Cut and Paste

This is my very first non-writing post on this blog, so I’ve decided to tackle a nice easy topic: the nature of faith in a postmodern age. And of course, by “easy,” I mean controversial and complex.

scissors-previewDid you know Thomas Jefferson rewrote the Bible?

Well… that isn’t the politically correct story. Jefferson, himself a Deist of sorts who admired some of Jesus’ teachings, said that he was only attempting to sketch the character and philosophy of Jesus Christ as he expected Jesus would have been- minus the exaggerations and biases of the apostles. Because, obviously, an eighteenth-century man like him knows better about a first-century man than the guy’s actual first-century friends.

Jefferson cut-and-pasted verses from the real Bible and rearranged them in his own dissertation. The result? A beauty-pageant version of Jesus: no miraculous healings, no claims to divinity, and of course no resurrection. But of course, as far as Christians are concerned, Jefferson pretty much rewrote the whole story. (Here is a pretty fair article on the subject.)

Now I would have loved to meet the ingenius Jefferson and talk to him on a number of issues, like slavery, democracy, and possibly abortion. What history nerd wouldn’t? But most of all, I would want to know how much he had actually learned about the Bible. Did he in fact read the whole Bible, including the part where his favorite authors said that “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Tim. 3:16) and that His Word “will never pass away” (Luke 21:33)? That’s just echoing the basic rules of logic: you can’t pick and choose different parts of a book and ignore the rest.

Most of all, though, I would want to know if Thomas Jefferson had paid due attention to 1 Corinthians 15:12-19. Everybody knows that the central point of Christian faith, the one that sets it apart from every other belief system, is the resurrection of Jesus. In this passage, Paul comes right out and states every atheist’s big complaint about Christianity: if Christ did not resurrect, then we are believing lies, and we are the most pitiable of all people.

Therefore, in eliminating the Resurrection from his telling of the life and morals of Jesus, Jefferson undermines his own “Christian” belief. He takes out the quintessence of the Christian life. He believed that Jesus was just a good man who died, that God is impersonal, that people only need to follow these moral teachings to achieve any hope of salvation… and you know what? Jefferson was more Muslim than anything else.

Now here is the big question: Why does it matter?

First of all, if we consider changing anything about a book that doesn’t belong to us, we ought to remember who gets to decide in the first place. If I write a book, I get to decide who dies, who falls in love with whom, and who wins. My readers don’t get to cut out that one chapter where the ship blows up. Textbooks are the same way: if you’re supposed to use a particular history book for your research project, you report on all the pertinent facts from the book, even if you don’t like the stories about slavery.

It’s the same way with God’s nonfiction book. Either you believe in the whole Bible, or you don’t believe in any of it. There is no build-your-own salad bar, no picking and choosing, no cut-and-paste. God doesn’t leave that option open. Some religions like Hinduism and neo-paganism will let you borrow deities or ideas from this or that religion, but Christianity is immutable.

Now, all that being said, certainly there are things in the Bible that some folks don’t like. Let’s face it: if you read some particular verses by themselves, sans context, it sounds pretty confusing. When Paul says that a woman ought not to speak in church, that sounds pretty sexist. When Moses lays out the laws for slaves and servants, it looks as if God didn’t create all people equal. When Jesus said He came to bring division and “fire” to the earth, that doesn’t remind us of the Prince of Peace.

But, as confusing as these verses seem, God put each one them in the Bible for good reasons. (Reading these verses in context, we see that they usually mean quite the opposite of what New Atheists wish they meant.) As Matt Chandler says, would a rational person step into a movie theater, watch LotR for two minutes, and then step out claiming to know all the intricacies of the plot? Neither would a rational person pull a few verses out of context and build a whole worldview upon them.

Now, the point is not that theology will dispel your every doubt. Even after you become a Christian, you will still ask questions that may or may not be answered this side of eternity. And God is okay with that- He made us that way, and He can handle it. The truth is that God has reasons for everything, no matter how absurd or scary it seems now, and He has revealed just enough of those reasons for us to know that we can trust Him with the rest.

Let’s put it in context.

Think back to when you were five years old. At that age, did your parents tell you exactly why you couldn’t accept a ride home in a stranger’s car? No. At least I hope not. When you were five, your parents only told you about the concept of “bad people.” That was all they really could tell you, because at that age you hadn’t even had the talk yet. You’d never seen any of those bad men. You didn’t know why they were bad. Your parents had chosen to protect you emotionally as well as physically because you were too young to understand the nature of the threat. All you knew was, My parents love me and have never steered me wrong before, so you obeyed without knowing the reasons.

But, now that you are older and understand the world better, do you wish you had ignored that advice and gotten in a stranger’s car? No, I didn’t think so. The fact that you didn’t know every one of your parents’ reasons didn’t mean the danger was made-up or that your parents were crazy. Saying so would only prove you were the crazy one.

When it comes to big scary questions that seem to have no answers, we need to remember that answers don’t all come at once. It may sound nice to say that people can just be “religious,” believing the things they like and ignoring the things they don’t, but that’s not true Christianity. That is called perpetual adolescence. Just like the teenager who chooses to sneak out after curfew but is on time for dinner if there’s cake: “I’ll do it because I want to, not because you told me to.” Sound familiar?

The essence of religious faith is, simply, faith. Just as wise people don’t blindly trust authority, faith doesn’t mean we blindly believe everything we hear. God gave us minds as well as revelation, and He wants us to use both. Faith means that the mature son or daughter remembers their parents’ wisdom in the past and decides to trust them on this one. Faith means that once we have tested something against what we do know and come to a conclusion, we run with that conclusion as long as it sticks, even if we still have questions about the details.

My favorite president once challenged a stubbornly skeptical friend: “You are wrong. Take all of this book upon reason that you can and the balance on faith, and you will live and die a happier and better man.”

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18 thoughts on “Cut and Paste

  1. Why do you compare God to a child’s parents? One of the biggest criticisms to arguments of this nature is that we are told God is all powerful, and then Gods actions are compared to the behaviour of humans.
    It seems you, like many people, cannot comprehend a God as powerful as you claim creating a world without daily struggles. If he did exist, it would be so obvious you would not need to blog on his behalf?

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    • Hey, welcome to the blog! In response to your two questions:
      1. It’s an analogy.
      2. You’re right, He doesn’t need me to blog on His behalf. I just do so because… well, people talk about the things they love.

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  2. ‘God doesn’t leave that option open’
    ‘God put each one of them in the Bible for good reasons’
    ‘God has reasons for everything’
    ‘God gave us minds as well as revelation, and he wants us to use both’
    It seems a lot like you are telling us what God thinks, which shouldn’t be needed if he was capable of doing so himself!
    And I agree it is an analogy, one that makes it seem like God has to resort to human methods to get over human issues. If this is the case, why does God have these problems?
    And thanks for the welcome, truly.

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    • Very good question. I don’t really have the space to fully reply in this comment, but I’d recommend you check out C.S. Lewis’ writings. He explains the fact that everything in the world is a shadow, albeit a tainted one, of the real thing: God. Which means that although we cannot fully understand an all-powerful God, we can get a good picture from the world He made.
      No problem! Always nice to have someone new join the discussion. 🙂

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      • CS Lewis’ name gets thrown about a lot within Christian circles. Why would you choose a fiction author from the 20th century for your knowledge of the world? Looking for inspiration in historical texts is not a good way to find truth, whether it’s from the Bible or elsewhere. It’s seem more like a search for what sounds good than what’s real!

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        • Tell me, how do we know that we know? How do you know that I exist, for example? Well, you will see this comment for one, but that doesn’t tell you that I exist. I may be a complex computer program or, by some philosophies, along with the rest of the universe, I may just be a figment of your imagination. Before your head knowledge comes your “heart knowledge,” or faith. In this example, you believe that we could get on an airplane, set up a meeting, and have lunch, proving that I exist (sort of). But, you have never seen me, so, if you even consider that I exist, you are even now exercising faith in my existence. Our finite, human minds will never be able to comprehend an infinite, all powerful God. That’s why God bestowed upon us the heart, the organ of understanding the infinite. We haven’t seen Him much as you haven’t seen me, but, after believing that He exists, we start to be able to understand why it logically makes sense that He exists. My head may not have been able to tell you why I know that God exists, but my heart knows it through and through. This causes the darkness in my mind to be lifted so that I can logically comprehend God. I, after first trusting in Him pretty blindly, can now argue for His existence logically. But, without first believing, your mind will never accept Him.
          R.E., if someone like Hannah or I could answer any and all questions that you would have about God, Jesus Christ, and what it means to be a Christian, would you be willing to accept Christ as your Lord? Please consider this question and even comment your answer if you’re willing. Thanks!

          Liked by 1 person

        • Thank you for your response.
          “R.E., if someone like Hannah or I could answer any and all questions that you would have about God, Jesus Christ, and what it means to be a Christian, would you be willing to accept Christ as your Lord?”
          No!! We still live in a very primitive era, one in which we are expected to praise a God because he tells us to. You wouldn’t do this for any person, a president for example (at least I hope you wouldn’t). One nation does something similar, North Korea to their leader, ironically we see that nation as a very strange one. If God or Jesus came down and spoke to me personally, I would accept he exists. I wouldn’t get down on my knees.
          I don’t know 100% that you exist, to refer to the beginning of your response. In fact, how do you know, using this logic, that God exists? Wouldn’t it be easy for Satan to rule the universe and fool people into believing a man called Jesus existed to trick them? Or an alien civilisation using religion to test how easily we will bow down to a creator just because they created us? It would be more logical to suggest you do as you have messaged me on WordPress. If you expected me to believe in you, whilst claiming to be all knowing and powerful, I would expect much more than a WordPress comment. If you didn’t visit me personally, you either aren’t capable of doing so or do not feel that’s your duty. Either way, you aren’t deserving of worship.

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  3. Jefferson was a Deist, so his worldview was faith brought into subjection by reason, so that’s why he denied the resurrection and miracles, because they weren’t scientifically ‘reasonable.’
    Anyhow, you make some great points here. I’ll have to ponder it more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right. I think that’s the real problem with the Enlightenment worldview; we learned so much that we started to think we knew everything. Jefferson just forgot who invented science and reason, I suppose. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks! I’m not sure if I will post it yet… It’s a history paper for one of my classes. Thought I’d write about how Gandhi and Hitler approach life the same way because they both set themselves up as God and made up their own morality. Gandhi embraced the Sermon on the Mount while rejecting other parts of the Bible, so how is that any better than Hitler who elected to do away with the whole thing? Maybe it will turn into a post… 🙂
        Might have said it somewhere else, but thank you for your willingness to act on your beliefs and post posts like this. It’s quite refreshing to see someone speaking out (especial in these crazy, upside down times), but it does require sacrifice.

        Liked by 1 person

        • That’s a really complex concept! If I was to write it, though, I’d be careful to make the distinction between actions and motives. That is, of course Gandhi’s actions were infinitely more Christlike than Hitler’s- because he was the one who accepted most of Jesus’ moral teaching- but their motivations were both skewed because they both missed the point.

          Liked by 1 person

        • And thanks! On that note, it’s really encouraging to have commentators like you who are willing to chime in and remind me that I’m not alone in my beliefs. 🙂

          Liked by 2 people

  4. Can’t reply to E.R.’s comment directly, so I’m just doing this…
    Mr. E.R, first, if you aren’t even willing to consider the possibility of following Christ after any questions that you have are answered, then, respectfully, why do you bother commenting? We’re obviously primitive Christians–though I would take being a primitive Christian any day over your new world order–so why bother with us? You’re only wasting your own time and there is absolutely nothing that we can give back to you. After all, we’re most to be pitied if you’re right.
    Second, a true Christian bows to no one but God. And we follow Him because He first loved us, and in Him is Life and that Life is the Light of men and all that. You mention North Korea. They might still be a nice place to live if it wasn’t for all those primitive Christians getting in the way. Armies can’t force one Christian to reject God, and North Korea has many Christians standing for what they believe in. It’s the Christians (and Jews, sometimes) that say to governments, “No. You aren’t God. God is God, and we follow Him first.” So our brothers and sisters are murdered. Even so, mark my words, the Christians will outlast North Korea’s tyranny.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Interesting read! I’ve always thought of Deism as an offshoot or a denomination (like Catholicism, Protestantism, etc.) Personally, I’m waiting for the day some Christians protest to make wearing clothing of mixed fabrics illegal! Now that would be impressive. 🙂 (I mean, it’s in the Bible, therefore we should we shouldn’t do it, right?) But in all seriousness, you did a really great job here!

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