Following up with last week’s article in this space: The “sister” in Christ to whom I referred — the one who prompted the article regarding society’s idea of “sex education” vs. God’s idea — claims now to have lost her faith entirely. Whether her views on this particular subject helped her along those lines are not, I could not say.
I asked her what was the specific cause of her apostasy, and she was glad to answer directly and respectfully. She cited three specific issues: Discrepancies in the narrative (one donkey vs. two donkeys at the triumphal entry was specified); God’s willingness to condemn His creation for failing a test we could not possibly have passed; and numbers that make no logical sense, specifically regarding the Exodus.
Frankly, I’ve heard better arguments. But these cover the basics. Here is my response:
With regard to discrepancies
There is no doubt that the Bible tells the same story in different ways. In fact, I could cite a dozen or more examples. Most of them fall into the category of the story cited above. Matthew 21 mentions a donkey colt alongside its mother; Mark 11 mentions only the colt. But Mark does not say the colt didn’t have a mother; he only sees fit to describe the animal Jesus actually rode, excluding extraneous details. Mark’s gospel account is fraught with examples of stories told in a “right to the heart of the matter” style. It is simply a different method of narration — not better, not worse, just different. And certainly not any more or less accurate. Ironically, the same critics who complain about Matthew and Mark’s stories “not lining up” will be quick to accuse one of copying the other when the stories “line up” too closely! You can’t win with these people.
The creation story in Genesis 1 vs. the story in Genesis 2 is probably the most famous example of a discrepancy, and one that may be a bit tougher to explain away. The “six day creation” story in Genesis 1 is quite different from the “origin of man” story in Genesis 2. It may even seem at first glance that the stories flatly contradict one another on multiple points — the timing of the creation, Eve’s origin story, etc. But a closer look shows no real contradictions. It seems the story is told two different ways for two different purposes — to emphasize God as the Creator of all, then to emphasize God’s special purpose for mankind within creation. Perhaps this would not have been the way you or I would have told the story. But I know I don’t appreciate my audience giving me advice for how I tell stories, and I certainly don’t see that we have the right to “correct” God’s narrative style.
With regard to numbers
Numbers in the Bible, I will admit, are perplexing at times. The exodus is not the best example, but it will do to show the problems that are brought on by assumptions and presuppositions. We have only a census of fighting men, which clearly did not include all of Israel. Critics speculate how many others may have been there, how quickly they may have traveled, what sort of formation they would have taken, and basically find the conclusion they wanted to find. Yes, it is difficult to conceive of that many people wandering with their livestock through the wilderness. But God’s supernatural care can cover most of the troubling details (Deuteronomy 8:1-5). And it is possible that round terms such as “hundreds” and “thousands” are not actual head counts but rather estimations or size characterizations. (We use these words in similar ways.) In the end, those inclined to walk by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7) are able to find a cohesive, believable narrative in the Bible, both as a whole and in particular passages; those unwilling to walk by faith do not.
With regard to temptation
To understand God’s willingness to subject mankind to a test we could not pass, I think we need a primer course in free will, grace, and faith.
Free will is defined here as our ability as independent actors to choose our own path. It may coincide with God’s will, it may not; either way, it is up to us. That is the option given to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15-17). In the specific example of Eden, it is clear that mankind has the ability to say either yes or no; neither God, nor the serpent, nor Eve compelled Adam to eat the forbidden fruit. He made a choice — as it happens, a poor one. God condemned him for it, just as parents, employers, coaches, referees, and plenty of other authority figures do every day.
Mankind was created with free will; in fact, that was the whole point of our creation. By day six, God had innumerable objects that glorified Him after the fashion of Psalm 148; mankind alone has the opportunity to glorify Him by choice. To rob us of that choice would make our existence here pointless. God already had praise from fiat; He wanted praise from love.
That brings up the principle of grace. God knew that, given a certain number of opportunities (probably a small number), we each would fall short of His expectations (Romans 3:23). We can blame God, we can blame Satan, we can blame conditions, but ultimately it does not matter; we had a choice, and we made a poor one. And the soul that sins will die. Thankfully, God loved us too much to settle at that. So He planned from the beginning to send His Son to die on the cross for our sins, providing grace in our weakness. This was not a “magic eraser” that would absolve us of our responsibility — again, that would defeat the point of being creatures of choice. No, this was a measure to provide forgiveness for those who genuinely committed themselves to His honor and glory but occasionally were found lacking. Grace is a “free gift of God” (Romans 6:23), provided to anyone who is willing to receive it.
This brings us, finally, to faith. We as creatures of choice may or may not choose to believe in an invisible, all-powerful God who chooses to reveal Himself only in limited ways (Hebrews 11:1-3). In His wisdom, He makes His presence and His will known to mankind, and then He waits for us to respond. Some do not respond, some respond poorly; some, however, are the “foreknown” (Romans 8:29) — those whom God knew from the beginning would be willing to make this entire experiment worthwhile. The gospel of Jesus Christ finds such ones and saves them (Romans 1:16-17) by building in them a faith in their Creator (Romans 10:17). Without this faith, we have no hope of pleasing God (Hebrews 11:6). Through faith, however, we find the path that leads us to His grace, which undoes the damage sin has done (Ephesians 2:8).
In a nutshell, God could not possibly have had the children He wanted without subjecting us to sin. Thankfully, He loved us enough to see our failures and provide for our salvation anyway.