Tuesday, 11 February 2014

An asset not a liability

I believe God's way is always the best way, but sometimes it sure doesn't seem like it. I have often thought that the way God revealed Himself in scripture, i.e. various writers over many centuries, recorded in thousands of manuscripts and fragments etc. seems a bit...I dunno...messy. I don't think that way anymore, and I want to tell you why.

It was a conversation I had with a man called Owen last week that really showed the wisdom of God in the way He chose to communicate with us. I got into conversation with Owen and he told me that he believed in a God but thought there were too many inconsistencies in the Bible for him to believe in Christianity. So I asked him to tell me something that troubled him. He told me he didn't want to do that because he didn't like to plant seeds of doubt in my mind - how kind!

I told him that it was my business in life to engage with people who do not believe what I believe, to try to answer their questions and deal with their objections, and I really didn't think there would be anything I haven't encountered before. He was not forthcoming, so I asked him if I could give him three things to think about in regard to Christianity. He invited me to do so and my first subject was fulfilled prophecy.

I pointed out that the Old Testament prophesied the coming of the Saviour, and there are a couple of passages that did so in graphic detail, focusing particularly on His death, Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53. These passages were not only written centuries before Christ but centuries before crucifixion was invented, and yet the descriptions are vivid, the language clear, and (I argued) the implication compelling - they were writing under the guidance of an all-knowing, sovereign God.

"One problem with that" Owen responded, "It's all from the one book so it doesn't count." His objection was that the prophecy and the fulfilment are in the Bible so it can just be invented. Well, I could see that it would be possible for someone to write a story and in that story say that so and so prophesied an event that then came true, but that certainly isn't what's going on in the Bible. I told him that the Bible isn't actually just one book. It didn't float down from heaven bound in leather. It is a collection of books spanning over 1500 years, so we do not have one writer recording a prophecy then telling us of its fulfilment. Rather, we have writers prophesying events that were totally alien to their experience and contrary to their expectations, then centuries later these very events are brought to pass. So, if that is his "one problem" then once that's pointed out there should be no problem to him accepting that the God he believes exists must be the God who guided these writers, which would then lead to the conclusion that the Saviour prophesied is the Saviour he needs. At this stage he countered by telling me these prophesies haven't convinced the Jews. I told him many have been convinced (for example, see here), but it is true that the majority of the Jews rejected and reject Jesus as Messiah, (this was also prophesied! He would be rejected by His own people but would be a light to the Gentiles), but this is not for any good reason. It is not that the Lord Jesus was not the right Saviour, but He wasn't the right kind of Saviour for them. They didn't want someone who brought the message He brought, and that is still the same today. One who tells us we are guilty, hell-deserving and helpless will turn many away. But I challenged Owen to read Isaiah 53 and ask himself who this is speaking about. I invited him to read the convuluted explanations given to evade the clear meaning, and just be honest with the text and make up his own mind.

We then moved on to my second point, the resurrection of Christ. I sketched out a very simple argument:
  • The disciples claimed to have seen the risen Christ.
  • They were either right or wrong.
  • If they were wrong they either thought they were right (but were mistaken), or they knew they were wrong (and were liars).
  • The disciples could not have been mistaken.
  • The disciples would not have been lying.
  • Therefore the disciples weren't wrong.
  • Therefore the disciples were right, Christ is risen.
Now Owen was with me for my first four points, and was prepared to say the disciples were making it up. I went over the usual arguments that have never been overturned that there is no way the disciples were liars. In fact even non-Christian New Testament historians concede the sincerity of the apostles. The lives they lived, the letters they wrote, the sufferings they endured all show they were men of integrity and conviction. And just think what is involved in the claim that they made the story up - they were promoting a false Messiah, saying He was the Lord of glory, the Son of God, worthy of worship and the one way of salvation. They were leading people away from the ceremonies, sacrifices and rituals of their God-given religion. I put it to Owen that if these disciples didn't really believe Jesus was living then they mustn't have believed God was living, because no God-fearing Jew would ever make up such a story. Furthermore, they gained nothing from it except trouble.

At this point Owen changed the subject a wee bit and said that the Roman Catholic church can just change things in the Bible to suit themselves, and so we can't know what happened, (by the way, it's pretty clear the RC church has no such power because there are any amount of things in the Bible that contradict the teachings and practices of that system). I told him that God in His wisdom has chosen to communicate in a way that makes such a thing impossible, because we are not dependent on one stream or channel through which the Bible has come to us. In the first century the Gospel spread rapidly and Christians moved widely. That means the writings of the apostles and their associates were rapidly copied and widely spread, so that there are well over 5,500 Greek manuscripts and they are found in three different continents of the world. More and more manuscripts are being discovered all the time that pre-date the institution of the Roman Catholic church (see here for more info). What this means is that no one had the authority or the ability to gather up all the manuscripts and make changes. If changes have been made they can be readily identified by comparing manuscripts. Something that Christians perhaps wish had been done differently actually ensures the text has not been and cannot be corrupted or changed without anyone knowing.

My third point was to tell him that Christianity does not just offer evidence for its truthfulness, but the reality of it can be experienced through coming to Christ for salvation. When someone turns to the Lord in repentance He grants them new life so that we know from experience this is real.

So, you think it would have been better if we had one book, and we didn't have all these manuscripts with the differences in them? That is the way we would naturally think is best, which is why man-made religions go that way. But God thinks different, and as my conversation with Owen shows, God knows best.