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Read the Bible like an Unbeliever

Updated on May 4, 2013

I've discovered a huge benefit to my exchanges with folks who don't share my faith or my confidence in the Bible as God's Word. I'm reading the Bible now like an unbeliever. Over the years, we Christians develop a habit of giving God the benefit of the doubt when we approach apparent contradictions and hard-to-digest sections of Scripture. Rightly so. We start from the vantage point of a risen Savior who validates our faith and claims our love and loyalty. We then treat troubling texts like we treat character flaws in a loved one. We overlook them and focus on what we like. It helps to remember that we present our own set of flaws as well. But I digress.

Unbelievers don't approach the Scriptures that way at all. Why should they? Instead, their attention is drawn to every "flaw" in Scripture like our eyes spot the stain on a white shirt. These, then, are regarded as reason to reject the whole. So, without giving up our love for the Lord and respect for his Word, might we not show love to those who oppose us by looking at Scripture from their point of view? As we do, we'll find our own faith strengthened as well.

So I'm reading Psalm 41

It's quiet, everyone else in the house is still asleep. Perfect time to spend with the Lord. David, in this psalm seeks the Lord's face regarding his plight before his enemies. He admits his sin. "As for me, I said, 'O LORD, be gracious to me; heal me for I have sinned against you." (vs.4). So far, so good. He reports, "Even my close friend, in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heal against me." (vs.9) I've faced that. Sure you have too. "But you, O LORD, be gracious to me, and raise me up that I may repay them!" (vs.10)

Not so fast David! Here's where an unbeliever would call us out. "Isn't Christianity all about love? Didn't Jesus teach that you should love your enemies?" If the skeptic knows the Bible, he may even quote Hebrews 10:30 back to us. "Vengeance is mine, I will repay"?

If we are men and women of integrity, we must not shrug this off and give David a pass here.

What to say?

First, remember that to believe that the Bible is inerrant and reliable doesn't mean that every character in Scripture always speaks what is commendable. Rather, the Bible reports accurately what has been said, or in this case, written. That David expresses a sentiment that may be inconsistent with God's holy and loving character reassures us that we may come to Him with whatever is on our hearts. We don't have to fllter our sentiments though a theologically correct grid before we present them to God.

But secondly, let's not assume that David's sentiments are offensive to God. In the OT God had established a divide between his people and all others. To Abraham he promised, "I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed." (Gen.12:3) This means that the enemies of God's people are the enemies of God. So David recognizes those who oppose him as opposing God. As King of Israel, he rightly expects to push back against all God's enemies. This doesn't give every individual citizen the right to take veangance into his own hands. David is in a unique position.

In Old Testament times God called out a people and formed them into a civil unit with all the rights of a sovereign nation. As long as this nation conducted itself in accord with God's laws, it prospered and modeled to the whole world what a godly society could be. Sadly it failed at many points. But the nation was only a temporary precursor to the every-tribe-and-nation character of the church today. We don't possess the rights of a sovereign nation. So ours is not to take revenge upon God's enemies. But we may adopt David's Psalm 41 sentiment regarding all that is evil. Would that Christian express humble indignation toward child abuse and slavery and greed and exploitation and take every measure available to us to push back against them.

But, like David, we must begin with the corruption we find in our own hearts. Perhaps, unbelievers, put off at the intellectual level, will take notice of the transformative power of the gospel.  They might even take a second look at the Bible.

Comments - I'm listening

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    • liftandsoar profile image

      Frank P. Crane 6 years ago from Richmond, VA

      Ruffridyer, I guess you've been cruising my hubs. That's cool. Yes, there's lots we don't understand about God's ways. That doesn't mean He's nonexistant nor that his ways have an ultimate purpose. As the saying goes: He's God, we're not.

      Those who choose not to believe will accuse us of copping out. Don't fall that. A god we fully understand is not worthy of being God.

    • profile image

      ruffridyer 6 years ago from Dayton, ohio

      A good hub, of course many nonbelievers can point out times when God directly commanded things or caused things that seem to contradict Christ's message of love and forgiveness.

      Ordering Moses and Jushua to slay entire villages or raining fire down on sinfull cities.

      As a believing christain I keep in mind that God's ways are not man's way. We often do not know the larger picture.

    • liftandsoar profile image

      Frank P. Crane 6 years ago from Richmond, VA

      Thank you, Inasirahmed, for your thoughtful question. I will try to answer you honestly and helpfully. First, you must realize that among those who call themselves Christians there are differing opinions. Just as within Islam you have those who are cultural Muslims but not very religious, and sincere Muslims who seek to understand and live by the teachings of Muhammed and also you have extremist who have taken Muslim teachings to justify their criminal activities; so in Christianity you have the same.

      There are many who call themselves Christians who will scoff at the answer I will give you because they no longer accept the Bible as the Word of God. Any answer not founded on Scripture cannot be a correct answer.

      Now to the Trinity, as we call our three-in-one God. First, you must understand that it is a mystery that no human being can adequately explain. There is no illustration or analogy that would make the nature of the triune God clear to us. So you might ask, why do Christians believe such a hard to understand and explain teaching. Well we begin with the Scriptures where we find God gradually revealing himself as One God but in three persons. In the Old Testament God presented himself as One God, though there are several instances in which Christ and the Holy Spirit are alluded to.

      When Christ came, He presented himself as the eternal God the Son who had been sent by the Father to his people. Everything He did and said was given to him by the Father. When Jesus returned to the Father, both the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit to be among us. So the Trinity is gradually revealed as you read through the Bible.

      There are several lines of reasoning that leads Christians to believe the Trinity. One is that each person of the Trinity is treated as God in the Scriptures and each accepts worship indicating that each regarded himself as God. Further each have attributes that can only be true of God. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is each eternal and sinless. Further a common benediction found in Scripture and used in many Chsistian churches present each person of the Trinity as God. This is in II Corinthians 13:14 "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all." Another Scripture where all three are mentioned in a manner that shows that each has a distinctive role to play in our salvation is Acts 20:28. Paul writes to a number of leaders of the church and urges them to "Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood"

      See how Paul tell the elders that the Holy Spirit has made them overseers of a people who belong to God (the Father), which he (Jesus) purchased with his own blood.

      So you see these are just a few examples of how God reveals himself in Scripture. By the way the word Trinity or triune or three applied to God is not found in Scripture. Rather the Trinity is a doctrine that is deduced from Scripture. We do this often in human conversation.

      When Jesus died his body was placed in the grave for three days. But is soul never died. Thus the Trinity was never torn appart. Some people believe that Jesus' soul went to hell to endure suffering on our behalf there. But I don't think that is taught in Scripture.

      There are those who hold that the Trinity is not an important doctrine and we believe it only if we want to. However, if it is taught in Scripture we must believe it. Finally, if I could explain the nature of God fully, then I would be God. We both know that I am not. It's only to be expected that some spiritual truths will remain mysterious. The best definition of the Trinity was formulated in the 17th century by a number of churchmen meeting at Westminster in London. Questions 5 and 6 read as follows:

      "Q. 5. Are there more Gods than one? A. There is but one only, the living and true God.

      Q. 6. How many persons are there in the Godhead? A. There are three persons in the Godhead; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost;u and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory."

      I hope you find this helpful. Feel free to contact me directly if you'd like to continue this conversation.

    • inasirahmed profile image

      inasirahmed 6 years ago from Shillong

      Very well written. from the biginning i am always interested in interfaith understanding. But i am always struck at one point. The first most faith in Christianity is crucifixion of Jesus Chirst and Trinity. Can you please understand me the concept of Trinity and prove that 1+1+1=1. is is 3 in 1 or 1 in 3. When Jesus was crucified, he died for 2/3 days, during the period of 2-3 days, Trinity was still there or only Two i.e. God-the Father and Holy Spirit? I being from Muslim faith does not in detail but always heard debating in this issue and got no conclusive reply. Thank u.

    • liftandsoar profile image

      Frank P. Crane 6 years ago from Richmond, VA

      Absolutely! I'm not suggesting that we make a habit of reading the Scriptures as do unbelievers. Only that we do so for purpose of understanding those who reject it. Thanks for your comment.

    • Faithful Daughter profile image

      Evi Lopez 6 years ago from Sunny Florida

      Well written, and you make good valid points here.

      David was just as human and flawed as we are today, and although he continually sought God and was a man after God's heart, he made many mistakes and often asked for the wrong (for lack of a better word) things when you weigh it against Christ’s message of love.

      Personally, I like to read my Bible in context and with discernment, and not looking for flaws in every passage as the unbelievers do; their intentions differ greatly. When I do come across a conflicting passage, that's when I stop and pray for clarity and understanding, and I usually do get it.