When I began seminary last month, I heard from a lot of people that seminary is designed to shake your faith. Shake your faith just enough to push you towards deconstructing the unhealthy, unhelpful theology you’ve been raised with and then reconstruct your theology through careful study of trusted theologians and intentional reflection on how these ideas intersect with our world and our internal relationship with the Divine. This week’s deconstruction moment is brought to you by Drs. Jacobson and Elton: “How do we know that the deepest promises of the Bible are trustworthy?”
I’ll be honest, when they posed this question, I was pretty flippant about it. Of course the promises in the Bible are true. Regardless of how we interpret the Bible (as literal and inerrant or as figurative and contextual), I believe that the stories of God’s love through scripture hold true. From a scientific method perspective, God is pretty reliable - God makes a promise with humanity, humanity screws it up, and God shows us faithful love by renewing the Covenant we broke. We see this over and over again in the Scriptures, from God’s promise to Adam and Eve to the promise with Noah and then Abraham and then David. The list could go on. Throughout the Bible, God holds true to the promise written in Deuteronomy 9:7: “Know, therefore, that the Lord your God is God; He is the faithful God, keeping His covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commandments.” (NIV).
So, we know that God and the Bible are reliable, but are they valid? Yikes. Here’s where the holes start getting poked in my theological understanding. I know God is reliable. I know the Bible is reliable. Both consistently tell the same story of the promises of God and God’s faithful and abiding love. In my own life, I can point to the reliability of God’s love when I consistently turn away from God and somehow God keeps chasing after me. But how do we know the Bible is valid? How do we know that what we are reading in the Bible is true? How do we know that God is true?
Theologians have done an insane amount of mental gymnastics to wrestle with these questions and posit an affirmation that yes, the Bible is valid, and yes, God is true. Some have gone the route of asserting that the Bible is an inerrant text as the Spirit-breathed Word of God, and therefore it must be valid because God is valid. Some have pointed to the historical truths that back up the Bible - that the names mentioned in the Bible actually did exist in history, that some of the astronomical events in the Scriptures can be mapped back through science and proven to have happened in the same historical timeframe. At the end of the day, though, these theological discourses may support the validity of the Bible, but what of God?
I think the fundamental mistake we make as humans when we are attempting to prove the reliability and validity of God and God’s promises is that we are attempting to use a human tool to capture the Divine. This human tool holds up when we look at Scripture because Scripture is a collection of writings about humanity’s understanding of the Divine. We can measure human work with human tools, but it takes divine tools to measure God; and I’ll let you in on a little secret - we don’t have access to those tools in this life. However, God did endow us with gifts of the Spirit, one of which is faith. I would argue that faith is a spiritual tool more than it is a man-made tool, though it doesn’t quite rise to the level of a Divine tool that can definitively measure God. Faith exists in an intangible way that allows us, at a Spiritual level that cannot be measured, to say yes, I know that God is true and I know that God’s promises are true, even though I cannot prove either through human means.
During one of Jesus’ resurrection encounters, He tells Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29 NIV). In other words, Blessed are those who have not been able to prove God through human science and senses yet still believe through the spiritual gift of Faith. It is not naive to have faith in a God that cannot be proven. Rather, our faith is this beautiful, imperfect journey of knowing God; and like any relationship, it ebbs and flows, strengthens and weakens in a way made more honest and trustworthy by the fact that it cannot be measured. God exists above our understanding. God exists above our science. God exists above our reason and rhetoric. How incredible, then, that a God who exists so far above us would love us and choose us, even through our doubts of limited human understanding.