Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Historian

I once had an ongoing conversation with an historian.  We'll call her Mary for the sake of this post.

So Mary was struggling with her faith.  She'd grown up in a very conservative, fundamentalist home and church.  And she'd owned that life and belief system--surrendering her life to Christ and trying to follow him each day.  She did all those things that we normally use to identify followers of Christ.  She went to church, she read her Bible, and she acted like a Christian.

And then she went to college.  She studied history--first with a lot of excitement and interest because of how it would encourage her faith and help her defend the truth of Scripture.  Soon she learned that the study of history involves evaluating historical evidence for the probability of its truth.  So she bought into this system.

And as she  began to apply this system to the facts found in the Bible, she began to question the truth of the Bible because many of the stories she grew up believing did not measure up to the probability analysis.

When we first started talking, that's exactly where Mary was at--in this tension.  She believed that her probability analysis that she learned in history was the best way to evaluate truth.  She struggled, because now she had two different systems that were competing for her loyalty.  There was still a part of her that wanted to believe that the God of the Bible is true.  But she couldn't because she'd accepted this other system of evaluation instead.

I spent a lot of time talking with her about different standards of measuring truth and the different standards of measuring truth and the historicity of the Scripture and the death and resurrection of Jesus.  She was willing to admit that Jesus's existence, death, and resurrection were probably true under her probability analysis.  But she could not walk in surrender to God.  Why not?

Further conversations revealed some possible reasons.  First, somewhere along the way she took on the identity of an historian.  She defined herself as one, and to accept Christianity in whole was to her to reject her historical measuring system.  To reject that, she would actually have to reject herself.

She couldn't do it.  Even though we made it through most of her rational arguments against faith and she was semi-satisfied with the answers to her objections, she couldn't take that final step in letting go of her identity for long enough to find another way to define herself.  Unfortunately, she's not made that journey yet.

Another possibility had to do with some immense suffering someone close to her had had.  Here, too, we spent some time talking about the rational issues of suffering in people's lives and evil and injustice in the world.  But the answers--the good, rational answers to these questions did not penetrate.  Why not?

I think it's an emotional barrier.  It's not that she thinks there's no logical way for God and suffering to coexist.  it's just that she can't believe that a good God would allow suffering.  Emphasis on the word "can't."  Right now, she just can't make it through.

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