I was asked this question a few years ago on an application and recently came across it my response … thought I would share it … feedback welcome.

In the final analysis this question is really one of awareness.  I have this crazy notion that God is the creator, redeemer and sustainer of all things, and as such he is always ever-present.  So then it comes to me to hear his voice and know his presence with me in those “all things.”  Therefore, I believe that there is no activity under heaven wherein I can’t significantly encounter God.  However, that may or may not be a pleasant encounter.  To some degree that depends on where my heart is towards him and the activity in which I am engaged when that encounter takes place.

For myself, I tend to encounter God significantly in the following ways: corporate worship and the Lord’s Supper, personal times of prayer and meditation, and reading the Scriptures with my children.  Taking communion together as a body is so rich and meaningful it is hard to not to encounter God in a significant manner.  The tactile nature of eating and drinking combined with the picture of one body made up of radically needy and broken people coming together to receive life and grace is a moving experience to me.  I consistently have personal prayer and Scripture meditation early in the morning partly because it helps me center myself first thing for the day but also because it is one of the few times the house is quiet enough to really sit in silence (I have three rowdy boys!).  Sometimes it feels empty and vain.  Sometimes I sense his presence and pleasure so that my soul is awakened to his work.  Showing up is the real battle.  My other consistent time of prayer is post-workout.  I’ve worked-out in some form or fashion my whole life and it something I really enjoy.  There is something significant for me to come to the end of my physical abilities and in exhaustion find his peace and presence.  Part of this experience is remembering that I am “from the dust and to the dust will return,” which is both very sobering and very hopeful in light of the gospel.  Reading and praying with my three boys has been one of the most life-giving activities for me in the last two years.  We read from “The Jesus Story Book Bible” and many times it is just too much to read aloud as I am overwhelmed with emotion at the simple beauty of God’s “never-ending, unfailing love” for his children.  Also the discipline of Scripture memorization with them has challenged me in the mental exercise of setting your mind to the truth of Scripture.  So these three ways for me represent the three mains spheres of life where God encounters me:  Church/community, personal prayer and meditation, and my family life.

Following are some thoughts I posted on a discussion board at Gordon-Conwell for a course I’m taking:  Theology of the Pentateuch with Dr. Gordon Hugenberger.

The initial question was as follows:

Kersey Graves is a 19th century religious critic who had particular penchant for lambasting Christianity (and religions in general). His book, The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors, depicts Christ as a non-historical, mythical figure, and has a conspiracy theory approach to interpreting Christian text. In essence, self-styled scholars like Kersey Graves suggest that either the bible is a complete fabrication, or that it’s major themes and concepts have been plagiarized from more ancient religions. 

Here is an excerpt from The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors: 
” ‘And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed. It shall bruise thy head, and thou shall bruise his heel.’ (Genesis 3:15)

 This text is often cited by Christan writers and controversialists as prefiguring the mission of the Christian Savior… Some of the saviors or demigods of Egypt, India, Greece, Persia, Mexico and Etruria are represented as performing the same drama with the serpent or devil… Again, it is related by more than one oriental writer that Chrishna of India is represented on some very ancient sculptures and stone monuments with his heel on the head of a serpent…”

How do we respond to the dissenters that contend that the Old Testament plagiarized myths from the ANE (i.e. Creation account, Flood of Noah, Messianic prophecies, Ten commandments etc…)? 

My response:

I love this question because it points out a theme that keeps recurring in my studies… namely, that different people can be looking at the same information, the same “evidence,” and come to completely different conclusions.  How is this?

In some sense, people are going to see what they ‘want’ to see and believe what they ‘want’ to believe.  If we come to that information with our minds already made up, whatever our conclusion may be, then we’ve simply allowed the information to serve as a support to our presuppositions.  My first response to these “dissenters” is to probe into what is in it for them to hold this view.  Usually in my experience it has nothing to do with being convinced of the formal reasoning and research of a Kersey Graves or a Bart Ehrman.  The “dissenters” I’ve conversed with are usually looking for a reason NOT to trust the Scripture.  If in fact that is the case then it hardly matters how I respond to their views on whether or not the Scripture plagiarized ANE literature.  Usually this simply means they’re looking for an argument to get in so that they can feel more at ease ensconced in their own position.

This seems to be the approach that Robert Puckett is taking:

Gilgamesh hardly wants deconstructing because he does not tell you “Don’t sleep with your girlfriend or boyfriend.” Unlike Noah Gilgamesh is not a preacher of righteousness who makes demands on your life. He does not say, “God’s going to destroy the whole world with a flood because of your sinfulness.”  Since regarding the Bible so much is at stake, we have to be aware of our bias, that we have a benefit in deciding against it, of charging it with being a false authority.

Do the Scriptures say “not to sleep with your boyfriend or girlfriend?”  I digress.  The issue is the same in that will we allow ourselves the liberty of coming under the authority and guidance of sacred Scripture or will we simply be enslaved to our own devices.  That is not a fun mirror for us to look into at times and we shouldn’t be shocked when others choose to look somewhere a little more palatable.

This is not to say that people can’t in good faith question and explore these issues.  Indeed they should.  Faith is not believing what we know to be false.  Rather it is a gift to see what is real.

While I like the place that Robert English lands I don’t care an awful lot for how he arrived:

“In the end what they say is more reasonable. But no matter how convincing their reason, I still believe. I think it comes down to which tree’s fruit tastes better to you. If you have a taste for the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil reason is the way to go. You can be like God and come up with your own explanations. If you like the Tree of Life, you get to believe what God says and trust that he is right.”

This seems to be a little too reliant on personal preference.  Not that it’s wrong per se but I don’t agree that what the “scholars say is more reasonable.”  Which scholars?  Some are.  Some aren’t.  Some have convincing theories on certain subjects and then lose their rationality on others.  If we simply boil it down to a choice between two trees then we have no rationale to say that one is “better” or “healthier” than the other.  This only lends itself to the above position that I’m going to see and believe what I want to in the end.

Another approach might be to actually listen in the moment to what the human behind the dissenting is really saying.  Could we as “Evangelical Christians” (a term that has really outlived its usefulness) actually humble ourselves enough to trust that the power of the Risen King is actively engaged in our conversation and in our listening.  Do we really hear people?  Do we see them and feel their pain?  Can we model for them what the suffering Savior has done to reconcile them to himself?

 

The past few weeks I’ve been harping on my students about the importance of seeing the context of the larger Story of God in the Scriptures while looking for his work in their own lives.  There are patterns and themes in the Scriptures that reflect the same ones in our own lives and vice versa.  When one of them gets past the blank stares and glassed-over quietness they open up and share honestly their struggles and questions… this is really the part of the job I love!  Someone steps into the fray long enough to vulnerably share a chapter or two of their own story.

Last year I read a fascinating book titled Anatomy of the Soul: Surprising connections between neuroscience and spiritual practices that can transform your life and relationships. by Curt Thompson, M.D.  Here is a snippet that I have found very useful:

“…we can be changed by allowing God’s story to intersect with our 0wn.  When we tell our stories or listen to another person’s story, our left and right modes of processing integrate.  This is why simply reading the Ten Commandments as a list of dos and don’ts has so little efficacy.  The same can be said for Jesus’ admonitions during the Sermon on the Mount or the apostle Paul’s instructions to the early church communities.  Isolating commands for right living apart from their storied context is at best neurologically nonintegrating and, at worst, disintegrating.  This is why telling our stories is so vitally important.

But narratives are not the only instruments within Scripture that can help us integrate our minds and lives.  Poetry is a another powerful literary tool.  It has several distinct features:

  • By activating our sense of rhythm, poetry  accesses our right-mode operations and systems.
  • Reading poetry has the effect of catching us off guard.  Our imaginations are invigorated when our usual linear expectations of prose (that one word will follow obediently behind another on the way to a predictable end) don’t apply.  This can stimulate buried emotional states and layers of memory.
  • Finally, poetry not only appeals to right-mode processing, but to left mode as well, given its use of language.  This makes it a powerful integrative tool.”

It’s no wonder then that poetry, as a literary genre, is so commonplace throughout the Scriptures.  Our lives are being written, our stories are being told, and we make much better sense of our these stories as we know the Grand One of redemption.  Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus and said “we are his workmanship,” the “poema” in the Greek… we are the “poema” or poem of God.

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
    The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
    and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
 For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light do we see light. 

Psalm 36:7-9