Hard Questions About the Bible

In the Biblical story of Jonah, he is swallowed by a big fish.  This story seems fantastic and unbelievable, but actually the story has a meaning that is bigger than just a big fish.

God told Jonah to go preach to the wicked people of Ninevah, which was a non-Israelite city.  This was unusual, because Jonah was an Israelite, and the Israelites as God’s chosen people were not allowed to be corrupted by outside influences.

Jonah balked at God’s command for this reason, and tried to run away to Tarshish.  But while on a ship, Jonah ended up in the ocean and was swallowed by the big fish.  The Greek word used actually means ‘sea creature’, which could be any big sea animal.

Jonah spent three days and three nights in the fish, and prayed to God for help.  God commanded the fish to spit Jonah out on to dry land.  Then Jonah went on to Ninevah to preach of God’s impending judgment.  They repented, and God did not destroy the city.

This is important to Christians because Jesus pointed to Jonah as a sign of his own ministry.  In Matthew 12: 38-41, Jesus compared Jonah’s three days and three nights in the belly of the fish to his own death and resurrection, which happened three days after his death.

In the Old Testament, God’s salvation was meant only for the Israelites, but he commanded Jonah to preach to the non-Israelites, and Christians see this as a precursor to salvation being offered to the Gentiles (non-Jews/Israelites) through Jesus.

So Jesus regarded the story of Jonah highly enough that he used Jonah as an example.  It might be hard to believe that a big fish swallowed Jonah, but actually the story has a deeper meaning.

Next:  Bible Heroes Were Not Always Holy

What About Miracles?

Skeptical people point to the miracles in the Bible as reason for thinking that the Bible is not true.  Miracles like the parting of the Red Sea seem too fantastic to be true.

I researched some web sites about the parting of the Red Sea, and some suggested that a strong wind might have blown the waters apart, and the Israelites walked across a hidden reef.  Such scientific or natural explanations have the effect of taking God out of the equation.  But actually, I’m willing to accept that God had the ability to part the waters.  After all, if God created the whole world, then parting the Red Sea would be a relatively simple task.

I too was skeptical about miracles, but as I learned more about the Bible, there were a few things that I noticed.

Miracles didn’t happen all the time.  Sometimes, there were hundreds of years between miracles recorded in the Bible.

There are very few spectacular miracles, like the parting of the Red Sea, and a lot of small miracles, like Jesus healing a crippled man.

All miracles had a purpose.  In the New Testament, John the apostle used the term ‘signs’ to mean miracles, and all these signs were meant to point to Jesus.

During the time of Moses and Joshua, God performed miracles to show his power and authority to the young nation of Israel and surrounding nations.  The ironic thing is that even though the Israelites witnessed the miracles firsthand, they still didn’t take God seriously, and they complained, grumbled, were unappreciative, and drifted away from God.

Tangible proof itself doesn’t always convince people to believe.  Even today, people are sometimes skeptical about even tangible evidence, they may be quick to think there’s a conspiracy, or a cover up, etc.  So when I read about Biblical miracles, I try to put them in perspective with the overall message and not get hung up on trying to prove them.  The miracles actually are not the main point, they are just details to support a broader message.

Next:  Jonah Swallowed by a Big Fish

Probably the ultimate example of suffering in the Bible is Jesus being crucified.  Crucifixion was the worst method of execution that the Romans could devise.  The word excruciating is derived from crucifixion, and means ‘extremely painful, causing intense suffering, torturing’.  The movie ‘The Passion of the Christ’ is probably a good example of a portrayal of the horror of crucifixion.

God set Jesus up as the ultimate example of sacrifice and service to others.  Jesus always taught about serving others, and that following him would not be easy.  In Luke 9:23 Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me”.  Remember that the cross represented crucifixion – not exactly positive advertising to attract new followers, yet this demonstrates the idea that sacrifice is required to achieve a greater good.

But even if you suffer for following Jesus, God will be there to help you.  In John 16:33, Jesus says “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:10:  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 1:5: For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.

Jesus suffered a terrible death on the cross, but according to the Bible, he rose from death to show that those who believe in him will also live, and be saved from the penalty of sin.  So according to the Bible, even though people may suffer all kinds of problems in life, we can have hope if we look to Jesus.

Next: What About Miracles?

From Matthew 14:1-12

John the Baptist was God’s messenger who prepared the way for Jesus.  He was totally in tune with God, he was doing God’s purpose, yet he didn’t live a comfortable life, and was ultimately jailed and executed.

John was jailed and beheaded by order of Herod the Tetrarch because John had called out Herod for marrying his brother’s wife, Herodias.  Herodias’ daughter danced for Herod, and because it pleased him, he promised to grant her request.  Herodias prompted her daughter to ask for John’s head on a platter.

John doesn’t even get executed because of his association of Jesus, he gets executed because he called out someone’s sin. In other words, he didn’t die because of a noble purpose, he died because of hatred and someone’s desire to cover up their sin, which makes his death even more tragic.

On top of that, Jesus didn’t lift a finger to save John, who was even his relative.  He just received news of John’s execution from his disciples.

Why did God allow all of this to happen?  Actually what happened to John the Baptist was nothing compared to what happened to Jesus, and actually may have been a hint as to what will happen to Jesus.

Next:  The Ultimate Bad Thing to Happen to Anyone

Even though people may wonder why God allows bad things to happen, Joseph is an example of a person who was in tune with God but still suffered a lot.

For the story of Joseph, read Genesis 37-41, I’ll summarize here.

Joseph is the favorite son of Jacob, who gives him an ornate robe, and his brothers are jealous of him.

Joseph is a little arrogant, and because of a dream he had, he tells his brothers that in the future, they will bow down to him.  This makes the brothers hate him even more.

Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery in Egypt, he ends up in Potiphar’s house.

Potiphar’s wife comes on to Joseph, but he refuses, which makes her angry so she frames Joseph, and he is put into prison.

Joseph interprets the dreams of a fellow prisoner who is the Pharaoh’s cupbearer, predicting that he will be released.  Joseph asks the cupbearer to tell Pharaoh about him, but the cupbearer forgets him.

After two years, the cupbearer finally remembers Joseph after Pharaoh starts talking about his dreams, and the cupbearer basically says ‘I know someone who can help you”.

Because Joseph can interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, he is put in charge of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh.

Even though God was with Joseph, Joseph still suffered majorly for many years.  If the story of Joseph is actually true, then we have to accept the idea that God can still allow bad things to happen, even to God’s people.  According to the Bible, the world is imperfect because of sin, but God can help us and still wants to help us.

Next:  Bad Things Happened to John the Baptist

There is a perception that once you become a Christian, your life is totally blessed, you have no worries or problems.  But life is still full of problems, why does God let bad things happen?

According to the Bible, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, it ended the perfect relationship between them.  My information is from Genesis 2-3.

God commanded Adam and Eve to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or they would die.  This would assume that before, Adam and Eve only knew good.

The serpent deceived Eve, saying that “You will not certainly die, for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil”.

After they ate, God said “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.  He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever”.

God allowed this to happen because Adam and Eve had free will.  They were not puppets, they were free to choose, unfortunately they made the choice that had bad consequences.

The knowledge of good AND evil is probably the cause of much suffering in this world.  Before, man (represented by Adam and Eve) only knew good.  The knowledge of evil and the fact that we have free will are part of the reason that God allows bad things to happen.

Next: Bad Things Happened to Joseph

Christians often put a lot of emphasis on following God’s commandments and laws, but it might be surprising to learn that at times, Jesus himself ‘broke the rules’.

Exodus 20:8-10 says ‘Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God’.

In Mark 2:23-27 Jesus was with his disciples on the Sabbath day when the disciples were hungry and picked some heads of grain to eat.  This was technically ‘work’, and the Pharisees accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath, hoping to trap him.

Jesus referred to the story of when David and his men broke the Jewish law by eating consecrated bread from the Temple.  He concluded that “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.  So the Son of Man (Jesus) is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

In Matthew 12:9-13 Jesus healed a man with a shriveled hand on the Sabbath.  Again, the Pharisees accused Jesus, and he pointed out that they would rescue a sheep on the Sabbath, but a person is more valuable, so it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.

Was Jesus breaking the commandment about keeping the Sabbath?  The Bible says that Jesus was God in human form, so was he in essence breaking his own laws?  Actually, no.

Jesus was trying to make a point that the Pharisees’ hearts had turned cold, and they were legalistically following the laws, but they did not understand the principles behind the laws.  The principle behind the Sabbath commandment is to provide rest and to keep a holy day.  The Jews of the day had resorted to putting more emphasis on following the laws, rather than understanding God’s heart.

There are a lot of dos and don’ts in the Bible, but if you want to gain a better understanding of the Bible, you have to try to understand God’s intentions, and the principles behind the dos and don’ts.

Next: Why Does God Let Bad Things Happen?

Rules Don’t Save

Some Christians seem to think that the most important thing about being a Christian is following all the rules and commandments in the Bible.  They not only get caught up in following rules, but sometimes they are intent on imposing them on other people, often to negative reaction.

The Ten Commandments, along with other laws, were given to the Israelites in the Old Testament to give them guides to help them live lives pleasing to God, and to atone for their sins.  According to God’s plan, when Jesus died and was resurrected, he became the sacrifice for sin for those who accepted him.

Romans 3:20-22 No one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law, rather through the law we become conscious of our sin.  But apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been made known, given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.

What this means is that people do not receive salvation by following rules, but by accepting Jesus as savior.  This does not mean that the Christian can just disregard the rules.  The rules are still important, they just aren’t the reason a Christian is saved.

Ephesians 2:8-9  For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.

Over emphasis on following rules can also lead to ‘self-righteousness’,  because people think they’re righteous just by living ‘holy’ lives.  Living a holy life alone doesn’t save, because according to the Bible, a genuine, humble acceptance of Jesus is what saves.

Titus 3:4  He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.

Even though the rules are important, over emphasis on following rules can make Christians lose sight of their most important job, to lovingly share the good news of Jesus.

Next:  When Jesus Broke the Rules

Freedom in Rules

Sometimes the Bible seems to be full of rules, don’t do this, don’t do that.

A few examples from the Ten Commandments:  You shall not murder.  You shall not commit adultery.  You shall not steal.  You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.  You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.

Galatians 5:19-21  The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.

Those rules actually are meant to help keep people from harm, live with less problems, and even live more fulfilling lives.  Sins have consequences, and often cause problems in life.

The rules in the Bible at times seem to be restricting, but Christians will say that they are actually freeing.  If there were no speed limits on the highways, some people would consider that freedom, but others would realize that speed limits protect drivers from being hurt or killed.

Christians say that living according to God’s plan helps you to become the person that you were meant to be.  If you live within God’s ‘safety rules’, you actually have less to worry about.  You can have more peace of mind, greater sense of purpose, and boldness to face the world.

2 Timothy 1:7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self discipline.

Getting hung up in following rules can cause people to miss the point – that following God’s rules can actually provide freedom.

Next: Rules Don’t Save

It is a common perception that Christians are judgmental, that they sometimes look down on other people who sin and/or live different lifestyles.  Does the Bible encourage Christians to judge others?

Matthew 7:1,3,5  Jesus said ‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye’.

Matthew 18:15,17  Jesus said ‘If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you.  If they listen to you, you have won them over’   When Jesus says ‘brother or sister’, he is talking about fellow believers.

Romans 14:10,13  Paul said ‘ Why do you judge your brother or sister?  Or why do you treat them with contempt?  For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.  Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another.  Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister’.

Matthew 22:37,39  Jesus said that the greatest commandment is ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself’.

Christians are to judge between good and evil, and even to proclaim how God judges, but this it to be tempered by realization of their own sin, and love for each other and the non-Christians.

The Christian’s main job to share the good news of Jesus, for the Bible says that accepting Jesus as saviour is the way to have relationship with God.  If Christians truly loved others as the Bible teaches, their sharing about Jesus would be more easily accepted, wouldn’t it?  After all, why should you to listen to someone who’s looking down on you?

Christians are to recognize sin and correct it, but sometimes they often get hung up on the ‘don’ts’ and forget or not realize the benefits of the ‘dos’.

Next:  Freedom in Rules