Taking the Hand of God, Literally; How We Read the Bible

Heaven is my throne, and the earth my footstool. What sort of house will you build for me? says the Lord, or what will be my resting place? Did not my hand make all these things?


Acts 7:49‭-‬50 CSB

I have thought and written about the fundamentalists and the atheists of the world who, ironically, approach the Bible in the same way. Both groups of people read the Bible in a wooden, inflexible, literal kind of way. (See Sam Harris Podcast with Bart Ehrman – Part 2 – Wooden Fundamentalism)

This passage above gets me thinking about these things again. The passage quoted above is from Steven’s address to the Jewish leaders who had him stoned after calling them stiff-necked like their ancestors in the desert (among other things).

Steven recited the Jewish history to them, including the Ark of the Covenant that was created for the Ten Commandments and Tent of Meeting that was carried through the desert. The Tabernacle with the Ark of the Covenant became the inner sanctum of the Tent of Meeting. These structures the people carried with them became the place they would meet with God.

David desired to build God a home, a permanent place for the Ark of the Covenant and Tabernacle, and Solomon accomplished David’s dream. David knew, however, that God does not live in a temple made by human hands. Solomon, David’s son who built the Temple, acknowledged this when he dedicated the Temple:

“But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!

1 Kings 8:27

They understood that the Tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting, and the Temple were symbolic. These physical structures and the activity organized around them and in them were meant to point to a metaphysical reality of much greater substance.

It’s ironic that David, a man after God’s own heart, knew these things, but the people of God generally often did not. David was a man after God’s own heart, but the Israelites on the whole were often stiff-necked, as Stephen said.

I find it ironic that people who try to interpret and apply the Bible in the most literal way fall on opposite ends of the spectrum. Fundamentalists and atheists both tend to interpret the Bible literally. They are the two sides of the same interpretive coin.

At the end of the passage quoted above, the Lord poses the rhetorical question, “Did not my hand make all of these things?” Does anyone literally believe that God’s hand made the universe? (Only one hand?)

I would venture to guess that nearly everyone understands this phrase to be allegorical. Yet, there are so many things in the Bible that people try to take and apply literally that are, perhaps, not as obviously allegorical.

I’ve heard the counter statement that we cannot pick and choose the things we believe out of the Bible. We must believe every word of it, or reject all of it. This is the literalist approach – all or nothing. Never mind that a verse like the one quoted above is clearly not intended to be taken literally!

Not to pick on “fundamentalists” (whatever that term might mean), but those people we tend to label with that term tend to push a very literal interpretation of Scripture. They, in a sense, double-down on the “facts” stated in the Bible and believe everything. Many atheists dig in on the same literal way of interpreting the Bible, but they believe none of it. They both approach the Bible the same way, but one believes 100% and the other believes 0%.

Continue reading “Taking the Hand of God, Literally; How We Read the Bible”

A Journey from No Religion, to Christianity, to Atheism and Back Again

Atheism can be built on the power of belief as much as Christian faith is.

A listener to the Unbelievable! podcast wrote in to Christian Premiere Radio in the UK and shared his faith journey. He was invited in for an interview. His story is a modern tale.

Jim Thring grew up in a non-religious home. He didn’t know much about religion, which is a typical experience for people growing up in the increasingly post-Christian world that characterizes the UK in the 21st Century.

He became a Christian in college. It wasn’t something he set out to do. He didn’t go seeking for truth. Friends of his introduced him to Christianity. They invited him to believe, and he accepted the invitation.

Over the years, though, his faith waned. It became shallow and lifeless. He eventually walked away and became an atheist. He says his atheism become harder core when he came across the New Atheists and began reading their books and attending their lectures.

He was an atheist for almost a decade. He joined the British Humanist Association. He “rode the rhetoric” of people like Christopher Hichens and Richard Dawkins to justify to himself intellectually that he had made a sound decision.

As time went on, though, he began to question the rhetoric. Some of it seemed shallow. Many atheists were putting Christians down as “people who weren’t thinkers or rational at all”. It seemed as if they were simply against whatever Christians said. If Christians believed something, they were against it.

He remembered people he knew from years earlier who were “a lot smarter” than him who were still Christians. He began to soften in his atheism. He began to realize that reason, logic and rational thinking are tools available to more people than atheists, and they don’t inexorably lead to atheism.

He began to realize that a person can dismiss anything. Dogmatic people dismiss things out of hand, and atheists can be as dogmatic as believers.

Darren Brown talks about the “power of belief” as a stimulant. Jim would listen to that and think to himself, “Yeah! That’s what belief is, and now I am free from all that.” As time went on, however, he began to see that his atheism had a powerful stimulant behind it as well.

The maxim that “for everything there is a material explanation” is a very powerful belief. “It means that it doesn’t matter whatever evidence someone puts in front of you, it doesn’t matter what arguments, however well-constructed they might be, or how valid they are, you’ve got a reason to dismiss them.”

He began to be honest about where his atheism lay. Thus, he gradually began going to church again with his wife and spending time with her church friends. He began to take another look at Christian arguments.

At the same time, he sought to address the issues he had with origins, evolution and young earth. He wanted to take a different look at those issues from a different perspective, but he didn’t want a source that was just a “Christian institute”.

He came across John Lennox, the professor of Mathematics at Oxford, and read his book called Gunning for God: How the New Atheists are Missing the Mark. Lennox put those issues in perspective for Jim, but he also addressed the evidence that Jim thought were “knockdown arguments” against the Christian Faith. Lennox turned them around and applied them to atheism.

Jim’s deconstructed faith began to be rebuilt. Jim’s journey is an interesting one. To hear the whole story, I have embedded the interview below:

Many people have journeyed to faith from Atheism. You can listen to more stories of people who have journeyed from faith to atheism here.

Did the Golden Rule Result from the Evolutionary Process?

The truest expression of the Golden Rule is the expression in which there is no self-interest at all


I have a friend who tells me that the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you) is not unique to Christianity or to religion. He believes that the Golden Rule is a result of the evolutionary process and can be seen in nature. His conclusion is that the Golden doesn’t come from God or religion, but from the evolutionary process.

I don’t subscribe to that (obviously), but I haven’t really set out to test the hypothesis. I have done some thinking on the Golden Rule found in religion. I have compared the Golden Rule that was invoked, encouraged and demonstrated by Jesus in his own life to the expressions of a golden-like rule in other religious traditions.

I am not shocked or surprised to find expressions of an ethic like the Golden Rule in all (or nearly all) world religions. Truth is truth, right? Shouldn’t we expect to find it or expressions of it wherever we look?

I wonder, why wouldn’t we expect to find some expression of the Golden Rule in nature too? If the world was created by God, shouldn’t the world exhibit the character of God that is expressed in the Golden Rule?

Ok, does anyone really think that the world expresses God’s love as summarized in the Golden Rule?

I have heard many atheists say they don’t believe in God precisely because the world doesn’t exhibit God’s love. Christians, of course, find reasons for this reality expressed in the Scripture. I don’t intend to address them here, but I think the point is a good one: that the demonstration of the Golden Rule is difficult to find in nature.

In the end, we can see something of the Golden Rule in nature, but the demonstration of it leaves something to be desired. It doesn’t explain why the Golden Rule exists. It doesn’t prove the evolutionary paradigm, and it doesn’t negate the existence of a creator God in whose nature and character the Golden Rule finds its source.

Continue reading “Did the Golden Rule Result from the Evolutionary Process?”

Commitment to a Worldview

The commitment to atheism can be as dogmatic as any other belief.

From the Unbelievable! discussion involving John Lennox vs Peter Atkins – Can science explain everything?

In a recent discussion on theism and atheism with the Oxford professors, John Lennox and Peter Atkins representing both ends of the spectrum, the dialogue stopped, and a time of questions and answers began. One person, a scientist, wrote in saying that he is an atheist, but his commitment as a scientist to follow the evidence suggested to him that God does exist. For him, the issue isn’t the evidence, but his own feelings, instincts and emotions.

When this question was put to the two guests to respond, the answers were very intriguing. John Lennox, the Christian, suggested that the man should continue to question and research and to test the position (that God exists) personally, not from afar. The response of the atheist, Peter Atkins, was simple: stick to your “commitment to rationality” (which to him presupposes atheism).



Think about it. Would you suppose the answer, to stick to your commitment, would more likely come from the Christian or the atheist? I would. I think most people would expect that answer to come from the Christian, but it doesn’t in this case. It’s the atheist sticking dogmatically to a presupposition.

Continue reading “Commitment to a Worldview”

Reflections on Confidence in Faith and Atheism


Lord Richard Harris, the once Bishop of Oxford, and author of Haunted by Christ: Modern Writers and the Struggle for Faith, participated in a podcast discussion with the former Catholic priest, now agnostic philosopher, Sir Anthony Kenny and Justin Brierly, the host of the Unbelievable podcast. During the interview, he reflected:

“On [the] issue of transcendence…. there is something about the experience of beauty which is tantalizing. It … mysteriously pulls us into itself and beyond itself, but it is ultimately ungraspable.” Harris likened this “mysterious pull” to “an elusive call that haunts us” and which “has its fulfillment in God.”

Harris is quick to note that the tantalizing pull of beauty is not an argument for the existence of God, but it’s also not irrational. He says, “Once you come to believe [Christianity], everything falls into place. It coheres together. This experience of beauty makes sense, as the experience of morality makes sense.”

Of course, this observation is reminiscent of CS Lewis when he said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

Sitting opposite of Harris, Sir Anthony disagreed, saying that he grew up in the church, but Christianity makes less sense to him today than it did when he was younger. As “proof” he commented on a couple of different aspects of theology (the idea of punishment for sin among them) that don’t make sense to him any more.

As I listened to him I thought, as I often do when I listen to atheists and decided agnostics, that Kenny puts a great deal of stock in what he, himself, thinks. Because it makes no sense to him, it makes no sense at all, which he asserts as a brute fact. In that sense, he elevates his own understanding into the place of an ultimate arbiter of truth.

Of course, what else are we to do?

That’s a fair question. We only have ourselves, ultimately, as tools for deciphering truth.  Continue reading “Reflections on Confidence in Faith and Atheism”