When I was a child there was a running joke that every year for my birthday somebody would gift me a copy of Aesop’s Fables. These short stories have withstood the test of time as ways for teaching children (and adults) lessons about common virtues and disciplines. And so I remember vividly reading the tory of the Tortoise and the Hare and learning the age old lesson that slow and steady wins the race.
It’s safe to say that a book like Aesop’s Fables is not to be taken as literal. No one actually believes that a tortoise lost a race to a hare, for the very purpose that the author did not intend the writings to be interpreted literally. When taken on its own terms, we as readers of Aesop are able to understand what the author intended, and then as perceptive readers can determine what we believe about the writing. Aesop invites us to disagree with him on the lesson he teaches, but he does not invite to disagree with him about the veracity of a literal race between a tortoise and a hare.
Truth & Values
Many in our culture and society today would approach the Bible very similarly to how they approach a book like Aesop’s Fables. In fact, the culture at large is okay with the Bible so long as it is kept in a similar space and on a similar shelf to Aesop’s Fables. There is a desire to see the Bible as a helpful and meaningful place to find short sweet stories about virtues and morality. The problem with this approach is that the authors who composed the bible had a radically different understanding of what they were writing. The Bible, when taken at face value and as the Biblical writers intended, is not content to sit on a bookshelf titled Values. The claims of the Bible are claims to truth, not just values. Whenever a statement of truth is made, it is intended to be true universally, for all people in all places, not just for those who choose to believe it.
Take for example the introduction to the biographical account of the life of Jesus from the writer Luke which was written sometime shortly before 70AD.
“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”Luke 1:1-14 English Standard Version
When we read this introduction from this Biblical author we have before us only one option, to take what Luke wrote as an attempt to record history. We can call him a liar if we believe his account of history is off base. But we cannot mythologize or spiritualize what he writes for to do so would be to add a layer of interpretation that the author did not intend. We have every right to read the text and disagree with the author, but if we disagree we must do so on the author’s terms. The Gospel of Luke, as Luke specifically tells us, is as an honest attempt by a trained doctor of his day to corroborate the evidence through eye witness testimonies and record the facts accurately of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Luke’s biography of Jesus is not the only book of the Bible that makes these kinds of claims. In fact every book of the bible, within its intended literary purpose records truth claims in one way or another. Truth claims about: God, His people, His creation, morality, ethics, salvation, purpose, and destiny. Many of these claims are certainly immeasurably by any scientific standard. For example, there is no way to peer into the throne room of God to determine if Isaiah’s vision was accurate. There is no way to rewind the clocks to verify if Joseph was truly sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers. Yet this does not mean that the Bible does not speak into the world of fact and truth and should not be judged as such.
Helpful Thoughts from Alan Lightman
Alan Lightman says this so well. Alan Lightman is a brilliant scientist and self proclaimed materialist (he does not believe anything beyond the natural material elements and order of the universe). He recently wrote a book that explores the wonders of the material universe we know and live in. In this book he constantly finds Himself pondering ideas of Holiness and Transcendance and His place in the beauty of the known material universe. When considering truth claims of religions he says:
“I respect the notions of god and other divine beings. However, I insist on one thing. I insist that any statements made by such beings and their prophets about the material world, including statements recorded in the sacred books, must be subject to the experimental testing of science.”Alan Lightman. Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine. p. 82.
Dr. Lightman is correct. As a Christian I embrace with every fiber in my body the evaluation of the Bible on its own terms. Jesus taught that we should worship God with our “heart, soul, and mind. (Matthew 22:37).” To worship God with our mind is an invitation to think about God, and to use reason to understand our faith. I have been on this journey of faith for 15 years now, and I am constantly in awe of the truth of scripture. I am constantly in awe of the Bible’s ability to be put up to the tests of the sciences of history, archaeology, and logical reasoning. I do not claim to be a scientist, but I do believe that we have working minds that are able to think rationally and logically about statements of truth, and to come decisions about those claims based on our reasoning. Faith is not believing something despite evidence to the contrary, that is foolishness. Faith is believing something beyond and yet in line with where the evidence leads.
In January our church, as well as many churches across the city of Chicago, are engaging on a seven part sermon series titled Explore God. This series aims to evaluate the claims of scripture using our “heart, soul, and mind” just as Jesus invited us to do. If the Bible is true then, as it claims, it is of utmost importance for each and every person. The greatest mistake anyone can ever make is to never ask the question of a book like the Bible, “Is it true?” Here are the seven topics we’ll be discussing beginning January 13th. By no means in seven short weeks will we fully exhaust all there is to discuss on any of these topics. But we aim to start a journey together.
- Does life have a purpose?
- Is there a God?
- Why does God allow pain and suffering?
- Is Christianity too narrow?
- Is Jesus really God?
- Is the Bible reliable?
- Can I know God personally?
I hope you may consider joining us at Park Community Church South Loop.