A Skeptic's Guide to Life's Ultimate Questions — Excerpt from "A Doubter's Guide to the Bible" by John Dickson
John Dickson’s new book A Doubter’s Guide to the Bible is an important one because of what he ultimately offers skeptics of the Bible: answers to life’s ultimate questions.
“[T]he real human pursuit,” he writes, “has been to understand why we are here, what purpose it serves, what direction we’re heading in, and what significance it all has.” (201)
Where do modern skeptics turn for such answers? Science. And yet Dickson insists, “Science, for all its wonders, is incapable of approaching such questions, and we dishonor science by imagining it is otherwise.” (201)
Ultimately, what Dickson’s book offers is what the Bible offers: answers to their questions about faith, life, and everything in between.
In the excerpt below he explains how the Bible’s story, from beginning to end, answers what science cannot. Pass it along to skeptics you know who need to engage the Bible, and then engage Dickson’s book yourself to help lead them into truth.
I pointed out at the start of this book that the Bible is the most popular publication of all time — another thirty million or more have sold since I started writing this book twelve months ago — and I explained this extraordinary fact by claiming that the Bible tells a story we recognize as true. Its account of the human dilemma and the shape of its answer ring true at a profound level, at least for millions of people throughout history and today. Reading the Bible can be like walking into a new café desperate for your coffee fix and finding the barista standing there holding your favorite double shot latte with one sugar. This book knows us.
It begins from the opening scenes. Adam was made for relationship with God, connection with others, and enjoyment of the garden. The spiritual, social, and physical dimensions of existence are as they should be, as we long for them to be. “Curiosity about our beginning,” writes theologian Henri Blocher, “continues to haunt the human race. It will not call off the Quest for its origins” While a scientific understanding of origins is exciting and meaningful — and something of a luxury in the “blip” of the last 150 years — the real human pursuit has been to understand why we are here, what purpose it serves, what direction we’re heading in, and what significance it all has. Science, for all its wonders, is incapable of approaching such questions, and we dishonor science by imagining it is otherwise.
We also dishonor ourselves by imagining science’s questions and answers are the only important ones. This is an important point to ponder in our contemporary context, because there are some strands of thought (and talk) that suggest the only significant questions are the ones science can investigate. This cannot be the case. As philosopher Alvin Plantinga humorously suggests, this would be like a drunk man insisting on looking for his lost car keys only under a lamppost because that’s where the light is shining. “In fact it would go the drunk one better,” Plantinga quips; “it would be to insist that because the keys would be hard to find in the dark, they must be under the light”…Science sheds its wonderful light on the operations of the natural world, but it is seriously restrictive to imagine that no keys to important questions can be found outside its gleam.
Genesis tells us about origins, in the theological and philosophical sense of why we’re here and what it means. But, oddly, it also tells us where we are headed. The picture painted in the garden of social, spiritual, and environmental harmony is as much about the future as it is about the past. It concerns creation’s goal, not just its starting point.
I like to think of the opening chapters of the Bible as a model of the healthy heart, which a cardiologist might show patients in order to explain the problem with their heart and the goal of the treatment. Genesis 1 and 2 provide the model of health in the spiritual, social, and physical dimensions. That being so, Genesis 3, the fall, offers a kind of “diagnosis.” Adam defies God and so begins the undoing of our relationship with the Creator, with each other, and with the physical creation itself. This is the human condition, estranged from our source, estranged from one another, and frustrated in our environment. The diagnosis rings true, and only the dewy-eyed utopian could imagine we’re on a trajectory of recovery all on our own.
The rest of the Bible, this vast story, concerns God’s remedy — in biblical speak, “redemption.” Redemption in the Bible is not just a spiritual rescue. It involves all three dimensions we have been exploring throughout this book. God intends to redeem our relationship with him, our connections with one another, and our enjoyment of creation itself.
As we move through the Old Testament, Israel’s story —from Abraham to David and beyond — is a preview or a sign of this redemptive plan. Built into the fabric of the Old Testament itself is the idea that Israel is a microcosm of what God will do for the whole world. The promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1 – 3 concerned blessing from God, a new community, and fruitful land. Through Abraham these blessings would somehow come to “all peoples on earth.” This is the threefold promise of the Bible.
The New Testament reiterates the promise and declares that it all comes to realization in Jesus, the descendant of Abraham, from the line of King David. In a majestic statement in his letter to the Colossians (Colossae is in southwest Turkey) about thirty years after Jesus (early AD 60s), the apostle Paul speaks of the “cosmic” effects of the work of the Messiah…
17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
The Bible’s redemptive plan is not just about putting souls into heaven. God wants to redeem all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven — which doesn’t leave much else! (pgs. 200-203)
By John Dickson
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