A Deadly Lifestyle (part 2): How I Feel About Church and the Bible Right Now

November 19, 2019 · 1455 words · 7 minute read Doubts   Thought   Church   Bible  

For the first time in my life since elementary school, I am having a very hard time reading and making sense of the Bible. In this post, I detail why this is and discuss a few things I'm doing to address this difficulty.

This is a follow up to the first “Deadly Lifestyle” post.

The Situation

It is very difficult for me to read/study the Bible right now. Here is what happens almost every time I open the Bible:

  1. I pray
    • As you will see below, I really need help!
  2. I start reading
    • for example, I recently read Acts 8
  3. I notice something fascinating/interesting
    • In Acts 8, it is interesting that Simon the Magician is said to have “believed” and “being baptized, he continued on with Philip…” (Acts 8:13) and yet Peter harshly rebukes him for trying to buy the free gift of God and calls him to repent (Acts 8:21-23). This raises some questions: How is someone saved? Can someone lose their salvation because of sin? Is it possible to have ‘fake’ belief that is manifested as fake because of sin?
  4. I think through the possible understandings of the passage with the help of additional reading and studying
    • Some people within protestantism say that only belief is required to be saved - but this passage seems to contradict that view. If Luke’s account is accurate, then Simon truly believed and yet Peter seems to say that Simon is not saved and must repent because he went on to sin and think he could “obtain the gift of God with money”.
      • People who take this position would probably argue that Peter never says that Simon isn’t saved, just that he “[has] no part or portion in this matter” (Acts 8:19) - which could be interpreted in a number of ways (perhaps interpreted as a warning that Simon is missing out on eternal rewards rather than losing his salvation or that Simon is missing a certain intimacy with God).
    • Others say that Simon really believed, but lost his salvation because he thought he could “obtain the gift of God with money”.
      • This raises a major and complex question: Can a believer lose his/her salvation?
      • If we assume that a believer can lose his/her salvation, can it be lost with only one sin (as seems to be the case with Simon)? Would I have to repent after every sin?
    • Others say it is impossible to lose one’s salvation, but there is such a thing as ‘fake’ belief and that Simon had ‘fake’ belief as manifested by his actions. If this is true, this raises two questions:
      1. Why doesn’t Luke say that Simon had ‘fake’ belief or that Simon thought he believed? Luke says “Simon himself believed” (Acts 8:13) with no qualifications… but according to this view, Simon only had a ‘fake’ belief. If we interpret this passage such that Simon only ‘fake’-believed, it seems that Luke is communicating poorly because he only says that Simon “believed” with no other qualifications. Is it unreasonable to expect that divinely inspired writers would be more clear on such a crucial matter?
      2. If there is such a thing as ‘fake’ belief which can be manifested as false by a single, sinful action, how can anyone be saved? Does true, saving faith produce perfect holiness? Also, this view seems to destroy all possibility for assurance. If it only takes one sinful action or wrong view/approach to God to prove that faith is not genuine, it appears we must be perfect to have assurance of salvation. Must we be perfect to show that our belief is genuine? Must every sin bring the legitimacy of our belief into question?
  5. After a few hours of study, I’m confused. There are usually multiple ways to interpret the passage and most interpretations of a given passage are informed by one’s pre-existing theology that one has before reading the passage. The difficulty is that I’m still trying to nail my theology down! I’m coming to Scripture because I don’t have my theology figured out.

A few thoughts:

I don’t see how I can make sense of the Bible without first buying into a theological position. The idea of objectively understanding a passage seems like a chimera to me right now - your interpretation of every passage is informed by the your theology. Ok, but how do I get started? How do I develop theology from the Bible if I don’t have a theology with which to interpret the Bible?

Being in this place is exhausting! God’s word no longer feels refreshing; it feels frustrating. It no longer feels life-giving; it feels soul-sucking. Honestly, I view reading God’s word as a drag right now. I do it because I’m supposed to and supposed to enjoy it, but it is painful.

Now What?

So how am I (and should I be) responding to this situation?

There are four things that have been preserving me through this time in life:

  1. Prayer
    • This whole situation has provoked me to cry out to God with a renewed vigor. I have not been as consistent in crying out to God as I would like, but I think prayer is a critical action if you are in a similar situation.
    • I have found it helpful to write out poetic prayers based on sermons I hear. I have increasing theological concerns and disagreements with the sermons I’m hearing, but there is still a lot of content I agree with and writing prayers based on that good stuff helps me stay focused on truth, beauty, and goodness and helps me worship God.
  2. Friendships
    • Having friends with whom I can rant, share struggles, and get honest feedback has been essential to my perseverance through this time. Friends with whom you can have frank, weighty discussions are so helpful! They bring different perspectives and experience that you may not have or see. They encourage you to persevere both in asking hard questions in pursuit of truth and in worshiping and glorifying God. Good friends are a must!
  3. Scripture memorization
    • Lately, I have found it easier to interact with scripture if I start memorizing it. Memorizing scripture gives me time to meditate on the passage as I’m memorizing it; I don’t feel the need to research everything right away, I can take my time, memorizing and meditating, before researching and understanding possible views on the passage.
  4. Rooting oneself
    • When I face times of significant theological questions, I find it absolutely necessary to avoid throwing the baby out with the bath water (over-reacting to the questions and concerns I have). For example, the fact that I have questions about the mechanics of salvation, the role of sin in the life of a believer, and assurance of salvation should not cause me to reject Christianity and stop worshiping God. Christianity has been around for thousands of years and my inability to make sense of it over six years of study does not mean I should give up the faith entirely. These are complex, weighty things that take time to study and understand. All that to say, it is important to stay rooted when you start asking questions about your faith. What I mean by this is that it is important to realize how much common-ground Christians affirm. A good book to help you in this is C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity or a lecture on the historic roots of the doctrine of the Trinity. Stay rooted; don’t over-react by throwing the baby (orthodox Christianity) out with the bath water (theological concerns).

Shout-out to Beatrice Hemlock and Beauregard Louis for being such a blessing in my life! You both help keep me healthy and sane!

Why should I take my flesh in my teeth And put my life in my hands? Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will find it. What will it benefit a man if he gains the whole world yet loses his life? Or what will a man give in exchange for his life? For the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will reward each according to what he has done…'”

“Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life…'”

“I have set the Lord continually before me; Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices; My flesh also will dwell securely. For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol; Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay. You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.”