June 11, 2017

Faith for the Faithless (Finding Faith part 4)

I spent a little time working in a factory which printed, bound, and shipped magazines, catalogs, and the like. During that time, I became acquainted with one of the machine operators who happened to be a very outspoken atheist. As you might expect, his opinion on the Bible was that it is nothing more than “a book of fairy tales.”

Looking back on my several conversations with this man, I have to admit that I really had no impact on his negative views about the Bible and Christianity, largely because during that time in my life, I was not spiritually grounded at all. I had very little knowledge of the scriptures, and frankly, I was a mess. Much has changed since then, but how I wish that I had known then what I know now!

Which brings me to the sixth and final definition of “faith” from the beginning of this series:
6) a set of principles or beliefs.

At the top of the list of things that I wish I had been able to share with this man is that the Bible gives us a very clear set of principles to live by. In fact, the entire moral framework of western civilization is built upon the foundation of traditional Judeo-Christian values.

Let’s examine the following verses from Psalm 19, and look deeper into the original Hebrew words which describe the value of Biblical teaching (the words to be examined are in bold print).

Psalm 19:7-9 (NKJV)

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;

The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;

The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

PERFECT – the Hebrew word here is tamim, meaning whole, complete, or balanced. The concept here is that God’s law will complete us, not limit us as many atheists claim.
SURE – Hebrew ‘aman, meaning faithful and trustworthy. We can trust that what God teaches through the Bible is reliable.
WISE – Hebrew hakam, meaning shrewd (in the sense of being clever, not like the popular definition relating to scheming), or skillful. The implication is that God’s word teaches us to better live with those around us.

RIGHT – Hebrew yasar, referring to honesty, uprightness, and righteousness – not simply meaning “correct.”
REJOICING – Hebrew samah, meaning joyful, to make glad or cheerful. The full verse carries the idea that living uprightly and honestly leads to a life of joy.
PURE – Hebrew bar, meaning clean or clear.
ENLIGHTENING – Hebrew ‘or, to shine, to give light, to reveal or teach. The full verse indicates that God’s instruction makes us see the world around us more clearly and that we will understand it more deeply. This is also an indicator that we ourselves are to always continue to learn more, and to teach whenever we are able.

CLEAN – Hebrew tahor, meaning flawless or free of defect, as in the modern sense of the word perfect. The idea is that humbly submitting to God (fear of the Lord) helps us to become all that God intended for us to be, and that God’s instruction is all we need in order to live a good, healthy, loving life.
ENDURING – Hebrew amad, meaning established, steadfast, continuous, and dependable. In other words, God’s law supplies us with a firm foundation upon which we can build successful lives.
TRUE – Hebrew met, meaning faithful (as always, God is dependable), as well as being “not false.” What God judges to be true conforms to reality, while our own judgment is faulty.
RIGHTEOUS – Hebrew sadaq, meaning innocent, justified, or cleansed. The emphasis here is on justice; not the fallible justice of humanity, but God’s perfect justice. 

I don’t know for certain if anything I could have said to the man at the factory would have made a difference to him, but the experience has certainly made an impact on me. God has used that memory of my failure to communicate to instill in me a greater desire to share clearly what I learn from the Bible.

Moreover, when discussing spiritual matters with an atheist, we have to be able to connect the words of the Bible to “real life” in a way which cannot be overlooked. Presenting Biblical teachings as principles to be applied in everyday life is an excellent place to start this conversation, because even an atheist has to admit that “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” or, “Thou shalt not kill,” are pretty good ideas, after all.

And who can say, after you get a foot in the door by proving the value of Biblical teachings to such a person, whether or not they may open the door fully, and let Jesus come in?


While there are many passages of scripture which could have been used as illustrative examples, I chose to focus on a passage that has drawn less attention than, say, the Ten Commandments (pretty clear principles in THOSE verses!). I find that examination of less-often quoted verses of scripture sometimes drives a point home better, especially when speaking with non-believers. Even atheists may be quite familiar with many “go-to” verses of scripture, but they often have deeply-ingrained ideas about these well-known passages which are off-base or out of context, making meaningful discourse just that much more difficult. And we Christians also have a tendency to fling out well-used passages as if simply quoting a verse or two will be enough to convince hard-line skeptics. Studying some less familiar scripture can help us examine a topic more fully and communicate more effectively.

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