The Question of "Questions"...
Alvin Plantinga, among many others, has wrestled with the philosophical Problem of Evil with earnestness and sincerity. It is perhaps the major difficulty within theistic systems. But Plantinga has articulated a more central problem (esp. for the Judeo-Christian worldview). The problem is not why there is evil, but why there is SO MUCH OF IT--its extent and range and severity are staggering. But let me apply this question mutatis mutandi to the issue of Christian evidences, especially in regards to the Scripture: The question is not 'why are there difficulties in the Bible', but why are there SO MANY?
I have on my bookshelves reams of paper advancing proposed solutions to ‘alleged contradictions’ and difficulties in the bible. I have whole bibliographies on the subject. I have a set of 5-6 books on the “Hard Sayings” in our Bible. Why so many challenges to faith?
I have learned from experience that each of these many questions generally has a ‘set’ of possible solutions, and that the issue for each one is not ‘is there an answer?’ but ‘which of the possible answers is the ‘best’ one?” Which one balances out the various things-at-risk in every multi-variate problem set? Which one can best satisfy the constraints laid upon me by the demands of honesty, stewardship of time, urgency of the need, availability of data, and kerygmatic imperatives?
So it is not a question of unanswered questions, but rather of why they are there at all? And especially in such volume?!
I have been thinking about this for a while now, so I will tell you the meager results thus far:
- They function like other ‘challenges’ do in our lives. We know that God uses tests of our faith to exercise us to growth; and I certainly have experienced that in the mental ‘sector’ as well.
- The scripture also seems to have a parabolic aspect. Jesus referred to the function of the parables–to both hide AND reveal at the same time, in the same disclosure. In other words, God gives His message with ‘noise’ at the surface structure, but with adequate hermeneutical clues/help to construct the ‘deep structure’ in line with His intended meaning.
- A goodly number of these (and growing, in my opinion) are designed to be gristmill of theological construction. The ‘contradiction’ over the relationship of the messiah to David in Psalm 110 which was used by Jesus in Matt 22 to point in the direction of the ‘dual nature’ of Christ is such an example. (Another would be the ‘contradiction’ between the descriptions of the coming of the messiah–the one in Zech as ‘gentle, on a donkey’ and the one in Daniel as ‘in power, in clouds’.)
- Some I think are exercises in honesty and judgment. When you work through these, you begin to develop a sense of where your solutions are ‘solid’, where they are ‘slippery’, and where they are ‘weak’…you develop critical thinking skills IN THE CONTEXT of a conscience bound-to-truth before God.
- Some function as heuristic devices ‘from God’! When I think of all the rich information that has come from trying to account for the Synoptic differences (!) esp. in the redaction-critical studies of Luke and Mark, I see such a blessing for the church’s understanding of the greatness of her God!
- Some I think are set up as ‘close calls’ simply to see how honest we will be. I think about Paul’s statement in 1Cor. 11:19 “No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have GodÕs approval.” (Of course, we tend to think that OUR VIEW on the matter is that which gets God’s approval!)
- I think the range of difficulties (e.g. textual, historical, theological, moral) are there to ‘vector’ some of us off in different areas of research. In other words, the questions I mainly focus on concern the concept, process, and nature of revelation. I encountered questions in THOSE areas early, and so vectored off in that direction. I know others who hit the ‘textual’ problems early and went on to do advanced semitics work.
What I also find interesting is that these questions (about 800 total) are answered every generation by a new crop of students. Many of us ‘re-invent the wheel’ due to lack of familiarity with what’s already been done, and I think in many cases, God does this intentionally for our exercise in learning, honesty, and thinking. More on this later…