A Confusing Faith

I’ve been struggling a bit with my faith lately. I’m not doubting God’s existence and I’m not wondering if I still consider myself a Christian, because the answers to both are yes and definitely yes. My struggle, or confusion rather, is dealing with The Bible.

I’ve been listening to Christian songs, Bible verses, and sermons since I was an infant. I attended an array of Christian churches from nursery age up until now, and went to a private Christian school for elementary and middle school. Needless to say, I have memorized a few Bible verses in my day. It wasn’t until recently that I’ve started exploring the Bible in different ways, and looking into scripture that I haven’t before.

John 3:16 (for God so loved the world), Phillipians 4:13 (I can do all things), Romans 3:23 (for all have sinned) – these among many others are the well known verses, the ones that are plastered on Sunday School walls, spewed on mission trips, and printed in church bulletins. But what about the verses that are not discussed as much, the less popular ones? 1 Timothy 2:9-14, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, Deuteronomy 13:5, 13-21, Leviticus 19:19-37. Not familiar with any of them?

1 Timothy 2:9-14

I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. 11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.

1 Corinthians 14:34-35

34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

Deuteronomy 22:5, 13-21

A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this. 13 If a man takes a wife and, after sleeping with her, dislikes her 14 and slanders her and gives her a bad name, saying, “I married this woman, but when I approached her, I did not find proof of her virginity,” 15 then the young woman’s father and mother shall bring to the town elders at the gate proof that she was a virgin.20  If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the young woman’s virginity can be found, 21 she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death.

Leviticus 19:19-37

19 Do not mate different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material. 23 When you enter the land and plant any kind of fruit tree, regard its fruit as forbidden. For three years you are to consider it forbidden; it must not be eaten.  27 Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard. 28 Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.

I’ve never really questioned the Bible before, it didn’t feel right. For nearly 27 years I’ve been taught that it is the absolute truth and the ultimate law according to my religion. I accepted it and when people would question my faith by throwing out verses like the ones above, I would ignore their claims and respond, “I believe what I believe, nobody is perfect. We all break God’s rules, but we try to be better every day.” AKA, a mild form of Christianese.

I would write off their disbelief and challenges because I didn’t want to think about it, my entire life’s belief system in question was and is scary. I do believe that you can’t fully trust in something until you’ve doubted it at some point, so I am taking advantage of that motto- I am diving into the pool of questioning, challenging, and exploration head first without the fear I’ve felt surrounding it for so long. I am not doubting that the Bible is God’s word, I’m just doubting how practical many parts of it are for our current society. Because possible more important than anything else, I LOVE my men’s Nike sweatpants. I can’t really do without those, sorry Deuteronomy 22.

Some believers say “it was, is, and always will be relevant, that’s the great thing about The Bible.” I’ve even said those words myself, but I no longer think that is realistic, or even true. If that were the case, why do devout Christians get tattoos, wear jewelry, braid their hair, and let women speak (or *GASP* even preach) in church? Who decided that those commandments are okay to ignore, but homosexuality and premarital sex, to name two of the “doozie sins”, should not be messed with? If the Bible says sin is sin and all sins keep people distanced from God, shouldn’t the cotton/polyester sweater I’m currently wearing be just as sinful as cheating on my husband or stealing from my neighbor? Why are certain commandments dismissed in the eyes of many (read:most) Christians?

Now, I do believe that many of God’s commandments have practical application to our lives, even if you don’t believe in God or The Bible. Not committing adultery, loving our neighbors, respecting our parents, abstaining from sex until marriage, and stoning non-virgin brides are generally good guidelines to help our lives maintain less chaos, distress, and STD’s. But how can I, as a Christian, believe in every single story, idea, and commandment that the Bible preaches when there are so many verses that are ignored and labeled as “not relevant to today’s society.”

In doing some research on Christian responses to seemingly irrelevant Bible verses, I discovered some very interesting essays. One of them was by a man who calls himself “The Bible Thumping Liberal”, hah! His post titled “You Can’t Quote Leviticus to Prove God Hates Homosexuality” is particularly intriguing.

If someone uses Leviticus 18:22 or 20:13 to prove that God hates homosexuality, challenge them on it. Tell them, “Don’t quote Leviticus to me. In Galatians Paul says we are no longer under the Law. Paul said Leviticus is the yoke of slavery, Galatians 5:1.”

Please note: I did not say that the Old Testament is irrelevant to us. And I did not say that the Law is irrelevant to us.

The WHOLE Bible is relevant.

All I said is that you cannot legitimately quote Leviticus to prove that God hates homosexuality. If you make people accountable to obey the Law, you bring them under a curse. The Apostle Paul said so in Galatians.

While the above excerpt from his post is mostly in regards to homosexuality, I think it can also relate to other rules and teachings of The Bible too. I think it does anyway. To be honest, after reading several sermons, blogs, and semi-awful Yahoo Questions responses, I may be more confused than I was to start with.

I’d love to hear some thoughts from people of all walks of faith, and those with no faith in a higher power whatsoever. I am open-minded and would love to hear some different perspective, something that will help me maybe understand. I know that inside, it feels better to believe that The Bible is a guideline as opposed to the absolute and complete law, because I just can’t wrap my mind around parts of that. I believe that I am a Christian and I do talk to God often- however I don’t believe that other religions or even sects of Christianity are “doing it wrong” because they don’t believe the exact things I believe. The same way I don’t want other religions thinking I’m “doing religion wrong” because I interpret The Bible differently than they do.

Didn’t God give us each beautifully diverse minds and spirits so we can view life and matters of the heart differently? Why then would He look down on the many, many different religions and say “no, most of you are doing it wrong. Only the United Methodist Church (or insert other religion or denomination here) has it right. Shame on the others who are so stupidly practicing their faith too loosely (or too strictly).” I just don’t believe that.

I think religion (and faith in general) is personal and should be experienced differently by every single person. So my questions and internal struggle still remains- how should I interpret and follow The Bible when so many parts of it seem…irrelevant?

How have you structured your life around your individual belief system, if you have one at all?

12 thoughts on “A Confusing Faith

  1. Dear Courtney,

    I’m the Bible-Thumping Liberal, so I want to thank you for “plugging” my blog!
    Allow me to weigh in on your two concluding questions.

    “How should I interpret and follow The Bible when so many parts of it seem…irrelevant?”

    Two comments here. First, Jesus said several times, “You have heard it said . . . , but I say unto you . . . ” He obviously felt he had the prerogative, the right, to amend what was written in the only Bible he had at the time. Since Christians are heirs of God, and co-heirs with Christ, each of us has the same prerogatives and rights that our older brother has. We are, after all, seated on the throne with him in heavenly places “in Christ Jesus.”

    Simply put: we are not slaves to the Bible, any more than Jesus was.

    Second, everyone, including pastors and preachers, have their own “personal canon.” They have certain books and themes they hold dear to their hearts, and books in the Bible from which they never preach. It’s as if the books don’t exist. Pastors and preachers usually have some books in the Bible, some verses in the Bible, that virtually do not even exist for them.

    Simply put, you are under no obligation to make every verse in the Bible relevant for you. Your “final exam,” so to speak, is not even an exam. Jesus already knows how you treated “the least of these my brethren.” God cares about how you treat people. Leave the Christian intellectuals and theologians to debate their doctrine and theology — let the dead bury their dead. You go and follow Christ.

    Your second question was, “How have you structured your life around your individual belief system, if you have one at all?”

    You remember how Christians aren’t supposed to be worldly? That word “world” is the Greek word kosmos. It means “system.” I don’t believe Jesus lived by a system, he was not worldly. He didn’t go into a panic, asking himself, “Gee, does this agree with the Bible? Am I going against Scripture?” No. He was one with the Father, and loved the people around him. We are one with the Father and with Jesus according to John 17, so we need to “abide in Christ,” and let Christ and the Spirit have their way.

    Our ideas and thoughts are important, but this is what the Bible says, “Many are the plans of a a man’s heart, but the Lord directs his steps.” Where we go and what we end up doing have very little to do with the plans we make, but everything to do with God’s direction. And we are usually ignorant of his plan.

    We need to give up thinking we are in control. Your acceptability to God does not depend on never making a mistake, or magically finding “the perfect will of God,” or anything else. If you are focused on loving the people around you, you will do well.

  2. Courtney, I really loved your post because you are brave and transparent enough to ask the tough questions many of us in the Christian faith have but do not necessarily express. One of the reasons I picked the blog name, “through dim mirrors,” is because of the Apostle Paul’s realization that we are now seeing things imperfectly — like looking through a dim glass or a poor reflection (I Corinthians 13:12). The Bible gives us a roadmap of life – but how that roadmap is applied and interpreted is key; that is where I think so many fall short.

    I’ve waited to respond until it looked like most others were through commenting. I was really interested to see how others would comment. There are many ways to read and study scripture, but I think Anikkih and Spencer, in their 13 November remarks, provide especially good insight. Whenever we are studying a particular verse or topic, it is really important to ask the five “W” questions:

    – Who: Who is writing and to whom (the author and the audience) ?
    – What: What is the theme and overall message? What language is this being written in and does that pose any problems/issues to how I am reading it in my language?
    – Why: Why is this being written (solving a problem or addressing a concern)?
    – When: When was this written and how is culture an influence? How will the culture of the day interpret the message?
    – Where: Is there a geographical culture aspect to this writing?

    I like to add one more question when studying an issue or passage of scripture – “So what?” In other-words, how does this apply to the world today, and more personally, to me?

    Your blog raises many social issues, from a woman’s role in the home, society, and the church to gay rights. I’m glad you didn’t quote any verses on gluttony (the Bible actually has a lot to say on the subject)!! Each of those issues deserves a deep, well thought through study of what the Bible really teaches and the five “Ws” behind the teaching. And while it is important to understand our faith in context to today, it is more important to know and understand Jesus Christ. I loved one of your recent blogs (“The Marathon is over”) that said in 2014 you wanted to be more like “Jesus.” That should be the internal desire of all Christians – the world would be a better place!

    A favorite story on “the important question:” The religious lawyers and Pharisees in biblical days regularly tried to trap Jesus in the many complex laws and traditions of their society. It is fascinating to see how Jesus responded when asked, |”what is the greatest commandment/law” and “how does one inherit eternal life” (Matthew 22:37 and Luke 10: 25-27):

    “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (NIV version)

    When pressed in the Luke account of the exchange of “who is my neighbor,” Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). Talk about creating a social backlash. Recall Jews and Samaritans hated each other and even thought God looked with favor on their bias– huge race and cultural issue of the day.

    God has given us minds and His word to apply those two overriding principles to every circumstance and issue that we are faced with – even the social issues of the day. It will take time and study to apply the principle, but there are answers. My initial recommendation would be for you and others to begin with the foundation of the faith rather than the social issue of the day. Two excellent books I recommend are:

    “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis
    “The Jesus I never Knew” by Philip Yancey

    Then, dive into the various social issues you raise and look to well respected teachers of the scripture who will dive deep into the five “Ws” and end with the “so what.” I’d be interested in doing this with you if you like? .

    Love you,

  3. Pingback: 2013 In Pictures | The Other Courtney

  4. I believe that although there are many great lessons and stories from the Bible, many things such as a woman’s virginity and the types of clothing we wear is no longer relevant. When I say relevant, I mean that our society and mores have changed so drastically that many people of the Christian faith do not see it as as something negative (except the few). Follow what is true in your heart. If you believe you are being a good Christian, then you are.

  5. Assalam o Alaikum (it means peace be upon you)
    I’m glad to find that you have time to question your beliefs and you have written about it. With your questions, I would like to ask you another question. Why does a baby need guidance? So he grows up to be a better man tomorrow. Right? His parents make sure he is honest, he eats well, etc. What if his parents don’t teach him manners and all the right stuff? He’d probably end up in jail. May be for rash driving or picking up a fight in a bar. That is the reason, we humans need limitations-rules to guide our life.
    The part where you mention that wearing men clothes is a sin but people don’t view it as a true sin. It is said in Quran Surah Zilzal, ” Whoever has done an atom’s weight of good shall see it and whoever has done an atom’s weight of evil shall see it”. That means Allah(Lord) will judge our deeds and He is the best of judges. Everyday, if we try to be good and cut down on one bad habit we could be a pious person someday. Just remember you have to please your Lord. And search for Him in everything. That is the true essence of life. We tend to ignore it.
    In Quran adultery is haram, meaning sinful. If a person waits till their marriage, the patience is rewarded. Surah Nur enlightens us with “Good women are for good men and good men are for good women….For them is forgiveness and bountiful provision”. It’s all about patience.
    Hope I could answer a few of your queries if not all. Have a good day.

  6. I think it all has to do with whether or not you want to align yourself with something you don’t 100% believe in. I’m not a religious person because there’s not one single religion I can say I back 100% and if I can’t back it 100%, I’m not going to do it at all because I don’t truly believe. I DO believe there are valuable things to be taken away from religion i.e.: meditation, realizing humans aren’t the most powerful in the universe, hope, kindness and community. Personally, I’ve found all of these things in the philosophy of yoga. I have a rainbow of friends from Christian to Muslim to Athiests – to each their own. I think it’s good that you’re thinking this deeply into your religion!

  7. Hey Court, like some other people have said above me, it’s good to question your faith. God often uses that to further solidify our faith in Him through coming to an understanding of the hard questions we ask. I’ve actually looked into a bunch of the questions you talked about fairly recently and would love to talk through what I found for them. It would be difficult to post my thoughts here since follow up questions are gonna be necessary but I love talking about this stuff and would welcome discussion over thanksgiving!

    As far as the Bible being relevant in today’s society, I believe the Bible is timeless, but you need to look deeper to see what was said for cultural reasons and what was said that is true for eternity. An example is the women being quiet in church that you sited. Paul wrote this because women in the church in Corinth were disrupting the sermons and causing confusion. They were not educated like the men were so Paul asked them to seek the guidance of their husbands… That’s the quick, basic answer anyway. I could go in much more detail…

    Of course there is only so much we can understand right now but I think by trying to take an unbiased look at the Bible, void of any cultural influences, results in finding a truth that is flawless and true, now and forever. God’s word is truth and relying on Jesus to try and live by it results in a life well lived.

  8. Court– good thoughts. Great questions. For me I don’t have all the questions answered but I’ve found that context is everything. The history behind the text answered so many questions for me….like who Paul was writing to, what was going on culturally, and finding physical locations of cities helped. Even with the hard books like Leviticus, finding out when they were written, who it was written to and who actually heard the letter….brought some things into light for me. So being able to have a better understanding of the letters, having better idea of context and different things going on culturally, I can piece together the whole bible. I still question things but because of knowing some of the historical background…the why it was written, who written to, and where it was written I can sift through the questions and have a different perspective when reading scripture. And if you want I can tell you any of the background on any book you want to know about or recommend good books for you to read about them.
    Love you little flower pot.

  9. I couldn’t agree more with what you said in the last 3 paragraphs…the entire post, really. I recall wondering when I was a little that if God says you can only go to heaven if you are a Christian, why would he make all those people in China Buddhists and not let them in? That doesn’t seem right! What if they don’t even know about the bible?

    As I got older, I gained a little more understanding, but I still kind of feel the same way. 😉 I still have so many questions about why some things in the bible seem to be relevant while others aren’t?

    I got even more confused in my college history class when I learned the Roman Emperor Constantine chose the books that would be included in the bible. I wonder how much of it is about societal laws at the time? And how much is religious? I still have many questions, but I do believe that religion and spirituality is personal and experienced differently by everyone…like taking different routes to get from point A to point B.

  10. If you aren’t struggling and asking questions in your faith then there’s something wrong. I have many of the same questions and in the end I always come back to FAITH…I’ve tried living life the other way and it didn’t work out so well, it was empty. But everyone needs to experience their own faith in their own way, we are all on different paths and walks…but your questions are good, and it seems to me you would be a great person to have in a women’s bible study! Very thought-provoking.

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