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What To Do When the Bible Is Confusing

Written By Carol Lerh, Singapore

When we ask questions about the Bible, we often learn more about God through those questions. But what do you do when you have a question, and the more you read about it, the less it makes sense?

For example, I was reading through all four Gospels when I came across Matthew 11:29, where Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.” But in Mark 11, I found Jesus cursing fig trees for not bearing fruit and flipping tables in the temple. How do I reconcile these actions with His gentleness and humility?

As my doubts began to turn my confusion into disbelief, I wanted to stop reading the Bible. Even though it seems easier to do so whenever doubt arises, here are five things that have helped me deal with my confusion: 

 

1. Don’t stop reading the Bible or going to church

I’ve seen friends leave the church, and consequently leave Christianity altogether when they have unanswered questions. I remember reflecting on those same questions and being very certain that the Bible has all the answers to them. So even though my faith was shaken, I decided that I was going to stay in church, read the Bible, and question other Christians and Bible experts until I figure out for myself who God is.

It is easy to doubt that the Bible is trustworthy when you have questions about what’s written in it. But the Bible claims to be the Word of God (2 Peter 1:20-21). It claims to be entirely true (Psalm 119). And it claims to be sufficient for us (2 Timothy 3:15-17). These claims are either blasphemous or true. It can’t be both. If you believe in the God of the Bible, you must believe that the Bible is the Word of God.

Though the Bible was written by different authors in different parts of the ancient world over different time periods, they all talk about the same God and the same gospel. It is an incredibly cohesive work. Historians also agree about the existence of Jesus and His crucifixion. To me, that’s enough evidence of the reliability of the Bible.

Giving up on the Bible and the church, and looking for the truth about God in other places is a mistake. Since the rest of the world has rejected God, why would they tell you the truth about God?

 

2. Pray for understanding

James 1:5 says that if anyone lacks wisdom, they can ask God. Before He died, Jesus promised that He will send us the Holy Spirit to teach us all things and remind His people of everything He taught (John 14:26). We have that Holy Spirit as our Counselor today, so let the Spirit lead. Pray and ask for wisdom, understanding, and an open heart to receive the truth.

Maybe you doubt that God will give you a definite answer. I did. I asked God to explain why it’s okay for Him to overturn tables and curse fig trees but then we have to love our enemies and not repay evil with evil. But God didn’t explain Himself to me. Instead, I was reminded of God’s reply to Job, when Job questioned God about his suffering: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.” (Job 38:4).

I told God it didn’t make sense.

As my questions multiplied, I began wondering why I should believe in a God who never did any of the miraculous things He did in the Bible for me. An encouraging word from someone who loves me, is that all He can do in reality?

But after praying, God showed me how He was working in this world and in my life. My mother met the same person twice on her way to the restroom after Sunday Service, and that person became my therapist. My best friend started telling me about the revelations she received from God and what God has been doing in her life. So even though I didn’t feel Him; He was working all around me. And now, looking back, I can see His footprints through my difficulties and stubbornness.

God will help you to make sense of your questions. Keep going to Him, knock on the door relentlessly, and don’t give up seeking Him with all your heart. If you wait patiently, you will see the bigger picture.

 

3. Go back to the basics

When you are faced with a confusing question, you need to have a firm foundation to stand on. What is the rock you are standing on? What do you know for sure? List the things you are certain about or that you should be certain about. Here is my list:

  • God created the world and everything was perfect. (Genesis 1)
  • Man disobeyed God and sin came into the world. (Genesis 3)
  • God came to earth as the man, Jesus, to die for our sins. (Matthew 1-2; Luke 2)
  • He died and resurrected three days later, defeating sin and death. (see any of the gospels)
  • Those who believe in him will be forgiven of their sins and have eternal life. (Matthew 26:28; John 3:16)
  • God wants us to live a holy and God-honoring life (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
  • He gives the Holy Spirit to believers to help them live that life. (John 14:16-18)

These statements might not be directly related to what you are confused about, but what begins in curiosity can quickly lead to doubting everything you thought you believed in. In these cases, I found that I need to go back to the foundation of my faith and check that it is still stable. I read about Jesus’ birth, His death and resurrection.

Knowing the essentials of your faith will help you discern truth from interpretation and opinion. This is helpful as you search for answers.

 

4. Talk to a mature Christian you trust

The Bible is the most-read book in the world, so your doubts and questions are probably not new. People who have found answers to their questions would be able to share with you what they have discovered. But it is important to look for a Christian you trust—someone you aren’t afraid to approach, and someone who knows the Bible well.

For me, that person is my father. Once, I read in 2 Thessalonians 1:5-9 that God will judge all who inflict suffering. The question that came to my mind when I read this was: what if these people are also suffering themselves and didn’t mean to inflict suffering? I brought my question to my father, and we talked about God’s judgment and His mercy. He reminded me of 1 John 1:9, which says that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us of our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. That helped me make sense of the passage.

 

5. Use Internet sources wisely

If you don’t have a trustworthy Christian to turn to, you can search for answers through other reliable sources that are grounded in Scripture. My father’s answers don’t always clarify my doubts, so I use some of these resources as well.

The guideline to finding a reliable resource is to see whether the resource contradicts the basics discussed above. If it does, then it’s not reliable. If it doesn’t, then check how much Biblical content they have, and how much cross-referencing they use. For instance, if they talk about judgment in the Old Testament without making references to verses in the New Testament, then it’s probably not that reliable.

I use Constable’s Notes on Lumina at Bible.org to understand Bible passages that are confusing, as well as GotQuestions.org, which has answers to almost every question we can possibly ask about God and the Bible. I realized early on that reading blogs and opinion pieces written by random people make me even more confused, especially when they contradict what my father told me or what I find in my Study Bible. So I recommend sticking to trusted avenues with concrete statements of faith, like Desiring God or Our Daily Bread Ministries.

 

I did find an answer to my question after much prayer, reading and thinking. Jesus is God, and therefore He has an authority that we do not have. There are things that He can do that we have no right to do. After all, I did not help Him create the world, who am I to curse a fig tree when I’m also one of His creations?

I have come to the realization that there will be mysteries that we will forever be unable to comprehend, or know only partially; for we are like blind men touching different parts of an elephant. Some questions I simply have to put on a list of things to ask God when I get to heaven.

If you have any questions about God or the Bible, I’d like to encourage you to bring your doubts to God and pray about the answers you find. Don’t use your doubts as an excuse to stop reading the Bible. Read smaller chunks and give yourself more time to meditate, or use a commentary to guide you, but make sure you keep seeking Him. As long as we remain connected to God, He will work in our lives (John 15:5) and prove Himself to be true.

Dear depressed Christians

Title: Dear depressed Christians
Artwork by: Emilia Ting (@lightcollector)
Words taken from: Letter To A Depressed Christian by Carol Lerh
Description: We may not know what to say or do to tell you how much we care, but we know our God is a comforting God and He will be there. Through His Word, He speaks to you and me. May you be assured of His promises.

Letter to A Depressed Christian

Written By Carol Lerh, Singapore

Dear Depressed Christian,

I know about the scars on your wrists. I know you spend your sleepless nights crying. I know about the days that pass meaninglessly by as everything important you’re supposed to do remains undone.

I know you think nobody loves you, that you can’t do anything right, that you’re the laziest, most self-centered, incompetent, cowardly, ineffective speck of dust God has ever created.

I also know that you’re only alive because you’re still figuring out if you’ll go to heaven if you commit suicide now, and that you feel ashamed for being afraid to die.

You feel overwhelmed.

Just like Moses. The people of Israel started lamenting to God about only having manna to eat when they had fish, cucumbers and leeks back in Egypt. God was angry with them and Moses felt burdened with having to care for all these ungrateful people. In Numbers 11:15, he told God, “Please go ahead and kill me.”

You feel alone.

Just like Jesus. His disciples fled. The crowds screamed ‘Crucify!’ And in Matthew 27:46, He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

You feel like it’s all your fault—or at least that’s what some others tell you.

Just like Job. He lost his property. His children died and he was stricken with illness. He didn’t do anything wrong, yet his friends said to him in Job 4:7, “Who, being innocent, has ever perished?”

People tell you, “Everything is going to be okay,” but you can’t believe them. You’re in a dark cave with no torchlight and everywhere you walk is the wrong direction, because you have no idea where you are going. It’s hard to believe, but Psalm 40:1–2 says, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock.”

People tell you, “You can do it,” but you can’t believe them. You’re lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, and you have no energy or willpower to do anything. And everything you do will be wrong anyway. It’s hard to believe, but Psalm 37:24 says, “Though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand.”

People tell you, “God loves you,” but you can’t believe them. You’re in agony, alone and tired in a crowded room full of people with high expectations of you and hidden agendas, saying things they don’t mean. It’s hard to believe, but He promises in Psalm 34:18, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Our Comforter is not silent. Through His Word, He speaks to you and me.

It takes a mountain of effort to do anything. It’s going to be like this for a while. But don’t stop trying. Slowly, one thing at a time, start doing things like bathing, eating, and praying. Make it a routine. Then read the Bible, eat a meal with someone, or go grocery shopping.

Learn to find beauty in small things. Eating something warm. Hugging a soft toy. Reading a Psalm. It’s not easy because your world is colored grey, but it helps you to keep going. Thank God for something every day. It may not make you more grateful; but it is therapeutic.

Even if it feels like you are just going through the motions, keep at it; meaning is something you find by living.

Think of the people you can tell about your depression.

The people you just thought of are people who love you. You are loved. Tell them what you’re going through. They may not understand but you’ll feel better. Tell them what you think might make you happy, something funny you noticed, or comment on their new hairstyle. Ask them to pray for you.

Include God in that list.

Because God really loves you, above and beyond what any human is capable of. Romans 8:38–39 says, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Is Anxiety A Sin?

Written By Carol Lerh, Singapore

Your hands turn sweaty when you think about going to school.

Your heart pounds like a drum when you’re almost at the counter but still can’t decide what to eat for lunch.

You cry because your friend hasn’t replied to your text message like they normally do.

You can’t help these feelings any more than one can control the butterflies in their stomach before a presentation, or their breathlessness before an interview.

Then you read Matthew 6:25, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.” And on top of all your anxieties about the day, you start to feel guilty for worrying when you should have trusted the Lord.

Does this mean you don’t trust God at all? You start to wonder, is anxiety a sin?

I know how it feels. I’ve been there before.

Since sin is disobedience to God’s Word, surely I have sinned. By not following what God has told me to do—place my trust in Him, not to be anxious about my life, bring my requests to God by prayer and petition (Philippians 4:6)—I must be sinning against Him.

In the parable of the sower (Matthew 13), the seed sown among thorns are those who hear the Word of God but get choked by the worries of this life and deceitfulness of wealth. In this parable, the concerns we have about life is what thwarts spiritual growth and widens the gap between us and God. Anxiety makes us focus on our problems and forget about God. We lose faith in God when we worry, just like Peter lost faith when he took his eyes off Jesus and focused on the raging waters around him (Matthew 14).

It looks like this: I believe in a powerful God who created the heavens and the earth, defeated death and Satan and gave me everlasting life, but I don’t think He’ll get me through the next 24 hours.

On the other hand, the bible does not explicitly state that anxiety, in and of itself, is a sin. In 1 Corinthians 7:32 (ESV), Paul says that an unmarried man is “anxious” about pleasing the Lord, while a married man is “anxious” about pleasing his wife. Here, Paul describes anxiety as a deep, valid concern we feel towards different things, and can even be directed towards the right source—God!

In Luke 10:38-42, Jesus visited Mary and Martha in Bethany, and Martha kept bustling around, concerned about many things. Yet Jesus did not point out her anxiety as a sin or tell her to go and sin no more. He said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are necessary—or indeed, only one” (Luke 10:40, emphasis added).

Instead, it’s our response that matters. When we get anxious, we have two choices: Go to God, or indulge in our worries

Going to God is the way the psalmists do it, and this leads them to remember that they have a God in whom they can seek refuge (Psalm 16:1), find help (Psalm 18:35) and deliverance from their fears (Psalm 34:4). Indulging in our worries, however, will lead us down the path of the seed sown in thorns, forgetting about God, and eventually ending with unbelief which is a sin.

I know the textbook answer and I chose it. I cried out to God, but I didn’t wait for Him to answer. I worried even harder, searching for freedom from these worries in the depths of the worries themselves. I thought that if I worried until I resolved the things that made me anxious, I would be okay. If I double-checked my essay another 30 times or prepared for all the possible reactions my friends might have to the text message I just sent, I could help God fulfil his promise of peace to me. I was scared and doubtful, even though I knew I should stand before Goliath with courage, confidence and peace.

But those things swallowed me up. I curled up on my bed, sobbing and too terrified to move. I lost control and ended up in the hospital.

What would you do?

There is no secret to overcoming anxiety. 1 Peter 5:7 says to “cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” The key is to keep doing it even when it may feel like God’s not listening. I gave up the first time, but if I had kept going, cried out to Him like the author of Psalm 13, “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?” I would have remembered His faithfulness in the past, and would eventually be able to say, “But I have trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.”

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He spends 10 verses talking about “do not be anxious,” and then gave an alternative to worrying. Matthew 6:33 says in the midst of it all, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Instead of focusing on myself, I wish I had focused on God instead, searched for Him intently, dwelt in His Word, thought about His will and remembered His promises.

I struggle with anxiety, even today. But now I choose to commit every problem to God and live one hour at a time.

I will still be tempted to worry over and over and over again. The panic attacks will still come and the voices that mock me in my head will still laugh. But may God help me remember to run to Him, because Isaiah 41:13 says “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, do not fear; I will help you.”