I recently saw a movie about a girl who died of demon possession. The priest was being tried for murder because he had attempted to solve the girl’s problems through exorcism instead of using conventional medical and psychological means. At the very end of the movie the prosecuting attorney, in his final argument, makes an interesting claim. He says, “I am a man of faith, but I am also a man of facts.” He goes on to explain that the fact is, demons do not exist.
This makes me wonder, do I consider myself a person of faith or a person of facts? This is a pretty important question for Christians because we say that salvation is by faith. So of course I want to say that I am a man of faith. At the same time I don’t want to sound stupid. I want to be rational. I want to be a man of facts, too.
This tension is at the heart of understanding how Christians are to handle the Bible. The reason is, our culture today claims that we cannot know anything for certain, except for things that can be scientifically reproduced in a laboratory. Therefore, ancient stories found in the Bible should be received with skepticism, because they cannot be tested scientifically.
As a result, our culture trusts only what can be experienced. One obvious problem with this is that experiences come from people—people with limited perspectives. I can only experience things for myself, so anything I know is ultimately only true for me. For example, let’s say I think that running three miles is really far. To know this, I could try to run it and if I got really tired and my body hurt at the end, then I would know that running three miles is really far. However, for someone who is used to running marathons, running three miles is no problem and experience tells them that it is not that long of a run. To our “postmodern” culture, this is evidence that reality can only be governed by experience. Because there can be many different experiences, there can be many different truths.
Christians, however, can challenge that notion. While it may be true that I do not have an infinite amount of experience, what if there was another person who did? And what if this person with infinite experience was to share his knowledge with the world? In this case, the knowledge shared by the “infinitely experienced” would be infinitely reliable. And therefore, the infinitely experienced could know and share facts with those who have not had much experience at all.
This is exactly what the Bible claims to be. The Bible claims to be God’s revelation to man. In other words, the One who has infinite experience and infinite perspective has told us certain things that can be relied upon completely. The Bible is the infinitely reliable message told to us from an infinitely reliable God.
In 2 Peter 1:16-21, we see Peter making this exact claim. He is talking about the transfiguration (when Jesus Christ was made bright and glorious and was spoken to by God the Father, in Mark 9:2-8), and he claims to be an eyewitness of this event. Because of this, it would seem that Peter could be an authority on this subject. But Peter says that he now has a prophetic word that is even more sure than what he saw with his own eyes. What Peter saw with his own eyes still had to be interpreted by himself, and he had to trust that his eyes had not lied. But when the Bible records the story, it is the result of the Holy Spirit seeing the event and interpreting it from the infinite perspective of God, recording it through the pens of men. So in the end, Peter says he can trust what he reads in the Bible even more than what he sees with his own eyes.
Paul talks about the Bible as being “God-breathed” in 2 Timothy 3:16. By this he means that the words of the Bible are the actual words that God chose for the authors to write. And because the Bible is the word of God, Paul goes on to say that it is useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. Many Christians summarize this by saying that the Bible is man’s authority for life and practice. Because the Bible is God’s Word, I can trust it to be the authority for all I do.
So with this in mind, am I a man of faith or a man of reason? Well, I believe that God is more trustworthy than myself. So it is reasonable for me to believe his words over my own feelings and ideas (just like Peter did). So I will, by faith, choose to set the Bible as the primary authority in my life. Whenever my experience or my reason contradicts the Bible, I must believe that God’s infinite perspective is greater than my own.
Sometimes this can be hard. I personally have never seen angels or demons, but if the Bible says they exist, then it is true. I personally did not see Jesus live and die, and resurrect from the grave three days later. But if the Bible says it happened, then I know it is a fact. I personally cannot understand how God could love us so much that even though we would kill His only Son, He would still make a way for us to spend eternity in heaven with Him. But because the Bible says this is true, it is a fact!