Updated: Nov 2, 2019
I recently got in a discussion with an atheist. It was a respectful discussion. Well, at one point, I offended him and he called me "flamingly egotistical", and I apologized for upsetting him. But he was also kind of ticking me off talking like Christians are idiots. I really need to learn to pray before I type.
What is interesting about this man is that apparently he used to be a Christian for decades. Apparently he studied the Bible and was a regular church goer. And then he abandoned his faith and became an Atheist. I do not know his story as to why he abandoned his faith. I assume he was somehow burned by other Christians and the church. We have had many discussions on the forum and I can tell he is informed and intelligent.
I share some of my Passion to Know More's social media posts on this Bible forum. It is interesting that on my social media sites, few respond or interact with me. But on this forum where people are "anonymous" with made-up names, they feel free to say whatever they want.
This particular discussion with Mr. Atheist started because I posted on the forum: "58% of Americans want to read their Bible more. This addresses some of their frustrations in doing so." Then I posted my recent blog, Worthy in the Next Year.
Mr. Atheist read my post and noticed on the graph the huge jump in 2017 to 22% other (frustrations with reading the Bible). Mr. Atheist says, "The atheist in me has to wonder if this spike relates to a 'frustration' with the Bible that isn't on the list - like concluding it's all fiction. But that is probably wishful thinking on my part." I tried to find why the spike in "Other" in the report, couldn't, and told him to read certain pages of the 2017 State of the Bible by American Bible Society and Barna Group. He actually did so which I think is great! I've found if you send people to a resource, video, article - they rarely actually go to it and check it out. So the fact that Mr. Atheist did go to the 93 page report says a lot about his willingness to investigate and learn.
We talked a little about the categories which I agreed seemed funky to me too. These surveys they put out sometimes do seem weird in the way they categorize Christians and non-Christians and in the way they word questions. They are really only meant to notice trends. We discussed this for a little and then I said even if the percent of people wanting to read the Bible more is off, it doesn't negate that some people want to read their Bible more. And these frustrations are typical. The report just shows us generalities. The trends of the State of the Bible report is that statistics on Bible engagement stayed relatively consistent for 25 years and then since 2009 each year less people read the Bible and Bible illiteracy is going up.
Mr. Atheist said he doesn't see increasing Bible illiteracy as an atheist goal. "The opposite, in fact. Studying the Bible is a pretty effective way to stop believing it."
See this statement pretty much surprised me because this was not my experience. I was very much a nominal Christian (Occasional Christian) who had a lot of doubts and didn't understand why I believed certain Christian doctrines. Heck, I wasn't sure I even believed some of the Christian doctrines at all. But when I actually began reading the Bible, it was as if bells went off. I had so many "Aha" moments! I went from being only partially onboard with Christianity to being all in. I went from being unsure I bought into all of it to truly believing. My faith deepened. I had a clarity I did not have prior. And I became passionate about learning and studying the Bible and sharing it with others because of this.
So here was someone who has read the Bible - I think the whole thing - saying if people read it they wouldn't believe anymore. They would abandon their faith.
We had a long discussion, but here is what Mr. Atheist said:
"There are 3 assumptions that Bible literalist bring to their Bible study that form a defense mechanism against critical examination."
[I'm not sure how he is defining "literalist." He said, "I'm using the definition 'every word of the Bible is true' for literalist." I still don't understand that definition because I am confused by the word "true" versus "literal". I do not consider myself a literalist. I believe for the most part I read the text in context. But do I literally believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God? I do.]
Mr. Atheist continues:
3.) "that every action or command of the deity is morally good, and it's the job of the interpreter to do whatever mental gymnastics are required to make the bad bits seem reasonable or defensible."
At this point I did not know what "bad bits" meant and I actually thought he was referring to the commands of the Mosaic Law and what the Bible says about difficult subjects like homosexuality (because there are several gay people on the forum who that is a hot button for them).
Mr. Atheist described "bad bits" as "... commanding the genocide even of the women children and poor innocent cows of the Canaanites is morally reprehensible, but you flat out deny that we should even have any moral pause because of your ideas of divine prerogative. How about commanding the genital mutilation of 8 day old babies in a time when they didn't even know how to sterilize their knives and had no clue about bacteria or antibiotics? Your method of reading the Bible prevents you from considering these things in a more objective light."
Since I was so off base in thinking what he meant by "bad bits", I replied, "I actually chuckled when..." To which he replied "how flamingly egotistical... just two of the several dozen examples I could have chosen..." I apologized. I wasn't chuckling over those 2 things, but that I was way off in understanding what he meant by "bad bits."
Anyways we continued to have a lengthy discussion. He knows what I believe about the sovereignty of God and I know what he believes. One of us is wrong.
This whole conversation got me thinking about the "bad bits" in the Bible. The places where we ask ourselves "Why would a loving God command that?" Or to go even further in our thinking, it is the age old question, "Why does a loving God allow bad things to happen to us?"
I recently read a social media post where a Christian woman said it had been a bad year for her - her mother had died of cancer, her husband lost his job, and they received a devastating infertility diagnosis. She said she has had to fight every day to find God's goodness. She was determined not to let all of this pain be wasted. She found out when everything was stripped away this year, she still had Him. Someone else I know lost his wife last February to cancer, his daughter in college was murdered a month after he lost his wife, and just a few months ago his son committed suicide. He lost all of his family members in 10 months. How could you survive that? Where is God's goodness in that? That is a fair question.
Look I get it. When I was 20 my mother died of a heart attack suddenly. She was only 51 years old. I was left with my dad who was not a very loving person and he had to take care of my handicapped sister which led to tons of fights between us. I was so angry with God. Why did You take her? A month before my mom died my boyfriend dumped me and with her death I was a huge emotional mess. As a result, I made a lot of bad choices and got myself in some pretty bad situations. One extremely traumatic. I turned from my faith. Not completely. I didn't become an atheist. But I wanted nothing to do with such a 'mean' God. How could a loving God do this to me? I wrote a blog The Wasted Angry Years about how I see those years now.
I wonder if Mr. Atheist turned from his faith because of some excruciating experience. Or if like I first assumed that he might have been burned by Christians or the church.
Ministers very rarely talk about the "bad bits" in the Bible.
The children and animals slaughtered in Jericho (Joshua 6:21.)
Moses couldn't enter the Promised Land because he hit a rock (Numbers 20:11.)
Uzzah died because he just touched the arc of the covenant (2 Samuel 6:6,7.)
Korah and the 250 Levites and their families killed (Numbers 16:30-33.)
Just some of the many examples of "bad bits" in the Bible showing us God is holy.
And personally, why would a loving God allow bad things to happen to us?
These are difficult subjects to discuss.
Eventually something horrific is going to happen to you. Are you going to have a crisis of faith? Or how do you reconcile the "bad bits" in the Bible? Obviously we are uncomfortable with many of the accounts in the Bible.
But I have come to terms with the "bad bits" in the Bible, He is a holy God. And I know where my loving God is in my suffering - He is right there with me when I turn to Him. I believe strongly in God's sovereignty and His goodness. I told Mr. Atheist that and tried to explain why. I said to him that "Who did God make a covenant with? Who does God show lovingkindness to?"
This is an excellent short video by R. C. Sproul called What's Wrong with You People? I couldn't agree with him more. Please watch it.
"This is what is wrong with the Christian Church today. We don't know who God is. And we don't know who we are."
In 2001-2002 I suffered clinical depression. I was under the care of a psychiatrist, a Christian counselor, and an understanding medical doctor who even called me at home to check on me. It was this time when I completely surrendered my life to God. I asked Him to take over. Healing didn't come quickly, but steps in that direction did.
God brought me to a Bible study group for women who suffered from depression. In that group was a woman whose son had committed suicide; another whose husband left her after 39 years of marriage; another single woman who broke both of her feet, lost her job and couldn't find another one which led to her not being able to pay her mortgage; another whose 18 year old daughter had been murdered;... And in that group we searched for the goodness of God. And we found it. And we healed. Does that mean we understood why bad things happened to us? No. But we came to trust in His goodness towards us.
How did I reconcile the "bad bits" in the Bible? I think it was a combination of this women's group, I asked ministers and seminary students the hard questions and got their input, and I continued to read the Bible to get the big picture of God's redemptive plan for us - including studying Bible text notes and commentaries for passages which I thought were difficult for me to reconcile.
Some books on reconciling evil with the goodness of God. Books which had to do with the sovereignty and holiness of God.
[These are affiliate links which help support this site.]
The last one Evil and the Justice of God is very good! None of these books are fluffy reads, but well worth the time.
Somewhere along the way I realized who God is. He is good. He is loving. This is a message loudly lauded in today's society. But He is also holy, just, and sovereign. And this is a message largely ignored in today's society. I realized who I am. I am a wretched sinner. Nothing compared to an Almighty God. And yet He loves me and wants what is good for me. I am so very grateful for my Savior, Jesus, and for what He did for me. I am so thankful for the mercy which has been given me. I also came to understand the concept of the "fear of God" - something ministers rarely talk about. I have come to realize I am no one to question the ways of an Almighty God.
God never said that Christians would avoid suffering.
God never said His lovingkindness would be extended to everyone. Read Fearing God in which I point out:
But you get the gist of who God extends His lovingkindness to: to those who love Him and keep His commandments/ people who listen to these judgments and keep and do them/ His servants who walk before Him with all their heart/ people who trust in the LORD/ those who know Him and are upright in heart/ those who fear Him.
For He says to Moses, “I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION."
“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”
[See the "with whom He is pleased"?]
Mr. Atheist says those of us with this viewpoint are rationalizing and naive.
Either Mr. Atheist is wrong or I am wrong. We can't both be right.
I am sure in my belief.
How am I sure?
I have been in that deep dark pit and God has lifted me to high places. I know that sounds like empty rhetoric. But I have experienced it. Yes, I am sure that my God is good. All the time. Even in biblical history. Even in the horrific times of my life.