My grandfather was what you might have termed, a rounder. He had a very colorful life with many interesting adventures before he came to the faith somewhat later in life. My grandfather’s conversion made life interesting for my mother and her brothers and sisters, since the older ones knew him first as the rounder and then as the Christian. Yet, once he converted, my grandfather was a constant fixture at his church (along with the rest of the family), serving as usher, deacon, and chief high dispenser of Juicy Fruit gum to children.
My own father had a similar journey of faith (without the rounder part) but with the part about coming to faith later in life. As a result, I came to faith as a teenager and began studying the bible in earnest from cover to cover, a rigid expectation of the church we went. At one point, I asked my grandfather about the Book of Revelation or the Apocalypse of St. John. He told me in no uncertain terms that he would not read it. I told him I had, and I thought it was interesting, weird but interesting. He said that a minister – someone he obviously held in high regard – told him that if he read it, it would drive him crazy and he would lose his faith. I told him I did not go crazy or lose my faith after reading it. He went back to watching golf. When he died at seventy-one, to my knowledge, my grandfather had never read a single word of the last book in the New Testament.
The truth is, my grandfather heard something from someone he trusted, someone vested with a certain amount of authority, and he believed it without ever checking it for himself. The fear of losing his faith kept him from deepening his faith. Remembering that story brought a thought to mind. How much truth do we really want? When it comes to the bible and our faith, do we really want to go beyond the surface of what we know or are we comfortable skimming the across the top of the water? Through the years, most people in the churches I have served wanted their pastor or their Sunday School teachers to take care of digging in the bible and they simply believed what they were told. God ordained the teachers to teach so there was no reason to doubt it. But what happens when the pastors and teachers teach things that are not consistent with what other pastors and teachers have taught? Is somebody wrong? Is one or the other confused, uneducated, a false teacher, a heretic? Would you know and how would you know?
How about a little quiz?
- Were the books Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John written by the biblical characters Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?
- Did Moses write the Pentateuch (first five books of the bible)?
- Is salvation more than saying a prayer and feeling bad about our sin?
The answer to all these questions is more or less, no (feel free to check me on this, I’m just a pastor you know). But how would you know? Have you studied it? Some would say that kind of study is for the pastor to do but all the books and papers I study are readily available on Amazon or the internet for anyone to study and if you’re interested, you can check out my bookshelves. It isn’t secret knowledge held in a high tower and I bought the same kinds of books before I was in the ministry to study these things for myself back then.
I guess the deeper question I want to ask is do you believe what you believe because you know it for yourself or do you believe it because someone told you to believe it?
I want to encourage you to read it, study it, dig into it for yourself. Our relationship with God is an individual relationship that require cultivation and interaction. We are influenced by others, sure. But when it comes to it, what connects you to God is between you and God.
Find your own connection and make it stick.