. I still doubt sometimes. And when these stories
make me feel guilty about that doubt, I realize two things:

1. I should wrestle with these stories. So
many others have. There have been lots of interpretations about what to
make of Adam and Eve. For me, I’ve always wondered why was it “the tree
of knowledge” that got them in trouble. Does knowledge push us away
from God (like Jason discusses so insightfully in O Me of Little Faith)?

And
the Abraham and Isaac story makes me wonder how could God test Abraham
like that? How could he ask him to kill his own son? Some think this is a
picture of the sacrifice of Christ in New Testament. Congrats, Abe and
Isaac: You’re an object lesson. Others, like the author of Hebrews,
think if Abraham had killed Isaac, God would have raised him from the
dead. No one knows for sure. But if a book of the Bible wrestles with
this story, maybe I can too.

2. Both found God. Adam
and Eve were kicked out of the garden, but they weren’t separated from
God. He still interacted with them. Abraham had his own dust-ups. And
maybe this is also the point. Faith can make things go more smoothly.
Doubt can make the journey really difficult, but it can also grow us
closer to God.

These aren’t my definitive answers. But I
can say I’ve wrestled with these stories (and many others) for years.
So, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

What do you make of these stories?

What Bible stories (passages) cause you to doubt?  

And how do you reconcile those doubts?

—————-

Thank you, Rob. Follow Rob Stennett on Twitter and check out The Almost True Blog at robstennett.blogspot.com. Read more about his books here.

Previous posts in the “Voices of Doubt” series…

Adam Ellis on Hoping That It’s True
Nicole Wick on Breaking Up with God
Anna Broadway on Doubt and Marriage



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Jonathan Chang

posted August 6, 2010 at 8:23 am


I’ve been thinking about the Exodus from Egypt. Like I can’t find any books written by Egyptians who give their side of the story about the plagues and the parting of the Rea Sea. Like wouldn’t there be some kind of history book out there, outside of the bible that talks of these things?
I mean, I’ve heard the standard answer of, “Well a history writer wouldn’t write something that would be negative about their culture and people so that’s why no Egyptian writer recording that.” I don’t know. I guess that kind of makes sense. But I’d like to see some other history other than the bible that aligns itself with the history of the bible.
nicodemusatnite.blogspot.com



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L.E. Owens

posted August 6, 2010 at 8:31 am


I have a big problem with the story of Job. Everyone talks about how faithful Job was to God, but it’s a horrible story. God allows Job’s wife and kids to be killed, but it’s all OK because he replaces them at the end? And God’s response to all of Job’s questions is pretty much “Who are you to question me?” This is supposed to be a happy ending?
I’m supposed to learn from Job’s faithfulness to God, but all I see is how unfaithful God is toward Job.



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Catherine

posted August 6, 2010 at 8:59 am


These stories are the reason I don’t believe in the Bible as the totally accurate word of God. It seems much more likely to me that it is a record of fallible human beings trying to figure out their relationship with God. Which doesn’t mean God doesn’t speak to us through the Bible, just that we shouldn’t assume everything written there is a correct interpretation of how He works.
On the other hand, maybe I’m just not wise enough to get the difficult bits ….



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Tim

posted August 6, 2010 at 9:49 am


Ah, LE Owens, I was wondering if someone would mention Job. As books go, it contains the oldest material in the bible, incorporating folk-tales from oral tradition of centuries before. Its main purpose is not God’s apparent injustice toward Job[0], or the many words from his friends, but really to point out the falsehood of the “prosperity gospel”. In this regard, it is the perfect counter to what this blog article says about Genesis: it’s not true that the good get rewarded and the bad suffer, in proportion to their deeds; *life is more complicated than that*. That’s precisely what the book of Job’s about.
[0] Although if God were some being that acted that way, we’d be screwed for sure. (Hint: I don’t approach God in those terms, so I don’t have those problems.)



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Roger

posted August 6, 2010 at 10:03 am


Arguing over the existence or non-existence of God is pointless, since neither can be proven. The question one should ask is, since scientists know without a doubt that the age of the universe is about 13.75 ±0.17 billion years, and the age of Earth is about 4.54 ±0.05 billion years, why should intelligent people believe that some divine events took place in the last five or ten thousand years (one millionth of this interval), resulting in the questionable information found in the Old and New Testaments? Why did gods and angels and serpents and devils appear in droves some millennium ago, but none have surfaced in recent modern history? The answer is simple, everything in the Old Testament is MYTH. And the New Testament isn’t much better. The Bible has been rewritten and reinterpreted so many times since it was first assembled that it’s impossible to tell fact from fiction.
Here is how it all propagates. Everyone should read this very carefully: http://krishna.org/modern-day-miracles-jesus-christ-god-and-prabhupada-are-not-dead/ Note that the first sentence starts with “A friend sent me these…” No name for the friend is given, so there is no way to verify the accuracy of any of these claims. But doubters will be swayed by the creative writing.



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Lyra Torres

posted August 6, 2010 at 10:05 am


The Bible story that confuses me is the story of Zechariah the father of John the Baptist and Mary the mother of Jesus.
Luke 1:18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
Luke 1:34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
Then the angel’s answer to them
Luke 1:19-20 The angel answered, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not be able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.”
Luke 1:35-37 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”
They basically ask the same question how is this possible yet one is punished and the other is given an explanation.



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Tim

posted August 6, 2010 at 12:44 pm


Catherine writes: These stories are the reason I don’t believe in the Bible as the totally accurate word of God. It seems much more likely to me that it is a record of fallible human beings trying to figure out their relationship with God.
You’re definitely heading in the right lines. It rather depends on one’s understanding of God: anything based on “a being” or addressable as “he” is going to be flawed in this regard, because it critically sets God apart from the rest of the universe – identifiable, separate, but by definition incapable of interaction with the universe and therefore the cause of no end of sixth-form philosophical problems usually shortsightedly centred on the human-interest realm. God is MORE than just “don’t bash your neighbouring human over the head with rocks”!
Now, there’s plenty in the bible that rightly looks wrong to today’s ethics. The assumption of slavery, death-penalties and violence, etc. Some of the secondary arguments deduced from the stories are pretty unpleasant too – God wantonly destroys people 20-odd thousand at a time, doesn’t look good in the Abraham incident above, appears as an abusive parent in the substitutionary atonement theory, etc.
This is where it helps to reinvent one’s understanding of God. Personally, I approach God from the angle of “the sum of all experience”, where experience is taken liberally to mean anything from dancing quarks to exploding quasars and humanity in-between en passant. As such, the documentation of a subset of experience is the “word of God” – even “in action”, which makes it as you say, a product of humanity in various cultures from desert to Mediterranean, times from 1500BCE to ~150CE, with no authority but what one sees in it, prescribing nothing and describing something other than the face-value of the words therein.



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Tim

posted August 6, 2010 at 12:52 pm


Roger writes: Why did gods and angels and serpents and devils appear in droves some millennium ago, but none have surfaced in recent modern history? The answer is simple, everything in the Old Testament is MYTH. And the New Testament isn’t much better. The Bible has been rewritten and reinterpreted so many times since it was first assembled that it’s impossible to tell fact from fiction.
No need to capitalise myth. It’s a genre of writing like others. It simply means you should employ some critical analysis before making any deductions. The critical analysis says that the things people thought about at the time the text was last edited included gods and angels and serpents and devils. That critical analysis is where most people fail. Myth is not something that needs to get better, it just is.
And if you think the purpose of the bible is to distinguish fact from fiction, you’re missing the point completely.
Let me give an example. I’d dearly love to see some evo-fundie preacher have the bible on his lectern switched for a copy of Lord of the Rings mid-rant, just for amusement. But take LotR: in it, some hobbits visit the Inn of the Prancing Pony. Now, do hobbits really exist? No. But do people visit pubs? Yes. And do people in pubs behave incautiously without regard for safety? Yes. So why would anyone choose to take away a message about “hobbits exist” from that rather than an elementary moral tale? And is LotR any the less literature because something a stupid person reads from it is not literally true?



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Charlie's Church of Christ

posted August 6, 2010 at 2:53 pm


I cautiously throw out this (because his name can evoke a backlash and immediately refusal to hear out anything he has to say): Rob Bell has discussed the sacrificing of Isaac story, saying in that time period the gods regularly demanded child sacrifices. So Abraham’s nonchalant getting out the knife is a reflection of his culture, however by God giving a substitute it’s a way of calling Abraham from the barbaric blood thirsty religion of the time into a new thing going.



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Ray Hollenbach

posted August 6, 2010 at 4:45 pm


The truest things I know have come from stories. Stories invite us into the setting, they invite us to think what we might do if we were there. Some people might call that “wrestling” with the text, but wrestling implies a contest with winners and losers. Instead, I try to humble myself before the stories that have sustained generations. Better to submit myself to the story than those who insist on telling me what the story means. I prefer to jump into the stream, lean back and go where the story takes me–after all, what do I know?



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Roger

posted August 6, 2010 at 5:15 pm


Whoa!
We are discussing whether or not a Christian God exists, and the only authority on that is the Christian Bible. And people are saying that it doesn’t matter whether the Christian Bible is myth or fiction, but it’s only what you get out of reading it that counts?
… … …Oh, okay by me.



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Will Phillips

posted August 6, 2010 at 6:05 pm


As something of a post-Christian (not a label that I like a whole lot, but it’s about as close as I can come these days), I’ve taken a profound step back from the Bible for about two years now.
Though I’ve comfortably distanced myself from my old beliefs regarding the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Gospels in particular still hold some mystical appeal to me. I suppose it’s a common facet of American spirituality these days: the Israelite God of the Old Testament is the temperamental, violent deity, but Jesus is full of warm & fuzzy love for everybody.
Imagine my brokenhearted shock at rereading the Gospels and being reminded of how much Jesus spoke of hell. And it’s not just hell that’s caused me to again reevaluate my spiritual worldview, but other snippets from the Gospels as well. Jesus using parables, refusing to explain to people, Judas being SOL from the get-go, etc.
Still processing through all of that.



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Headless Unicorn Guy

posted August 7, 2010 at 1:50 pm


Let me give an example. I’d dearly love to see some evo-fundie preacher have the bible on his lectern switched for a copy of Lord of the Rings mid-rant, just for amusement.
No, not Lord of the Rings.
The “Ainulindale” section of The Silmarillion.



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Mel Steffor

posted August 16, 2010 at 8:32 pm


In the Book of Genesis, God is telling us two stories with the words of one. From the appearance of being the first two humans in creation Adam and Eve share a commonality with all of us. Adam and Eve are representatives for all men and women. God has hidden a prophesy about the future in the story. The following is the interpretation of the story about Adam and Eve in the present. I start at Genesis 2:17

Gen 2 : 17 But as for the tree of the knowledge of good and bad you must not eat from it, for in the day you eat from it you will positively die.”

Trees don’t grow knowledge so I know God is talking in symbols. Knowledge comes from Books. Books are made from the pulp of trees. So the Tree is a Book. A Tree is a metaphor for a Book. This book has knowledge of good and bad. The Book is the Bible. The Bible contains the knowledge of good and bad. Besides I took this verse right out of the Bible. You can’t eat from a book and gain knowledge, but you can digest a book . As in Readers Digest. You are taking the words in, like food. God says, you will positively die. The Book has poison in it. The poison is the fruit on the tree.
What is the fruit on the tree that we must not eat? Or, What is the fruit in the New Testament? We know that a Cross is also a Tree and Jesus was nailed to the tree. The fruit from the Bible is Jesus. Clues are Adam and Eve are bare naked. Bare sounds like Bear.

The Tree bears Jesus

The Tree of Knowledge is a Book, and the fruit on the tree is Jesus. This is what God is saying.

Gen 2 : 17 But as for the (Book) of the knowledge of good and bad you must not (take in Jesus) from it, for in the day you eat from it you will positively die.”



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Mel Steffor

posted August 16, 2010 at 8:44 pm


In the next verse God tells us exactly who Satan is:

Genesis 3 : 1 Now the serpent proved to be the most cautious of all the wild beasts of the field that God had made. So it began to say to the woman: “Is it really so that God said you must not eat from every tree of the garden?” 2 At this the woman said to the serpent: “Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat. 3 But as for [eating] of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, God has said, “You must not eat from it, no, You must not touch it that you do not die.’”

The snake talks. Again we know that snakes don’t talk so God is talking in symbols. God says the snake is a wild beast. That’s not true, snakes are reptiles. A beast is a mammal. So the Serpent is really a mammal that talks. Man is the only mammal that talks. The serpent is really a man. Then, how do snakes deceive us. We think the snake is a stick until we almost step on it. Then it moves. Now we know the Serpent is a Man with characteristics of a stick. The snake speaks from the stick. Does this sound familiar:

The Church speaks from the Cross.

The Cross is a metaphor for a Stick. The serpent talks from the stick and the Church talks from the Cross. If it sounds the same it is the same. The Roman Catholic Pagan Church is Satan, The great deceiver. Who would have ever known if it hadn’t been written by God himself right into the Bible. Satan is really the Christian Church.



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Mel Steffor

posted August 16, 2010 at 8:50 pm


When you get to the part where the Snake talks you really have to realize this story is in symbols. Snakes literally don’t talk. The Snake is a symbol of a man snake.

Genesis 3;1
Now the serpent proved to be the most cautious of all the wild beasts of the field that God had made. So it began to say to the woman: “Is it really so that God said you must not eat from every tree of the garden?”

The serpent (Church) knows what God said. How does Satan know what God said? The Romans read the Old Testament. Then they wrote they New Testament. The Roman Catholic Church (Satan) has deceived just about all of us. Except the Jews.



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Your Name

posted August 16, 2010 at 8:56 pm


The interpretation continues. God said do not take in the Fruit, it’s poison.

Genesis 3 : 4 At this the serpent (church) said to the woman: “You positively will not die. 5 For God knows that in the very day of your eating (digesting) from it your eyes are bound to be opened and you are bound to be like God, knowing good and bad.” 6 Consequently the woman saw that the tree (book) was good for food and that it was something to be longed for to the eyes, yes, the tree (book) was desirable to look upon. So she began taking of its fruit and eating it (reading it). Afterward she gave some also to her husband when with her and he began eating it (he also began reading) . 7 Then the eyes of both of them became opened and they began to realize that they were naked (sinners). Hence they sewed fig leaves together and made loin coverings for themselves (hidding their sin) .

You don’t realize your naked from eating fruit. There is no known food that makes you suddenly realize you don‘t have clothes on. You do realize your naked if you read the New Testament and it states that being naked is a sin.
The interpretation continues in the following verse from Genesis. Satan says take in Jesus (the fruit) and you positively will not die. The Catholic Church says: believe in Jesus and you positively will not die. Satan and the Church sound similar to me.

Genesis 3 : 4 At this the serpent (Church) said to the woman: “You positively will not die. 5 For God knows that in the very day of your eating (taking Jesus in) from it your eyes are bound to be opened and you are bound to be like God, knowing good and bad.”

The Serpent says: “Take in Jesus and you positively will not die”. The Church says: Believe in Jesus and you positively will not die. Sounds the same to me. If it sounds the same it is the same. Even more proof the Serpent is the Church.



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Mel Steffor

posted August 16, 2010 at 9:04 pm


God returns to the garden and Adam and Eve are naked hiding in the bushes. There is a child like innocence to the story as they answer to God. God asks Adam who told you were naked. Did you eat from the tree? Adam blames Eve, and Eve blames the serpent.

Genesis 3:8 Later they heard the voice of God walking in the garden about the breezy part of the day, and the man and his wife went into hiding from the face of God in between the trees of the garden. 9 And God kept calling to the man and saying to him: “Where are you?” 10 Finally he said: “Your voice I heard in the garden, but I was afraid because I was naked and so I hid myself.” 11 At that he said: “Who told you that you were naked? From the tree from which I commanded you not to eat have to eaten?” 12 And the man went on to say: “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me {fruit} from the tree and so I ate.” 13 With that God said to the woman: “What is this you have done? To this the woman replied: “The serpent–it deceived me and so I ate.”

Adam and Eve are hiding from God because after they read from the Bible they realized that being naked was a sin. They were ashamed and embarrassed of their sin. In these few verses God is talking to them like a parent and Adam and Eve respond like children and not like adults.



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Mel Steffor

posted August 16, 2010 at 9:24 pm


With that God makes clothes for them and sends them out of the garden.

Genesis 3 : 24 And so he drove the man out and posted at the east of the garden of Eden the cherubs and the flaming blade of a sword that was turning itself continually to guard the way to the tree of life.

Where on Earth is there a place where Cherubs are guarding the way into the garden? None. The truth is there is no place on Earth with a flaming blade guarding the entrance. The garden of Eden is in Heaven. A child is born naked and the parents provide clothes for their child that very day. God does the same. What that means is that the time Adam and Eve were in the garden was no more than a day. Adam and Eve (mans representatives) must leave Heaven and their destiny is written. In the same way all of mans destiny is written before he leaves God in Heaven.
Since we know that the tree is a book. The ‘Tree of Life’ is the ‘Book of Life‘. There isn’t any tree on Earth that you can literally eat from and live forever. Only those named in the book of life will live forever. The book is in heaven, not on Earth. The ‘Book of Life’ is Gods ‘Last Will and Testament’. You don’t inherit from your parents until after their death. It’s the same in Heaven as it is on Earth.
**( Now how is that Mel can interpret Genesis and no one for thousands of years could figure out that knowledge comes from books and not trees. I just don’t know. Seems simple to me but somehow God blocked us from seeing it. Then I probably know God better than any one else. He still talks the same way today as he did thousands of years ago. He hasn’t changed at all over the years.)



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moonnik

posted August 22, 2010 at 2:29 am


I would like to exchange links with your site blog.beliefnet.com
Is this possible?



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