Counting Threads

Jesus Resurrection Tapestry

 

Dear Russell and Friends,

This reply has been hard to write just as this week’s breakfast was hard to digest.  I’m afraid that my response to our words in person was similar to my response to the gentle words that you wrote in the last post:  anger.  Instead of replying, I decided to say nothing for a while.  Isn’t it better to stay silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt?  Anger.  Not my favorite emotion, but there it was.  What business have I trafficking in anger to gentle, respectful, and reasonable words?  Perhaps with very different styles we both do better in writing.  There is time to check and recheck:  the eraser, backspace or even rubbish bin if it doesn’t read back right.  In person we are there, welcomed into a circle of fellowship and contention.  I do remember what we argued about.  I thanked you for posting on Tuesday but confessed that I had not read it yet.  You warned me that some of the words could come off as if you were angry, but assured me that you were not.  We talked about ways to live and why I thought the ten commandments provided a good start, acknowledging that the anchor of authority was the Hebrew God.  You said there were two incompatible versions of the ten commandments.  I blanched.  I don’t regularly read the Hebrew scriptures besides Psalms and Proverbs.  I usually read the New Testament once in a year.  This year, and perhaps five others in adult life, I endeavored to read the entire Bible.  On the morning of our breakfast I was in Deuteronomy (the second giving of the law) and had very recently read the second giving of the ten commandments in Deuteronomy 5.  I thought that I knew Exodus 20 fairly well when it was given the first time.  In a booth, in a moment, I cried foul.  Show me.  I could pretend to be noble and say that I was thinking, “come let us reason together.”  No – – I was much less noble.  I was thinking, “bullshit.”

[insert parenthetical]  Why talk, write, argue in public?  I am so flawed and this is so messy.  Friendship is messy.  Love is messy.  These discussions can should happen with friends. But friendship usually involves then survives injury.  I would rather tell the truth than spin myself to death in vertigo. [parenthetical done]

I asked who had taught you how to study the Bible.  I truthfully admitted that I had not been taught and suggested that the same might be true for you.  And then we left.  I’ve been thinking about it since.  Allow two reflections on my anger?  To me this topic and you are important.  If either were not I could answer, or not answer, with apathy.  The Bible has an interesting take on anger:  be angry and sin not.  Much easier commanded than actualized.  As much as possible, I want to spend little time in anger because I usually can’t follow the imperative to divorce it from sin.  Over five hundred words without me mentioning the trustworthiness of the Bible.  Me evasive?  Never.  This is the first second time I’ve used profanity on the blog.  The first?  My response to your comment on When to give, Where to stand.  Dammit Russell.

Back to work.

“The questions then press thick and fast, as they did for both Jews and Christians in the pagan diaspora:  What counts as loyalty and disloyalty?  What counts as dangerous compromise, and what as wise flexibility?  When do you resist, when do you run away, when do you stay and try to improve things from within?”  Surprised by Scripture, N.T. Wright, p. 184

The brief N.T. Wright interview that I read and linked to in my first WWRR post introduced a topic, but begged for context.  Madalyn said much the same and offered that I could, perhaps should, go deeper.  She was right so I ordered the book and completed it yesterday.  The second chapter is titled, “Do We Need a Historical Adam?”  From the faith perspective that I grew up in, even the question is disrespectful.  To doubt a literal Genesis and a young earth was to doubt Jesus, the resurrection and everything else precious.

This is part of the dichotomy that I now see as false.  If Genesis is not literal, can scripture still be inerrant, infallible, God-breathed (inspired) and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness?  I can approach this from a few angles:

1)  The scripture was useful to me in recognizing, but not acting upon my anger in sin.  I was able to find solace in 1 Corinthians 13, reminding me that love is patient and kind.  If I dwelled in anger, that would work against the call to love.

2)  The scripture was useful to me in correcting my errant path.  I turned back (repented).

3)  The scripture was useful to me for training in righteousness.  Training implies a perpetual preparation.  I am hopeful that I’ll become more like Christ with age, maturity, and constant use.  Scripture will be my measure.

4)  I don’t believe in a literal Adam or a six day creation.  That is not surprising for my skeptical colleagues, but what about for the loved sisters and brothers with whom I’m about to fellowship?  It would be very surprising, perhaps threatening, for some.  Like our Taco Tuesday, it could provoke anger.  I should be careful.

5)  I think in metaphorical language.  If Genesis is the story of transition from prehominid woman to humans in recorded civilization then what value does it have?  Is there still a creation?  Yes.  Is there still a creator?  Yes.  Does the creator communicate with his creations?  Yes.  Can these creations worship themselves as in Romans 1?  Yes.  Is there a Problem deeper than a generalized misunderstanding of logical fallacy?  Yes.  Much deeper.

6)  You know that I love studying science and even practice it in an applied manner.  The m-verse doesn’t solve a problem for me.  The m-verse doesn’t expand the denominator of time to infinity where anything can happen.  The m-verse can not redefine nothing.  Quantum fluctuation is not nothing.  I find it intellectually coherent to say that our observable universe began with low entropy because God created it with order.  I still find it compelling that a beginning begs a beginner. Ex nihilo nihil fit

7)  So my view of scripture has changed.  It no longer bothers me to consider that the creation story in Genesis was a myth (story to teach truth:  not a fiction).

You emphasized the following in your post:

N.T. Wright seems to be saying that if we start discussing why the Bible can be trusted, we’re missing the point of scripture. That is not a satisfactory answer. We must each make up our mind. Is the Bible without error, or might it have some error (in the intent of the original writings)? We must acknowledge the problems listed in the Inerrancy? post. It is not a distracting topic that misses the point. It is the foundation of trust for the whole Bible.

I disagree with you.  I’m not angry and I don’t plan to revisit that place often.  That said, I’m lying if I say all goes according to plan.  I feel that you have been counting threads and missing the tapestry.  The metanarrative of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration is useful to my understanding of the world and in the imperative of how to live.  Does that make me a pragmatist like William James?  Maybe so.  I live in a pragmatic world.

Could other worldviews work?  Allow me to address my favorite:  Buddhism.  There is so much in Buddhism that endears itself to me.  Compassion.  I do think that is the answer.  I just don’t think that attachment or even suffering is the problem.  Because Buddhism offers the right answer, even to the wrong question in my opinion, it largely works.  I could live like a Buddhist and follow Christ well.  Or I could follow Christ and have the same answer to a better question.  In the scientific method, the question matters.

Your two questions were:

Questions

If you believe the Bible is without error in any sense (the meaning or letter of the original authors’ intentions, etc.), do you have a reason that doesn’t depend on the Bible’s claims about itself? How certain are you in your belief and can you justify your level of certainty in the face of The Problem and what other believers say about their sacred texts?

My non-biblical reason is pragmatic.  With scripture I have the tools to criticize my own heart, to overcome my own biases and to change.  I have the tools to turn (repent) when I’m wrong and the instruction to pursue humility and patience – – difficult character traits.  I don’t elevate the problem you reference above to The Problem.  On that we fundamentally disagree.  I must recognize my own cognitive fallacies rather than focusing on others – – on that we fundamentally agree.  How do I compare my beliefs to those of others?  Is the question right?  Is the answer right?  What do I do with both?

If you believe the Bible has errors, how do you have confidence in which parts are true? Why trust it in claims regarding the supernatural?

My core belief that God created is supernatural, isn’t it?  That is why it is not my chief cornerstone of faith but is a cornerstone nonetheless.  In this edifice, all corners bear load.  If I believe God created, and have no dissonance in accepting mechanisms of a bang, abiogenesis, and evolution writ large, then cognitive resonance and coherence results.

I know that we’re still friends.  I know that because I know your character which is naturally more gentle and respectful than my own.  I’m beginning to understand my character.  I hope to more as life progresses.  My character also allows for disagreement with friends, perhaps even yearns for it.  I look forward to our next time in person – – Détente number 3.

Pascal

–1:16

photo credit:  Resurrection of Christ tapestry, the Vatican

 

 

13 comments

  1. This is going back to a comment thread on another post—Pascal, you might be missing the point of Russell’s questions. I won’t speak for him, so I’ll share my own. I don’t care about whether or not to take the Genesis creation story literally. I am quite comfortable viewing it as allegory, and that would not irreparably damage scripture’s trustworthiness for me. What I need to know is this: Did God command the evil that we see in scripture, or was that simply the misunderstanding of murderous humans or the lies of manipulative writers (or both)? If God commanded such atrocities, I have a hard time trusting his goodness. If the record we read is actually not reflective of God, but instead reflects the justifications of evil people for evil actions or their false perceptions of God’s desires, how do I know that the goodness and mercy of God is not also a false perception? If what I read is an error in reporting and does not reflect the actual events at all, how can I trust that the miraculous events upon which my salvation rests actually happened?

    If I won’t attribute murderous wrath to Him because I don’t take the account seriously and literally, how can I justifiably attribute loving-kindness and mercy and salvation to Him? How do I know what to trust?

    Liked by 3 people

  2. “Isn’t it better to stay silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt?”

    This has always been one of my favorite bon mots. I wish I were better at actually heeding what it says. :0)

    To me, the crux of this very patient, well-considered post is the following statement, which you made several times: “it was useful to you.” In my mind, that is the whole point of this spiritual journey we each make in our lives (even if in secular guise). We seek that which is useful to each of us, as individuals with great big hearts, maybe not so big and ever-so-slightly confused brains, and just one chance to get it right. It is probably clear from what I have said before that I do not believe in any sort of personal afterlife, so my perception of this point will be different from that of those who do, but since to me this life is a one-off proposition, then it behooves me to find that which inspires me to live it well and compassionately. And I can say with unreserved honesty, I am glad for you that you have found what does that for you. Who am I to argue with that?

    Yesterday, I had one of my very occasional evangelistic encounters with my mom. Baylor is preparing to host a giant Palm Sunday event at its new stadium, complete with traveling evangelist and CCM artist, and she invited me to go. This is not the point. The point is the way she did it: with fear and trembling, as if I might slap her or disown her for daring to share something with me which, for her, truly comes from the heart. I find this approach odd, considering that I have never shown open hostility to my parents’ beliefs (other than leaving them behind): I even still hold hands and semi-participate in the blessing of meals when I’m in their home. I don’t even object when they want to do it in my home, even though neither Tammy nor myself find such an activity necessary. Why? Because to them, their Christianity is life, plain and simple. It gives them meaning. It is a source of meaning I no longer embrace, but I still seek to honor it in them. They have found what, for them, is useful, and I wouldn’t dream of getting in their way.

    In truth, as one who was raised on Christian scripture, I have to say that they were (and in many ways continue to be) useful to me. They are a part of who I am, and it would be childish and pointless to deny that.

    I do not believe the Bible to be the Word of God. I believe it to be, at best, a word about who we humans think God is. And my unbelief doesn’t bother you. It doesn’t sway your belief in its truth, inerrant or otherwise. However my comments on your last post may have come across, I find this admirable. I don’t agree with your conclusions, necessarily, but I do admire and respect the honesty of the process by which you arrive at them. I wish that more people who share your beliefs were willing to do as much.

    And that’s all I have to say about that… :0)

    Liked by 4 people

  3. I’ve thought a lot about how I want to comment. I’m running against a problem. Your anger was a natural reaction, your core, what makes you stable, is being questioned. I can think of 20 different ways to disagree with the points you made, I can go on and on about why your reasoning is deeply flawed in my eyes. But why should I?

    If our goal here is to understand, not convert, then I think we may be done. We do not need to agree to be friends, to find peace. If we are not trying to convert each other, what is the point of debate?

    The one point you said that I can’t argue is what Vance pointed out. Your faith is useful to you. It makes you who you are. If you are are happy in that and are not pushing your beliefs on others, it is none of my business.

    Scripture was never particularly useful to me. But there are other stories and people that have been, that have shaped how I live. I understand the desire to protect and validate those things.

    We are not likely to ever agree on the importance or origins of the Bible, but I do appreciate your efforts to define your understanding of the issues. Still, I think I need convincing that this is a useful discussion to have. I think we do understand each other and how we think, we just disagree. If no one is trying to win, why debate? There are other things to talk about, to change, to experience. It is worth doing those together, but I’m not sure this is.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Madalyn—
      I asked Russell today immediately after we read Pascal’s post, “Why are you still doing this? Should we just stop if we can’t get past your first reason?”

      Then I thought about it more, and I realized how much we’ve all changed because of this. We’re still changing. I wish you could see our early letters from years ago. The way Pascal’s heart for the skeptic has grown since then is incredible (there was once a time when some skeptics’ arguments were so offensive to him that he wouldn’t even read them). I can understand why he felt that way, and his sacrifice to read anyway to understand me and Russell is precious to me. I’m currently reading Lessons of History and re-reading The Call because those books are important to him. I want to understand him. I’m changing too. The other day, I told Russell that I found a way to understand a most painful section of scripture in a way that still allows God to be good (and didn’t require acrobatics on my part—just deep contextual reading). I’m approaching scripture differently, and I’m realizing that I may have been wrong about some things. Perhaps many more. What motivates me to even try to see things differently than I have? The brilliant Pascal. Mrs. Pascal with her elegant faith. Two of my closest believing friends who join us at the table at Détente. I could understand all of them better than I do. And as we continue to change, we have new things to understand about each other. We may not change each others’ minds. I still hope mine will change, although I won’t depend on another person for that the way I once depended on Pascal—it’s just not fair for people I love to bear that burden. But we can always understand each other better.

      So you’re right—our goal here is to understand, not to convert (although I will admit that this entire friendship between all of us started because I sent Pascal a long letter 2 years and 4 months ago basically begging him to help me find faith again). But I would respectfully disagree that we may be done. Pascal may feel differently. I think one reason that this feels like a long and fruitless debate is that we are often failing to understand each other. I understand my husband more than anyone, and I still feel like Pascal is missing it much of the time. He doesn’t quite get him yet—but I know he loves him. I’m sure Russell and I have misunderstood Pascal—but he knows we love him.

      We’re not in a hurry. There is more to read, more to understand, and more to be said here—even if it means leaving the first “reason” unresolved. At least that’s my opinion. Russell and Pascal may have something else to say, and I’ll leave that to them (I promise Russell will mention posterity and how these discussions are valuable for our offspring and future descendants even if we never agree or even understand each other).

      The discussion may not be useful to all, but it’s worth it to us. At least to me. And I hope you continue joining in when you feel like contributing, Madalyn. Your presence here has been a joy.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I do see how it has value for people still struggling with their belief or lack thereof. It is a balance beam walk, but if any seem up to the task, it’s you all. I’m sure there is more to understand and to learn, but I do wonder about the end point. What is the ideal way this comes to a close? Does it ever end? I may be wrong but it seems like, even if you leave the first question behind, the rest of the questions are likely to follow a similar path.

        If you and Russell are saying that you just can’t reason your way into belief and Pascal is saying he just doesn’t feel right without belief, then there are two completely different things being discussed. The borders of critical thinking and feeling can overlap, but they reside in different cities. You’re all meeting in the middle, but as long as your homes are in different cities, everyone is travelling in circles.

        You say you’ve all been changed and I believe you. I haven’t been around here long, so I can only comment on what I see. The big picture is fuzzy to me and the small one is blurring too. I’m not saying it isn’t worthwhile, but I’m missing a sense of direction.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I understand all of your points. I have said them all myself recently to Russell, though never to Pascal. Actually, that’s not true. Never this year…

          Funny story—I felt that Pascal and I were at a stand-still with all of this near the beginning of our friendship. I wrote him an email saying there would be no more emails, that the conversation had come to an end. I was frustrated with what I felt was his refusal to really hear and address the arguments. I ultimately felt bad for cutting him off without warning or full explanation, so within a week I gave him a very long hand-written letter explaining why I was no longer writing. He sent a letter back at his next breakfast with Russell that began, “Why are we no longer writing indeed? And why on earth are we writing to discuss it?” He ended it with this: “Maybe we’re going about this the wrong way. Honestly, I had budgeted ten years. Did you think it would resolve sooner?” His next letter to us (written a day later) said “I don’t have to convince you. I don’t have to save you from the road to perdition. I just have to love you as a brother would.”

          So really, the conversation about our end-goals and whether we even want to continue in this at all started in January of 2013 when it ended for a time. It ended for a time again in April of 2013. Yet here we are. We write in a different forum now and it’s mostly just the two of them with me as an occasional contributor—but we’re still writing about the same thing. For me and Pascal, it’s who we are and how we process and understand. For Russell, it’s the best way for him to be fully heard—due to those pesky careers, breakfast with Pascal can’t last all day. But I think it is meaningful to all of us. I realize that it could end at any time for any of a number of reasons. But until that day comes, I’ll read whatever they write. I’m protective of Russell and sometimes have to keep from jumping in defensively when I feel like his views are being misunderstood or misrepresented—but ultimately, no man has loved my husband better than Pascal has. He’s doing what he said he would—he loves him like a brother, and this is a unique way of showing it. I think the conversation will likely change in some ways as this continues, but I hope it continues—to ten years and beyond.

          As a side note, I wouldn’t put Pascal only in the “feeling” camp and Russell only in the “critical thinking” camp (not that you were doing that, but I just wanted to clarify with how I see them). Pascal is a scholar and one of the most critical thinkers I’ve been privileged to be taught by in our professional field. And Russell does acknowledge the draw he has toward faith. He aims to be objective in his consideration of all of this (without discounting the subjective experiences of others). Could the feeling of longing actually be part of how God calls us to him? Russell would say this is certainly possible—but that he can’t muster up enough belief to say it is likely. The cities are closer than they seem, and they each have dwellings in both.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Thank you for your kind words and singular incite. Those in the city walls will unwind the catapults. More soon. I had an unusually restorative 8 hours of sleep last night.

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    2. Madalyn – – Thank you for your thoughtful reflection and understanding. I just went on a binge with an audible.com sale. We could interact over other books, not the library of scripture. It was embarrassing, but necessary to display my immature reaction to a friend’s challenge. As you may surmise, he challenged something that he used to and I still love. I don’t plan to camp in immaturity and debate cannot be our core. I couldn’t stand that either. That said – – please stay. You’ve already influenced my reading.

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  4. Hey Pascal,

    You said this to Russell:

    To me this topic and you are important. If either were not I could answer, or not answer, with apathy.

    and that hits the nail on the head for me, and makes passionate answers and anger quite understandable.

    Pascal, I don’t believe you are purposely being evasive at all, but there’s something about either your writing style or the way you think that so often leaves me wondering what your answers really mean and also whether or not you’ve answered the questions. That may well be my own inability to interpret properly but I’m wondering if others may be feeling the same.

    I also wonder if there may be some ways to help with that. I’m not sure, but perhaps making an effort to clearly answer each question might help, maybe even answering just one and then working on from there. For example, I have the exact same questions as CC has in her first comment on this page, and I’d like to see you reply to her comment and I hope I can understand your answer to all of them. But, as an example of requesting for a little more clarity, I hope you can give either a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ to the first part of her first question: “Did God command the evil that we see in scripture?” (I don’t want to box you in so perhaps your answer is ‘maybe’ or ‘I don’t know’, although that may make discussion a little more difficult.)

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