Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Bolt-of-Lightning Belief

I don’t think it’s unrealistic to say the internet has changed the way we find answers to our spiritual questions.

In times past, we might have picked up a book on a subject that interested us, plowed through it in due course, and agreed, disagreed or partially agreed with its author, which either satisfied our curiosity or provoked further investigation. But that’s a fairly laborious process, and not every Christian is up for it.

Typing a string of text into DuckDuckGo is not laborious at all. Anyone can do that.

Nothing New Under the Sun

When you do, depending on the sort of question you are asking, you may find very little. That is not usually my experience. Often I find so many commentators have written about a subject that reading them all would take weeks. If you take the time to work through the comments of eight or ten, you will probably find each new writer sounds increasingly familiar, and you will begin to feel yourself bogging down. After all, if this has all been done before, what’s the point of you investigating it again, let alone writing about it? “Of making many books there is no end,” wrote the Preacher, “and much study is a weariness of the flesh.”

Now, the internet has not created this situation, but it certainly makes it more obvious. There were always a zillion books out there covering every Bible subject anyone can imagine; you just couldn’t access them all in one place. Once you can, you realize there is nothing new under the sun, including your own brilliant insights.

That can be a deadening experience, but let me suggest a reason we shouldn’t let it deter us from digging again the wells our fathers dug.

The things we believe may be sorted into categories. I can think of at least three.

1/ Uncritical Beliefs

Some things we believe uncritically, without ever having subjected them to conscious analysis. We have absorbed them from the spiritual traditions in which we grew up and nothing has ever provoked us to reconsider, test or contest them. They may be true or erroneous, important or relatively insignificant. They may even be completely wrongheaded, but unless we stumble over something that blatantly contradicts them in scripture, or unless a fellow believer calls them out as false, we will never notice.

2/ Studied Beliefs

Other things we believe because we have processed them from the ground up. In such cases, something obliged us to look into the Word for ourselves. Perhaps a new believer asked us “What does ‘faith’ mean?” or “Is it possible for God to lie?”, and we realized we were answering them in other people’s words and phrases, and so we determined we had better find out for ourselves so we could do a better job of giving an answer next time we were asked. Belief that comes this way is very solid indeed, because it is not based merely on assumptions, but on deep, careful, and even prayerful study.

It would be wonderful if all our beliefs were built the same way, but life just isn’t long enough for that. If we can work our way through the most important spiritual concepts from the ground up, we are doing well.

3/ Bolt-of-Lightning Beliefs

There is a third category of belief that is equally solid, but which we cannot arrive at ourselves. Perhaps you have encountered it. It starts with being stumped by scripture. You have been working through a doctrine, or through the meaning of a word, or through a historical incident you don’t understand, and you have reached the end of your current ability to process it. You just don’t get it. You’ve done the spadework, and you understand the issues, but your efforts have not yet taken you to a satisfactory conclusion.

So, you commit it to the Lord and set it aside. Time passes. Then one day you open a book you haven’t read before, or you hear a relevant passage read in a different translation, or you sit under a Bible teacher you haven’t heard on that subject, or a believing friend says something out of the blue, and the truth of what they are saying hits you like a bolt of lightning. Suddenly it all fits and everything comes together.

Now, it’s not that you are an acolyte looking for the right guru. This is not like our first category of belief. You are not ignorantly lapping up someone else’s words without using your spiritual discernment or critical faculties. The person who opens your eyes may not be a Bible teacher or a scholar at all; they just happen to have seen something you didn’t. And it’s not that they are telling you something you don’t already know at some unconscious level. It’s simply that coming to scripture through someone else’s eyes has enabled you to tie together things you have struggled with, mulled over and wondered about.

It’s an immensely satisfying experience. You never forget truth learned this way.

A Slightly Different Angle

One moment of bolt-of-lightning belief can revolutionize the way you live your Christian life.

When I consider the changes I have made to my daily routines over the last decade or so, not one of them has arisen out of uncritical belief, which by its very nature excludes any change at all. If you think you know everything there is to know about something, you will neither investigate it nor do anything differently. Even studied belief, though definitely more solid and infinitely preferable to uncritical belief, generally remedies deficiencies in our presentation rather than turning our notions about the Bible upside down.

But the truths that hit me like bolts of lightning are indelible. An example: I wondered for years why Bible prophecy is so deliberately obscure and why it is so often fulfilled in such unexpected and non-literal ways. Two lines from a Michael Heiser book passed on to me by a friend, and it suddenly made perfect sense. (I won’t spoil that one for you; it’s worth a blog post of its own.)

That’s far from the only example, and I can tell you where I got them all. The reason they hit me so hard is not because they were truths I’d never heard before, but because they were truths I’d heard many times before (often from my father) but hadn’t really registered, so that when I finally grasped them, they came home to me with the force of weeks, months and maybe years of earlier study. And every one of them depended on a fellow Christian putting truth into his own language and expressing it in the vernacular of a particular time and place so that I could finally see that thing I had been staring at so long from a slightly different angle.

Keeping at It

My point? If you are studying the Bible, don’t allow yourself to become discouraged just because you may be going over territory that has been mined many, many times before. Nobody else who has written or preached about this subject before has exactly the same unique combination of gift, experience, maturity, interest level or way of expressing himself that you do. Nobody else brings what you bring to the table. You may not be Matthew Henry or William MacDonald or Lewis or Chesterton, but you don’t need to be. What you write, preach, or say off the top of your head over dinner may be registered and processed by Christians who have never heard of those men and will never read them.

So keep at it. Who know? A bolt-of-lightning moment may be right around the corner for someone the Lord has put in your life.

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