To Christians With “Overprotective” Parents

Here are two things you should know.

1: This post is a letter written to Christian kids under age eighteen. If you’re not a Christian and/or child and you want to read this post, take it for what it is: not written for you.

2: This is an insanely-super-long post, so if you don’t have a lot of time and/or are highly distractable, don’t read this post right now. Bookmark it and come back later after you’ve taken care of your important to-do things.

What to do about overprotective parents?

Full confession: I’m eighteen now and make my own decisions. Before I turned eighteen, though, my parents were what they jokingly call “overprotective.” Meaning, I didn’t read Harry Potter until one year ago, the kids in our family couldn’t watch the Disney movies with ghosts until we were too old to appreciate the slapstick humor, and most of my siblings still don’t have Facebook. Basically, I’m saying I know what it’s like to have parents who say no.

Maybe you’ve said/heard people say things like this:

Dad shouldn’t try to control me so much!

I may not know everything, but neither do my parents, and I know myself a heck of a lot better than they do.

Harry Potter isn’t going to damage me; it actually teaches some really good lessons.

I know my parents are well-meaning, but they don’t understand me.

It just hurts that Mom doesn’t trust me with something as harmless as a children’s book series.

But are we looking at this all wrong? I’d posit that we might be, that maybe overprotective parents are not a curse, but rather a blessing. I thank God and my parents for most, if not all, of the decisions they made, even though I disagreed with them at the time.

To explain why, I need to start from square one:

Everyone is overprotective sometimes- and thank God that we are.

When people say “overprotective,” what do they really mean? No one knows the future, obviously, so there is no way to be just the right amount of “protective.” People have to be either under- or over-protective, and most folks like to err on the side of caution.

Let’s just take the most basic example: a seatbelt. Every time you get into your car and put on a seatbelt, you are necessarily being overprotective. Gee whiz, you’re probably not going to wreck every single time you’re in a motor vehicle. What’s the big deal? In fact, while we’re at it, we could probably do away with those giant concrete barriers in the middle of the highway and just use one yellow line instead of two. It would definitely save the government some money. Buckling up is a time waster.

Yet, if you’re smart, you buckle up. You know that if you don’t have a seatbelt on, you could get hurt– just like my friend. Last month, driving back from vacation, a distracted driver rear-ended her car at high speed, totaled the vehicle, and gave her whole family whiplash. If my friend hadn’t been wearing her seatbelt, she would have flown through the windshield and probably died. This is why the law requires people to buckle up.

If you don’t crash, a seatbelt is an inconvenience that wastes maybe five seconds on every drive; if you’re in a bad wreck, it’s that fine line between life and death. Next time you pull into the driveway safely after a road trip, thank God that He made people to be overprotective.

Of course, overprotection can be a good or bad thing. Where do overprotective parents fit in? Well, let’s get to the next point:

The keyword is not “overprotective.” It is “parent.”

Let’s say you’re a mom or dad who just brought home your first child. Congratulations, balloons, meal trains. Now what do you need to do? More than you think. Contrary to popular belief, your job as a parent is not just to clothe and feed that hypothetical child and make sure he/she doesn’t do bad stuff at parties until age eighteen; you as a parent are now responsible for an actual soul. When God creates a child, He doesn’t just make a body with a brain that sometimes functions with ample caffeine. He creates a person with a soul that will live forever. (C.S. Lewis wrote a good explanation.) God gives children to you, the parent, with the responsibility to make sure that you take care of their little souls, lead them to seek out and obey His plan, and teach them diligently in the hope that they will come to a saving relationship with Christ.

This is why we have Mother’s and Father’s Days. Because, all things considered, your parents are doing a pretty freaking awesome job.

I don’t know about you, but when I step back and realize the overwhelming responsibility of my parents to care for my soul, I find it really hard to be mad about not reading TwilightIn fact, I even have a little bit of gratitude that Mom and Dad made the best decision they could for my benefit. They probably didn’t enjoy some of those decisions any more than I did. (It can be hard to say no to people you love, especially if it makes them sad.) Some of those safeguards were probably unnecessary, but my parents didn’t put them there because they were monsters. They put them there because they cared.

If you understand all this, yet you still fundamentally disagree with your parents’ Hunger Games policiesthen here’s another bit of truth that might help:

You probably aren’t missing out on much.

If you really miss out on something good, you can catch up on it later. I don’t think it takes that long to read The Hunger GamesIn fact, you’ll probably enjoy it more if you take your parents’ advice and wait.

Now if your parents are starving you, then by all means argue, disobey, and do whatever it takes to eat and survive. That’s not overprotection; that’s abuse. (Metabolism is one of the four biological criteria for life.) If they aren’t letting you encounter opposing worldviews and you’re in your teens, maybe have a talk about that one- or else college is gonna be tough for you. But if your parents tell you not to do something you want but don’t need… then don’t do it. Face it, you don’t need Harry Potter in your life. Queen Victoria never read Harry Potter, and she ruled the British Empire for over sixty years. Tell yourself you’re being like Victoria. It will do wonders for your attitude.

And if you think that you should be able to make your own decisions because you know best, think again. Many times, when my parents told me not to do something, I later realized they were right. For example, a few years ago when I was probably fifteen, maybe younger, I wanted to watch Sherlock. Dad said no because it had a lot of swearing, it could be scary, and it would probably do me no good. I disagreed with him on that last bit quite strongly; but I decided to do the right thing and obey.

Now, as an adult (and Sherlockian), I can see at least two reasons why it was a good idea to skip the show at that age. One, Sherlock is in fact scary, and being my usual empathetic, prone-to-depression self, I would not have handled Moriarty’s psychopathic tendencies very well at all. It would have done me more emotional harm than good. Two, Sherlock has some particular themes in a particular episode (if you don’t know, don’t look it up) which my dad didn’t know about because he never finished the show. If I had stumbled upon that episode a few years ago, I would have been too disgusted to finish the show, and thus I would never have watched “The Sign of Three.”

There was no way for me to know all that at age fifteen. Good thing my parents were overprotective about a show they never finished.

And lastly, if you still disagree, I just have one more thing to tell you:

You should obey anyway.

Even if nothing else in this post has inspired you to obey, this should be enough to convince you. As a Christian, you have a responsibility to obey your parents in everything. Look at Colossians 3:20. In context, “children” means “people under the legal age of adulthood.” That means that if you’re a Christian under age eighteen, you have to obey your parents whether you like it or not. (Even adult Christians are still required to show honor to their parents.) Unless they command you to do something sinful, disobedience to parents is disobedience to God. Obey them, if for no other reason than your desire to obey God.

Ultimately, it helps to know that your parents do actually care about you.

They aren’t always right. Parents can be wrong sometimes; I know my parents make mistakes because I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my few years of life, and they’ve been around a lot longer than I have. But now that Mom and Dad have messed up a few times, they can help us avoid doing those things. They can protect us from things that just might be dangerous. When they say no to something, try asking why- I’m sure they’d love to explain it to you if you just ask them nicely. You can disagree and present your reasons for why they should change their mind; in fact, you may actually get them to agree with you. But in the end, it’s the job of Christian parents to make a wise decision, and it’s the job of a Christian son or daughter to accept it.

And it’s worth mentioning that the sooner you decide to trust your parents, the likelier they are to start trusting you with more of those things you want to do.

Thank You

So, yeah, inspiration is not a thing for me this week. I was thinking about this post from my old Christian blog lately, and I figured the rest of you might like to read (or re-read) it as well. And even if you’re not a Christian, you might still like to hear an “insider story” of why believers aren’t- or shouldn’t be- afraid to be joyful. 

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you probably know that embracing emotion doesn’t come naturally to me. For example, I don’t usually cry during movies, even when I feel like it. Yes, INTJs have feelings; we’re human, just like everyone else. But whenever those feelings try to insert themselves into our daily lives, we subconsciously try to suppress them. Call it a weird psychological trait, if you will.

Yet this lack of feelz can be a bit of a problem when it comes to the Christian life. We Christians are supposed to be intensely joyful people who don’t back down from emotions, and it’s admittedly difficult to be a joyful person if one suppresses emotion. It’s all throughout the Bible: make a joyful noise, the joy of the Lord is our strength, et cetera. Christians should have the joy of God in our hearts because the ruler of the entire universe loves us and has saved us- and cold robotic apathy, however comfy for us Thinker types, doesn’t line up with that calling.

But God is the ultimate problem-solver: he never leaves a problem without a solution. Over the last year, I took two of Jeff Myers’ courses on biblical leadership, and in one of those lessons, Dr Myers taught about the three foundations of leadership. The first is vision: knowing what you want to have accomplished at the end of your life. The second is mission: the practical steps that help you to achieve your vision. The third one is gratitude.

Crickets.

Gratitude. I know, it seems far-fetched. Of all the things that Dr Myers could have cited as a foundation for leadership… integrity, honesty, courage, ingenuity, flexibility, humanity… why would he say gratitude is the foundation? Is it really so important?

Yet I decided to give it a try. I revived an old habit of thanking God for three things- just three- every morning. Throughout the day, I would do my best to appreciate those three things, remembering how I am blessed in ways that others might not be. Peace, chocolate, the Bill of Rights… anything goes. It was a simple practice that I could do every morning after reading my Bible and every night before I fell asleep. And do you know what? The results surprised me.

Now you may have heard what psychological research says. Having a grateful attitude causes people to be more satisfied, optimistic, agreeable, spiritual, and neurologically healthy. And of course, all of those things did indeed happen, and I did get a lot more work done with much more fulfillment than before. But I wasn’t prepared for how much more gratefulness this little exercise gave me.

I remember one particular day on which one of my three blessings was “words.” I was thankful for words. I remembered how I had used words throughout the day: for encouragement and interpersonal enlightenment (okay, debate), as well as for hurting others. I prayed about all of these things, and then I realized that “words” were tied up into another blessing: God gave us the tool of language to help us accomplish His plan. On another occasion, when I thanked God for creating the trees and grass, I forgot about the terrible Texas allergies and was able to thank God for the sheer beauty of springtime.

Maybe I am inclined to overthink things, but in this case, it’s not a matter of overthinking, but of realizing just how good God’s plan is. The bottom line is that, on days when I make a prayerful effort to be grateful, God helps me to feel more gratitude. It really just puts the whole world back into perspective for me. 

I know it’s hard to feel grateful sometimes. Yet when I experience that feeling of thankfulness, I realize that it’s something I don’t want to miss anymore, and I don’t think anyone else would want to miss it, either. Try thanking God every day for just three things in your life, and continue to thank him throughout the day. See how it changes your perspective.

Doctor Strange; or, Why I Won’t Recommend My New Favorite Movie

#Doctor #Strange #Fan #Art. (Doctor Strange Movie Poster) By: Marvel. ÅWESOMENESS!!!™ ÅÅÅ+: Long story short, I saw Doctor Strange in theaters twice and am now slightly obsessed.

What else to say? This film is by far the most skillful rehash of the Marvel storyline, with a solid story and some more thoughtful themes than we’ve seen previously. It has beautiful cinematography and CGI, masterful storytelling, and an epic soundtrack by Michael Giacchino. Oh, and it’s now one of the five movies that have ever made me cry. I loved almost everything about it.

And yet I won’t recommend it? No, sir- that is, not to just anyone. And therein lies a tale.

Anywho, I’ve been wondering how to format this post, and at last I decided that it will be what I call a “rant,” in which I simultaneously review a movie and rave about all the little details I like, all the while striving to avoid spoilers- but beware of the comments section, because I can make no promises there!

Like all good reviews, rants begin with an attempt at a plot summary, in case you, like me, have never read any comic books or don’t know anything about this new addition to the Marvel canon.

Stephen Strange, a genius with a photographic memory, is the finest neurosurgeon around, and he knows it. All of which makes it humiliating when a nasty accident destroys the nerves in the arrogant physician’s hands and threatens his career. After blowing his fortune on world-famous doctors who try and fail to help him, Strange uses the last of his money to fly to Kathmandu in the hopes that the stories of miraculous healing at Kamar Taj might somehow come true for him.

There Strange meets the Ancient One and her wizarding folk, who are not what everyone claimed they were- but not as they seem, either. It’s the beginning of Strange’s journey into a whole new world of infinite dimensions. And of course, learning of an infinite dimension, as the Ancient One says, means learning of infinite dangers.

So… the pros.

chiwetel ejioforLet’s start with the obvious- can we just appreciate the characters? There’s Strange,
arrogant and brilliant like Tony Stark, but more likeable and dorky. Then there’s the Ancient One, an awesome fighter and slightly sassy take on the mentor archetype. Baron Mordo, a mentor/sidekick of sorts, is Inspector Javert- end of story. Kaecilius, the main baddie, is powerful enough to challenge the heroes, and his skewed worldview almost makes enough sense to defeat Strange’s will to fight. And then there’s Christine Palmer, the love interest and possibly the only normal person in the whole film. I call her Molly Hooper. 

None of the characters is a true hero- not at the beginning, at least- but are what we call “grey characters,” with their own sometimes-questionable goals. Like Strange, each has a unique perspective on the world, and we follow each arc to a logical end (for the first movie in a trilogy, of course).

And oh yes, they all bring their own humor on the adventure. If there’s one thing Marvel can do right, it’s humor.

As for the story itself… I know a lot of bloggers have talked about this already, but Doctor Strange doesn’t shy away from questions about the nature of the universe. (One reviewer calls it “the most religious superhero movie ever.“) Are we matter and nothing more? Is there really no ghost in the machine? Strange thinks so- until the Ancient One literally knocks his ghost (called his astral form) out of him and through a series of colorful spiritual worlds. Strange, like us, is forced to face the very real spiritual realm and find his place in a world that’s bigger than himself.

My favorite scene of the film takes place in a hospital room, where Christine stitches up Strange after an encounter with Kaecilius. One of the minions attacks- in his astral form- and Strange has to fight the guy off. Lights flash and equipment rattles as the two ghostlike figures whirl through the air. Maybe it’s just a cool little addition to an action movie, but it’s more likely supposed to be an allegorical look at the spiritual war in our own world.

And then we have that fantastic mingling of theme and plot that writers always love. At the end of the film, as Dormammu and his Dark Dimension threaten to consume the entire world, Strange makes a bold choice to keep the earth safe. I won’t go into spoilers, but Strange’s plan for counterattack is simultaneously a clever plot twist and a picture of sacrificing everything for a cause that’s bigger than oneself. Besides, it’s a vivid illustration of the gospel in that Strange gives up what matters most to him and faces pain and death in an effort to save the world from the darkness. For me personally, this film gave the opportunity to look at the greatest story ever told from a new angle I’d never seen before.

Did I mention that we have a new Marvel villain?

Besides all this, it’s worth mentioning that the directors take a few shots at some false worldviews. Kaecilius and his little friends, devout followers of something like Buddhism with Gnostic tendencies, spend the film striving for eternal life and enlightenment as part of the One. And- this shouldn’t be a spoiler– it’s this desire that ultimately leads to their defeat. The film also tackles morality: the line between good and evil isn’t the Jedi-like dualism of films like Star Wars, but rather a distinction between right and wrong based on common sense and the ultimate purpose. Magic spells have consequences. Mordo may be an inflexible bringer of justice, but he’s right when he says the bill always comes due.

So why not watch it?

The simple fact is that this movie has the same potential pitfalls as a Harry Potter- if HP had been made by a Christian director of horror films- which is to say, it’s really hard to tell where the line is between Christian and anti-Christian elements. We have on one hand Christian undertones and obvious biblical parallels, and on the other, dark rituals and other confusing territory.

Another gif in case you wanted severe nausea.

Kamar Taj is a mystical school of sorcery, and it wears that badge more prominently than Hogwarts would ever dream of doing. Strange studies occult books like “The Key of Solomon”  and uses a relic called the Eye of Agamotto to manipulate time. Characters meditate and chant, and Kaecilius uses dark spells to open a portal to the Dark Dimension (a Satanic realm) in a Catholic church. I could go on, but you get the idea: Doctor Strange could easily lead a naive person, especially a Christian one, into some dark territory. (Watch this vodcast for more discussion on the occult elements.)

So… who should watch Doctor Strange?

Here’s the way I look at it- if you’re pretty good at discerning truth from lies in twisty stories like Harry Potter or Batman Begins, go right ahead and enjoy what may be the finest Marvel movie ever made. Invite a friend and chat about it- two minds are better than one when it comes to philosophy. But if that isn’t you, better opt for the second best Marvel film, Captain America (being sure to skip that terrible ending, of course).

[GIF] DOCTOR STRANGE (2016) ~ Benedict Cumberbatch. Trailer 2.

Because capes.

Did you go see Doctor Strange? If so, what’d you think? If not, do you think you’ll give it a try?

Peace

This is a post from my old blog, A Heart Devoted. I was going to repost this on Christmas, but I realized that as we look back on this year, we would do well to remember these promises for 2017. 

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14 ESV)

Doubtless you’ve heard those two lines before. If you only know one verse in the whole Bible, it’s probably the angels’ song on the night Jesus was born; we hear that one every Christmas thanks to Charles Schultz. If you search the book of Luke for the word “peace”, this is one of the top results.

Yet this shout, once so thrilling and overjoyed, hardly means anything to us anymore. We’ve become tempered to the joyful shouts of “Gloria in excelsis Deo” and “peace on earth”, much like the frog who was slowly boiled to death. O what a terrible comparison that was. Somehow the Christmas story has lost its luster.

Furthermore, when one thinks about the real meaning of the angels’ song, it seems disjointed from reality. Glory to God? Peace on earth? Have you watched the news for even two minutes lately? We live in reality, a dark world filled with war and hate and insanity. Shootings and bombings are old news. Word of threats and furious dissension fill newspapers and online magazines. And let’s not even get started on politics.

Yet the angels still sing, “Peace on earth!” It sounds like a fairytale to us, full of magic and beauty and sparkling joy, but it seems little more than just that- a fairytale by Perrault or Disney. The story of the real world sounds more like a grotesque horror tale by the brothers Grimm. We will never actually experience that happily-ever-after ending. Luke’s story is lovely, but it’s too good to be true.

Yet the story doesn’t end with that, for another search for “peace” in the book of Luke reveals a quote from Jesus (hence the red-letter) which is closer to reality:

Not Peace, but Division: “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” (Luke 12:49-51 ESV)

What to do? We all want to trust the angels’ happy song… but Jesus tends to be more reliable. Seemingly, we arrive at a contradiction.

I would argue that we don’t need to choose between them, that we can indeed trust both messages. They both come from God, who never lies. And before you write me off as a nutjob (the non-candied kind), allow me to explain: peace on earth is indeed coming, just not right now.

Jesus himself said that peace on earth was not yet coming, but division and trouble were. The nature of following Jesus on earth is necessarily not relaxing and peaceful, but rather painful and sacrificial. How can we have peace on earth?

One more verse will show us the answer.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27, ESV)

As Christians, we have hope. Hope is one small word with huge power, for it often means the difference between life and death, whether physical or spiritual. We get our hope from God’s promise in the Bible that he has a plan and is faithful and capable to fulfill it. He will return for us one day and put an end to all this trouble, wiping away tears and causing even lions and lambs to become friends.

We aren’t looking forward to tomorrow or next year, because we know that the world can offer no lasting hope. Just look at 2016- and read the book of Revelation if you think things can only get better from here. God gives us His peace and hope in His promises, which never fail. We are looking forward to the day when Jesus returns. 

And when we know that God is coming again with peace that will never end, our hearts will be at peace on earth.

Happy New Year.

Dear Fellow Writers: No Man Is an Island

Did you enter the eBook giveaway yet? It’s still open, and you can enter as many times as you like, so be sure to jump in! Now, enjoy my latest missive. 

Dear fellow writers,

I need your help.

We’re in a war. This is the age of information, and books are written quickly and in huge quantities. Every week my phone notifies me of hundreds of new books to browse in the Kindle store; and that is just in the electronic library. Humanity has been writing since practically the beginning of time, and people keep producing new stories at a viral rate.

We writers are tempted to view the other authors as the competition. Like generals, we scour the Kindle store to see how we can maneuver our own small army of books and gain more ground. Fairytale retellings are the in-thing now? I must write one so I have a chance of survival! J.K. Rowling wrote another novel? Great, now no one will buy my books!

Those are first-person pronouns because I am guilty. When I saw other authors writing books and publishing them, I felt threatened. After all, that only increases the number of books for readers to choose and lowers the probability that they will pick mine. The war for authorship was raging, and I was losing.

Recently, though, I realized that I was wrong.

I can only write a book a year- possibly two when I graduate from college- but readers collect hundreds annually to grow their minds and imaginations. I usually write in speculative genres, but readers want things like historical fiction and thrillers so that they can make sense of our crazy world. I cannot write a decent love story to save my life, but readers search the romance section to find out what true love is. They need it, and I can’t give it.

The truth is, fellow writers, that the war is against lies, not other writers. Face it- there’s a lot of trash on the market right now, and I just can’t provide enough truth to combat the cultural lies. Couples want to know what to do about an unwanted pregnancy; how can I tell them loudly enough that there’s a third person involved? People want to know if marriage is really no more than two people who love each other; how can I reach them with news of the picture of Christ and the Church?

Thus, we truth-writers are all warriors in the same fight, and we are all in the same army. Especially if we are Christians, every other book by a new or indie author has everything to do with our ministries. A successful book is a victory for us all, and a book that no one reads is a wound to us all. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. No lone writer can fight the war alone. Not even Tolkien, the supreme commander of all fantasy writers could do that, so he had the Inklings. Thanks to that little band of writers, we have masterpieces like The Lord of the Rings and The Space Trilogy.

However, writers have a platform. I say it time and again until people are sick of hearing it: people who won’t listen to a sermon will listen to a story. This is why it makes me sick to hear people say that writing isn’t a real job or that English isn’t a real degree. Legislatures changed the laws on slavery, but it was the writers who first convinced people that those slaves were human beings. Money isn’t the idea here. Writers have more to live for; we are the among the ranks of those who change the world.

Now I’m asking all of us writers to unite. We need more Inklings clubs, more writing circles, more collaborative blogs. We need more indie authors and traditional publishers, teen writers as well as sixty-somethings. We need truth tellers, Christians, and brave warriors, who are authors.

Let’s stop fighting each other about who wrote the best fantasy book of 2016. Let’s start fighting the lies that dragons don’t exist and can’t be beaten.

Sincerely,

Hannah A. Krynicki

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.”