Outside the Christian Bubble

I have decided to post all the sections of my book A Rational Faith on this site with notes explaining the purpose behind the various sections.  The first section of the book is the Introduction and the purpose was to give my basic perspective, briefly discuss my Christian journey and outline the goals and structure of the work.  A minor objective was to establish the fact that I was not born within what I call the “Christian Bubble”.

Most of the Christians that I know were born and raised in the North American church.  Having been taught since they were very young that God is benevolent and that the universe has a benevolent purpose, they find these ideas easy to accept if not entirely obvious.  These Christians are not unacquainted with suffering or pain, but they see it through the lenses of what they have been taught from the Bible and modern American experience.  When they meet and discuss Christianity with those who do not have such a background, they find they are separated by a vast gulf that makes effective communication difficult.  For people raised outside the church, the idea that the universe and its creator are benevolent is difficult to accept if not entirely ridiculous.  Look at a photo of a child dying of a horrible disease, for example, and it is easy to believe that human beings are the product of the savage process of survival described by the Theory of Evolution and correspondingly difficult to believe that we are the product of an omnipotent and benevolent creator.  If Christians are to communicate the gospel effectively to modern sceptics, we must demonstrate that we are aware of the prima facie evidence against our beliefs.  Because my book was ultimately intended for such people, I wanted to make it clear from the very beginning that I understood their perspective.

A Rational Faith Chapter 1: Introduction

As we examine the universe around us, we discover that humanity is surrounded by a
chaotic maelstrom of destruction and death. The planet we inhabit is a speck of dust
orbiting a thermonuclear fireball which could destroy all of our lives with the merest
fraction of its energy. From our perch within an insignificant spiral arm of a minor
galaxy, we glimpse energies beyond our comprehension, let alone our control. Cosmic
explosions that could wipe out life on earth from light-years away, vast clusters of
galaxies, super-massive black holes and even the “big bang” that created everything
including our “pale blue dot”.

Even within the more limited scope of our tiny solar system, humanity is dwarfed by the
power of nature. There are storms on Jupiter in which the entire earth could be
swallowed whole. On the pock-marked surface of our moon, we see the evidence of
collisions that could vaporize our oceans. We have discovered that our sister planet
Venus has a surface temperature that would melt lead. On distant Pluto we can see
frozen wastelands so cold that no known life could survive.

And when we consider our own home? Surely we are the masters of our own castle? Yet
events in just the past few years demonstrate that even technologically advanced man is
helpless against the forces of our own humble planet. Hurricane Katrina, the Indonesian
Tsunami and numerous wild fires and earthquakes have all made recent headlines. In the
more distant past, we see the evidence of giant calderas that could end our civilization
with a single massive explosion that would shroud the earth in a gigantic cloud of ash
and debris.

But the chaos that comes from stars and planets is a small part of the chaos of our human
experience. From the time we are welcomed into this world with a slap on the behind to
help us to learn how to breathe, we experience another disorder every day. As our bodies
constantly fight off hostile organisms, we continually experience the pain and suffering
that foretell our eventual death. Toothaches, headaches, viruses, broken bones, sprained
tendons, birth defects, bacterial infections, fungi, blood-sucking parasites, degenerative
diseases and cancer are all too often our companions on this brief journey from cradle to
grave.

With all of nature seemingly against us, one might expect that we could at least take
comfort among our fellow sojourners? With all the obstacles arrayed against mankind,
we must surely stand united against the cruelty and indifference of the universe? And yet
even a brief survey of history would show that the one constant in human history is not
human kindness toward our fellow sufferers, but human cruelty. Recorded history is
filled with rape, murder, lies, theft, genocide and indifference on an incredible scale.
How do we make sense of all this chaos, pain, suffering and death?

From the dawn of recorded history, humanity has turned to religion for the answer to
these questions. At the start of my own journey, however, I believed that religion’s
answers were entirely unsatisfactory. Against the grim reality that I found around me,
religion seemed at best irrelevant and at worst cartoonishly unrealistic. Praising God for
his goodness amidst the senseless carnage of the universe seemed like singing the Barney
theme song in the middle of a Nazi concentration camp. “I love you, you love me, we’re
a happy family . . . ” Instead, I sought solace in escapism and agnosticism.

For many years, I lived in worlds where the good guys triumphed and evil was defeated.
I fought alongside heroes who battled demons and sacrificed their lives for their
countries. I rescued countless maidens in distress from the horrible fates that awaited
them. I laughed with my comrades as we faced insurmountable odds to accomplish
noble ends for grateful people. In the fictional worlds that I made my home in those
days, it was easy to tell good from evil and everything that happened made sense in the
grand scheme of things. Eventually, however, reality overtook me and I was forced to
make a choice.

The choice presented itself to me when I came to the end of my strength and realized that
I was not the hero that I had imagined. I found evil within myself and realized that I did
not have the strength to be the man that I wanted to be. I could not be the hero laughing
at insurmountable odds, I could only be the coward who ran away when things became
truly difficult. It was at the darkest point of my life when I was rescued from my despair
by the Lord Jesus Christ. He forgave me for the sins that I had committed and the sins
that I had wanted to commit. He promised me the power to overcome my nature and be
the hero that I had always wanted to be. With great desperation, I wholeheartedly
accepted his offer and started a new life.

The path proved tempestuous, however, as nagging questions constantly threatened my new-found faith. How could a good God torment human beings forever in hell? How can
God be in sovereign control over all that transpires and still be good? If a good God
created everything, then why isn’t this more obvious when we examine the world around
us? Why is faith in Jesus Christ necessary to go to heaven? Why did God order the Old
Testament Israelites to commit genocide? Christians gave me the Bible and said, “this is
the inerrant word of God”, but try as I might I couldn’t make any sense of it. If God is
rational and the Bible is his word, then why should everything be so difficult to
understand?

Desperate to have some rational basis for making the painful sacrifices of the Christian
life, I leapt on every reasonable Christian argument like a starving dog leaping on a juicy
steak. I studied the argument from design and investigated evolution. I read and
cherished the works of C.S. Lewis. I read of manuscript evidence for the reliability of
the Old and New Testaments in the works of Josh McDowell. I listened to testimonies of
many Christians that showed the amazing things that God had done in their lives.
Despite all of this evidence, however, my faith remained like a boat on a storm-tossed
sea. When I saw evidence for the existence of God I went up, when I saw contrary
evidence or a counter-argument I came down. Up and down, down and up, I was
constantly unsettled.

At some point, I became exhausted. I could not stand the constant doubting, the constant
turmoil. I had to make a second decision. “I need a savior in order to be the man I want
to be.” I thought to myself, “There are no two ways about it. I need Jesus Christ. I need
his grace. I need his love. If Hansel and Gretel was the 67th book of the Bible, I would
still believe that it was the inerrant word of God. I do not care about contrary evidence.”
The only way I was able to have a settled faith, in other words, was to base my faith on
the undeniable fact of my need of a savior. This decision ended my uncertainty and
changed my life. I have never since had any doubt of the truth of the Bible or the
existence of my Lord.

Does this seem irrational to you? To base a belief on a need in this way? To me, it is the
fundamentally rational act behind every true profession of Christian faith. Human beings
need Jesus Christ. We need him to give us life, we need him to give us love, we need
him to give us forgiveness and grace. Is an alcoholic irrational when he admits that he
needs help? Is a child irrational when he calls for the help of his parents? Is a cancer
victim irrational when he tries to cure his terminal cancer? If there is one thing that
studying the world around us makes absolutely clear, it is mankind’s need of a savior,
mankind’s need of God. It is not irrational to admit this. Given the maelstrom of chaos,
destruction and death that surrounds us, acknowledging our need for God is the
quintessential act of rationality.

Human frailty in the face of nature’s power demonstrates our need for a saving God, but
it does not answer the basic questions that obviously follow. Did our very need for God
cause us to manufacture him? Examining the world around us demonstrates that we do
not always get what we need. A starving man does not always get food. A man dying of
cancer is not always cured. Granted that we need God, are we out of luck? Do the
unanswered questions concerning Christianity mean that God does not exist? Must we
simply take everything on faith? Or is there a rational faith that can make sense of the
world around us and the Bible?

Ironically, my decision to believe in Jesus Christ despite any contrary evidence enabled
me to find answers beyond anything I could have imagined when I first came to the faith.
When I based my belief on my own understanding, I was too “emotionally invested” to
think clearly about the evidence. Once I decided that need would be the basis of my
faith, however, I could think clearly about the issues involved. Questions that had
previously threatened my faith and distressed me to the point where I was unable to be
rational could now be considered with a calm and analytical mind. Thus armed, I began
a process of investigation into the meaning of the Bible that has led me to fantastic new
insights and understanding.

The purpose of this project, therefore, is to write the book that I wanted when I first became a Christian. A book that would present the outline of a rational Christian faith. A book that would demonstrate a familiarity with the intellectual problems of the faith and present a framework within which those problems could be solved. A book that would be consistent with the traditional doctrines of the church and a literal reading of the Bible. A book that would present an overview of God’s plan as detailed in the Bible and present the case for the existence of God. This set of goals determines the overall structure of this work.

This is the first section and it outlines the purpose and structure of the book. Because we
cannot address the intellectual difficulties of the Christian faith without knowing what
they are, the second section will present those difficulties. The third section will outline
the doctrines of a rational faith. Sections four through eight will outline God’s plan for
mankind as detailed in the Bible. The ninth section will present a new way of thinking
about Christianity based on what has gone before. Once we have an understanding of the
teachings of the Bible and God’s purposes in creating the world, we will then attempt to
solve the intellectual difficulties of the Christian faith in section ten. In the eleventh
section we will get off the defensive and present the case for the Christian world view.
The twelfth section will give a brief summary of the arguments presented throughout the
entire work. The book will then conclude with a brief discussion of how these ideas have
been overlooked for so long.

Before we begin, we need to start with three important caveats. The first caveat concerns
the fact that I am extremely and overwhelmingly negative in this book. I am harsh on
Christians, I am harsh on unbelievers, I am harsh on all of humanity. As you read the
book, please remember that I believe human beings to be made in the image of a God
whose goodness dwarfs our imagination. Because I believe this, I believe that humanity
is capable of incredible beauty and glorious acts of love. When I focus on the negative
aspects of humanity, therefore, I do so because I think this is God’s methodology. In this
world, God is “getting the hard part over with at the beginning” so that the rest of eternity
can be used to explore humanity’s limitless potential for goodness, joy and love. Perhaps
an illustration will here prove useful.

When I attended university, I had a roommate who was meticulous to the point of being
anal retentive. Though I did not ordinarily envy my roommate his ways, there was one
time during the year when I wished I had his remarkable discipline. Every Spring, the
university has a week long vacation that interrupts the semester classes. Undisciplined
students like myself took the week off without any thought to our classes. Doing this
caused us to be stressed out while we were gone and very stressed out when we returned.
Disciplined students, on the other hand, got all of their homework out of the way the first
few days and were able to genuinely relax for the balance of the vacation. Their
discipline paid off with a relaxed vacation and a less stressful return.

In just this same way, I believe that God is “front-loading” the suffering that human
beings experience. By getting the nasty and unpleasant business of sin out of the way at
the beginning of our existence, God is making it possible for human beings to have a
stress-free eternity of joy and happiness and blessing. Because God is focused on the
negative during our brief lifespans down here, that is the focus of this work. We will
have all of eternity to explore the beauty of God and the limitless capacity of human
beings for love and joy. Before we can do that, however, we must spend a few brief
hours focusing on the negative. Is this too great a price to pay?

The second caveat is that the case presented herein is a holistic case. Critics of the book
are going to want to tackle the arguments one-at-a-time. The true power of the
arguments, however, can only be seen when they are understood collectively. When the
arguments are understood collectively, a coherent and consistent picture of God’s plan
emerges. This picture of God’s plan is the heart of a rational faith.

The third caveat is that the picture of God’s plan revealed below is incomplete. While
this approach will leave my arguments open to refutation, it is necessary because of the
ambitious scale of the project. Reinterpreting every verse of the Bible to be consistent
with the ideas presented herein is simply beyond the scope of any single book. It is my
hope that other Christians will help complete the work by taking the ideas presented here
and extending them to other sections of the Bible. And now let us begin by considering
the intellectual difficulties of the traditional Christian faith.

About Robert V

Former atheist currently living in Toronto.
This entry was posted in Rational Faith Extracts and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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