Sometimes being a Christian can be downright challenging. You worship God, read the Bible and trust that Someone, somewhere, is listening to your prayers.
Then your best friend dies.
Suddenly God, prayer and trust become clouded by grief. Bible promises that once buoyed your spirits now weigh you down with doubt. “How could this happen?” you cry. “Where is God when I need Him most?”
To add insult to injury, friends, fresh from the book of Job, show up on your doorstep to remind you that the God you worship—the God of the Bible—is nothing more than an invention of human imagination and that life with or without Him grinds along exactly the same. “Since belief didn’t save your friend,” they insist, “why believe?”
Surprisingly, the answer to this question isn’t found in the Bible—not directly anyway. How do we know this? Because many sincere people have read God’s Word and remain totally unchanged when it comes to their level—or lack—of faith. Others have studied Holy Writ and found motivation to maim or kill thousands of their fellow human beings. Still others have examined Scripture and become transformed—ready to share God’s love with the world.
Very same words. Very different responses. How is such a diversity of outcomes possible?
Allow me to share what I’ve discovered concerning this particular challenge of Christian living.
First, there was something I needed to accept about God’s Word. The Bible—in and of itself—is powerless. It’s just words on paper. I’d go searching for God among its many chapters and verses and return disappointed. He wasn’t there! Instead, I found stories and illustrations about God, but no words fromGod directed specifically to me.
Second, on those rare occasions when I read a passage I thought remotely applied to the actual situation I was facing, I discovered that I had a hard time using it as an effective tool to help me cope or “fix” whatever was wrong. Very frustrating!
That’s when I decided that something was fundamentally flawed with my approach to hearing God’s words in God’s Word. I needed a different perspective, a discrete foundation on which to stand whenever I opened His Holy Book.
It turns out I was right. While God did attempt to speak to me through the pages of the Bible, there were some powerful barriers muting His voice. Those barriers may sound familiar to you as well.
Barrier 1: Belief based on outcome
The first one is tough to understand. I had to ask myself whether my belief in the Bible was based on the outcome of various events in my life.
I wrote the outline for this article while sitting in a hospital chapel waiting for my precious wife to come out of emergency surgery. I found myself thinking, If this doesn’t end well, how can I continue to believe in what the Bible says about God’s protection? Is He too busy watching the sparrows fall to notice my frail wife under all those sterile wraps and surrounded by stacks of blinking machines?
I continually have to force myself to remember that life on this sin-filled planet is a series of chaotic events, some good, some horrible. To base my belief in God’s Word on personal outcomes is to invite doubt and fear to flood my heart. Truth is: bad things happen to all. Period. I must believe God’s words are true and valid in spite of what happens.
Barrier 2: Evidence
Good things happen to bad people as well. Murderers and rapists also heal spontaneously in hospital rooms, but no-one calls it a “miracle.” Adulterers catch breaks that help them hide their transgressions, but no-one considers that God is leading in their lives. Lying coworkers get promoted. Drug lords live like kings.
To further muddy the waters, consider this. During a hillside chat on the shores of Galilee, Jesus spoke of a strange (to us) habit of our heavenly Father: “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45).
So if we’re waiting around to gather enough warm, fuzzy evidence of God’s love for those of us who believe in His Word, we must be careful. God, it appears, loves everyone. He’s endlessly trying to inject traces of joy and hope into the worst offender’s life as well as the lives of His most devout worshippers. God doesn’t love us because we’re good. He loves us because we’re human.
Remember, the devil also offers much-appreciated rewards to those who do things his way. However, when it comes to sin, all those warm fuzzies have a definite expiration date.
So belief must exist without supportive evidence. The Bible puts it this way: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).
Barrier 3: The experiences of others
Have you ever gotten just a little envious of pious people? They seem to have all the answers and go through life blindly confident in God’s leading. They see His hand in everything.
One woman told me she always asks God what she should prepare for supper and what she should wear that will please her husband. To her, everything that’s said, everything that happens, every twist and turn in life, is a result of God’s direct leading. That makes me wonder why the Creator bothered to give human beings brains. If He was going to make all the decisions for us, why would we need the ability to think?
So, while what happens to you can serve as a learning illustration for me, I must not base my belief on your—or anyone else’s—experience, good or bad.
Barrier 4: Personal experience
Which brings us to the most challenging barrier of all. Am I to assume that everything that happens to me is evidence of God’s leading—or rejection—in my life?
Whenever I feel this way, I read the Old Testament writings of King David. This guy was all over the playing field, sometimes scoring glorious goals, sometimes crashing and burning big time. He seemed to bounce from “God is with me” to “God has rejected me” on a daily basis.
To base my belief in God’s Word on personal experience is to place both God and me on a never-ending roller-coaster ride. How I react to a situation depends on where I happen to be on the great emotional ride of life at the time. I need to remember that God isn’t the roller coaster. Life is the roller coaster. God simply offers to go along with us for the ride.
How to believe
So what’s the key to believing that the Bible is God’s revelation to us if, as we’ve discovered, the answer requires more than words on paper?
A short time before His departure from earth, Jesus introduced Someone to His disciples who would fully unlock the Bible’s meaning to the world. This ever-abiding Presence would be available to labour in partnership with us, transforming those ancient collections of words and promises into relevant, practical guidelines and endless encouragement, all tailor-made for us individually.
Listen to what Jesus said: “The Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” “When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgement. . . . He will guide you into all truth” (John 14:26; 16:8, 13).
Who will convict the world? Who will teach us all things? Who will guide? Not a collection of ancient texts alone. Jesus put it this way: “You diligently study the scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39; italics added).
Remember, the Bible is easily misinterpreted—with devastating results. But, when that same Bible is read and studied in earnest partnership with the Holy Spirit, ancient words take on new, powerful and fresh meanings—distinct and tailor-made—shaped specifically for our individual needs. Only with the Counsellor’s guidance can searching souls be led to Jesus, humankind’s only source of salvation.
Someone once asked me, “If an atheist were to challenge you to prove to him that the Bible was God’s Word, what would you say?” I’d say I couldn’t do it. But I could say, “Listen, friend. This Book works for me because the Holy Spirit is using it to teach me things I need to know about my life—lessons that can be applied to my own unique and personal day-to-day existence.” Then I’d add with a smile, “You might want to try it too. Open God’s Word and invite the Holy Spirit to be your Guide. What happens next may surprise you.”
I invite you to do the same.