“For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine . . . and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.” 2 Timothy 4:3-4 This week’s assault on Facebook is 2 Timothy 4:3-4, with assorted memes and photos (one is a shot of the verse, in situ, […]
“When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.” Ephesians 4:8
Where did Jesus go after He died, and before He was resurrected?
What was the purpose of John the Baptist baptizing, and why isn’t the practice specifically mentioned in the Old Testament?
What does it look like to be “born again” as Jesus describes in John 3?
Why does everyone say that the Emperor is wearing red silk pantaloons when he is obviously naked?
Asking questions is an indubitable element of existence, and while some people, amazingly, make a living off of being professional philosophers, all humans wonder, at some point and in some way, why we were born, what is our purpose in life, and where we go when we die.
Such are basic queries posed by some branches of philosophy (it is a testament to questioning itself that not even philosophy, as a discipline, can agree on what it is), and it would be absurd to leave the pursuit of truth to a small, self-imposed group of experts who come up with a concise, compact answer that addresses all issues, and is not to be argued with.
“Good heavens, no!” the average Christian will reply. “We cannot look to the world of men to give us answers about God — especially when the men giving answers don’t even believe in God!”
It’s a valid point: the chasm between those who believe God exists and those who don’t is a wide, daunting one, made all the more difficult because we use the same words but with different interpretations of what we mean. Arguing is fruitless when one, or both sides, are reluctant to hear the words of the other.
Our immediate challenge, however, is closer to home, as we, Christians, deal with a self-imposed group of experts who come up with concise, compact answers for everything and anything that can be found in the Bible, reducing to elementary simplicity mysteries of the universe that haven’t been adequately solved yet. Generation after generation finds intense seekers of truth asking the same questions, dissatisfied with the traditional and dogmatic answers neatly encapsulated in a creed or within a Bible tract.
For example, the verse at the head of this essay is part of a larger passage, Ephesians 4:7-10, which some people use to answer the first question in this article, “Where did Jesus go after He died, and before He was resurrected?”
I recently read a detailed account addressing this perplexity, describing how Jesus descended to hell, preached the gospel to the damned down there, and took back up with Him those who accepted the message. The rest He left behind. The validation for all this information, external to Scripture, was Ephesians 4:7-10.
But is that what Paul is saying? And if he is saying what the writer I read so succinctly and definitively explained, why didn’t Paul express it succinctly and definitively in the first place? As tempting as it is to look for, develop, and put forth an unambiguous and terminating response to complex issues (and the Bible is filled with deep, thought provoking, complex issues) it is dangerous to do so — more dangerous, in fact, than the asking of the question. And yet it is this former that is frequently attacked: “That question leads to a dangerous frame of thought . . .
“This, and only this, is the answer to that enigma in Scripture.”
(By the way, to add a little confusion to the mix, Paul’s quoting of the Scripture, Psalm 68:18, is a little adjusted, and where the apostle writes, “he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men,” the original quote reads, “You led captives in your train; you received gifts from men,” with the emphasis being mine. Not a bad time for another question.)
The Fundamental Problem with Fundamentalism
One of the fundamental issues, and concerns, of fundamentalism of any sort — be it religious, political, social, or economic — is the extermination of dissent, the quelling of any discussion or philosophizing, the subjugation of other ways of looking at things in the effort to promote, and maintain, “correct doctrine.” In totalitarian societies, people who question are agitators, anarchists, enemies of the people — when in reality, they are enemies of the state that imposes itself on the people.
Within religious circles, this same attitude of distrust toward provocateurs holds its own sway, and many is a child — between the age of 7 and 10, say — who is shamed and silenced by asking a simple question, along the lines of,
“How is it fair that I can be ‘chosen,’ but someone else — my oldest sister, for example — is not?” By the time that child is 11, he has learned to not ask such things, and by the time he is 17, he may decide to leave the system that refuses to even admit the validity of the question. It should be important to us, as believers in truth, that we do not impose upon others a totalitarian state of spiritual existence.
In a world where a statement as banal as, “The sky is blue,” is up for discussion (what about on cloudy days? how about from outer space? what if the viewer is colorblind?), truth as serious, provoking, and significant as Scripture should not cavalierly be encapsulated in short, pithy statements projected toward us from the pulpit, or worse, dumped into shallow, simplistic “Bible study” materials imposed upon a captive small group. This is like defining Einstein — the man — by a compendium of his witticisms posted on Facebook memes.
Philosophy — the questioning of who and what we are, who God is, and how we fit into one another’s existence — is not a discipline beyond the reach of the ordinary person, because philosophy, at its essence, is the asking of questions in the pursuit of truth.
There is no need to be afraid of questions, or people who question. But there is every reason to be wary of any human being, or institution, which assures you that it has found the undisputable answer.
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I consistently encourage believers to regularly read the Bible, and at some point, to do it independently of a warm, chatty study guide that leads them, step by step, to a foregone conclusion.
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