April 13, 2012

Faith With Reasons

Why doesn't everybody believe in God?
Did you ever wonder if you would be a Christian if you were born in India? I remember asking myself that when I was younger. If you were born in a Christian home, maybe you’ve had that thought as well. Are there reasons to believe the Christian worldview, or is that merely the result of what someone is brought up to believe? Is Christianity just a leap in the dark, or are there reasons to believe?

Some Christians think it is a lack of faith to have these kinds of questions, but I think it is natural and healthy. When I thought through these questions, I came to answers that helped me realize that there really was something to Christianity. Seeing the reasons why this worldview made sense made my belief stronger. Likewise, if you’re not a Christian I hope you care enough to seriously think about these things.  The whole meaning of our existence, and eternity, changes depending on what the truth is about God.

“Apologetics” is the discipline of giving a reasonable answer or defense for Christian belief. This word doesn’t mean to “apologize” in the modern sense. Instead, it means “to give an answer” in the sense of 1 Peter 3:15, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” This article is the first in a series that will give a basic overview of the reasons for believing in the reality of God, Jesus Christ, and the Bible. However, before we can launch into the reasons there are some things we need to say first.

1. God doesn’t believe in atheists.
If God is real, why doesn’t everyone believe in Him? Why are there atheists? The Bible answers this question in the opposite way that you might expect. We usually describe “atheists” as people who don’t believe in God, but according to the Bible, God doesn’t believe in atheists. I’m not saying this to be cute. Look at what Romans 1:18-20 teaches:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

Notice some of the key words in these verse: “made known,” “plain,” clearly seen,” “being understood,” and “without excuse.” What this passage teaches is that—at least deep down—everyone knows that God exists. The reason for this is that God Himself “has made it plain to them.” God has designed us so that we are automatically aware that God is real. It is as if this sense of God has been hardwired in our hearts.  Another way to think about it is as if we’re built with automatic God-detectors that look at God’s creation and detect His presence just as a smoke detector detects smoke. We can look at the stars or our own hard and infer that there must be something behind all of this.  I think this explains why the vast majority of people throughout history have believed in some sort of God. Even today in America, between 85% and 90% of people believe in some sort of God.

This doesn’t mean that anyone can look at the mountains and know that Jesus Christ is the person of the Trinity who became fully man while still remaining fully God so that He could die on the cross as a substitute for all who will place their faith in Him as their sin-bearer. We need special revelation to know that. What we can know from creation is more basic: there is a God, He must be powerful and intelligent, and we owe Him our obedience.

2. Sinners suppress the truth that is plain to them.
But still, you ask, why are there atheists if this passage is true? Look at what this passage also says. It says that people “suppress the truth by their wickedness.” We all have some knowledge of the true God, but we suppress it; we push it down and deny it because we don’t like that truth. The passage goes on in verses 21-23 to say that we substitute our knowledge of the true God with ideas of our own making. The real God terrifies us so we try to substitute Him with something more comfortable—something more to our liking that we can control. This explains why most people who believe in God do not believe in the true God of the Bible. We’re aware that God is holy and that we are sinful. These feelings of guilt make us want to run from God rather than running to Him.

Suppressing the knowledge of God is like a little boy trying to hide a dog from his parents by stuffing it in a hamper. The more it barks, the more we have to push it down. This explains why some atheists have so much anger while denying a God they claim doesn’t exist. As it has been said, there are two things that many atheists believe: (1) There is no God. (2) I hate Him.

Still, we all have enough true knowledge of God to make us accountable to Him. If these verses are true, no one on Judgment Day is going to be able to say, “God, I would have believed in You, but I had no idea that you were there!”  God will say, “You had some knowledge of Me? What did you do with it? You didn’t seek after more truth—You squandered what I gave you and did what you wanted to do.”

3. Unbelief is more of a heart problem than a head problem.
When I was young I thought I could write a book answering every possible objection to Christianity. People would read it and they would have to believe. Now I realize how foolish that idea was. Unbelief is more of a heart problem than a head problem. Sure, there are intellectual obstacles that people have, but even when they are cleared away it does not mean that people will want to believe in the real God. The Israelites that God brought through the Red Sea had plenty of reasons to believe that God was real, but they still turned away from Him. We are rebels. The real God makes people uncomfortable and cramps our style. You can know that God exists but not like Him.

4. Nobody is neutral.
People can always find some sort of smokescreen excuse not to believe in God.  This means that just because someone doesn’t accept some of the evidence for God that there is a problem with the evidence. If Romans 1 is true, then we are not impartial judges. We have reasons of the heart that keep us from looking at the evidence clearly. We tend to see what we want to see. Don’t expect yourself or anyone you talk to to be neutral. If God exists, then He is the real judge. Don’t try to take over His job.

5. Don’t have unreasonable standards for certainty.
There are not many things that we can know with absolute, mathematical certainty. You can know that you yourself exist, and that  2 + 2 = 4, but beyond that there is always some remote possibility that you are being deceived. Some people can find a way to doubt anything—that George Washington existed, or that the sky is blue. If you’re skeptical enough, I couldn’t even prove to you that I really exist. Even if I come to your house and hit you upside the head, you could still claim that maybe you’re in the Matrix or high on acid. Still, we never demand that level of certainty with other things in life. If you intentionally run over some people with your car, you’re going to go to jail. It won’t help if your attorney claims that maybe those people were holograms. In the same way, don’t think that you will be off the hook with God just because you think some bizarre loophole might still be possible.

6. Our attitude should be described as faith seeking understanding.
There is a difference between asking questions and questioning. Having questions about Christianity isn’t a bad thing as long as you are seeking answers, not excuses.  Christians should have the attitude of Anselm of Canterbury who wrote, “I do not seek to understand so that I may believe; but I believe so that I may understand.” Having this attitude keep us from forgetting that God is the judge, not us.

7. Doubt Your Doubts
Some people have a superhuman ability to doubt everything about Christianity. But what if those same people applied as much effort in doubting the alternatives to Christianity? You have to believe in something. If you think that the Christian worldview is wrong, then what do you replace it with? Skeptics should invest as much effort in doubting their own worldviews, not just Christianity. Personally, this is a main reason that I think the Christian worldview is true. I can’t bring myself to consistently believe in anything else. If Christianity isn’t true, then I assume materialism would be. But when I’ve tried to seriously imagine that we are all nothing more than physical and chemistry, thrown together by accident with no purpose—I can’t believe it. I can’t consistently believe that love, goodness, and beauty are just chemicals in my brain. I can’t believe that I can be self-aware if I’m nothing more than an advanced calculator. And I can’t believe that this all came about with no design. I doubt the alternative to Christianity more than I doubt Christianity. It has the least contradictions, the least problems, the best evidence, and the most power to explain all of reality. We should believe whatever complete worldview makes the most sense.

If God exists, He could let us know that he exists just by planting this knowledge within us. He could also let us know that He exists by giving us evidence. I believe that He has done both of these things. We will think about that more in the next post.

How God Lets Us Know He Exists
The Universe; Caused, Self-Caused, or Uncaused?

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