Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who would agree with this statement by Bill Maher (at left). I have spoken with many atheists who view the Bible as a collection of fairy tales that classify as either horrific or unintelligible. Sure, they will admit that there are some nuggets of wisdom here and there – the famous “Golden Rule” or “Judge not that you be not judged” – but they cannot seem to get past the exclusivity, the apparent ‘contradictions’ or the simple fact that it’s a 2,000-3,000 year old collection of letters written by middle eastern goat herders.
I’ve been a Christian for almost 11 years, but I’ve been a Bible student for 15 years. While I can understand why many people are quick to ridicule or mock the Bible, I am convinced that they do so only because they don’t truly understand it. Now they will respond that it’s because they understand it that they ridicule and mock it.
After 15 years of studying the Bible, I’m still unlocking its secrets; I’m still trying to understand it’s deeper messages. I’ve often said that the more I delve into the Scriptures, the more I agree with the statement in Hebrews 4:12 that the word of God is “living and powerful.”
When I defend the inspiration of the Bible, I often point to its fulfilled prophecies, its historical accuracy, archaeological confirmation and internal consistency. But to be honest, what impresses me the most about the Bible is its deep, intrinsic beauty.
Honesty About the Human Condition
As a creative writer, I know a thing or two about “selling a story.” While the heroes and heroins are allowed (and expected) to experience hardship along the way, in the end, they must learn the lesson and win the day. They always defeat the enemy, conquer evil and ride off into the sunset with the damsel-in-distress. I’m reminded of one of my favorite Alan Jackson songs:
“Cowboys don’t cry, and heroes don’t die. Good always wins, again and again. And love is a sweet dream that always comes true. Oh, if life were like the movies, I’d never be blue. But here in the real world, it’s not that easy at all. When hearts get broken, it’s real tears that fall. And darling, it’s sad but true, but the one thing I’ve learned from you, is how the boy don’t always get the girl here in the real world.”
When we go to the movies, we want the hero to beat the bad guy and get the girl. We’re entertained by that. But we know that real life doesn’t work that way! Movies can make us feel good, but they don’t match reality.
And this is where the Bible offers something that movies and books do not.
Adam and Eve disobeyed God (Gen. 3). By Noah’s day, “every intent of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). On more than one occasion, Abraham, the “father of faith,” failed to trust God as he should have (Gen. 12:10-20; Gen. 20). We again witness the depths of depravity in Genesis 19 when God rains down fire and brimstone on the cities of the plain…an act of divine judgment from which not even Lot and his family escaped unscathed. Isaac and Rebekah had a divided marriage (Gen. 25-27). Jacob showed favoritism to his second-youngest son, Joseph, and unintentionally created such a poisonous environment that Joseph’s brothers felt justified in selling him into slavery (Gen. 37). Moses committed murder (Gen. 2:12), argued with God (Gen. 3), and even later disobeyed God in front of all of the people of Israel (Numbers 20). The Judges were not always the most righteous of people (e.g. Samson). King David committed adultery and murder (2 Sam. 11). The wise King Solomon is known as much for his apostasy as for his wisdom (1 Kings 11). It’s almost depressing at times to read through the annals of the kings of Judah because some of the best and most righteous kings departed from God in the end. Job is the story of a righteous and blameless man who suffered tremendous pain and loss. The prophets were mistreated and persecuted, even by God’s own people.
In the New Testament, Judas betrayed Jesus, Peter denied Jesus, His own brothers didn’t believe in Him (John 7:5) and His own countrymen – the same ones who witnessed His miracles – were the same ones who cried out “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” And if you think that the churches of the first century were perfectly unified and free of problems, you’re mistaken; just read 1 Corinthians, or the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3.
A Hollywood actor, Robert Duvall, once said that “We either accept weaknesses in good people or we have to tear pages out of the Bible.” And former president, Ronald Reagan, added, “Within the covers of the Bible are the answers for all the problems men face.”
The Bible isn’t always pleasant, but it’s honest, and its honesty is what convicts us, helps us and inspires us. Not only can we learn from David’s sin with Bathsheba and Peter’s denial of the Lord, but these stories assure us that, if such imperfect men could be so useful in God’s kingdom, maybe we can be as well!
How could a collection of mostly Jewish men from 2,000-3,000 years ago – some educated, most uneducated – have such insight? And why would they have been so honest about the men and women of whom they wrote? This isn’t how you “sell” a story!
American novelist, John Barth, once said that “The Bible is not man’s word about God, but God’s word about man.” I couldn’t agree more! There is no greater psychology textbook, no greater insight into the human condition, than the Bible.
Have you ever read the book of Job? Or Psalms? The writings of Paul? While the entire Bible is beautifully and elegantly written, the poetic and linguistic beauty of these particular sections are unparalleled. Consider a few examples:
“Remember to magnify His work, of which men have sung. Everyone has seen it; man looks on it from afar. Behold, God is great, and we do not know Him; nor can the number of His years be discovered. For He draws up drops of water, which distill as rain from the mist, which the clouds drop down and pour abundantly on man. Indeed, can anyone understand the spreading of the clouds, the thunder from His canopy?” (Job 36:24-29).
“For you formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them” (Psalm 139:14-15).
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
On the surface, this doesn’t prove that the Bible is divinely inspired. But as an avid Bible student, the more that I read and study its elegant and touching words, and the more I see their relevance and simple beauty, the more I am convinced that they must come from God alone.
Maya Angelou echoed these sentiments when she said, “I read the Bible to myself; I’ll take any translation, any edition, and read it aloud, just to hear the language, hear the rhythm, and remind myself how beautiful English is.”
Layered…Like an Onion
I’m not a big fan of the movie Shrek, but I always liked the scene where Shrek tries to explain to Donkey that “Ogres are like onions” because they have “layers.” While I’m not comparing the Bible to onions, I am saying that the Bible has layers.
I’ve read through the Bible many times. I read parts of it every day. So I’m constantly cycling back through the same passages and the same stories. It may sound boring and redundant – and I imagine it is with most books – but not so with the Bible…because each time I read a passage, I fold back a new layer and find new and deeper lessons. It’s one of the most rewarding and faith-building exercises that Christians experience in their walk with Christ.
Take David’s sin with Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11-12 as an example. You might read through it the first time and be appalled that such a godly man could do such a thing. The next time you read it, you might gain insight into temptation and how it unfolds. You might begin to relate to David. Then, the third time, you might notice how Psalm 32 gives us insight into David’s mind during the months following his sin. Then you might notice that David’s psalm of repentance (Psalm 51) relates to this incident. Now you’re beginning to understand not only the power of temptation, but the true nature of repentance. But then what about Bathsheba? And what about her husband, Uriah? What about David’s commander, Joab, and his role in the debacle? What about the parable of the ewe lamb at the beginning of chapter 12? How did David’s sin affect his family in the subsequent chapters? What lessons can be learned from the way David mourned his son’s death? What about divine chastisement? How has God used David’s temporary apostasy to impart lessons to untold millions of people, even today?
This is just one of countless examples that I could relate to you.
When I restudy a passage, it may be a word or phrase that stands out to me for the first time. It may be that my recent studies in another passage grant me new insight here in this one. It could be deeper reflection upon the character of the story. In any event, the Bible is layered, and the more I study it, the more I uncover its subtle messages.
In the words of John D. Rockefeller, “We are never too old to study the Bible. Each time the lessons are studied comes some new meaning, some new thought which will make us better.”
A Consistent Message
As a writer, I can say that it’s harder than you might realize to write a novel that has a consistent, harmonious story line. It’s difficult enough to fully develop the characters; now try bringing the plot to its climax smoothly and gracefully. Then try tying up all the loose ends by joining the different story lines and answering the questions that you’ve asked throughout the book. It’s one thing to come up with an entertaining plot, but it’s another thing to write a book so that, when the reader finishes the last chapter, he/she is satisfied.
The Bible is not a book. It’s a collection of 66 books written by over 40 different authors from three different continents, from all walks of life, in three different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek). From a purely human standpoint, it would be impossible for this many diverse authors to articulate a strong, consistent message.
And yet that’s exactly what we find in the Bible. Augustine, who lived from 354-430 A.D., said that “The New Testament lies hidden in the Old, and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.”
In Ephesians 3:3-5, we read the following about the Bible’s message:
“…how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets…”
If you’ve ever read a mystery novel (or seen a movie along these lines), you know how, at the end of the story, you say to yourself, “Ohhhh, I see! Now it all makes sense!” The Bible is like that. The Old Testament contains the mysterious plot, with hints and clues along the way. Then, in the New Testament, we find the climax – Jesus’ death on the cross – followed by a careful and precise explanation of the mystery and what it means for us.
From the prophecies of a coming Messiah that fill the pages of the Old Testament to the foreshadowing and symbology that is initiated in the Old and explained in the New; from the way that the prophets of old follow the messianic lineage through Seth, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Ruth and David, to the way that God’s character and nature are expressed fully through Jesus in the gospels, the 66 books of the Bible are intricately woven like a tapestry.
Bible skeptics are often familiar with the messianic prophecies of the Bible. They often respond by saying that they are “self-fulfilling prophecies.” Or, they say that the interpretations of such prophecies are subjective. It’s easy for them to make such accusations and to cite an example or two to back up their point. But a deeper and more honest examination of the Scriptures eliminates this objection swiftly and completely. There’s just too much.
Here’s a [very] partial list:
- Jesus is contrasted with Adam in Romans 5:12-21.
- The tree of life lost in Genesis 3:22-24, but regained in Rev. 22:1-5, 14.
- Jesus is compared to Moses in Acts 3:19-26.
- Jesus inherited the “throne of David” (Acts 2:30-31).
- David crossed over the Brook Kidron when he was betrayed by his son, Absalom (2 Sam. 15:22-23). Jesus crossed over the Brook Kidron just before being betrayed by Judas (John 18:1).
- Read Galatians and the entire book of Hebrews.
- The symbolism of Revelation is based in Ezekiel and Daniel.
Perhaps this is why Jesus, when He was on the cross, said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). He came to fulfill/complete the Old Testament plan (Matt. 5:17-18), to solve the mystery, to explain God’s plan, and to reconcile us to the God we lost in Eden.
This quote from William P. White sums up this point well: “The Bible is a harp with a thousand strings. Play on one to the exclusion of its relationship to the others, and you will develop discord. Play on all of them, keeping them in their places in the divine scale, and you will hear heavenly music all the time.”
It Answers Our Deepest Questions
Finally, the Bible is so impressive to me because it answers the deepest and most universal (and yet basic) of man’s questions. Where did we come from? Why are we here? What is our destiny? I have never come across a book that so succinctly and yet so intricately answers these and other questions of life. It’s so much more than just a book of history or facts or knowledge.
And this is vitally important!
In Acts 17, the apostle Paul arrived in the city of Athens. He encountered an audience that “spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing” (vs. 21). These people loved knowledge; they found it entertaining. I can’t help but think that a lot of people today are just like the Athenians; knowledge is abstract, even esoteric. The pleasure is in learning and knowing.
Paul proceeded not only to tell them about God, but to make Him personal and relevant. He told the Athenians that God had made them and wanted to have a relationship with them (vs. 26-29) and concluded by saying, “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (vs. 30-31).
In a few sentences, Paul answered the three fundamental questions of human existence. Where did we come from? Why are we here? What is our destiny? He made it clear that abstract or intellectual knowledge, though a source of great pleasure, is NOT sufficient.
I love science. I love history. I love politics. I love to debate. I love philosophy. I love to be intellectually stimulated. But no amount of knowledge in these areas – no amount of scientific knowledge – will ever be able to address the deepest questions that every man and woman asks internally and meditates upon throughout life.
Having said that, these questions aren’t neatly listed and answered in any one place. Again, the Bible is layered and answers these questions at different times and in different ways. The more that we study the Scriptures – and I mean truly study – the more that we understand the answers to these questions. It’s not just that the Bible answers these questions; it’s how it answers them.
A skeptic might respond by saying that these questions, although natural, do not demand or justify a religious response. In other words, the fact that we ponder a higher purpose and life after death doesn’t mean that such exist. I disagree. The fact that we all ask these same questions is proof-positive to me that we have been created by a common designer. Indeed, Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God has put eternity in our hearts.
Bill Maher and other skeptics like him will continue to judge the Bible without truly knowing and understanding it. They will cherry-pick and lift verses out of context in an effort to mock it and ‘prove’ its absurdity, ineffectiveness or inaccuracies. I’ve seen it time and time again.
For me, there is a preponderance of evidence in favor of the divine inspiration of the Bible. The prophecies, the scientific foreknowledge, the historical accuracy and archaeological confirmation of the Bible are all compelling and overwhelming.
But my faith in the message of the Bible is not derived from any one piece of evidence, or even a mass of evidence that can be laid out on the table for all to see. For me, it is my deep, daily and very personal study of the Bible that sparks my soul, enriches my faith and provides me with a calm, unwavering, unfettered assurance in the reality of my God.
For some, it is circular reasoning, but for me, it is not.
“There’s no better book with which to defend the Bible than the Bible itself.” -Dwight L. Moody