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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.