I love the Gospel of Christ! Why? Beyond the fact that I am a Christian because my parents were Christian and I was raised in a Christian cultural environment, the real reason I believe in God and Jesus is that life is much too scary and disappointing to not hold onto something that transcends life. Yes, that sounds like I’m saying I believe in Jesus because I want to believe in Jesus. And to a great extent that is true.
But if we are honest, we see that most of what we believe, what we really believe with our whole heart, is what we want to believe. For instance, I believe with my whole heart that my wife loves me. And I really want to believe that. Moreover, the belief has proven true in my experience. As I have experienced Burma’s love through over 40 years of marriage, my faith in it has grown. As I have experienced God’s unconditional love for me, it too has proven true.
I don’t believe just anything because I want to believe it. I really want to believe the American myth that if one has a dream for one’s life, if one works really hard to achieve that dream, the dream will come true. I really want to believe it, but I have tried it, and it doesn’t work for me.
Prestone Antifreeze used to have a slogan; “If you can’t trust Prestone, who can you trust?” I think I am learning to trust God and the message of the Gospel because I really need to trust something greater than what I can see, predict, and explain. I think that we all do. But do we trust Jesus’ claims in the Gospel simply because there is nothing left that is trustworthy, or do we have a good reason to put our trust in Him?
The Gospel of John records an incident in Capernaum of Galilee when Jesus told his listeners that He was the Bread of Life, and just as the children of Israel were sustained long ago by eating Manna in the wilderness, people would receive life only by eating His flesh, the Bread of Life. This claim naturally angered many of the Jews, because by making such a claim, Jesus was essentially saying He was God. Blasphemy! I think that the final straw was the words “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53). The consumption of blood by Jews was strictly forbidden by the Law! Jesus’ suggestion that they drink his blood was sickeningly repulsive! John’s gospel indicates that many disciples could not accept this and no longer followed Him (v.66). This is not surprising! But when Jesus asked the twelve apostles “Do you also wish to go away?” Peter answered, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (vs. 67-69). Peter’s first sentence could be seen as an expression of frustration. “Lord, we’re trapped! We’ve given up everything, and we’re stuck with you.” But he goes on to affirm that while following Jesus, something has changed in the lives of the apostles. They have come to know Jesus. And in knowing Him, they realize that He is the Messiah.
Throughout the first fifty years of my life, I experienced a lot of rejection that caused me to doubt my own worth. In school I was bullied, and I desperately struggled to be accepted. After college I had three careers, but the first two never really got off the ground, and the third I had to end due to financial problems. These circumstances led me to believe a lie about myself, that I wasn’t worth very much and that I had been cheated out of having a fulfilling life.
Growing up in the home of a Methodist minister and therefore receiving a great deal of exposure to the Bible, I often went to it for comfort, just as I often went to my family for comfort (my parents and later my wife). As I grew more familiar with the Bible in college and after, I came to know it as the story of how God loved on a miserably failing humankind to the extent that He made them His own children, sons and daughters of the Creator of the universe (at least all of them who would receive this grace). How He loved on them to the extent that He rescued them from permanent spiritual death at tremendous, literally excruciating sacrifice of Himself. No other book in human history that I am aware of tells this story in any form. Do you see where this is leading? The Bible story of God’s rescue of me tells me that I am worthy and significant, despite the way the world has treated me. I am well aware that the world has treated me a lot better than it has most of its inhabitants. During the past twenty years of my life, I have been blessed to volunteer in a prison ministry, where I have had the opportunity to share my Christian faith with some people who have more of a right than I to think that the world has rejected them. But I have seen men whom society affords very little dignity, come to the realization that they can indeed trust the fact that a heavenly Father has deemed them worthy to become His children.
Thus, I came to a point in my life when I asked myself, “Who can I trust?” Can I trust money? Sex? Relationships? Good health? Adventure? All of these things come and go and are never guaranteed, and in the end, they only leave one wanting more and better. I came to the conclusion that only what God’s Word promised me was sure. That was an eternal relationship and partnership with Him. Putting doctrine aside, I see the message of the Gospel as three simple affirmations:
- I am loved without limits.
- I am not defined by my past unless I choose to be.
- I am worthwhile simply because I am.
How could I possibly want more and better than that?
So, is it okay to love the Living Word, Christ Jesus, and not believe in the inerrancy of the Scriptures? Is it okay to believe that the Bible is authoritative, yet recognize that its writing reflects a limited knowledge of science and concern for historical accuracy? Yes it is, and I’ll tell you why in my next blog post.