“For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses….” “For prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:16,21).
I’ve been reading books again.
That explains a lot of things. It explains where my mind is these days, what’s been bugging me, and where I’ve been searching the Word.
I’ve been reading “The Story of Ain’t.” This is mostly the story of struggles to decide what goes into dictionaries, culminating in Webster’s Third Edition. Author David Skinner brings us into the inner offices of G. and C. Merriam Company and tells how decisions are made concerning the English language. If you like that, you’d love watching sausage being made. (It’s a difficult book to read and only the wordsmiths among us should “rush out and buy this book.”)
I’ve been reading “The Refiner’s Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844.” Author John L. Brooke takes us back into the context of the birth of this American-made religion to show that almost everything about it was the product, not of revelation, but of ideas floating around when Joseph Smith was a young man.
I’ve been reading the Bible.
The contrast in these three is enlightening. Reflecting on them resulted in the following observations….
1) Some things we make up as we go. Language is that way.
I’m the product of an educational system (1946-1973) that taught students to turn to the dictionary for “the real meaning of that word.” English teachers assured us that “will” and “shall” are used in different ways, and that educated people knew the difference. Infinitives should not be split and prepositions should not end sentences. Nouns must not be used as verbs, otherwise they might (ahem) impact us wrongly.
We were left with the impression that these things were set in stone, that somehow somewhere a high council handed down iron-clad rules on proper English usage.
And then we learned otherwise.
David Skinner’s “The Story of Ain’t”–the title refers to the decision to include jargon and slang in the Third Edition and not limit the dictionary to “proper” English–tells us otherwise. The blue ribbon panel which advised the company on these matters was all over the place and would debate for hours on the tiniest of issues. Eventually, the panel was disbanded and the professionals in the employ of the Merriam Company (with their advanced degrees and unlimited resources) called the shots. But not without struggles and fights, which is what the book covers.
For our purposes here, I just wanted to make the point that language is not a science, not an exact thing but a living entity which is always changing, ever growing and adding and sloughing off and adapting. All of that could rightly have enabled the kid in school to ask the teacher, “Who says it means that? Who is Webster and who turned the English language over to him?”
And the kid is right.
Mostly, the people of a country come to some kind of conclusion and agree that their language will mean one thing and not another. Their language, and ours, is not set in stone, but is forever adapting. And no, this does not mean there are no standards and that the kid in school can make a case for slaughtering “the Queen’s English,” as we say. It just means justifying the rule to the child is harder than it used to be.
2) Some religions are total fabrications. Someone “made them up as they went along.”
Mormonism, the religion of the Latter Day Saints, falls into this category. The corruption of the Christian faith which is Jehovah’s Witnesses is another.
Now, John L. Brooke (“The Refiner’s Fire”) tells far more than we would ever want to know about the history of popular magic, treasure-seeking, restoration theology, Masonic practices, and the rise of weird theologies in the “Burnt Over District” (that part of Upper New York State, Vermont, etc., which had been the battleground of revivalism and denominational warfare to the point of exhaustion). But when he finishes, no one is in doubt as to where Joseph Smith came up with his religion, which is a casserole of all the concepts that had been floating around that district for years. He just organized them into a more or less palatable dish.
More and more, Mormons are beginning to question their origins. And that can only lead to two outcomes, both of them good: disillusionment with the LDS church and a drive to find the Truth, which should send them back into God’s Word. (And we do not mean the Book of Mormon!)
Author John L. Brooke concedes that he believes Joseph Smith was sincere and not a charlatan. Personally, given the man’s history of deception and failed attempts at treasure-hunting (digging in the hills for Captain Cook’s gold?) and other scams, I find that a stretch, but do appreciate his grace. (For anyone wishing to read more on this, I recommend Volume One of Sidney Blumenthal’s five-volume series on “The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln,” the volume called “Self-Made Man,” pages 235-261. Blumenthal blisters Joseph Smith and leaves you wondering why anyone would follow such a con-man.)
3) Some things are revealed from Heaven. That Holy Bible you own is pretty much the entire category.
There are no other books like this one. Yes, I’m aware that religious books claiming to be dropped from Heaven can be found in every country and every age. But the difference between them and this book are staggering.
That is not to say this book, the Bible, was “dropped from Heaven fully-grown.” Far from it. “Holy men of old spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit,” scripture says for itself.
Some respond, “Men wrote it.” Well, duh. Of course they did. We’re simply saying God inspired them. Not in the same way He will inspire me to preach next Sunday. Something far more than this.
The book retains the personality of its writers in many cases, and deals with situations of real people having genuine conflicts. But when you read it and receive its overall message, you realize something special has happened. Divine, even.
Nay-sayers who resist the Bible’s message and angrily attack it as divine are still left to explain its continued popularity year after year. The gullibility of the readers is not sufficient an explanation. They find genuine help here.
Some will say that people buy this book but they do not read it. No one questions that millions own Bibles who never open it. However, untold millions buy the Bible and read it and are forever changed by its truth.
My own observation about those who attack the Bible is that they have never sat down and read it cover to cover. They have read smidgens and have mostly picked up parts which other attackers have focused on. This is so dishonest. If we’re going to attack a book, the least we can do is read it. And yes, even the difficult parts. Keep on reading.
If you can dispassionately read it with an open mind–not biased one way or the other–you may well come away convinced that this book is unique. They said of Jesus, “Never man spoke like this man.” And we say of this book, there is nothing else like it in existence.
Try it and see. Notice its unity from beginning to end, even though it spans a couple of thousand years and was penned by many different writers, even in different languages and cultures. Notice the prophecies from the 8th century B.C. coming to pass in the first century.
Don’t be surprised if you are surprised.
Get ready to fall in love.