Letter: Inspiration and Christmas

 

Too many Christians ask secondary questions. “Do you believe in the Resurrection?” “Do you believe in the virgin birth?” “Do you believe in heaven and hell?” The list is long. “The devil?” Surprisingly, a yes or no often satisfies such people, as though meaningful information has been passed. Of course, none has, because essential primary questions have been ignored.

Let’s take the question, “Do you believe the Bible is inspired?” What are you asking? Whether I am inspired when I read the Bible? My answer is, sometimes. But occasionally I’m confused, other times I’m in disagreement, and now and again I am horrified, such as when I read II Kings 6:26ff. And, yes, passages like the 23rd Psalm or the Lord’s Prayer inspire me.

Or do you mean that the Bible is literally true? If so, my answer is no. No one thinks or speaks literally. Given the nature of language, it may not even be possible to do so.

Do you mean the Bible shouldn’t be questioned? If so, I question it all the time. Why is it that in Genesis 37 Reuben steps in to save Joseph’s life, and a few verses later it is Judah who does so? I’m full of questions, and always in search of answers. Can my seeking answers to troubling questions be an inspirational process? I ask, because many people find my methods disturbing.

An entire host of additional queries might be raised regarding inspiration. We might not even find agreement on a definition. But if we do, then ask me your secondary question, “Do I believe?”

We are approaching Christmas. The contradictory accounts in Matthew and Luke raise all kinds of issues. However, I, like most people, just “moosh” the two stories together to fit the Sunday school, Christmas program version, and ignore the literary difficulties. That Bethlehem story remains the world’s most beautiful, because it speaks so wondrously to the heart – God gently coming to us as an innocent baby. I suspect that is a description of inspiration that most all of us can agree upon.

Richard Gist

Princeton