The small picture
The gospel as we've been taught it is so far short of reality that I'd like to present a brief outline of what I now understand. This is not the ultimate answer - the more I learn the more there is to learn. Also, I'm only too aware of the tragic errors people have made by following new "truths" - Jonestown being one that comes to mind. But what is the result of following a path that stops so far short of reality?
When God created our world, He then created humans "in his own image". I've come a long way so far, but still don't understand what that means. One aspect of this I have come to appreciate is relationship. Somehow that is central in all he is (the use of "he" does not imply God is only male - male and female together are the image of God). I could divert here into the Trinity - but my mind can only grasp small aspects of this. Suffice to say that relationship is central to God.
He talked with these people, and their children - even when one killed another. And that went on through time. The great "heroes" of the Bible were also great fools who took a long time to overcome their natural characters. If I were to write a book about bad things done by Bible characters who God still used, it would be almost as long as the Bible itself.
The Bible tells the story of Abraham's family. His grandson became Israel, and eventually, the people turned what had been said into a religion. Religion is not God's idea - that is relationship. Religion is but a shadow of relationship - it can even be done without God at all.
As we follow the story, Israel replaces their relationship with God with their religion. God still keeps talking to them, but rarely. This is eventually largely through his special agents - the prophets. Eventually, he comes to earth through his son laying aside his godliness and being born and living as a human. During 33 years on earth, he showed us how we are meant to live.
Of course, he upset the religious leaders, who had him killed. All of this would have just been a story, were it not for the next bit. He rose from the dead. Until then, it could have been just another story. But through his resurrection, he changed everything. There is so much here it is tempting to go into so much, but I need to push on.
Jesus disciples were full of disappointment, fear and so many negative things. Their hopes had been built up, only to be dashed. Until Jesus appeared to them - individually and together over a short time. When he left, the disciples then turned the world upside down. These weak, quivering fugitives boldly told their story everywhere - even when told to keep quiet. They suffered and even died. But the more they were persecuted, the more the people who loved Jesus grew.
After about three centuries, the Roman authorities changed tack. They made Christianity the official religion of their state. We can now see that this was far more destructive than persecution had been. It took another three centuries to gain complete dominance - Patrick's Celtic church was the last main group to resist.
One of the things the Roman church did was remove all vestiges of Judaism. For example, instead of Biblical festivals, they renamed their festivals with Christian names.
From an English perspective, one of the worst things has been replacing Jewish thoughts in the Bible with an English world view. Much of that can be traced back to the Greek world view. Interestingly from a Kiwi perspective, the Jewish world view is much more akin to the Maori way of thinking.
Almost everything that we relate to Christianity in our culture has little to do with what Jesus did while he was on earth. For example, the word church is not from the Bible. The Greek word usually translated as church is a word, meaning fellowship. There are many other examples. "Professional" clergy were not known until the Roman's - they were common in religions.
I am not at all suggesting we should ignore the Bible. indeed we should be more careful with it to dig out the original content. I have heard far too many finely crafted sermons which, even to my young ears at the time sounded "off". We have large amounts of "Christian" media today promoting distorted ideas as though the Bible teaches it.
Few of us have the time, skills and resources to master Greek and Hebrew thinking before we can tackle the Bible. There are three main aids.
First, what do others think? Whether orally, in writing or in music and art people are communicating. Even if it seems trite, there can be something there. Since I'd started listening more openly to people I almost universally disagree with, I've been quite surprised to find there are things they say (buried among so much else) that make some sense. Of course, having to filter out much of what they say is challenging, so I prefer to spend most of my time learning new things from people I have already learned things from. That doesn't mean I accept everything - filers are always on. Neither does it mean I spend all my energy with those I tend to agree with. I have found disagreement can be very useful in upsetting our thinking. It's too easy to stay comfortable.
Second, what do I think? I mean really think. Our minds have all sorts of thoughts racing around. That in itself is a problem. We need to slow our mind down - to be at peace. This is not the same as emptying our minds. Some of the things in our mind are not from our own thinking. They can come from God - or from dark spirits. Telling the difference is tricky. But even our own thoughts aren't always positive. One way to tell is consistency. But even that is not easy. For example, if we're thinking about where the universe came from, many very bright people seem unaware of the vast gaps in the big bang theory. Or if they're aware, are unwilling to discard the theory because they refuse to accept the main alternative. Our thoughts can be very useful - God gave us minds as part of his image. But they're also very dangerous.
Third, what does God think? For many, this means what does the Bible say? While it's very important to always refer back to the Bible, many educated people have different explanations for many parts. The only answer is to ask God. Why continue not really knowing when you can talk one on one with the only person who really cares for you way more than anyone else. He really does want to see you grow into all you can be.