As an atheist or agnostic thinking about whether or not God exists, most of us have the same questions or hang ups. Any apologetic will tell you it’s rare they hear a question they’ve never heard before. Despite humans having contemplated faith for thousands of years, many of which determining yes, God does indeed exist, non-believers often believe they have the “Gotcha” question no believer can logically answer. Like I said when I wrote about my literal coming to Jesus, it’s kind of arrogant. I was one of the arrogant, with science and faith being my biggest hangup, which is probably the most common argument I come across.
Having the science vs Christianity debate actually gets kind of boring. Talking with people who think they’re so smart and you’re just a dumb Christian is fun at first, but I find there are actually bigger questions to be answered once you dig a little deeper. Skimming the surface of Christian doctrine gives evidence of compatibility with faith.
Recently I had a fun and different conversation with someone who was once a believer and now isn’t. He had a list of reasons why he had left God, some science related, others not. I am new to “apologetics” but I had a good time testing my own faith and knowledge by addressing his qualms. This will probably be a recurring piece on my blog as I believe it is good for everyone involved.
- Is your version of the Bible correct?
I have various versions of the Bible. By various I mean slightly different translations. That being said, all Bibles say virtually the same thing. They have the same message. Just like the various adaptations of the Cinderella story told in virtually every culture across the globe: they’re all slightly different, but the moral remains the same. However, it is a distant goal of mine to learn Hebrew or ancient Greek so I can read the Bible in its original form and hence its most accurate one.
- How are God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit one yet separate? I.e. why would Jesus pray to himself?
First we must unpack why there is even a trinity to begin with. I think C.S. Lewis has some wise words on this. On a one-dimensional level, you can have a straight line. On a two-dimensional level, those lines can be combined in ways they couldn’t conceive in a one-dimensional world, and they could form a square. Moving on, on a three-dimensional level, those squares can be combined in yet more inconceivable ways for anyone living in a one-or-two-dimensional world, and could form a cube. This trinity is a deeper or more complex level of living/existence. On Earth we are one dimensional. What I mean is one person is one being. You shoot me and only I die, I eat food and only I get full. Perhaps we get close to a two-dimensional existence when we marry someone and two become one; Evidence of this is when one’s spouse dies and a day later they die as well.
Lewis suggests the doctrine of the Trinity describes a “higher kind of life,” where you can have “a being who is three persons while remaining one being, just as a cube is six squares while remaining one cube.”
It’s difficult to wrap our heads around it, but the trinity is something for us to experience. Keep in mind that when we envision one, two and three we do so in terms of objects because we are physical beings but God is not physical, he is spiritual. God (the Father) is the one we pray to, God (the Holy Spirit) is the thing inside us urging us to pray, and God (the Son) is a bridge or road along which we are pushed to that goal. Humans are one being and one person. God is one being but three persons.
Click here for a good explanation of the trinity.
- How do you know if something is true? Through prayer? Through faith?
This is a weird question to me cause it seems obvious. I know something is true if I have solid evidence that said thing is true, beyond a reasonable doubt. I have researched Christianity and have been convinced because of the evidence and compelling arguments apologetics make.
Prayer may help with truth seeking, but praying something doesn’t make it true. Faith doesn’t define truth either, it is sort of a side effect of truth.
- Where and how do you gain knowledge of God’s existence?
For me it’s through research and a little bit of feeling. Although the further I grow in my relationship with God the more feeling based it becomes and I think that’s normal. I constantly have questions about God’s existence. I read books, look up blogs and listen to podcasts. I pray about my questions, literally something like “Heavenly Father I am having some issues understanding why the old testament was so violent. Can you help me find the resources to better understand you?” Every time I have found answers.
- How can all religions be right? It must be then that they’re all wrong. There are hundreds of different Christian faiths all proclaiming to be the one.
This is a weird paradox, if you’re not always right are you always wrong? Yes there are many religions and of course some of them are wrong. Hinduism and Christianity are wildly different so one of them must be wrong.
When it comes to Christianity, sure there are many different sects but, just like different translations of the Bible they still say the same thing: “Jesus is the good news. He came, he died and now we are all saved.” Walk into any Christian church and that’s the message. The differences between churches are questions like, when should we baptize children? Should worship stay traditional or evolve? Even Catholicism which is its own genre of Christianity isn’t greatly different from protestant messaging. Jesus came, he saw, he died, hallelujah. Unity does not necessarily mean uniformity.
Humans aren’t perfect so of course the messages in the Bible are interpreted imperfectly. Who has it perfect? I am not sure, I can only make my best guess. But there are many aspects of Christianity that almost every church agrees on.
Now there are groups like Mormons who add their own layers to Christianity, leading some to claim Mormons aren’t even Christians. The thing about the Book of Mormon is that it doesn’t even come close to the level of verification that the Bible has been found to have over centuries. Potential books of the Bible have been left out because they weren’t found to be historically sound enough. Most notably is the Book of Thomas. Scholars regularly debate whether it should be added but it has continually failed to meet the levels of scrutiny needed to be included in the good book. Likewise, the Book of Mormon fails these tests.
- Why do you believe the Bible to be the basis of morality? It condemns homosexuality, God hates sinners Psalms, Romans 1:18, John 3:36 etc
This is the biggest part of my faith that is feelings based. As you have heard me say, without God there is no objective standard of good. I believe in an objective standard of good.
Without an objective standard for good we get slavery, the holocaust, abortions on demand etc. Nations sat by and watched these things happen. Literally millions of people have been convinced that all these things are a good idea. Judeo/Christian thought is what brought down all of these travesties. (It hasn’t succeeding in bringing down mass abortion yet but I believe it will and one day we’ll look back on these days with shame.)
People say morality is subjective but don’t think hard about what that means; subjective morality means evil is subjective too.
If you have specific issues with things God doesn’t like such as homosexuality I’ll have to address those individually. But here’s what a lot of Christians get wrong in my opinion; They “power rank” sin when all sin is the same in God’s eyes. It’s important to make the distinction between God’s court and ours. We humans punish murder more harshly than petty theft as we should. It’s what our society needs in order to function. But God can forgive a murderer the same as a glutton.
Therefore homosexuality is the same as theft or having sex before marriage, or even having sex with a condom. Why do some Christians focus on homosexuality? I think because it’s “abnormal” sin. A small percentage of the population has homosexual desires but we can all relate to jealousy, glutton, and general lust. Homosexuality is also a very public sin, it’s harder to hide. There are also certain traits common among gay men especially, that are easy to see. Oftentimes other people know a young guy is gay before he even realizes it. On the flip side, no one knows the jealousy I feel or what decisions I make based on selfishness. My sin is not as obvious.
Religion is a relationship. I don’t know your relationship with God, I don’t know your conversations with God, I don’t know your struggles or what’s in your heart; that’s the same whether you’re gay or straight. I also don’t know what God does with gay people but I find it hard to believe we won’t see any in heaven. Jesus never talks about homosexuality. While I think it is sinful, I think a lot of things are sinful and I don’t think homosexuality is one of God’s greatest concerns. I also don’t think as a straight person I automatically have a leg up on a gay person. There are certainly gay Christians less sinful than I.
- Why are there contradictions in the Bible? I thought it was the word of God, isn’t that perfect?
The Bible is the word of God and his word is perfect, however, humans are not. When it comes to the Bible, context, interpretation and translation are huge. Sometimes things people throw out as contradictions actually aren’t. There are also different “genres” in the Bible to be interpreted and understood in different ways. Sometimes folks miss that. There are language conventions we have now that didn’t exist when the Bible was written. Regardless, there are no contradictions that I have ever found in the Bible that are irreconcilable. When you see two verses that are next to each other that don’t seem like they fit, well, someone thought they did belong next to each other so perhaps some further thought on why that is is worthwhile.
People also mistake something taking place in the Bible with meaning it’s condoned by God. For example, in the old testament, Isaac, Abraham and Jacob, the heroes, have multiple wives. You may look at that and say what a contradiction! God condones polygamy in the old testament. But all those dudes are not exactly having a good time. Make sure when you’re reading the Bible you are understanding the narrative.
Another example. People like to point out the difference between the gospels. This is probably the most common “contradiction” I hear about. Each gospel reports a different amount of women running to the tomb, a different number of angels, some include details some leave them out. Because of these “contradictions,” people say, aha! See this is all false. I read the differences and I think, wow this is probably true. Eye witness accounts never turn out the exact same, even if the event happened five minutes ago. This has been tested over and over again. If four people had the exact same memory of such a long, detailed event, that would be more suspicious to me.
I try to figure out why one witness says it one way and another says it a different way. And there are lots of good theories backed by solid reasoning as to why the differences in the gospels exist. Again, look for narrative, not identical recounts.
- Why can’t people perform miracles anymore? Are modern miracles dead?
I think you’ll have to define what miracle means to you in order for me to answer this the way you want me to. But no, they aren’t.
- Why does God kill people in the old testament?
First, my theory: When we raise children, at first we’re extremely hands on. We are constantly correcting them. Usually through constant praise and constant punishment. Most well behaved children are raised this way. For me the punishment was physical in the form of spanking, but maybe it’s time out, getting toys taken away etc. As your children get older you stay involved but you back off. Rare to see a 12 year old get spanked or a 15 year old put in timeout.
Humanity is all of God’s children. In the old testament he was laying the foundation for all of mankind. He had to teach us what is wrong and right and He did that through punishment and reward. Very obvious, in your face punishment and reward. He had to in order to teach us how to be human. It seems obvious now that the Ten Commandments are a good thing but back in the day humans were a little more, for a lack of better words, savage. Early humans didn’t have thousands of years worth of philosophy and thought experiments like we do. But God didn’t like the punishment, that’s why Jesus came.
But to put things more bluntly, God can kill whenever he wants. In fact, the only reason any of us die is because God wills it. God owes us nothing. But it’s also worth asking, why is God so merciful in the Old Testament.
- Where are the prophets today?
You aren’t going to like my first answer to this question but the Bible calls all believers in Christ prophets. In Acts 2:16-21, Peter declares that in the church this prophecy is now fulfilled. Every believer is led by the Holy Spirit to discern the truth (1 John 2:20, 27). Each believer is directed to admonish with the word of Christ (Col. 3:16), as well as to instruct (Rom. 15:14) and encourage other believers (Heb. 3:13). Prophecy in the New Covenant is defined as ideas, thoughts or understandings put into your head by God. So Christians might also pray for prophecy. Say I was going to debate you in front of a crowd on the likelihood of God. Before our debate started I might pray to God for prophecy, meaning profound understanding of the word and the means to accurately communicate it. So perhaps prophecy is revealed in that I give an example that relates directly to a thought you had that morning that I had no idea about. That’s modern prophecy.
Like so many other things, the arrival of Jesus changed the role of prophets, rather it got rid of the need. You’ll notice in the New Testament Jesus’s followers are called apostles, not prophets. I believe this is because Jesus was the ultimate prophet. He gave us the word of God, straight from Him so what more do we really need at this point? There is no more “thus saith the lord” in the new testament. Perhaps there will be another prophet one day but there honestly isn’t a need for one in the traditional sense. We have all the instructions and guidance we need from God and that is mostly because of Jesus.
- Why do you believe the Bible is the only book you need or that it has all the answers in life? That’s like saying everything you need to know in life you’ll learn in school.
I believe the Bible is the only book you need in order to know your core purpose as a human and child of God. If you know your purpose then everything else follows. Because of what the Bible tells me I feel it is important for me to attend school and treat people well and do things that generally glorify God. So yes, the Bible is all I need.