A reader sent in a question about the difficulty of understanding God’s word. In Part I, Surak clarified and explained how easy it is for the average Christian to acquire the scientific understanding needed to defend scripture. In Part II, Sarah discusses the inherent difficulty (or not) of understanding God’s word.
I had a question, but wanted to let you know first that I stumbled upon your website when I read Sarah Salviander’s testimony and watched the well-done slideshow that accompanied it. I then read the website’s FAQ, several articles, and lots of comments over several weeks.
After reading more than I thought I would, I have a question that keeps nagging at me: Is truth hard to understand or easy? I’m not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination (I’m a pastor) but I’ve always loved science, especially when I can connect the dots between my faith and God’s creation. For most of my life, I’ve held a pretty simplistic view of our world as a result of reading God’s Word, but after substantial reading on your website I feel like my head is going to explode :) I don’t know if I agree with all of it, but most of it is fascinating and really well-thought out/researched. My problem is that it is so hard for a person like me to understand (and I think I’m on the average part of the intelligence scale so the majority of the population would be in the same boat as I am).
So would God make the truth about his creation so complicated that only someone well versed in relativity, Hebrew translations, genetics, and 5 or 6 other fields of study could understand it? Or would God make the truth about his creation simple enough for all to understand?
I’m not saying God is simple or easy to understand or that he wouldn’t want to give us lots of things for even the most intelligent people to discover and ponder over a lifetime, but wouldn’t God make truths as foundational as “where we come from” and “how this world was created” accessible to everyone rather than just a tiny percentage of super intelligent people?
If the truth of creation is as complicated as what it is on your website, I’m afraid I have no chance of ever explaining it to anyone. If that is the case, then it seems like God made the truth of creation hard to understand and left most people hopelessly in the dark. Or have we complicated things and there is a truth that is easier for all to access?
When Jesus (who was the embodiment of all God’s truth/love/mercy/etc.) came he was accessible to all, not just the most intelligent, wise, pious, powerful, etc. He made God’s truth intelligible to even the poor, uneducated of his day, so I tend to think that God would make an important truth like creation accessible to someone as average as me as well.
So what do you think – is the truth (about creation) hard to understand or easy to understand? And why?
My response to TF and everyone else who shares his concern is this. How much effort a person has to make to understand the scientific truth about God’s creation depends on two things. First, if someone wants to understand just for himself, the truth is really simple: the opening statement of the Bible and modern scientific agree that our universe had a beginning and was created from nothing. That magnificent truth gained from scripture and confirmed by science is enough understanding to make sense out of the world and our place in it. Everything else is just details.
However, if you aspire to help others find the scientific truth about God and his works, you will have to make a greater effort, because there are many questions about the universe that confuse and trouble other people. As soon as you try to help these people, you will encounter the second problem that makes understanding more difficult. Those who accept the responsibility to scientifically minister to others will encounter individuals and groups who deliberately make understanding more difficult for everyone.
I once spent a frustrating two hours watching a debate between Hugh Ross and Kent Hovind, and much of the discussion centered around this very question. Hugh Ross is a Christian astrophysicist who believes, as I do, that the universe and the Earth are billions of years old. Kent Hovind is a Young-Earth Creationist who claims the Bible says the Earth is just a few thousand years old. The debate centered on the age of the Earth, and how we know what it is.
Hovind stubbornly rejected nearly everything Ross offered as evidence. As a scientist, I can tell you that the evidence Ross offered was scientifically sound and compelling. In fact, Ross’s work is on the cutting edge of scientific efforts to understand the place of humankind in the universe God created. But, Hovind rejected the evidence out of hand and showed no respect for modern science.
One point Hovind repeatedly insisted on during the debate was that people in possession of what he called “special knowledge: about scripture and the world are gurus who are promoting cults, not Christian faith. Hovind implied Ross is a “guru” promoting a “cult” form of Christianity simply because Ross relies heavily on scientific understanding and careful translations of ancient Hebrew to interpret Genesis the way he does.
It is troubling that Hovind regards the study of God’s creation and the study of God’s word in the Old Testament as somehow wrong. His attitude is reminiscent of the Medieval age when science was first getting started, and dogmatic people accused the new scientists of sorcery and witchcraft for their efforts to understand physics, chemistry, and biology. Hovind’s resistance to science has a very primitive feel to it.
Hovind must know that a “guru” is someone who claims to have special knowledge that only they can achieve through some higher spiritual power. The special knowledge of a guru can only be passed down in mystic ways from one guru to the next. The claims of a scholar or scientist are in sharp contrast to those of a guru. The deep knowledge of a scholar is something that is attainable by anyone who has the inclination and time to pursue it — no special spiritual powers are required. Scientific knowledge is something that can be accumulated and passed on from one scholar to another in a rational, testable, non-mystical manner.
I don’t believe TF is making the same point Hovind did, that the knowledge needed to interpret Genesis the way I do is “special.” Hovind is intellectually dishonest, and he was not debating in good faith. He demonstrated no openness to being persuaded by any amount of evidence. On the contrary, he used any means he could to undermine and dismiss the evidence. Science has served humankind so well because it has one ironclad rule — go where the evidence takes you. Hovind is not willing.
I know that TF is asking an honest and important question: is the truth of the Bible accessible to everyone? After all, not everyone has the deep, scholarly knowledge required to discover Schroeder’s interpretation of Genesis or to fully understand it. Does this mean the truth of creation is complex and hard to understand? The answer is both yes and no. I’ll start with the no and then explain the yes.
The truth of creation is not difficult to understand
The essential and fundamental truth of creation is not difficult to understand. God makes the essentials — the things you really need to know to be saved — understandable by everyone. These essentials are:
- God is the sovereign Creator of all things.
- Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, and through Him we have eternal life.
There is, of course, much more that can be said about the meaning and purpose of the Christian faith, but if a person understood only these two essentials and really believed them, that’s all he would need to be saved.
In terms of the first essential, all a person has to do is read the first few words of the Bible to understand that God is the sovereign Creator of all things: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” That’s it. But it’s such a simple and self-evident concept that a person doesn’t even strictly need a Bible to come to this conclusion.
In my testimony, I explained how, despite virtually no contact with the Christian faith, I arrived at the conclusion that God created everything all on my own, just by looking at the physical world around me. Everything we see in the physical world is testimony to God’s sovereignty. (This is straight out of Psalm 19 and Romans 1:20.)
And, if a person reads a little bit about astronomy and physics, he will find that even the simplest understanding of big bang cosmology is sufficient to support the idea of God as the sovereign Creator. The big bang tells us there was a beginning to the universe, therefore it was created. The Creator logically must exist beyond the universe, must necessarily be beyond the limits of space and time, and is therefore a non-corporeal and timeless entity — is that not a basic description of God? A person doesn’t need a degree in physics or fluency in Hebrew to understand the profoundest truth about God and His creation.
As for the second essential, all we have to do is read the Gospels to understand it. As TF pointed out, Jesus made the truth intelligible to everyone. At the most fundamental level, these two essentials are what a Christian needs to know, and both are completely understandable by anyone.
The truth of creation is difficult to understand
So, if the essentials are all we need to be saved, why bother to search for hidden meanings or deeper truths in scripture, especially if they’re so difficult? The answer is that we make the effort in order to fulfill our Christian mission of growing closer to God. God wants us to make a constant effort to know him, so he challenges us. Knowing God should be a lifelong pursuit. Most of us know from experience that the more valuable a thing, the more difficult it is to attain.
God made his truth very simple when it comes to understanding our relationship to him and how we are to be saved. But, God also made us curious for a reason. People should be most curious about their maker. It is important that we always have questions about him as we are seeking him. People need to feel restless about their understanding of God to avoid becoming complacent. We should never become so arrogant that we feel we’ve reached some ultimate level of understanding. Our lack of understanding reminds us to be humble before our Creator.
Christian author, Frank Viola, listed several “shocking” beliefs of St. Augustine, and this one is relevant here: “If you are going to teach Scripture, you must have a knowledge of the natural world, mathematics, music, science, history, the liberal arts, and a mastery of dialectics (the science of disputing).” This doesn’t mean you have to be an expert in all of these things (which is impossible anyway), but it does mean you are obligated to have a broad knowledge that encompasses these things.
The study of the Bible and the world is more difficult for those who aspire to teach others. Ministering to others is a great calling and a heavy responsibility that requires one’s best efforts. Fortunately, it doesn’t require a lifetime of university-level study, but it does require some basic proficiency.
There was a time when I wanted to become proficient in ancient Hebrew so that I could really delve into Genesis, but I soon realized I have neither the time nor the inclination. Instead, I rely on the work of Hebrew scholars to determine the nuanced meaning of certain Hebrew passages. This doesn’t mean I’m off the hook — this still requires familiarizing myself with the basics of Hebrew and the methods scholars use to determine meaning from ancient texts. Even though I will never become anywhere near as proficient as someone like Gleason Archer, I’ve learned enough to evaluate the credibility of what the scholars are saying.
Some people balk at the idea of relying on experts, but the way I see it is this. God gave us Biblical scholars and scientists, just as God gave us engineers, physicians, craftsmen, musicians, storytellers, and every other type of person we need to have a functioning civilization. These are people who have the desire and God-given talent for doing specific things very well so that we don’t each have to try to master everything ourselves.
God made us into social beings for this reason. We are admonished to love one another, and part of loving is trusting each other and working together. So, I accept the honest efforts of other scientists and scholars and do my best to build on it. I know that people are fallible in their understanding of scripture and the world, but in general scientists help each other to correct mistakes and make steady progress in the search for God’s truth.
So my message to TF and all of those who doubt their ability to understand God and his works through science is this. You have willingly taken on the role of a teacher. God loves you for your honest question and your genuine desire to know. Your lack of confidence in the face of such a great challenge is understandable, but you cannot fail as long as you keep trying. Every step on the path to understanding God and his works is a triumph. It is a testimony to your commitment that you will never know enough to satisfy your desire to know God. It is enough that you will be able to help others who share your holy desire.
It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out. — Proverbs 25:2.