This is Part 2 in my series discussing the Bible’s relevancy to Modern Life. Here is Part 1. Here is Part 3
To sum up, while our technology and circumstances may have changed since then, the basic motivations of life and human nature have not changed in spite of all our advancement. Even our modern toys fulfill the same needs that they had then.
I realize that many people reject the Bible as an authority in their lives. Many do so because they don’t really want that standard. They want to be free from any accountability. For these people, there will be no argument that will seem reasonable at all because their desire trumps logic.
Others reject the Bible under the belief that it is not reliable either in what it describes (our situation) or in the sense that the text we have today is not what was written then.
I believe that many people who question the Bible’s relevancy to modern life ultimately comes down to the issue of Reliability.
Is the Bible we have today reliable? Does the Bible accurately describe the human condition? Is what we read today anything like what was originally written?
I would argue that the text we have is reliable and that it does accurately describe the human condition.
First issue: Does the Bible accurately describe the human condition?
Eastern religions tend to see this world as an illusion to various degrees and problems such as sickness, suffering and death are caused by our insistence that our lives are real and distinct from the divine or because of our attachment to things that ultimately are unreal. These account for the situation of this world by ultimately denying its reality or significance.
The dominant philosophical competition in America would be metaphysical naturalism—championed a generation ago by the likes of Carl Sagan and more recently by the New Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Samuel Harris. They insist the material universe is all there is and life as we know it evolved. Death, competition and disease have always been a part of existence and are merely mechanisms that serve as the driving force of evolution. There is no divine being, no spiritual reality, no existence beyond physical death.
This worldview, in my opinion, better accounts for the world as we know it than the eastern religions, but naturalism insists it has always been this way and will never change. To suggest otherwise is merely wishful thinking. Suffering, disease and death are realities and will always be a part of our lives. There is no hope or expectation of changing this truth apart from advancement in knowledge and technology.
The Bible describes in full color the depths of suffering in this world as we know it. The Bible acknowledges that these issues are real and significant, not merely illusions, unreal or based on ignorance. Where the Bible differs it insists that the world has not always been this way, it’s not the way the world is supposed to be, and not the way the world will end up.
The Bible starts in Genesis with God’s ideal—human beings in a world free from corruption and sin… free from death and disease. But anyone with half a brain can tell that’s not the world we live in now. So the Bible then describes how everything got to be the way it is—why is there suffering, disease and death.
Everything changes in Genesis 3 with the Fall. In that moment of rebellion, sin corrupted not only our nature, but all of creation itself (see Romans 8:21-23).
A biblical worldview at the point of describing reality is in general agreement with the naturalist—sin, disease, suffering and death are a part of our existence. We merely disagree on the cause and what, if anything can be done about it.
Much of the Bible illustrates just how bad this fallen nature is—and it is not G rated. But it offers hope in that it adds what God intends to do (or has done) about it.
The Bible describes people as fallen, damaged and broken. This fallen nature manifests in the way we act and treat each other.
We are by nature selfish. Watch any group of toddlers with toys and you realize you don’t have to teach them to grab a toy out of one kid’s hands and run saying “MINE!!!”. It takes great effort to teach them to share. Greed comes naturally--as the reality show Hoarders or all the complaints about corporate executive salaries shows. But the Bible says that “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil”. Jesus taught us to be servants and to be willing to give up all that you have for the sake of the Gospel and serving others.
We are by nature liars. Lying comes naturally and early in life as well; especially if we feel like we’re in trouble or don’t want to get caught. Jesus said we should let our “yes be yes and your no, no”, that we should live lives of integrity and honesty.
We are by nature coveters. We want what other people have and are willing to resort to taking and justifying it. I’ve always wondered why this one was listed last among the 10 Commandments, last among those dealing with relationships between people (#5-10) and I finally figured it out—this one is an internal action while the others (murder, stealing, lying etc.) are external ones. The more we control our desires, our coveting, the less likely we will violate the others. Jesus said we must be willing to give up everything in order to follow Him, to deny ourself take up our cross and follow Him.
We are by nature killers. No, not everyone kills someone else, something holds most of us back from that—but it wouldn’t take much to push us to that point. People have been proven to kill for land, for money, for “love”. Jesus elevated the bar by saying if you hate someone you have already committed murder in your heart.
We are by nature adulterers. Much of our culture struggles with their sexuality in some way. It is our natural tendency to sin sexually. Yet that is not how the Bible calls us to live. It actually calls us to live contrary to our natural desire—calls us to refrain from sex before marriage and then to remain faithful to one woman only in a life-long commitment. Even more, Jesus elevates this calling by saying that a man who looks at a woman lustfully (covetously) has committed adultery in his heart.
In essence, we are self-indulgent narcissists who seek our own pleasure in life often at the expense of someone else. Anyone who watches the news, watches TV for more than 10 minutes knows these are accurate descriptions. And there are more.
The fact that we are this way is undeniable and not in dispute. It’s the cause and cure that are.
This is exactly the kind of people the Bible says we are and the Bible is full of examples of people doing these very things… many of them the ones who are supposed to be close to God. King David—a man after God’s own heart—was a liar, an adulterer and a murderer. The Bible has many stories relating to killing for money, jealousy, revenge or women.
The Bible is not a G rated book but describes our world exactly as it is—the Bible describes human nature accurately. The Bible does not hide or excuse our sin but reveals it. It merely assigns the cause of these behaviors to be spiritual—a spiritual failing and corruption.
Again, the Bible accurately describes the human condition, the primary difference it subscribes is the cause—a spiritual problem.
Much of modern America wants you to believe that people back in the ancient world were just too ignorant to understand human behavior.
The ancients did not have modern scientific methods, psychological assessment, medical and genetic models to draw from. As a result of this lack of knowledge (and assumed superiority) the moral judgments of the ancients have no bearing. In many instances, behaviors that at one time were understood as a moral/behavioral issue have been redefined to be morally neutral, a disease that requires treatment not condemnation. Consider this statement concerning the role of a modern psychological therapist:
“the therapist will not impose or otherwise induce his personal values on the patient…The exploration and acquisition of more constructive and less neurotically determined values [is] conducted without ethical or moral pressure or suasions of any kind.”
In many instances this type of approach is very helpful and opens up new treatment possibilities. But in other ways, it ignores the root problem and gives people an excuse to continue in the wrong and damaging behavior—alcoholism and sexuality being contemporary issues.
In contrast, Dietrich Bonhoeffer—who grew up as the son of a therapist, said this:
The most experienced psychologist or observer of human nature knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the Cross of Jesus. The greatest psychological insight, ability and experience cannot grasp this one thing: what sin is. Worldly wisdom knows what distress and weakness and failure are, but it does not know the godlessness of man. And so it does not know that man is destroyed only by his sin and can be healed only by forgiveness.
Only the Christian knows this. In the presence of a psychiatrist I can only be a sick man; in the presence of a Christian brother I can dare to be a sinner. The psychiatrist must first search my heart and yet he never plumbs its ultimate depth. The Christian brother knows when I come to him: here is a sinner like myself, a godless man who wants to confess and yearns for God’s forgiveness. The psychiatrist views me as if there were no God. The brother views me as I am before the judging and merciful God in the Cross of Jesus Christ.
The Bible claims that the Word cuts through our motives, cuts through our excuses, cuts through our rationalizations and exposes our spiritual need.
Hebrews 4:12—“For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart”
At that point, the solution and “treatment” that God provides is laid out—repent (agree with God’s assessment of your sin and turn from it) & believe in the person of Jesus who provides the cure for our condition through the Cross and Resurrection.
To say that ancient cultures were ignorant and thus incapable of making a just assessment fails on two points.
First—those cultures had far fewer restraints of “proper behavior” than ours and thus witnessed far more of the depths that sinful behavior can sink to—sometimes in participation and blessing of their religious belief. They saw a wider range of depravity due to the close proximity of multiple cultures, with invading armies moving through and pillaging, etc. Religion in many of these cultures were highly sexualized, warfare and victory was often license to do anything with those captured. I believe we take for granted the general restraint that exists in our society that prevents the kind of rampant behavior those cultures faced every year “in the spring when kings go off to war.” This increased suffering and victimization.
They were far more familiar with death and disease. Fewer and fewer of us even slaughter our own animals for food anymore, rather we (myself included) pick up a sanitary package at the local store. We didn’t make the cuts or watch the creature die like they did. Similarly, when people died then, preparation and burial rituals were very hands on by those closest to the deceased. We let someone else do it and only show up after the person has been prepared, dressed and covered in make-up. Most of our young men these days don’t have to serve in the military or defend their life on a bloody battlefield in hand to hand combat. Those that did then and do now experience many traumas whether they are injured or not. Many of the diseases they dealt with would be considered superficial or easily treated now—rashes, boils—but they had to endure them for extended periods and at close proximity.
Now you’d be right to argue that the way we do things decreases disease and death, but it also removes our general familiarity with it. For them, it was all day, every day, every year.
They would argue that we, in general, are ignorant—of how rampant and debased humanity can be, of firsthand experience of the horrors and victimization of war, of the messiness of disease and death.
Second—the assertion that their ignorance and lack of modern knowledge prevents us from taking what they say with any authority assumes that there is no God who can and might speak to a people and reveal His opinion.
Those who make this argument, whether they intend to or not, are saying that the Bible is more a reflection of the human author’s opinions and culture than it is of God’s opinion. They argue that IF God did speak (which is suspect), then what we have has been so distorted or corrupted by human copyists or translators that what it says cannot be trusted.
This leads to the Second Issue: which I will take up in Part 3
Is the biblical text we have reliable or has it been corrupted beyond trust?