Please keep in your prayers the university mission weeks coming up in the next month in Edinburgh and Glasgow.
SEARCHING FOR ANSWERS: ISN’T THE BIBLE OUDATED AND IRRELEVANT?
Back in the 1990s, each episode of the classic series “The X Files” began with the words: “The truth is out there”. But if they were remaking the show today, they might have to change the tag-line to “We used to think the truth was out there”. You see, a few months ago, the Oxford English Dictionary announced that the word of 2016 was “post-truth”. In our post-modern, post-Brexit, post-Trump, western world there is scepticism about any claims to possess facts that everyone should believe. However, I’m not sure that we’re really post-truth – because as humans we are curious, inquisitive beings; we want to explore, discover and find answers to our most important questions. That’s why Google we love to use Google. And today, we’re considering whether the Bible can help us in our search.
Now, you may be here, and your starting assumption is that the Bible is irrelevant, past its sell-by-date, obsolete, primitive, not worth bothering with. That’s the popular attitude towards the Bible presented in our culture today. However, if you’ve not taken the time to check out and read the Bible for yourself, then it’s possible you’ve been misinformed. I would encourage you to invest the time to make up your own mind. And if you do, then you’ll find that it addresses the most fundamental and important questions that humans beings have always asked. Where have we come from? Who am I? How do we make the most out of life? What happens when we die? The Bible also addresses at length the real life issues of love, friendship, family, war and peace, justice, beauty, truth, freedom, happiness, grief and pain, death and evil. So the Bible is concerned with the ultimate issues of human life and reality – it presents us with unique answers which are worthy of our consideration.
President Theodore Roosevelt once said of the bible that “no other book of any kind ever written in English has ever so affected the whole life of a people”. The Bible’s unprecedented impact on our culture has influenced our laws, the fight for democracy, human rights and equality, social reform and welfare provision, the arts and literature, and the pursuit of the sciences. The Bible has inspired our greatest hopes (that death is not the end, that one day good will triumph over evil, that we are loved). It has also challenges our darkest parts of our lives. Astoundingly, at its heart, it claims to be the Word of God our Creator.
To help us consider whether we should bother engaging with the Bible, there are two questions we need to consider briefly:
- Are we alone in our search for the answers?
Someone once illustrated the dilemma facing humanity in its quest to understand the world and our place in it using a thought experiment. Imagine waking up in a room with no memory of anything prior to 30 seconds previously. We look around, we see the door is locked, the windows are bricked up. We all begin asking lots of questions about who we are, how we got here, and what is outside this room….but none of us can remember. So without knowing these facts, we start investigating, theorizing, and suggesting our own answers. But we have no way of knowing the truth! Until, after a long wait, we hear a key turning in the lock, and someone opens the door, walking in from the outside. At that moment what that person says takes precedence over all our guesses about reality. It’s this speaker from the outside world, who can confirm or deny our speculations. In a similar way, the Bible communicates truth and knowledge from outside the walls of the universe.
At the heart of the Bible is its unique assertion that we are not all alone, having to work out the ultimate answers to life, the universe and everything on our own. It introduces us to the God who made us – who has revealed Himself to us in words and actions, within the horizon of human history. And who has personally revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ.
- Are we searching for the right thing?
Many people say the Bible seems irrelevant. But let me suggest that there is a danger in our search for truth, to settle for something that seems relevance. After all, how do you measure relevance? The problem with ‘relevance’ is it can be superficial. Something strikes us as being relevant because it resonates with our present thinking or feelings. The problem is that our present feelings and cultural intellectual trends are always shifting - so relevance is an unstable and unsettled basis for life.
A danger with relevance is what Professor C.S. Lewis calls “chronological snobbery” – where we assume that today we have reached the pinnacle of knowledge and understanding, while what came before us was inferior.
For example, it’s easy to look back on our grand-parent’s generation, only dismiss them as naïve, ill-informed, mistaken about many things that we now have hindsight on (for example: read old magazines that encouraged women to find their place in the kitchen). But it’s unsettling to then consider: when our grandchildren look back on our generation – what will they see we’ve been mistaken about? The only way to begin to see our personal and cultural blind spots, is when we encounter voices outside of our time and place. Part of my adult life journey has involved coming to terms with my heritage growing up during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. There are many things in my past and in my community which no longer seem reasonable, having now spent 16 years in Scotland. So when you find truth, you will relevance – sometimes unsettling so!
Another danger of If we are only looking for relevance, rather than truth, then we are in danger of living inside an “echo-chamber”. You may have heard that phrase used in recent discussions about fake or biased news. For example, Facebook uses complex algorithms to predict the sorts of updates that we will want to see on our feeds. It prioritises showing us things it thinks we’ll find relevant and interesting. The problem is that we can end up only hearing ideas of people who are like us and think like us which only reinforce our opinions and prejudices – not exposed to contrary perspectives that might challenge and force us to reconsider things. I learnt how important this was when at university training to be a lawyer – to look at something from every angle possible. I started to do that with my politics, reading those across the political spectrum who would challenge me, and I also started doing it with my religious beliefs too.
So it’s important that we actively seek out and challenge our blind-spots, by reading old books. And when it comes to old books, the Bible is the greatest. It has been the best-selling book of the year, since the printing press was invented. Surely, there is something to the Bible that is worth reading.
Today we’ve been thinking about the search for the answers to the ultimate questions of life. When the first Russian cosmonaut returned from space, he reported that he had the answer to the ultimate question: Does God exist. No, he had not found him in space. But in response, C.S. Lewis said: “this was like Hamlet going into the attic of his castle looking for Shakespeare. If there is a God…He would relate to us the way a playwright relates to the characters in his play. We (characters) might be able to know quite a lot about the playwright, but only to the degree the author chooses to put information about himself in the play”.
John’s gospel begins: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. Through Him all things were made … in Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind” – this describes God our creator as a being of communication and revelation. He is a God who speaks and makes Himself known – because communication is fundamental to relationships. God is a relational being, and He wants us to be in relationship with Himself. So the Bible is God’s gift to us, to speak words of truth and understanding into our world, which so often perplexes us. But John goes on and gets more excited: “And the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us”. God has written Himself into the world which He created. He has come among us in Jesus Christ, to personally introduce Himself and show us what He is like.
For us 2000 years later, we have access to those events through the historical eyewitness sources left to us in the Bible’s gospels. And here’s an exciting thought. If it the Bible is true, then it opens up to us a whole new way of looking at the world and understanding our lives in it. The story of our lives has a beginning… we are not cosmic accidents but have a creator…and we have a destiny beyond this YOLO life… we were made to know and enjoy Him forever.
So please would you consider taking away to read part of the Bible to learn more about its central figure Jesus Christ? Please would you open your mind to consider whether in His words there is truly life for all mankind.