What interests me is the foundations of the Judeo-Christian tradition. The claim that the God the Israelites called YHWH revealed himself to them and made them his people draws me to the Hebrew Scriptures. The claim that this God further disclosed the divine self to all people in Jesus, is key to my Messianic Gentile faith and interest in the New Testament.
However, these claims involve history. We know more about history now because of archeological discoveries and the application of science to the texts and artifacts of the past.
Although I have a few degrees, I am not an academic. I was a preacher and an administrator of churches and charities before I retired. My reading now, which I report on in posts on this blog, is usually of books and articles by academics.
To people of faith academics seem like skeptics. Often they are. But even if they are not, those who teach in institutions usually have to adopt a kind of functional atheism in their approach to history. They can deal with evidence about ancient Israel or first century Christianity in human terms. But the actual claims about events like the Exodus or the Resurrection and the idea that God revealed himself, they can often only deal with as opinions or theories.
This has some advantages. Commitment to religious dogma can skew scientific results. And it can cause people to isolate themselves from people who think differently and only interact with those who share their own religious commitment–or only interact negatively with others. So I have trouble trusting the results of people who can’t stand back from their religion in their research.
In writing about this I sometimes probably seem like a skeptic. It is true that I don’t believe in the inerrancy of Scripture or that God guides the church to always get it right. About the people of history, like David or Paul, I am irreverent and willing to see the human side and even judge them as wrong.
However, I adhere to most classic Christian beliefs. I do not automatically discount divine providence or miracles. The Exodus and the Resurrection, I believe, happened. There is historical evidence in both cases that something happened.
But I come to history as someone who has experienced answered prayer and divine presence in my life and the life of the church. I also come as someone who grew up closer to the forces of nature and nature’s God than many people today. So, in some ways I suppose I project God’s present activity back into history.
God’s presence, though, is elusive. Tragedy has touched my life and that of many people I have worked with. The death camps happened. Senseless wars happened. Faith doesn’t necessarily produce happiness or free us from care.
But Life exists. It comes from somewhere. We don’t give it to ourselves. Evolution doesn’t change that. Cruelty, death and war don’t cancel out the Source of Life. So underlying Christian and Jewish faith is the presence of God as the Giver of Life who is stronger than death.
I learn a lot from people who approach scripture with no faith or with their faith bracketed for academic purposes. But, for me, faith is not an opinion or a theory. It is a lived experience of gratitude.
Even though I come to the scriptures with the question of what really happened, I do so with the understanding that what is really happening today is that Life is still breaking into the world.