Letter: Crises of Faith

Hugh et al…

First off – I am an avid reader and fan of SurvivalBlog and have been following it for several years now. I’d like to share my story in brief and ask a question of the readership.

My story (digest version):

I was born and raised in the LDS (Mormon) faith and had good values about work and family instilled in me from an early age (thanks to mom and dad). I religiously followed the “program” and went to BYU for a year after high school, served and full time mission, got married in the temple and had three children.

The year I turned 40, I found myself at a crisis of faith, and I left the church in favor of a non-denominational Christian fellowship. My wife of 18 years divorced me and I was estranged from my children for several years. During this time I was a desperate and hungry Christian. A couple of years later I married a wonderful Christian woman and have been blessed to have restored relationships will all three of my children as adults.

About four years ago, my wife and I had our “awakening” from the sheeple herd and realized that our cozy little house and property on the Oregon coast would not be a defensible and sustainable place to be in the case of a sustained disaster or major change in the world as we know it. We have, in the time since our awakening, managed to accumulate over a ton of food stores, greatly enhanced our security capabilities, and relocated to the Redoubt. We have been truly blessed to have made all this transition with very little resistance. The road here seems to have been paved with purpose. Our house sold at an acceptable price to the first couple that looked at it. I found work here in the Redoubt that pays better than I had before. We found property with water, pasture, and trees (went from 1/2 acre on the coast to 40+ here). We are working to further enhance our existence with livestock and major gardening and preservation efforts.

We also have a good association with a few families that are like-minded. We are growing a small community of mutual support folks, standardizing on life-sustaining efforts and security (both strategic and tactical). Life here is hard work but good. Very good. That brings me to the present.

My challenge to the Christian readership:

During the last several years, I have again been experiencing a crisis of faith. First of all, I have a firm belief that there is a creative power/force involved in the universe; there’s too much resistance to entropy to explain it any other way. A creator is holding all of this together.

Having grown up in a LDS religious environment that involved a strong “our way is the only way” mentality puts me at odds with the same theology being shared by most Christian teachers and believers. My questions and challenges:

  1. I grew up thinking that things that bring me to tears and give me goose bumps are manifestations of the Holy Spirit. I’m not sure that it’s any more than programmed emotional responses. How do I trust my own feelings?
  2. Christian theology states that the Bible is inerrant and completely God-spoken. Reference to the accuracy of ancient records to discovered scrolls shows accuracy but doesn’t prove authenticity as God’s word. The world had liars and deceivers way back then too. Their writings aren’t true because they are old and accurately translated through the ages. The Bible has had a rough go at handling through the ages (dark and otherwise). I am challenged to believe in the Book as absolute truth. How do you reconcile the handling that mankind has perpetrated?
  3. “The only path” is what I heard my whole life. Whether it was the LDS temple rites and exhalation or simply accepting and following Jesus, I have a huge stumbling block in my life over this. I believe that the relationship with my creator (assuming whatever form) will be the key to my eventual disposition in the eternities. How can I buy into a theology that is so specific and exclusive?

To conclude, I would like to make a few things clear: I have a lot of respect for true believers (those that believe what they believe and live their life accordingly). I am married to a wonderful Christian woman who is very patient with my struggles. I also have a fantastic support system of friends and family who are Christian as well. While my questioning may raise concerns to the contrary, I certainly offer no disrespect to Christian believers.

Let me say this: I want to believe. My resistance is primarily intellectual-based. I feel that I give up some integrity to just blindly believe and yet I haven’t been able to reconcile that loss. I would appreciate hearing from those who may have struggled in a similar fashion and found both a resolution and peace in believing. God bless – NWD

Hugh Responds: God has created us as emotional beings. Those emotions drive the very core of who we are, but emotions are not necessarily truth. Throughout time, man has learned to manipulate emotions and to elicit the desired emotional outcome. Have you ever watched a movie that had no music, or listened to a passionate political speech? We use emotions to connect with each other and sometimes to manipulate each other. TV commercials use emotions to drive sales; car salesmen appeal to your desire to look cool. Having the ability to manipulate a person’s emotions makes you a very powerful person in their lives. Church is no different in that respect. Most modern churches have a given formula designed to elicit that goosebumps or tearful feeling, usually through music. Another method commonly used is chanting. Our modern church music has combined those methods to bring a person into an emotional state to where they believe they are open to the moving of the Holy Spirit and deep understanding of the pastor’s words. Unfortunately, when you hear those words without the emotions, you realize just how shallow they are. Even if they are true, they are milk rather than meat for the soul.

Yes, meeting God is an emotional experience, but emotions also lie (2 Cor 10:15) and can be manipulated. You learn to trust those feelings by knowing the truth of God and comparing what you hear, see, and feel to the truth of the Word. That means you have to study the Word of God (2 Tim 2:15) and hide its truths within your heart (Psalm 119:11). All too often we substitute study of another man’s thoughts on the Word (commentaries, prayer books, devotionals, et cetera) for the actual study of the Word itself, which brings us to your second point.

The canon of scripture is a recent invention of the church. Before the third century (AD), there existed the Torah (the first five books of Moses) and a collection of letters by prophets, historians, and apostles. The early catholic church wanted to distance itself from Judaism and wanted to include some controversial books as official documentation. Shortly after Council of Nicea, among other things, the church created an early form of the canon of the Bible. They included the Torah and other letters in what we now term the Old Testament and included the Gospels and other letters written after Christ’s coming as the New Testament. They gave higher precedence to the New Testament, including the idea the church should view the Old Testament only as history. Not to be left out, the Jews, who rejected Christ, formulated their own canon of scripture and called it the Tanach (which only had pre-Christ letters). The process to arrive at these two cannons of scripture was convoluted, and the authors broke many of their own rules in assembling them. For instance, one rule was that letters could only be included in the New Testament if the authorship could be firmly established and the author had first person experience with Christ. The authorship of Hebrews cannot be established, and there are clear clues that the author had no direct experience with Christ, yet it was included in the canon because it contains the reasoning for splitting the canon of scripture into two and the reasoning for the elevation of the New Testament over the Old Testament. Other letters written by people who had direct contact with Christ were left out. So, in the end, the canon of scripture, as we know it, has some questionable content while missing other content. In addition to that problem, we have another issue concerning the canon of scripture. The canon of scripture was written in three languages over a period of about 2000 years: Hebrew, Chaldean, and Greek. Additionally, those who wrote in Greek, did so because it was the common written language of the time, but it was not their primary language (except for the author of Hebrews). The primary language was Hebrew and the written Greek reads poorly compared to Greek manuscripts contemporary with those letters. The idioms and language mechanics are clearly Hebrew, even though the written word was Greek. I believe that the original language writings, taken within the context of the culture they were written in and to, are the infallible Word of God, but much is lost in the translation to other languages. The core message is brought through, but many of the cultural indicators are lost. The translators also embedded their own theologies into the translations produced.

Given that most today do not speak or write Biblical Hebrew or Greek, how do we know what is true then? That may have been an issue years ago, but in this day and age, you have amazing tools at your disposal. You can easily learn Hebrew or Greek online, and even if you don’t want to become fluent in archaic languages, you can use online tools like http://scripture4all.org to see the original language and how it is translated. You will have to learn about ancient Hebrew culture to grasp the meaning of idioms and parables correctly, but there are amazing tools available for that as well. I also use Olive Tree bible with about 20 translations on my ipad (including interlinear and original language tools). There is more, but I’ll come back to that in a minute. Let’s move on to your third question:

“The only path” is used by so many modern churches and cults, but they can’t all be right. In fact, the modern Church is so fractured from denominational splits that it makes one wonder if any have it right. The Bible is clear that there is only one path to God (through Jesus Christ) but do the Baptists have it? Or perhaps it is the Catholics? Or maybe the Lutherans? Or perhaps one of the “cults” like LDS or Jehovah’s Witness? Or any of the other myriad of Churches? The answer to this question lies in the same answer to the last question. You must be able to discern absolute truth. What if you find the “truth”? Does that mean that all those who don’t believe exactly like you will not meet God, as many of the modern religions insist?

God is a just God, but He is also merciful. Unlike man’s laws, God does not hold you accountable for what you do not know. However, by the same token, those who “know” are held to a much higher standard. Once you learn “truth” you can’t un-know it. When you learn it, you are now responsible for that truth. In Romans 1, Paul makes it clear that ALL men have some knowledge of God, enough knowledge that they cannot claim ignorance of God, but you will only have the revelation of God’s relationship with each man in proportion to the time you spend seeking truth through His Word with an open heart over time.

Many (mainly Catholics) want to bring you to the Council of Nicea to begin to reveal that truth of God to you, but I have a problem with that. Constantine was a political animal, and his “embracing” of the Christian faith is subject to revisionist history. When you study the beginnings of the Roman Catholic church in earnest, it doesn’t take long to reveal that he simply embraced ALL religions in an attempt to unify a broken and shattered Rome. We are far better off using scripture itself to authenticate truth. The modern church would have you look at Paul’s writings in regards to the Law to point out that Christ began the church in the first century (AD), but is that really the case? Paul’s ministry, along with many others, was to bring the gospel to the Gentiles. But was that Christ’s ministry? A cursory reading of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) reveals that Christ’s ministry was to the Jew, but the message was the same: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” This is the same message that Christ sent the 70 disciples out two-by-two to spread in Luke 10. What is the “Kingdom of God”? The modern church would have you believe that it was Jesus’ death and resurrection that brought that Kingdom into place, but why then were the disciples so confused upon his death? They certainly preached the “Repent, for the Kingdom of God” message with gusto, but when Christ was killed, they ran and hid. Even after the resurrection, they struggled until Pentecost, at which point they received the Holy Spirit. How could they preach a message that they fully believed in, yet could not understand? Perhaps, the modern church is not correct in its thinking.

Let’s look at the “Jerusalem Council” in Acts. At this point, the church was clearly established, and the ministry included a strong evangelization of the Jewish people and a fledgling evangelization of the surrounding Gentiles. The question arose, that since the word was brought to the Jew first, did a Gentile have to convert to Judaism before becoming a Christian. This was quite the controversy, and the founding church fathers obviously spent a great deal of time dealing with this. When James (the first leader of the early church who we believe was Christ’s brother rather than the apostle) gave his judgment, it gives us a clue as to where to find the ultimate truth that we are looking for, starting in Acts 15:18:

“Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.  Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God:  but that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.  For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.”

There in a nutshell is the evidence of where to find truth. Being a Gentile, we are commanded that in order to become a Christian, we must immediately abstain from idol worship, from sexual fornication, from things strangled, and from blood. We easily get the first two– you can’t worship idols and God at the same time and you cannot be involved in sexual fornication and be a Christian. (A quick side note here: How many in today’s churches do you see involved in sexual fornication yet claim to be Christians, and why doesn’t the church call them on that?) What about the “things strangled” and “blood”? The key to understanding those is to read verse 21: “For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.”

Whoa! James is telling new Christians that they must not only abstain from those four things, but that they have to attend synagogue and learn about Moses (The Torah). Interestingly enough, the four conditions are taken directly from Leviticus 17, 18, and 19. Would that not indicate that the Torah is vitally important to Christians as more than “history” and as more than something for Jews alone? This is contrary to modern church belief and teaching.

God is the Creator of everything. He is singularly responsible for the rules that regulate His creation from the smallest, most minute detail to the largest most grandeur evidence. To find ultimate truth, we must go back directly to God– the Creator. In all other biblical manuscripts, we have visions, given by God, then written down, histories written as they happened, letters of explanation and correction, but only the Torah was directly given by God to man, person to person, with Moses only transcribing as he is told to do so. With the ten commandments, those words were directly inscribed upon stone tablets by God Himself. No other written scripture can claim such direct authenticity. Therefore, the Torah is the direct expression of God’s will and is the written standard by which we are to judge the truthfulness of all other scripture, words, deeds, and organizations, historical or modern.

What we consider Judaism today is in reality more properly called Talmudic Judaism or Rabbinical Judaism. If you read the gospels, you will find that Christ rails against the Pharisees and Sadducees because they hold the traditions of man above the commandments of God (Mark 7:8, Matthew 15:9). When God gave the Torah to Moses, it contained the instructions for living and worshiping God. Over time, the Pharisees and Sadducees had built “fence laws” around the commandments of God, and those laws had taken a higher precedence than God’s original commands. This is what the message that Christ sent the disciples out preaching was all about. “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand”. This meant to repent from the commandments of men and return to the commandments of God, for God is coming. The Kingdom of God (or alternatively, the Kingdom of Heaven) represents when Christ returns in the second coming and sets up his Kingdom here on earth. God expects us to be following his commands. Paul’s writings are not railing against the Torah, as is taught by the modern church, but against the Talmudic or Rabbinical laws that, prior to encountering Christ, he followed intimately as a “pharisee of pharisees”.

What about Christ’s own words? “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:17-19

Christ himself tells us that those who teach the Torah will be great in Heaven, but those who do not will be least in Heaven. It becomes evident that the Torah is incredibly important to us. In fact, the Torah contains the first revelations of God to man. By the very words of the Torah itself, all succeeding revelations must not contradict this first revelation or they are to be considered false (Dueteronomy 13). That is your standard of truth. All other letters from prophets, apostles, or historians must not contradict the Torah or they are false. All church doctrine must not contradict the Torah or it is false. That realization is chilling when we see how far the Church has strayed from what God has presented in the Torah.

About now, many people are reeling from the same struggle that the Gentiles had in the first century church. Do they have to become Jewish to become Christian? The answer is a resounding “No!”. However, you must become one of God’s people, known as a “Hebrew”. God chose the Hebrew people, through the election of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their descendants, to be the example of light to the rest of the world. Scripture makes it clear that they were not chosen because they were special. In fact, they were quite obstinate. They were made special because they were chosen. So how does one become Hebrew without becoming Jewish? The answer is found in how God selected Abraham and his descendants. We do not have clear record of whether Abraham was the first born of his father Terah or not, but the culture was that the “First Born” received the greater blessing. However, after Abraham was chosen, it was his second son– Isaac– who received the greater blessing. Of Isaac’s sons, it was his second son– Jacob– who received the greater blessing. Of Jacob’s sons, it wasn’t even his own son but the second son (Ephraim) of his 11th son (Joseph) who received the greatest blessing. God made sure that we understood: He chooses whom He wills to choose, not whom we think should be chosen. Genesis 46:7 tells us that seventy descendants of Jacob entered Egypt, yet less than 120 years later Moses led nearly two million people (600,000 men over 20 years old) out of Egypt. How could 74 people multiply to over two million in such a short time? When God gave Moses the instructions for the remembrance of the Passover, He gives us a clue. Exodus 12:48-49 makes it clear that “aliens” and “sojourners” are to be treated as native born. One law was for everyone who chose to follow God. Many times in the Torah, God instructs His people that it is not just those who were born into the family who are considered Hebrews, but any who choose to follow His commands are also Hebrew. (Leviticus 17:7-9, 19:33-34; Numbers 9:14, 15:15, 15:29-30 are a few of the many examples of this.) When the Hebrews left Egypt, they took with them not just their families but anyone else, slave or freeman, who chose to follow the one true God; these others came with them, and they were ALL considered Hebrews. In Numbers 32:12, we learn that Caleb, the leader of the tribe of Judah was a Kenizzite (not of Abraham’s seed). In 1 Kings 17:1 we learn that Elijah (considered by most to be the greatest Hebrew prophet) was also not of Abraham’s seed. He was a Tishbite from Gilead.

Paul, in Romans 11, iterates this concept:

“For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in. Well, because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: for if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.”

And again in verse 24:

“For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree?”

The prophet Jeremiah also underscores this concept. The church today readily lays claim to the “New Covenant”, but Jeremiah makes it clear:

“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:” Jeremiah 31:31

The “New Covenant” is only for the House of Israel and the House of Judah. You cannot partake of that covenant unless you are part of the Hebrew people, and we become Hebrew by adoption, according to both Moses and Paul. Jesus underscores this concept again through the apostle John in Revelation:

“and had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel:” Revelation 21:12

The New Jerusalem only has 12 gates, one for each tribe of Israel. An angel guards each gate, and none enter by any other means. How will you enter the New Jerusalem if you are not of one of the tribes of Israel?

It is also interesting to note the perspective of the writers of the New Testament. We often hear of them referencing “the scriptures” and we think mostly of the New Testament. However, they were not referencing their own works; they were referencing the scripture that they had grown up with and had been taught their entire lives. Christ, the apostles, and all of the disciples were Torah-observant Jews. Even Paul was a Torah-observant Jew after his encounter with Jesus.

There is much more to this, and I hope to have whetted your appetite for the Scriptures of God. In short, all three of your questions can be answered by determining where to find “ultimate truth”, and that truth, by which everything else is compared, can only be God. We know His truth by his direct revelation of scripture (The Torah) and all other scripture, words, and deeds must be measured by that yardstick. You are right in questioning whether any “group” has “the only path”. Ultimate truth cannot be found in any denomination, any ethnic or socioeconomic group, or anything done or provided by man. Ultimate truth is only found by pursuing God, which is a life long journey.

I’ll leave you with one final concept. You do not have to blindly believe. Websters Dictionary got the definition of ”faith” wrong when it stated that faith is belief when there is no reason to believe. For the Christian, faith is believing in God and the surety of His statements, commitments, promises, and philosophy of life based on the Scriptures. We do not believe because there is no proof. We believe and have faith because of the overwhelming proof offered to us by God. The very nature of God demands two or three witnesses for any statement to carry truth. As God talked to Moses from the burning bush, God did not stutter. “Moses, Moses…” Exodus 3:4, God presented Moses with multiple entities. When God gives a description of Himself in Exodus 34, He begins by declaring all three aspects of Himself to Moses– “The Lord”, “The Lord” and “God”.

May God bless you as you seek Him in your journey.