April 27, 2012

How God Lets Us Know He Exists


God lets us know of His existence through two complementary channels rather than just one. Thus I want to describe a “two-pronged” apologetic. Each of these prongs can work without the other one, but they both have different advantages and disadvantages. One prong has the advantage of being immediate and certain, but has the disadvantage of being subjective (in the sense that it can’t be verified by anyone beside yourself.) The other prong has the disadvantage of not immediate and certain—because it takes work and investigation—but it has the advantage of being objective, meaning that it can be examined and tested by other people. Prong A is based on a God-given intuition that He exists. Prong B is based on evidence, including empirical evidence (things we can learn from our senses) and historical evidence.

(Note: In this post I am not talking about the difference between general revelation and special revelation.)

Prong A: God-Given Intuition that He Exists

If God wanted to be certain that everyone knew that He existed, He could use His power to simply “make” everyone know that He exists. He could hard-wire this conviction into our inner being. If God did this, then no one could ever legitimately accuse God of hiding Himself from humanity. Also, it would mean that no one could legitimately accuse God of making it too difficult to know that He exists.

If an all-powerful God exists, then we have to admit that it is at least logically possible that this is something God could do. Now, I am not suggesting that this is true merely because anyone feels it or claims it. Anyone could claim this about any false religion. People can also be mistaken. However, if God does exist and if God chooses to do something like this, then this could be something real and effective.

I do believe that this is exactly what God has done. I believe that He has hard-wired each of us to know that He is there. The Bible hits on this in Romans 1:18-20 as well as Romans 2:15 and Psalm 14:1. This doesn’t mean that we intuitively know everything about Him, but I believe that we all, deep down, know that God exists.

The big drawback of this way of knowing that God exists is that there is no way to prove it to other people. In addition, other people can deny that they have this inner awareness. In fact, the Bible specifically says that people “suppress” this awareness. Romans 1:18-23 teaches that although God made Himself plain to humanity, men suppress this truth. Of course, if everyone really has this awareness, this might be the reason why some atheists work so hard to convince themselves that God doesn’t exist. Just because we all know He exists doesn’t mean that everyone likes it.

This way of knowing God is completely effective between God and individual people, but it is ineffective from person to person. God can convince you this way, but I can’t. I can’t cut open my chest and show you that God has put this knowledge in my heart. Likewise, atheists can fervently maintain that they themselves don’t have any deeply suppressed God-given awareness of God. I can’t cut open their heart and show it to them. Atheists can give alternate theories for why most of humanity believes in God. I could point to sociologists and scientists who are starting to believe that our minds are hard-wired to believe in God, but an atheist could claim that this is the result of evolution or other factors. At the same time, an atheist could try to convince me that I merely have a God delusion, but there is no way that he can cut open my heart to show me that either. This does not mean that different people have different truths, but it does mean that we can’t directly prove this to one another.

However, if God does exist and has done this, then this is knowledge that you and I will be accountable for whether we deny it or not. If it is true, then none of us will be able to stand before God and claim that He hid himself or that He made it too hard to know that He is there.

Prong B: God Reveals Himself through Evidence

God has also revealed Himself to humanity in a way that is not just internal. He has also revealed Himself in a way that can be examined objectively, using empirical and historical evidence, and presented to other people. While prong A was immediate and certain, prong B take effort and investigation.  However, prong B has the advantage that it is something that can be presented to other people and examined by other people.  God gives us certainty with prong A and evidence with prong B. 

God-Given Internal Conviction that He Exists
God Reveals Himself through Evidence
Immediate
Takes effort and investigation
Certainty (although it can be suppressed)
Relative certainty at best (doubts always possible)
Available to all
Not everyone has access to all information
Internal
External
Private (cannot be examined by others)
Public (can be examined by others)

There are several disadvantages to this second avenue. First, this method takes a great deal of effort. Not everyone can or will exert this effort. Second, not everyone has access to all the relevant information. This was especially true in earlier eras of history. Also, this method cannot lead to absolute certainty. There is always something that a hardnosed skeptic could question. This is especially important when we remember that fallen human beings are not morally neutral about the question of the existence of God.

On the other hand, this avenue has some great advantages. Unlike internal intuition, evidence is something that can be shared with others. It is public. Other people can examine the same facts along with us. We can look at these things and discuss them together.

This is also something very helpful for those of us who already admit the belief in God. Without public evidence, one might wonder if their internal conviction is merely a delusion. External evidence and arguments help to strengthen our faith by seeing that there are reasons for what we already believe. Biblical faith is not blind faith.

In further posts we will explore these reasons in greater detail, but for now let me give you a summary of a non-circular argument for belief in the God of the Bible.

Overview  of a Case for God

1.    It makes sense to believe in God. There are strong reasons to believe that God, or at least something like God, exists. These reasons include arguments from the origin of the universe, the design of the universe, the existence of real moral standards, and the fact of human self-consciousness. At the very least, these reasons demonstrate that it is not crazy talk to think that God might exist. In fact, it makes very good sense. Also, if it is possible that God exists, then it is possible for God to interact with our world. This means that miracles are possible and should not be dismissed out of hand.

2.    Next, the New Testament documents are generally reliable historical documents. Contrary to the claims of some skeptics, the texts of the Bible have been accurately transmitted to us. We have over 5,700 handwritten copies of the Greek New Testament. This is far more than other ancient manuscripts. The time gap between the original writings and the earliest existing copies is far less than other ancient manuscripts. Finally, the texts were carefully copied. There were multiple lines of transmission ensuring that no one could person or group could have changed the text. The small amount of variations can be eliminated by comparing copies with each other. Also, the documents have earmarks of historical honesty and accuracy. This includes detailed knowledge of the culture and geography, embarrassing details, hard sayings and unpopular teachings, and other details they would not have invented. (Please note carefully, at this point in the conversation I am not claiming to prove that the Bible is the flawless Word of God. Please notice this so that you don’t give a wrongful accusation of circular reasoning.)

3.    Using historical evidence, including the generally reliable New Testament documents, history and logic show that Jesus had a tomb that was empty on the Sunday after He was buried. The best explanation for this is that Jesus rose from the dead, just as He had predicted. Other explanations do not stand up under scrutiny. (Remember, no one should claim this is “impossible” unless one has already assumed that God does not exist. That would be circular reasoning.)

4.    Finally, if Jesus rose from the dead, it validates His claim to be the God of the Old Testament. In addition, if Jesus really is God, then His view of the Bible is correct. (God wouldn’t be wrong about the Bible.) And since the generally reliable New Testament documents show us that Jesus viewed Scripture as the inerrant Word of God, this is the view of the Bible that we should have as well.

If God exists, this fact changes everything about the meaning of your life. These questions are worth your time exercising a few brain cells and searching your conscience. 

Related: 
Faith with Reasons
The Universe: Caused, Self-Caused, or Uncaused?

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