I was chatting with someone this week about questions of faith and “knowing”: How do we know that the Bible is from God?
Know is a tricky word, because every person’s appetite for evidence is different. Some need mountains, some molehills. Either way, the truth is that you’ll never find enough scientific evidence to come to what I call, “Know with a capital ‘K’”. God’s telling us the story of history with the purpose of inviting us into that story, inviting us to re-calibrate our lives according to His plan, His trajectory, and doing so will require faith (as any world view requires a degree of faith). But before we do that, many of us need to ponder whether this story is just another politically motivated myth, written in order to keep people in line, or raise the identity of one people group to hero status, or if this material originates with God.
This is question worthy of a book not a blog post, but here are two reasons I believe the Bible comes from God, thoughts that have been in conversations this week:
#1 – The Bible’s ethic is wholly other. In contrast to surrounding civilizations, the Bible presents us with one God, not many gods. This, in itself, isn’t evidence of its veracity. But the ethics of this one God are unlike anything to come before. What other nation’s gods placed a priority on caring for widows, orphans, and aliens? None. What other culture promised freedom to slaves after seven years? None. What other forgave debts every seven years, and cast a vision for property ownership that would prevent generational accumulation of wealth (and hence, power), by having land revert back to their original owners every fifty years? None. What other culture required farmers to leave the edges of their fields unharvested, mandating a smaller profit for the powerful in order that the poor might have substance? None.
Who made up all these rules that would assure loss of wealth power to those at the top? The rich and powerful? Why would they? Why hadn’t any other culture done so “for the common good”? Where would they have acquired these ideas? You can tell me that they “just thought them up”, but my response is that your view, then, is also a leap of faith, and frankly a big one. Can you imagine this: “Hey, let’s write a law that will prevent our children from inheriting our property, so that they’ll need to start from scratch just like we did…” (Deuteronomy 15:1-18) Maybe. Or maybe it came from revelation – otherworldly revelation.
#2 - Israel’s self disclosure is largely unflattering. Have you been to Washington DC? There’s one display (the Native American museum) that talks a bit about America’s darker side. The rest of the town offers monument after monument praising not only our ideals, but our actions – the wars we’ve won, the press that’s free, the slavery we ended, the soldiers we honor, the aid we’ve given, the geniuses we’ve produced. We praise our ingenuity, courage, optimism, and endurance.
Don’t get me wrong. That’s probably as it should be when you’re walking through any nation’s capital. Wherever I’ve travelled, I’ve found tokens (like the Native American museum) of a nation’s dark side, and boatloads of praise.
Then you come to the Old Testament. It’s written by Jews, in Hebrew. It begins with their people enslaved, and catalogs their unbelief, whining, and resistance to progress, both as they leave Egypt, and wander through the wilderness. It catalogs their eventual conquest of a new land, but their catastrophic failures to obey God in the process, and the price they paid, along with their failure to obey God once there. The entire “history books” section of the Old Testament is about Israel’s decline into idolatry, greed, corruption, abuse of power, and civil war, leading eventually to their occupation. Interwoven through that same time period would be the books of the “prophets”, who were less than flattering, and would by many accounts be considered unpatriotic, as they foretold the downfall of their own nation, which unfolded just as predicted.
And you’re going to tell me this is Jewish propaganda material, made up to show the world Israel’s stellar history?
Wow… and I thought I had faith.
Sure. There are unanswered questions about why God did everything He did in the Old Testament. But again, it’s the very nature of those unanswered questions that causes me to say, “nobody makes this stuff up”. As a result, I and billions of others have come to believe that God is, somehow, the source.