Hi Dwight, got a random question… What would you say are your top 3 reasons for why you believe the Bible?
Since I had little time, and since I am not an expert on philosophical apologetics or epistemology, I gave the following response (edited slightly here for clarity):
Well… I’ll answer quickly, so this might be 3 random answers to your question rather than my top 3!
1) Jesus’ resurrection. The disciples proved by martyrdom that they believed Jesus rose from the dead, and they were in a position to know whether he had in fact done so. And if he indeed did rise, then we’d better listen to what was…
2) Jesus’ belief about the Bible. As I read Jesus’ words as recorded by his apostles and their close associates, it is clear to me that Jesus believed the OT scriptures were the words of God, the voice of the Holy Spirit. Then he also promised that his apostles—who later wrote the bulk of the NT—would be led into all truth by the same Holy Spirit, and appointed them to be his witnesses.
3) The witness of the Bible itself as I read it—literary grandeur, diverse breadth of themes that matches the diversity of human experience, and–getting to more important factors–its unique explanatory power for why the world and ourselves are as we find them to be, its unified coherent story line from beginning to end of the text and the universe, and its compelling vision of a God that is both more holy and more loving than any other image of divinity ever dreamed up by humanity.
Thanks for making me think about this! I could add other sociologically important factors, like the fact that I was taught to believe it from little on up. But when I have moments of doubt, while I do return to the fact that the best people I’ve ever known believe the Bible (this is an important fact!), I ultimately am only settled when I ponder objective facts like the above.
Finally, I must also say that I believe the Bible because God has granted me faith to believe, and because his Holy Spirit continues to open my heart to its words and its message about Christ.
There are many good answers to my friend’s question. No one answer may feel sufficient on its own (just as it is equally possible for you to dispute whether I actually exist). But the many answers, taken together, add up to a compelling case for the Bible’s trustworthiness.
Life has been too busy of late for me to blog. Worse, I’m afraid I let my busyness keep me from even reading, until today, this post that Mom prepared a month ago.
A month is a long time when your father is battling cancer. It is also a long time when your mother’s neglected post is about the questions she is asking in the shadow of death.
Mom’s post is now slightly dated. Dad has already begun chemotherapy. Thankfully, he has not had any unexpected reactions to any of his treatments. But we expect he will be tired and weak for the next six months, and the possibility of too-soon death remains very real. The heartbeat of Mom’s post is not dated at all.
I will let Mom take over from here, except to ask you to please pray for my parents (and Mom’s friend mentioned below) as autumn, and perhaps winter, nears.
An autumn/winter poem in the middle of summer? Exactly. That is the question we ask of life right now…
When Autumn Comes Too Soon
I have a dear friend in the bloom of life, serving God in the summer season of family and church and witness. But autumn has suddenly grabbed her by the ankles and abducted her away from the perfect life-cycle that ends with a gentle winter waiting for release. Her remaining allotted number of years are now counted out as weeks instead, and time has turned traitor on us all.
My husband was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma a little over four years ago. Though a bit of a roller-coaster ride, the journey has not been too arduous up till now: three radiation sessions that were well-tolerated, and continued energy and good health otherwise. Now the lumps are multiplying and growing, some threatening to obstruct his airways, and so the oncologists are advising chemotherapy. That was the bad word we hoped to push off for many years and hopefully forever. Ken will be seventy in December and feels he has reached the biblically-allotted lifespan. But seventy in our day is not old, and Ken is a youngish seventy, still working hard much of the time. We are ready for autumn, perhaps, but winter?
I have been reading Psalm 90 the past months. I call it the Angry Psalm. Is God really so angry with us as the psalmist says? I have always loved this psalm, the security of having a timeless, eternal God as our dwelling place, the unfailing love that satisfies us every morning, and yes, the poetry of the piteous, poignant images about our numbered days, our little tale acted out during our directed time on earth.
Moses is credited with writing this Psalm: “A prayer of Moses the man of God.” That made me a little angry. Moses says we are consumed by God’s anger, and troubled by His wrath. But what does he know of threescore years and ten, living as he did to one hundred and twenty, and climbing his last mountain to meet God with mind alert, limbs still rippling with powerful muscles, and eyes as clear-sighted as a hawk’s? What does he know of wits stolen while the heart still beats strong, of eyes once love-filled glazing in confusion, of aging bodies lingering endlessly in uselessness and pain, or of believers in the prime of life struck down by rampaging warring cells in their beautiful bodies?
Then I calm myself down and acknowledge all the death and suffering and pouring out of judgement that Moses witnessed during the wilderness wanderings. He knew painfully well the “labour and sorrow” that can attend the longest lifespan. There is deep pathos and empathy in this psalm, and it is a prayer, so Moses dares to be as honest as we only dare be when we are speaking to God, pouring out our hearts before Him, when we are not presuming to speak for Him to others.
“How long?” Moses asks, and humanity has been asking this, the most frequently recorded question in the Bible, since time began. We ask it when time drags too long in the agony of an endless minute of unbearable pain. Our days too can be as a thousand years. We ask it when time flies away in a heartbeat, stealing our joyful hours when they have barely begun. How long will I have to treasure this moment? And we ask it when we bow before God and ache with the puzzle of life and time, and of God’s will in His measuring and meting out of time and what it brings. Why must life be so short and our troubles so long? So often our hopes spring up new and fresh in the morning, and by evening are withered and dry.
“So teach us to number our days.” Like Abraham I bombard God with numbers in my prayers. “If 1000 years are with you as one day, would it be such a hardship to give my friend fifty more? Thirty? Twenty? Please just ten?!” Can God understand how much we can long for time—more time—to watch time unfold with our loved ones, our children? But then, do I understand how unworthy I am of even one breath of life, one moment of time?
Oh Ageless, Ancient One, You hold us in Your hands. How calmly You carry us. How angrily You consume us, mind and body, sweat and sin, turning us back to dust again. And oh, how quickly You awaken from somewhere in the back of our little wave-battered craft, to speak your transforming “Peace, be still!” into our anxiety of waiting and despair. In the twinkling of an eye, behold you come quickly.
I remember how Your Son counted out time in unbearable blistering seconds on the cross, measuring pain in the torturous traverse of the sun’s shadow on the dial, in its creeping rays across the turning earth, and in the trickle of blood and sweat down His disfigured face. He too finished his years like a tale told, a sigh, a moan. But He also finished it with a cry of victory! He had accomplished what You had assigned Him to do in His time on earth. I praise You that because of His finished work, we too can live lives that accomplish Your plan for us, whether our lifespan be long or short. Because Your Son provided forgiveness for our sin, we can be saved from wrath and live under Your favour. We can manifest Your beauty in our lives, Your glory to our children. We can safely abide in the eternal.
The following poems were written many years ago. The first one, Help Us To Not Be Afraid Of Your Will, was written in 1979 after my mother went for a biopsy of a breast lump, which thankfully turned out to be benign. The poem was written on my knees, a prayer for my mother, which I shared with her before she went to the doctor for the results. The poem meant a lot to her and so holds some nostalgia for me, despite its simplicity and lack of imagery.
In 2000–2001 I wrote a new version which I feel is better poetry: Winter Birch. However my husband says he prefers the original, that it is easier to follow. There is something about the repeated refrain, “Help us to not be afraid of Your will” that echoes the cry of the struggling soul. The most repeated command in scripture is “Fear not,” “Be not afraid.” How can we face an unexpected autumn, the chill of winter? God invites us to turn from fear to faith, from doubt to praise, and meets us with unexpected gifts in His hands. As we wait for Ken’s chemotherapy consultation we are asking God for grace to do that, and to move beyond fear and questioning to faith and hope.
—Elaine Gingrich, July 12, 2016
Dwight again: I want to underscore a pair of observations Mom shared. What is “the most frequently recorded question in the Bible”? And what is “the most repeated command in scripture”? Did you catch them? Here they are again, a painful, promising, perfectly-matched pair: “How long?” and “Fear not!”
Now on to Mom’s poems.
HELP US TO NOT BE AFRAID
When we must lay down the work in our hand
And all our projects and prospects stand still,
When our life’s pattern is not as we planned,
Help us to not be afraid of Your will.
When we stand waiting in doubt’s desert land,
Wondering if yet our life’s dreams we’ll fulfil,
When we pray, lifting our heart in our hand,
Help us to not be afraid of Your will.
When all the questions within us demand
That we find answers our deep needs to fill,
And there are reasons we don’t understand,
Help us to not be afraid of Your will.
When all alone and all trembling we stand,
Help us to feel what Your love is, until
Finally we see the good gifts in Your Hand.
Then we will not be afraid of Your will.
—Elaine Gingrich, November 1979
UPDATE: A friend of Mom named Kelsie Troyer put this poem to music and recorded herself singing it. Her musical setting is unpretentious and sincere, fitting for a prayer. Feel free to sing along:
Oh God, these winter birch that lift their limbs
Empty of obvious purpose to the skies,
Have known the autumn chill, yet raise their hymns
Of pearly praise to You. They ask no whys.
Their leaves fell too. They know of letting go.
They trembled in the blast of death’s alarms,
But do not seem afraid through wind and snow.
They wait for spring. And still they raise their arms.
And should the changing seasons strip us too
And leave us purposeless, yet, when we pray
Lifting our hearts in trembling hands to you,
We would not fear your will nor doubt your way.
Help us to praise, though scattered on the ground
Beneath us lie dear dreams and withered plans,
That like these birch that quietly astound,
We look up fearless with faith-lifted hands.
—Elaine Gingrich, June 1, 2000/January 2001
For the rest of the poems in this monthly series, see here.
And if you enjoyed these poems, or want to show your support for Mom and Dad in this difficult season, leave a comment here for Mom, or send her an email at . Thanks!
Have you been impatiently waiting for the monthly poem from my mom? No, we have not forgotten. Here it is, just in time to help you remember the death and life of Christ.
God bless you as you read Mom’s poem and meditate on Christ.
I remember as a young girl, lying on the grass, gazing at the immense blue summer sky above me, and trying to grasp in the “grain of sand” that was my mind, the concept of eternity. As the clouds moved lazily overhead I pondered the puzzle of eternity past and eternity future, tried to envision the vast expanses of “time” implied, and wondered which would be more irrational, that God should have never begun—how could that be!—or that He should have a beginning—but then how and why could He have begun? I would try to stretch my mind across the eons of eternity from past to future until I felt my brain would explode.
G. K. Chesterton said that “poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea… the result is mental exhaustion. To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain. The poet desires… a world to stretch himself in… asks only to get his head into the heavens… the logician… seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head which splits.”
The Scriptures tell us it is “by faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God…not…of things which are visible” (Heb. 11:3, NKJV, italics added).
I was nearing fifty years of age when I wrote the following poem about Christ’s time on earth, and my brain felt no more adequate then of grasping the puzzle of Christ’s work of salvation than it was earlier with the concept of eternity.
The puzzle: Did Jesus come to live or to die for us? His death was only efficacious because of His Resurrection and because of His perfect life. His life alone could not have saved us. He needed a body for the very purpose of dying for us. Remission of sin demands blood shed, a death, a sacrifice.
Romans 5:1 says we are “justified by faith” in Him “who was delivered up [to death] because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification” (Rom. 4:25, NKJV, italics added).
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! (Rom. 11: 33, NASB)
In humble faith I celebrate and trust in the life and death and resurrection of my Risen Lord and Saviour as all-sufficient for my eternal salvation!
—Elaine Gingrich, March 1, 2016
THIRTY-THREE YEARS: A LIFE
He came to die, but first He came to live.
Not as some faceless, flat protagonist
Who dies in a pale story, never missed
By readers. No, our captured minds would give
The world to know this Man. The finest sieve
Can catch no fault in Him. Go down the list
From “healed a leper” to “by traitor kissed,”
Then watch Him die unjustly, yet forgive.
Here was a man to tower above men,
With strength to calm the stormy Galilee,
With touch more tender than a baby’s sigh.
Here was a man deserves to live again,
A man to love! We turn the page to see
The script. He lives! But first He came to die.
—Elaine Gingrich, May 2, 2000
While this was not her intent, Mom’s insight about the need to connect the life and the death of Christ has been the subject of some recent discussion in scholarly circles.
N.T. Wright, for example, wrote a book calledHow God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels. Wright argues that evangelicals and other confessional Christians, influenced by the pattern of the ancient creeds, have tended to emphasize the virgin birth and the cross of atonement while skipping over the life of Christ with his radical kingdom teachings. Liberal theologians, however, influenced by post-Enlightenment critical scholarship and embarrassed by the miraculous elements of Jesus’ birth and death, have emphasized the exemplary power of his human life.
But true Christianity needs both—the kingdom teachings and life of Jesus on the one hand, and also his miraculous, saving death and resurrection. In Wright’s words, we need both kingdom and cross. (While I have not read this book, I have listened about three times to this lecture Wright gave on the same topic. Highly recommended.)
Wright is a scholar of the first rank, but his book above is written for a general audience. Pastors have also written on this subject, such as Tim Chester in his 2015 book Crown of Thorns: Connecting Kingdom and Cross. (I have not read this book, but am familiar enough with Chester to feel confident it will be a useful read.)
I am excited to see scholars and pastors grasp this insight. But understanding exactly how Jesus’ life and death relate together to save us and shape our lives is secondary to simply trusting and following him. So it’s okay if you identify with what Mom said after I shared some of the above with her:
You can develop the deep debates and I will stick to the simpler faith foundation. 🙂
I am deeply grateful to my mother for helping to keep my faith foundation firm, both in my youth and to this day.
For the rest of the poems in this monthly series, see here.