A while back, I was asked this question:
“Did you ever go through a time of doubt about the Bible’s reliability? If so, were you able to resolve your doubts? How? If not, what areas of concern still remain?”
This is my reply:
Yes, I went through a period of doubt in the Bible. I grew up in a preacher’s home and always believed the Bible was true. But when I began taking philosophy and world religion classes at Indiana University, I discovered that my professors referred to most of the Bible’s contents as “myth.”
These were the turbulent 60s. There were riots in the streets, marches on Washington…student sit-ins and oh, brother, the times…they were a’changin’. Our profs openly challenged us to break free from the dogma of our religious training.
I remember the day I walked into my room at Foster Quad, dropped my books on my desk and through eyes filling with tears, said, “God? Are You really there?”
I picked up the old Bible I had brought from home. “Did You really write this stuff?” I demanded to know. “ALL of it? ANY of it?”
On that day, I determined that I was going to research it out for myself…and let the truth lead where it may. I couldn’t ignore the fact that my parents’ faith was rock-solid sincere. But that wasn’t good enough for me. I wanted to know if they were sincerely…wrong. I knew what my professors wanted me to think. I was working every summer to earn the tuition money that paid them to tell me the Bible was a myth. But that wasn’t good enough for me, either.
If the Bible was the Word of God, then I had no choice but to build my whole life on its truths. I would have to obey God’s commands and turn my back on everything God called sin.
But if the Bible was NOT the Word of God, I wanted to know it now, while I was young. I didn’t want to waste my life living an illusion. If the Bible was nothing more than myth, then my few brief years on this planet were my only shot. The “Playboy Philosophy” was rampant on campus and it sounded awfully enticing to me. Free love. Make your own rules. Live for personal pleasure every single day until you die, ’cause after that…nothing.
Everywhere I looked, my friends were getting drunk, having sex, getting high, cheating on tests to get good grades…figuring out ways to avoid the draft (very tempting when our buddies were dying in Viet Nam). Hey — obviously, I was missing out. I began to daydream of having my own bachelor pad…hiring on as a correspondent with some international press agency, traveling the world and sampling all the earthy delights this world had to offer. Ahhhhh, liberation.
All I had to do was deal with this Bible thing, prove it wrong…or at least flawed…or at least doubtful or unknowable…and then good life, here I come. I’d go all out in this study, I figured, just to be intellectually honest. I’d hit the books, devote every spare moment, do the homework, knock it out. I’m a fast reader, I reasoned. A week, I thought to myself. Maybe two, tops.
But I was wrong. There are a lot of philosophers, thinkers and iconoclasts out there…not to mention a whole lot of religions. It took long months of reading and studying…hours upon hours in the university library. In addition, I signed up for every religion-busting class I could cram into my schedule. As far as I could tell, not one of my profs in any of those classes was a believer. All the better. That was fine by me. Bring it on. I listened carefully to my professors’ objections to Biblical miracles and other events. I took copious notes. I read the books they recommended, the ones they said would open my eyes.
And to my utter shock, they did. The more of these eye-opening books I read, the more I discovered the huge flaws in their reasoning…the gaping holes in their logic…the sloppy scholarship based upon an inescapably obvious, utterly preposterous, unscientific beginning assumption of disbelief. The circular reasoning of these atheists and agnostics flabbergasted me. THIS was the anti-god, anti-biblical argument? THIS was the best they could do?
Simultaneously, I read and studied the Bible. I compared the Bible to the other “holy” writings I was being assigned in my classes. But I was amazed to find that there simply was no comparison. The Bible had an unmistakable ring of authority. It just felt….true. The other “holy” books sounded like…like…I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
I kept asking myself, “Why do these other so-called ‘holy’ books sound so familiar?” And then I remembered. Back in Stanley Hall Elementary School, I had gone on a reading binge, beginning in fifth grade and continuing up into high school. First, I read every book in my homeroom library, at the back of the room. After I tired of re-reading those, I began to visit the library next to our school. For several years, I stopped by the library nearly every day after school, as I walked home. I returned the books I had read the night before and checked out new ones.
I would actually walk home with a stack of books almost as tall as my arms were long, the top one opened, so I could read as I walked. I would become so absorbed in the book I was reading that I couldn’t put it down. I walked from class to class like that…much to my classmates’ amusement. From time to time, some of them would stick out a foot to trip me…which forced me to develop pretty good peripheral vision. They called me a “book worm,” and I guess I was. If I hadn’t enjoyed playing sports so much, I doubt that I would have had time to make a single friend during that period.
I’m ashamed to admit that in class, I would hide my library book inside my textbook and keep right on reading, while the teacher talked. At first, I got caught a lot and had my library books taken away from me. But over time, I developed the ability to take a quick glance at the book’s page and take a sort of “snapshot” of the next paragraph. I would then look back up at the teacher, maintaining the eye contact she demanded, while “reading” the paragraph I had just “photographed” in my mind. I know, I know. I shouldn’t have done that. But at the time, I was so enthralled with whatever book I was into, that my feeling was…desperate times called for desperate measures.
After months of doing things like that, I became a speed reader. I developed the ability to devour three or four books a night. If you ask my mom, she will tell you how many times she caught me reading books by flashlight under my bed covers, after lights out.
“If you don’t stop reading like that, you’ll ruin your eyes!” she would warn me. That scared me, because I knew ruined eyes would make reading somewhat more difficult. It should have stopped me. But it didn’t.
I read every sports book in the library. I read every biography I could get my hands on. I read history books, autobiographies, science fiction, novels. And then for several months, I got into fairy tales. I can still remember where they were in the library, to the right of my favorite wooden table in the corner, down low – row after row of them. I read that first book of fairy tales and I was hooked. I loved the fact that most of them were long – 300 or 400 pages – so they lasted longer. I ended up reading every single book of fairy tales in the library. Some of them I read more than once.
All of that came back to me during my search for truth at I.U. One day I looked up from my study of the holy book of one of the world’s major religions and suddenly it hit me.
“THAT’S why these books have such a familiar ring to them,” I thought.
Every single one of them reminded me of the fairy tales I had read with such delight a few years earlier. The cadences, the pacing, the fanciful stories, the elaborate concoctions, the required suspension of disbelief, the occasional lapses in logic on the part of the authors…all tied up neatly and entertainingly in the end. Not at all like life, but like…fiction. Fascinating stuff…eye candy…imagination gymnastics…but with absolutely no ring of truth about them.
The Bible, however, was completely different. After you’ve read several thousand books, you begin to pick up the genres. You classify books, lumping them together with others of their kind – science…biography…history…philosophy… mystery…detective novels…horror…humor…science fiction…fables…thrillers…etc.
When I tried to classify the Bible, I started with the most basic classification of all: fiction or nonfiction. Well, that one was easy. From beginning to end, the literary feel of the Bible was the nitty gritty reality of nonfiction. It didn’t remotely fit the tell-tale feel of fiction. Interesting. I had never before looked at the Bible in that light.
But when I tried to decide which category of nonfiction I could place it in…I was stumped. The Bible stood all alone – unlike anything I had ever read. It had history and biography and poetry and philosophy…but it wasn’t any of those. It was…more. Compared to every other book out there…it glowed. So I started a new category: Books that glow. Or even better, I thought: Books that glow…in the dark.
My professors kept referring to “all the contradictions in the Bible.” So I decided if they were there, I would face them honestly. That kind of error alone would certainly prove to me that the Bible was man’s creation, not God’s. So I tracked these contradictions down – every one of them my professors mentioned – in addition to all of them I could uncover that were raised by outside Bible critics.
But a funny thing happened on my way to proving the Bible contradictory…every time I ran down what I thought was a contradiction among the Bible’s 66 books…I discovered to my surprise that the error was in my initial misunderstanding of the passage…not in the Bible itself.
I began to get goose bumps. How could all those authors – living hundreds of years apart and writing with the eyes of different cultures, many of them without having ever read what the others had said – how could they perfectly agree? Hey – most authors I had read couldn’t even stay consistent with themselves – let alone with dozens of authors they had never met or read. Men just aren’t this good. The rules of statistics placed the Bible’s perfect harmony far outside the realm of mere chance.
The farther I went in my study, the more plausible became the Bible’s claim to be God’s book, the more passages like this one took on the ring of authority:
“Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
(2 Peter 1:20-21)
Or this one:
“For, ‘All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.’ ”
(1 Peter 1:24-25)
And this one:
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
(2 Timothy 3:14-17)
Well into my study, I discovered C.S. Lewis in the university bookstore. After that, I no longer felt so all alone. I was amazed at the brilliance, scholarship and rock-solid logic of this Oxford University professor and former atheist who, like I, once embarked on a search for truth wherever it would lead him…and ended up with an unshakable faith in God and the Bible.
I began to write unsolicited papers, which I submitted to my professors, pointing out what I was discovering. I began to openly ask questions in class, challenging my professors’ assumptions and conclusions. It irritated some of them and entertained others – not to mention the other students. But I was interested in neither irritation nor entertainment. All I wanted was truth.
I can still remember the day I leaned back in my chair in class, after hearing my professor’s rambling, change-of-subject reply to a straightforward question that challenged his attack on the Book of Revelation.
“He doesn’t know the answer,” I realized.
Amazing. Right before our eyes. Our brilliant professor exhibiting the befuddlement of disbelief. I was pretty sure most of the other students were drawing the same conclusion – and not just about this one class or this particular professor. All of them. All of it.
The scholarly attack on the Bible wasn’t scholarly at all. It wasn’t scientific. It wasn’t even able to advance according to the rules of logic. It didn’t begin with a scholar’s dispassionate desire to know the truth – whatever that truth turned out to be. It didn’t begin with an intellectually honest willingness to discover the Bible true, just as much as to discover it false.
Instead, it began with an assumption that there was no God…that there were no miracles…that the only things that were real were what you could see…that there could therefore be no divine revelation…that all these Biblical writers were self-deceived religionists, frauds or lunatics. Any piece of evidence that disagreed with those assumptions was immediately discarded.
There is no one more blind than he who decides what the outcome will be before he begins his investigation.
“But why?” I wondered. Why would such bright men be unwilling to approach their work with scholarly integrity, fairness and equality? I don’t know for sure, of course. I have a hard enough time figuring out why I do what I do…let alone trying to guess why these authors and professors chose the path they took.
But I do think I may have at least the beginnings of a clue. During one of our classroom discussions on the necessity of absolute, human freedom, I asked the professor, “But what if you’re mistaken? What if there is a God? What if the Bible is true? Wouldn’t we then be obligated to acknowledge our Creator’s right to direct our lives?”
The professor looked down and smiled indulgently. “Well, yes, we would,” he said. “And that’s the point, isn’t it? That’s no way at all to live – certainly not for me.” He looked up at the class. “And not, I suspect, for most of you – do you really want to have some deity constantly looking over your shoulder, breathing down your neck, telling you what you can and cannot do?”
A few students chuckled. But most of us were quiet, sobered, a bit uncomfortable, I suspect. Could we sit here and declare there was no God – just so we didn’t have to be accountable to Him? To a roomful of freedom-loving college students, the thought was attractive. But did our hedonistic desires warrant an arbitrary decision of disbelief? What about the consequences? What if we were wrong?
Not too long after that, I remember walking down the sidewalk that led from the main part of the I.U. campus to Foster Quad. I was through with my classes for the day, happy to have them behind me. It was a gorgeous, late afternoon spring day in Bloomington, Indiana. The air was cool, but the sun felt warm on my back.
For the last five minutes or so of my walk, my thoughts had returned to my investigation of the Bible…and the conclusions I had reached.
“Well, I’ll be…” I smiled, shifting my books to the other arm as I left the sidewalk and cut across the lawn. “It took me all this time to finally figure it out.”
“Mom and Dad were right.”
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.