Here and there in my blog I refer to my Canyon of Doubt. It is there that, throughout my Christian existence, I stored up all of the things that didn’t make sense to me, that caused me to have doubts in what I believed. These were things that I kept at bay, but that were waiting for me when I finally was ready to examine what I believed with real honesty. I’ll try to keep this chronological too, but my memory is a jumble sometimes, so it will be a bit of a ramble, maybe even more so than installment VI.
I do remember the earliest doubt, one that never left me.
Very early on, I thought I wanted to be a pastor. Whatever my motivation, I wanted to start studying the bible like pastors and leaders, not like regular church people. I was going to be a Superchristian.
With Duane’s help, I got together a list of books to start my study library. The included the usual items, an NIV concordance, a Bible Dictionary, a Bible Handbook (providing historical context for each book of the bible), a Greek/Hebrew/Aramaic Word Dictionary, a two-volume commentary set, and Gleason Archer’s Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties.
Just the act of buying that last book disturbed me. Why did we need an entire encyclopedia of bible “difficulties?” What the hell were the difficulties? I thought the Pastor C kept telling me that the Word (capital W) was the inerrant word of god.
I bought it anyway, being the bot that I was. When I got home, I wanted to look in that book to see what could be so bad we needed an extra book to explain it. I don’t remember what topic I opened up and read. What I do remember, leafing through it, is that the few articles I read sounded like one lame-ass excuse after another. It was easier to just leave the book on the shelf and assume I hadn’t understood what I read and wasn’t ready to deal with the issues.
Yeah, that’s it.
I had a problem with the story of Noah for a long time. It’s probably the part of the bible where I most questioned whether it was really as perfectly inerrant as I had been taught.
When I say we were literal believers, I mean 8 people, 2 (and in some cases 7) of each kind of animal, a whole lotta water, and a global amount of death.
How they turned this into a children’s story, I have no idea.
Anyway, like any other fundamentalist inerrantist Christian, I ate up stories about the hunt to find Noah’s Ark somewhere up on Mount Ararat, buried in ice. When ex-astronaut James Irwin came to town (see installment VI – Evilution) we were convinced that he was going to return in a year or two with a couple of beams of wood and put the question to rest for the world. We didn’t doubt that it happened. It was just a matter of time.
But the story bothered me fairly early on. Well, for a little while I could just take it on faith, and outwardly, I insisted it was true, because I was taught to by those same pastors who… well, you know. It was an issue I shoved deep into my canyon of doubt.
On the other hand, I wasn’t blind, and I often read or watched archaeological and anthropological stories relating the latest discoveries.
Why were there civilizations untouched and undisrupted by this global flood? If truly there was a flood, there would be a number of unique and diverse pre-flood civilizations or at least settlements that would have evidently been catastrophically ended at the exact same time. No such pattern exists.
How could Australia have evolved such an isolated pool of fauna in but a few thousand years? Or why were there no similar forms anywhere else in the world? Or any trace of remains anywhere?
How could the entire earth be covered in water when there is not and never has been enough water in the entire hydrosphere to cover the earth to the necessary height of 30,000 feet – nowhere near.
How could the human race survive from but six people of childbearing age, proliferate across the globe into all of the world’s races and sub-races and myriad cultures (many of whose histories are older than the flood) in but a few thousand years.
Of course, non of those things are remotely possible. And so from whence the flood story? Gilgamesh, Noah, and a number of other cultural stories?
I began to consider the theory that there was a catastrophic flood that was so large as to seem to cover the earth to those who were there, and grew in the telling.
But then, biblically, the story didn’t really make sense, and of course we had to consider the biblical version the correct version, the version that had been embellished by its own culture into whatever form it found. What did it say for god’s purity and purpose in the flood if it only covered part of the middle east? Why have rainbows across the globe if the rain only fell east of the Mediterranean?
For years these doubts were hid with the others, but at quiet times alone I sometimes pondered this conundrum probably more than any of the others until late in my Christian experience.
As a child, I was a dinosaur fanatic. Barely out of toddlerhood, I knew the long, tonguetwisting names of all these “terrible lizards.” Amazing what more we have learned in just a few decades. But at an early age I understood that the earth had had a number of epochs spanning millions of years, dominated by different classes of creatures, and that we ourselves were but one more, here in the Holocene Epoch.
But once I learned the Truth with a capital T, that our inerrant Word of God was very specific about His creating the world and everything in it in six literal days.
And so I ate it up, again as related in installment six. For years I persisted in this belief, but, like the flood itself, knowledge of the real world seeped in at the edges. I remember distinctly one article I read about the discovery of an early settlement of humans, dated at 50,000 years ago. They provided such detail, cataloging the tools and materials scattered around the dig site that painted a picture of people just like any of us, gathered together to live and subsist, creating tools to simplify their lives, to make living just a little more pleasant.
And I knew that this ran across everything I’d been taught, everything I believed in such a black and white, fundamentalist manner. When John MacArthur and Ken Ham insisted that if evolution was true, the entire gospel collapsed, the entire integrity of the bible was forfeit.
Eventually, after more reading and conversations with folks of my own belief as well as scientific articles studied friends outside the church, I came to the conclusion that it was not creation that would be the dividing line, rather the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If Christ rose from the dead, then the rest of the Word was true, and if Genesis and evolution were both true, then it was allegory and to be trusted as an account of God’s authority over creation, not a blow-by-blow account.
By that rationalization, that stopped pretty much there, I managed to maintain my faith for years after that.
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. God
Before I’d really heard non-believer’s arguments about the nature of God as expressed in the Old Testament, I’d had my own disquieting thoughts. The violence and vengeful streak that ran through the OT was so very different from the loving, forgiving, Father God of the gospels and epistles.
Critics, myself included, focus on the genocidal and misogynist behavior of YHWH most of the time – the rank level of violence. But at the time I was more inclined to gloss over such details in the interest of God’s sovereignty, etc.
But the dichotomy between the vengeful, occasionally limited, almost tribal deity and the omnipotent, omnibenevolent Father God had always left me with a disquiet, and a blasphemous wish that it had been more congruous, the Old and the New.
Of course now I see that this divide is cultural and human, as a symptom of men of different times, in different political and social environments writing with different priorities and motivations.
But then it left me with a disquieting question that I tried to suppress: “If there is but one God, why does he look so different from one book to the other?”
Why did successfully walking in the Spirit look just like doing it yourself? Why was living by faith quite the same as living with self-discipline?
That’s it. We both know the answers to those questions:
When I was struggling many a time with one “sin” or another, or some other life struggle, a decision, and so on, I would always go to the writings attributed to Paul, especially the book of Romans.
At some point, and I think this was somewhere around 10, maybe 15 years into it, I began to wonder – why would I rely on the words of Paul rather than the words of Jesus? Why were the epistles seemingly so clear, so well aligned with the theology we were taught from the pulpit, when the red words of Jesus were full of holes that needed filling by Paul, who even by tradition (if you believe he did all that writing) was writing 20-40 years after the fact? Why was Jesus so specifically partial to the Jews, if the all-inclusive gospel to the gentiles was his purpose?
And why, if I relied solely on the words of Jesus, did I not find the clarity and assurance I sought? Why only Paul?
All of these things were on the fringes of my mind, along with others that I’ll add here as they come to mind. Remember that throughout my Christian life, these were still just bothersome, niggling doubts. They would not steer me from my path at the time, but they were there waiting for me when honesty overcame my fear.