Challenges: Point of Reference

*This post is part of a series on challenges I’ve faced while in seminary.
START AT THE BEGINNING or check out the PREVIOUS POST

Not long after arriving at seminary, I hit one of the lowest points in my life. I found myself kneeling on a cold, hard floor in the back room of the hotel lobby where I was working the night shift. I spoke into what felt like nothingness: “God, I’m just not sure that I can believe in You anymore.”

Since the China mission trip mentioned in a previous post, questions and doubts had been piling to the ceiling of my mind. Some were big questions, like: “Why do You allow evil in the world?” and “How could You create a place like Hell?” But on that night, the questions were much more basic and practical: “Why would you call me to go to seminary and not provide a way for my family to be taken care of?” (I had only found a part-time job up to that point) and “Am I even cut out to be a minister?”

Eight and a half years later, I find it ironic – almost humorous – that I was tempted to abandon faith in the very God to whom I was addressing my questions and doubts. Whether I liked it or not, my point of reference was: there is a God.

I’ve since realized that we all start from some point of reference. It’s unavoidable. No one looks on from the outside and examines the nature of reality from an objective point of view. The question is whether or not we are willing to honestly assess the validity of our assumptions. Yes, my assumption was: there is a God, but not just that. I believed: there is a God…and He has spoken through the Bible…and, if I’m honest, some of the things He has said confuse or frustrate me. That was (and still is!) my point of reference.

The other two most common points of reference I see in the world around me are: feelings and niceness. Let me explain…

Some assert that the answers to life’s questions can only be known by means of personal experience. “It’s not real if I don’t feel it,” they insist. This is why skeptics doubt and atheist deny the existence of God. They think that they haven’t experienced God – that they haven’t “felt” Him with their five senses. And, given this point of reference, their conclusion makes perfect sense.

But how someone feels about a truth claim can’t affect its validity. It’s either true, or it’s false: God either exists or He doesn’t. The Bible is either God’s word, or it isn’t. How I feel doesn’t affect reality.

Others borrow loads of moral capital from monotheistic religions, customize that point of reference to their liking, and end up with a philosophy of niceness. “We all just need to love each other,” the mantra goes. And I don’t disagree. However, I know that sometimes the most loving thing you can do for a person is confront them about the self-destructive lifestyle they are living. But this practice is only partially acceptable to the philosophy of niceness. It’s okay to have an intervention with an alcoholic or a hoarder, but don’t dare confront a couple who is living together before marriage, and don’t even consider questioning today’s popular consensus on social issues. Again… Borrowed morality + customization = niceness.

To be clear, I think we should be nice to each other, and I affirm that no one truly believes anything until they experience it. But these ideas are only two parts to a larger whole, and I find them far too subjective to hold the weight of being my ultimate point of reference.

There are so many other points of reference I could examine here, and I could do a much better job at treating these two, but I need to get to the point.

If there is a God…and if He has spoken through the Bible…and if how I feel about what He said doesn’t affect its validity…but if I still need to experience this God (by some means!) in order to believe in Him…and if I am willing to examine the validity of my point of reference…then the next important challenge I need to address is: “Can the Bible be trusted?”

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andrewlduke

Follower of Jesus. Husband to Heather. Father to Ethan and Chloe. Youth Minister at Christ Baptist Church. Student at Southeastern Seminary. Lover of good music and books.

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