Monday, August 22, 2011

Apples and Oranges

When it comes to the Christian faith there is how Christians see themselves and how they are seen by those on the outside, and rarely are those the same.  Often we focus on trying to either be or at least portray ourselves as being perfect hoping that others will want some of the good stuff we have, when really all they see is hypocrisy.  Sometimes in this pursuit of looking perfect we also present the idea that we know everything, and that saying "I don't know" somehow threatens the truth behind what we do know.  If I walked into a McDonalds and said "Hey, those fries are amazing, how do you make them taste so good?" the employee would likely tell me he opens up a bag, puts it in a fryer and when it beeps he puts the salt on, but does he really know?  Is it some special kind of salt, or magical potatoes farmed by Grimace himself?  We may never know, we just know they are good, and we don't look down on the employee for not having all the answers.

When you ask a Christian questions about science we often feel like we need to answer them with our favorite science textbook - the Bible.  What is the origin of the universe?  Are homosexuals biologically predisposed towards their sexual attraction?  How old is the Earth?  What is the most effective medical treatment of anxiety?  At what point in gestation does a child develop rights?  How far away is the nearest star?  What caused dinosaur bones in the ground?  We feel like if someone asks us any question in the universe then we should be able to answer it with a Bible and maybe a concordance, when maybe it was never written to serve as a science book, a carpentry manual, surgical guide, or an exhaustive historical account of everything that happened before 100 AD.  Maybe it serves exactly the purpose it was inspired to serve rather than purposes ascribed to it over time by people with agendas.  If I had intense pain in my side and right before an appendectomy my surgeon walks out with a Bible and says, "Listen, I'm a Christian surgeon, so that means the Bible is my authoritative text for life, not those worldly medical texts presuming they know what is inside of humans" I would run, and fast.  If right before takeoff my pilot said, "Let me say a quick prayer before we take off, God directs all of my actions so no need for me to understand how planes work.  If we hit turbulence or at any point need to land I'll just consult my Bible and we will be just fine," I would get off the plane as quick as possible.  But when we go to a pastor for "counseling" and he tells us everything we need to have a good marriage, be good parents, cure our depression, or get off of drugs is to read your Bible and pray more, we believe it and figure if we fail it was just a lack of faith.  When we sit in science class and learn about evolution, or that if the Earth was only 6000 years old then it must have been created with fossils already in it and lights travelling through space that give the illusion of a star being millions of light years from Earth then we freak out.  We throw the Bible out as the authoritative text on science and in the process make ourselves feel better but look more silly to those on the outside.  We look like the McDonalds employee who answers our above question with, "Well, the employee manual says the fries come from the freezer and the salt from the large sack so we must believe that is where the good taste comes from - the kitchen."  What about the truck that brings the ingredients, or that french fries come from potatoes which must grow in the ground?  These questions must be ignored to maintain the employee's perfect image and supreme knowledge of the universe.

Why does this debate matter for me - three reasons.  First I believe the best method for counseling marriages and families, for treating mental illness, and helping people achieve full healthiness can't be found exclusively within the Bible, but must be supported and reinforced by solid research, quality scientific knowledge, and years and years of clinical understandings of the way people work.  Second is I don't want Christianity to be relegated by our culture as irrelevant because Christians define themselves by standing in opposition to science - who said the two were even fighting so we had to pick sides.  Maybe it's apples and oranges and the questions asked by religion and science are different and can't well be answered by each other.  If so then we won't find ourselves in the all too familiar spot of bundling Christianity with beliefs about the physical world that science goes on to disprove.  I have no idea how the church was able to recover after the whole "The Earth is the center of the universe" fiasco, and I don't like to think of the damage it would do if Evolution was ever able to be proven.  Do I know whether the Big Bang happened or if we evolved from a lower species, or how old the Earth is?  Nope, and I'm OK with that because my faith doesn't rest on it and I'm OK not having all the answers.

The third reason this is important to me is because on a regular basis I have clients that question their faith as their scientific knowledge increases and not getting answers from the Bible makes them question the whole deal.  What do I know?  The same thing we all really know - what I have personally experienced - A God who has revealed himself to me over and over again in minor and major ways, often through the Bible, often in relationships, and even in nature.  So if needing to know all of the answers is necessary for you to accept God's free gift of grace or to continue allowing him to guide and direct your life then it just ain't going to happen - because we just don't have all the answers and we never will.  So then they will say - just the answers to the really important questions, then they can believe, and they usually boil down to one of two questions.  Theodicy - or the question of how do you reconcile an all-good and all-powerful God with a world that has pain and evil is a question that I'll hit in a later post but even then won't answer.  The other is refusing to put on blinders of scientific ignorance and needing to reconcile the creation narrative within the Bible with modern scientific knowledge.  For this question there are also others far more qualified to answer this than I, but my simple answer is that maybe they don't contradict.  Believe in a literal reading of the creation account and say evolution is a bunch of junk, that's fine, it is just a theory and has yet to be proven.  Believe in the Big Bang, evolution, the whole deal, that's fine, it can be reconciled with the creation narrative in a myriad of ways.  Why is this?  Because the Bible is more concerned with letting us know that the fries are really tasty than how they are made - that there is a great and wonderful God that has been at work in our world from the very beginning and He wants to join with us in our lives to recreate them into something better than what was there before he got involved.  Seven literal days, seven periods of time, or maybe that portion of Genesis was written in poetic format much like psalms and proverbs so really wasn't trying to read like a history or science textbook.  Was Adam the first human created, or like early Jewish readers would have read it was he the first Jew set aside to found his chosen people, or was he the first ruler over creation meant to bring God's order to a people already in chaos, or was he the first Homo Sapiens evolved from the other neanderthals ready for God to use in mighty ways?  Lots of theories are out there but most serious biblical scholars will tell you the more you know the more you realize what you don't know, so humility and grace for the interpretations of others are the way to go.

So the Bible is great for wisdom, a revelation of God's plan for his creation, and contains the greatest gift mankind will ever see, the free gift of a reconciled relationship with their creator, but it is as useful for a science or history book as it is for a cookbook or boat-building schematics.  If you have big questions and you think being a Christian just means pretending they don't have answers then you are cheating yourself - get a Bible Commentary, a Systematic Theology, or a scholarly book on whatever your big questions are rather than just burying your head in the sand.  You'll expand your own view of a God we'll never fully grasp as well as helping the Body of Christ become more knowledgeable and informed.  Good Systematic Theology - Millard Erickson's - nice and balanced and short.  Good blog entry on the Adam and Eve debate - Storied Theology -

Wherever you fall in any of the various interpretations just don't get too comfortable - Christianity is about a relationship with a real person not a book or set of beliefs, so when He moves in your heart, reveals a little more of himself, or gives you a different way of viewing things it is just to keep you dependent on him.  And when you think you have it all figured out and are judging the ludicrous views of others, all you really know is those fries are fantastic.

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