I’m not good at beating around the bush. So, I’m going to just dive right in & see if I can make some more sense out of the answers you’re asking for…
About the Bible… Ultimately, I don’t think there’s definitive, empirical proof that the Bible is God’s book. There are the things I already mentioned – like the fulfilled prophecies – that seem highly unlikely if the Bible is just a book written by men to scare the common people. Regular men don’t have the ability to see the future. And, then there’s the fact that the Bible is 66 books, written by many different people, over more than a thousand years, in three different languages and it still has a high degree of unity. That also seems unlikely if it wasn’t inspired someone by One singular being. So, for whatever those things are worth, it seems plausible that the Bible was divinely inspired.
I can only totally agree with you that many people have twisted the words of the Bible over time to achieve their own ends, to enforce their own rules, to condemn others. I’m so sorry that it is that way. I have had my own moments of being so frustrated that I don’t even want to call myself “Christian,” and I still prefer to qualify that statement somehow when I talk with people. All I can say is that I don’t think that the condemnation and hypocrisy are what God intended. I think the key word is “twisted.” People have twisted and distorted the Bible to say what they want it to say. That’s sometimes easy to do since we’re reading the Bible in a language different from any of the 3 languages in which it was written.
Heather already mentioned how she enjoys Beth Moore’s studies because Ms. Moore so often goes back to the original language to check out what a word or verse or passage means. I believe this is essential in the study of scripture, and that’s why having a guide with some commentary can really help. If we know the historical context and we understand what some of the words meant in their original language, I think we see how the Bible is really and truly a story of God’s love, of God continually drawing people into relationship with God and with each other. When we don’t understand the historical context or the language it can all be kind of fuzzy.
Having said all that, I get the sense that what you’re really asking is HOW people believe on a personal level? HOW do we know God? You asked before how we can tell if something is God working in our lives or just life happening the way it was going to happen anyway. Heather and I talked a little about this today, and we both came up with the analogy of childbirth. I know, sounds crazy, huh? But, you see, childbirth is a little bit different for everybody. It’s unpredictable. And it’s not something you can usually describe and put into words. I even teach childbirth classes, and I still cannot tell people exactly what to expect. I can’t describe a contraction. But now that I’ve had them, I certainly know what they are. It’s like that. It’s hard to explain how you know that it’s God working in your life, but once you experience it, you know. I can imagine how frustrating that answer is. You probably feel the way I did sitting in my midwife’s office begging her to tell me if there was any way to know if labor was coming soon…because I sure wanted it to come soon, and she just kept saying that there was no way to tell ahead of time, but I’d know when the time came. So frustrating.
Have you ever had the experience of having something raise your awareness about something, and then suddenly you notice it all over the place? For example, we just bought a Saturn Vue. Before October, I had no idea what a Saturn Vue was, and I would not have been able to recognize one. Now, I see them all over the place, and I end up saying things like, “EVERYONE has a Saturn Vue.” Knowing God is something like that. If you’ve never noticed God in your life before, you’re likely to think that God just isn’t there or isn’t involved. When you finally have an experience that you really KNOW is God, you start seeing how all those random things fit together in a not-so-random pattern, and God was there all along.
I am just now seeing how some seemingly random things in my earlier life are coming together to benefit my oldest daughter, Vespera. We adopted her almost 3 years, and I’m seeing how my life experiences and my education, Mango’s experiences and personality, and her needs & life experiences all meet up in this amazing way…in a way that seems “meant to be.” It’s far too perfect to be random. That’s when I have to believe that it’s God.
I have to say this one more thing, but I’m not entirely sure how to say it. I think it’s important to remember that God is not only in the miraculous “meant to be” moments in our lives but also in the mundane day to day moments. And God can be active in the lives of people who don’t even believe in God. God is working in and through whatever humans are willing and able to help carry out the plan of love and redemption for the world. The Bible tells us that God IS love. So, in essence, anything that is love is from God. It’s kind of like the way that I said before that humans are created in the image of God, and, therefore, it is human to love and care and nurture people and relationships. Because God is love, humans love, and, in this way, God is part of every loving thing we do. Hmmm…hope that made sense.
Again, I hope this helps. I know that, in part, it can be just kind of frustrating. Unfortunately, I can’t give you any “pat” answers.