Monday, 27 February 2012

Explaining my faith to atheists

Yesterday I blogged about whether we should preach the curses.  It was written as a reflection and to see what other preachers would think.  But beyond my expectations it has started two powerful conversations with two different friends who both happen to be aetheists.  I never expected this, I just didn't think that this would be the subject that would cause them to reach out and debate with me.  Don't get me wrong, I'm pleased, but it's also been a challenge.  They've raised questions which it's hard to answer in a way that makes sense to them.  It's challenged me about how I explain my faith to those who haven't had my experiences. 

This post starts by providing the conversations and my initial responses.  It then provides some more detailed thoughts.  I am no expert, I am no great theologist; this is just my attempt at trying to explain my faith to those with none.

Conversation on Twitter:
Should we preach the curses?

- Preaching the *whole* bible is testing your faith?
No, it's about finding the message in the Bible to be preached. The curses are known, but do they help people seeking God?

- Are you preaching to people seeking or people who’ve already found?
Both. In fact we're all seeking God even when we've found Him, we're seeking His call on our lives and His truth today.

Oh and one small thing, life tests my faith most days, it's just that my faith, thanks to God's grace, passes :)
- Fair play - teasing me back. :) You know I’m an atheist right? As if if wasn’t obvious.
I do but I don't hold it against you :)

Conversation on Facebook
Should we preach the curses?

R "This is one of the major problems for me, as far as believing in a merciful and all-loving God. How do you square that with the list of atrocities and lack of mercy shown throughout the bible?  And that's just in the New Testament! Let's not even get into Leviticus. To cherry pick the bits which are palatable to us in these enlightened times would suggest we are imposing upon it a sense of morality external to the bible and seems a bit disingenuous if we are being asked to believe in it as some kind of eternal truth."

Me "I have no problems with the quotes in that link, these are truths that Jesus is saying. But there is a huge difference between experiencing pain of separation of God and being treated badly by God and that is the key. I would hate to be separated from God, to not hear him and know him and love him and be completely in relationship with him. It's all about relationship for me. Jesus at no point says that anyone will be condemned, he refers back to the rath of God in the Old Testament to try and explain to the Jewish people in words they would understand.  I don't believe in Hell. It doesn't fit in with the God I know and the preaching of Jesus. I do however no that being able to experience Heaven on Earth is what matters and that being excluded from that by our own actions is sad.  does this make sense?  It is hard to explain when the focus is on the "what" of the Biblical words rather than the "why"."

I do not think it's useful to get into a list of scriptural references about curses and blessings, or to get into debates about what a specific verse of the Bible about.  We can all find segments of the Bible which prove or disprove anything; that's not productive or useful or what the Bible is about. What is important in reading the Bible, as a Christian or as an atheist, is to understand how it was written, why it was written, when it was written, by whom it was written and what it’s themes are.

No one should read individual elements of the Bible as a pure truth; it is made up of different elements which need to be read in their context.  When studying the books of the Bible, it is important to look not only at the information a book contains but also at the literary form that the author has used. There are the laws for the Jewish people, these were written to help them worship and live correctly. There are the books of History which provide actual truths and can be proved by historians. There are the poems and songs which take elements of worship and story and make them memorable for sharing. There are the wisdom books which raise questions about moral issues, and ask hard questions about life. There are the gospels which provide the good news of Jesus’ life and ministry. There are the letters from Paul which detail the what, why and how of the early church.  When reading a verse or biblical quote it's important to know which book of the Bible it comes from and what the purpose of it's provision was.

The Bible was also written between 3000 and 2000 years ago in a very different society and with different understandings of the world and ourselves within it.  What was "right" then, could be "wrong" now. Is having sex with a thirteen year old "wrong"? Yes, obviously, but it wasn't in lives which were ended before you turned 30.  We know the Bible to be the word of God, but it is through the understanding of the words that God speaks. I do eat selfish and pork and I do work on the Sabbath; none of those things stop me being a Christian.

There are many blessings in the Bible, truths which I believe help us come closer to God when we accept them.  And yes, there are curses as well, points which we need to heed for us to be in the closest relationship with God we can be.  I know the curses, I fear the curses; what I don't want people to focus on are the curses.  We are sinners, we do things wrong and God loves us knowing this.  He sent His Son Jesus Christ to save us from our sins and to bring us back into a right relationship with Himself.  He asks us to do the best we can and He gives us much advice to help, but He won't abandon us when we fail.
I have never preached on the curses; mainly because I heard more than enough of it as a child and it led me into a fear filled relationship with, and without, God.  I only developed a relationship with God when I realised and knew and accepted that He loved me despite my faults and His expectations.  I leave the knowledge of the curses to others and help people coming to and dealing with their faith through positive love.

Oh and to end, this was also provided by one of the guys just to be provocative.  Here are my thoughts.

Guess which one the Bible's OK with

The Bible is not OK with slavery and the Bible isn't anti gay marriage.

The Bible was written thousands of years ago, therefore a Biblical definition of slavery is different than a modern western one. The Bible's reference to slavery is more like being indentured.  You would be a slave if you are paying off a debt to someone, this being preferable to the death sentence which was the other option.  This slavery was not exploitation, in fact the Bible only allows for slaves to become slaves voluntarily, abducting free people and making them slaves is prohibited in the Bible.

Fast forward several thousand years to the slavery which European Nations exploited and you'll see the kidnapping and mistreatment of people for the good and profit of those in power, that's very different.

I know that there is a huge christian movement against Gay marriage and gay relationships being against God.  I can not agree with this AT ALL!!  The mentions of not sleeping with fellow man are included in the Old Testament of the Bible.  These writings were providing details of the history of the Jewish people and on them expanding the number of people in the world, increasing God’s people. This, as we all know, takes procreation and that means men and women having sex. The Bible talks about this a lot because it matters. 

There is nothing I have ever read, or in any commentaries I have ever read by theologists, which says that it is a sin to be gay or to have gay sex.  I refute this entirely and I will argue till I'm blue in the face about it. 

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