How do you choose which God or religion to believe in? Or whether to believe in any God or in religion at all? Do you use logic? Or experience? A supernatural encounter?
The actions of others? Evidence from a “sacred” text? Where does one begin? Or even begin to begin?
The world can be divided, mostly, into these major belief systems: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and secularism (or sometimes called humanism, or Secular Humanism). Only a small percentage of humanity falls outside these categories. (Take a quick look at the stats)
Opening Pandora's Box
The many forms of this system share the common belief in a purely materialistic existence. To quote atheist Carl Sagan: “The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be.” (How he could possibly know that, is a question for another day, though it is as much a faith statement as a person can make.
In secularism, everything, from the creation of the universe to human morality, can be ultimately broken down into and explained by, at least in principle, the unconscious laws of chemistry and physics.
Besides secularism, if you are interested in a belief structure or religion focused not on a
supreme being, but only on how to treat each other, then Buddhism or Confucianism might have some lure. These humanistic approaches to the cosmos don’t focus on the supernatural, or on life outside of time and space, at least as they appear to us. A similar humanistic philosophy is Taoism. The slight difference is that the reason you treat people well or poorly in Taoism is to keep a proper balance of energy, called the Tao, in the world.
The major alternatives to these humanistic philosophies are Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism. These four believe in a supreme being, or beings, and tell of how humans should interact with each other and with the world. Each is grounded in a single text or in multiple texts.
Buddhism and Confucianism
Though coming in many different forms, Judaism centers itself on the books that comprise the “Old Testament.” Unlike Christianity which sprang directly from Judaism, Jews today do not proselytize non-Jews. Instead, they claim that Judaism is for Jews alone, though every year many people do convert to Judaism in one form or another.
1400 years ago, a merchant from Arabia by the name of Mohammad ibn Abdallah, pronounced the first words of what later would be known as the Qur’an (recitation). For the next 22 years, he would add more recitations till his death in 632 AD.
Mohammad saw himself as a warner of incoming punishment for the unbeliever and a bearer of good news in the footprints of a line of prophets that included Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus. His message could be summarized into two parts: there is one God and Mohammad is the last prophet, and there is a Day of Judgment in which mankind will have to account for each one of their deeds. Those who do not associate anyone with God and whose good deeds overtake their bad deeds will enter al Jannah (Paradise).
The Qur’an from the first verse claimed to be a book of guidance (see Baqara 2:2)
This is a Book confirming, in Arabic tongue, to warn the evildoers, and good tidings to the good-doers. (Al Ahqaf 46:12)
It asks those who believe in it to also believe in the previous revelations too, known as Tawrat (Torah), Zaboor (Psalms) and Injil (Gospels):
And who believe in what has been revealed to you, [O Muhammad], and what was revealed before you, and of the Hereafter they are certain [in faith]. (Baqara 2:4)
Unlike most Muslims today, the Qur’an offers a robust validation of the previous scriptures.
He sent down to you this scripture, truthfully, confirming all previous scriptures, and He sent down the Torah and the Gospel. (Al Imran 3:3)
And We have revealed to you the Book with the truth, verifying what is before it of the Book and a guardian over it… (Maida 5:48; see also Baqara 2:101, 2:41; 2:89; 2:91; 2:97; Al Imran 3:81; Nissa 4:47; Nahl 6:92; and Yunus 10:37)
So, what is the believer called to do to gain certainty?
So if you are in doubt, [O Muhammad], about that which We have revealed to you, then ask those who have been reading the Scripture before you. The truth has certainly come to you from your Lord, so never be among the doubters. (Yunus 10:94)
When Muslims read the Bible, not only do the stories that are alluded in the Qur’an become complete, but they encounter God’s Messiah (Al Masih) and get a full revelation as to why he is called the Word of God and a Spirit from God.
There are numerous sacred texts within Hinduism.
The Vedas are the oldest Hindu books. There are four major books that compile the Vedas. They give counsel on rites and rituals that should be done daily and yearly and contain hymns. Hindus believe that these counsels are applicable to all times. However, the Vedas do not refer to human history at all. They are, instead, legends and practices transmitted by oral tradition over 3600 years before being written down. They aren’t meant to be cross-referenced with archaeology or history. The goal is not to “prove” them. They are for the purpose of providing ways to connect with the gods whom Hindus claim are all around you and in you. With over 330 million gods in Hinduism, a seeker might find it kind of hard to know which god to believe in and follow.
A look at Hindu texts other than the Vedas submerges you into an ocean of information. There are numerous popular texts, with innumerable obscure texts. Most of the other texts of Hinduism focus more on giving life meaning and attaining enlightenment. Hinduism is more of a search than an answer. Gandhi said,
“If I were asked to define the Hindu creed, I should simply say: Search after truth through
non-violent means. A man may not believe in God and still call himself a Hindu.
Hinduism is a relentless pursuit after truth... Hinduism is the religion of truth. Truth is
God. Denial of God we have known. Denial of truth we have not known.”
In this sense, Hinduism accepts most any “god” of other religions. They accept other sacred texts as alternative paths to truth. They accept evolution over billions of years. A Hindu can follow whatever path to truth and enlightenment that makes sense to them.
What about Christianity and the Bible? There are nearly 2.5 billion people who claim to believe in the Bible. Close to four billion, if you include Muslims who view some of its writings as authoritative. About half the world’s population.
The Bible itself is unlike any other book, ever. In some places, it is more than 3,000 years old, in others less than 2,000, and written by everyone from kings to farmers, from scholars to peasants. In simple terms, Christians believe that the Bible is God’s road map for humanity. They believe that it was inspired by God, who created us, sustains us, loves us, and knows what’s best for us. It is also a historical book, revealing the history of God’s working in the world that He had created. Christians, too, believe that the entire Bible points to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The Bible is self-authenticating. From the fulfillment of prophecy, to the book’s amazing unity (after all, it had been written by dozens of people, in some cases separated by more than a thousand years), to its power to change lives—Christians believe that the book gives readers compelling reasons to believe it is what it says about itself: that it is the Word of God.
To learn more about the Word click here
There are two sections called “testaments”. The Old Testament (this is the same book as the Jewish sacred text and its name is known by them as the Tanakh) is written in Hebrew; and the New Testament is written in Greek. In making the decisions on which books to put in the Old and New Testaments, careful and scrupulous work went into verifying the accuracy and authenticity of each writing. If there was even the slightest doubt of authenticity, then that work would be excluded from the written works.
While there are doubts and accusations that have arisen in the last 200 years, the Bible still stands out as a book like no other. Take the time to compare it historically with other ancient writings. I am sure that it will surprise you how it is head and shoulders above the rest when evaluated by historical literature standards.
Click on image to enlarge.
The Bible itself makes another startling claim: that it is the “Truth.” It is the truth about who God is, what He is like, and what His plans for us are. It makes claims about how we got here, where we are going, how we should live, why there is evil, and what will ultimately happen to every person who has ever lived.
Why, though, should you believe the Bible and its ultimate claims? You shouldn’t; that is, you shouldn’t without having good reasons to believe in it. In the end, no one can do your believing for you. The key is, really, an open and honest mind. One needs to approach the Bible with neither a hard heart determined not to believe, no matter the evidence; nor with a naïve gullibility that is willing to accept anything, no matter how silly the evidence for it.
What Can the Bible Offer You?
Maybe, in the end, you don’t want to believe in any religion? You have seen what has been done by “organized religion,” so maybe you want an “unorganized” one? Or maybe you want your own “religion” or belief system, one that changes and morphs as you do? That’s fine, but in the end—you are still a believer. That is, you always believe in something, maybe even in your own unbelief.
These lessons are based on a belief, too: the belief that God is real, that God is love, and that His love is revealed in the pages of the Bible and, most powerfully, in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We challenge you to study in these lessons with us but, again, with an open heart and an open mind.
Deep down, all of us are hurting, broken, and at times, fearful (the world, as we know too well, can be a fearful place). American writer Ernest Hemingway wrote that the “world breaks everyone.” He’s right. So, we earnestly invite you to come, in your own hurt, in your own brokenness (which no one else understands), and seek the God whom the Bible calls Yahweh Rapha,“the God who heals.”
You may just find yourself being healed by a God whom you never believed in, and doing so from a book that you never trusted.