For over a year, my most-read post was “Steven Colbert And Jesus”, posted December 20, 2010. I am convinced the popularity of that post was a product of Steven Colbert’s celebrity, rather than the substance of what I wrote. Basically, I compared Steven Colbert’s representation of Jesus, the Bible and Christianity to what the Scriptures actually teach. But the comments I got reflect that most people aren’t interested in examining the Scriptures. They prefer to nurse their biases according to how they feel about Mr. Colbert.
But that was then. This is now. A few months ago my post, “Too Heavenly Minded?”, from July 14, 2010 surged into first place and has maintained a substantial lead. Since there is no celebrity attached to that article, it seems obvious to me that its subject matter is what attracts the most readers. Of course, being attracted to the topic isn’t the same as agreeing with the writer. And since that article only received one comment, I have no idea whether most readers agree with my conclusion or not.
[UPDATE: Since this was written, I have received a substantial number of comments on “Too Heavenly Minded?”, which continues to be my most-read article.]
At the very least, I can say that there is substantial interest in topics related to spirituality. Those who are generally interested in topics describing Christianity or discussing the Bible represent a broad spectrum of opinions. And because of this, it is easy for any such discussion to get bogged down in the specifics of a particular church doctrine or to only focus on personalities. When that happens, everyone tends to get lost in his own opinion and the big, fundamental questions get overlooked.
So, I decided to break down the most fundamentally important spiritual question that can be asked: “Does God exist?” Answering this question represents the initial step in the spiritual journey of every believer. And I believe that first step is the most important step. As always, I come from the perspective that the Bible gives us the information we need to know, to make our spiritual journey — from start to finish. I invite you to carefully consider these thoughts; I hope you care enough to closely examine them.
DOES GOD EXIST?
Job said, “I know that my redeemer lives …” (Job 19:25). Notice he used the word “know” (not think or believe or am of the opinion that). His statement is a testimony of the knowledge that God exists. But what does Job’s statement mean to those who say God does not exist? They might say he was mistaken, deceived, living in a fantasy world, lying or just plain crazy.
A person’s testimony that he “knows” God exists reflects the strength of his own convictions. But others cannot accept his “knowledge” unless they trust him (have faith in him). If you don’t trust Job, you won’t value his testimony. You won’t care what he says about God.
“Knowing” God is something each person must personally experience for himself. And that knowledge of God is something that forever separates all humanity. You either believe God exists or you don’t. From Hebrews 11:6 the beginning requirement of a person’s journey of faith is laid out: “anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists”.
While that portion of Scripture may appear to be simplistic and obvious, it specifically points to “believing that God exists” in order to come to him. Notice, it does not specify a religion, a church or any ceremonial rite. The only thing a good religious conformist has going for him is that by doing all the “right” things, he earns the approval of his coreligionists. But if you hope to have a real relationship with God, you must believe God is a real entity.
So, does God Exist? Can we know the answer? What purpose is served by asking this question? And how relevant is the answer to how we live our lives?
The question of the existence of God is fundamental and foundational to everyone’s overall view of life and how we relate to reality. It goes to the very question of how we define reality: Does reality include a spiritual or supernatural aspect?
Reality, by definition, is what we know. In a general sense, what we know is a product of questions we ask. Questions arise as we seek to problem-solve and meet needs as we perceive them. The more we ask, the more we know, the greater our understanding of reality.
Because everyone has his own unique point of view, not everyone asks the same questions. And those who choose to be followers content themselves with answers others have come up with, rather than accepting the responsibility of asking their own questions. In fact, what has been termed “the herd mentality” leads many to avoid asking their own questions at all. For the “unknown” is frightening to many. Therefore they choose the security of the collective “knowledge” of their group over their own personal “knowledge” (knowledge being defined as the answers to one’s questions). In effect, they stop asking questions.
The asking of questions is my very generalized term intended to include all the ways humans “learn” and how we come to settle on our own way of thinking about reality. We can only find the right answers by asking the right questions.
Much “knowledge” comes from asking the wrong questions. It serves to distract us and even deceive us. If you really want to seek understanding of the truth, you need to learn to think carefully about what questions to ask.
So how do we “ask questions”? How do we get knowledge? Whether by trial and error, experience, rote repetition, vicariously, by instruction or deduction, elimination, intuition, imagination, imputation, argumentation, analysis or analogy, there are many, many ways to get knowledge.
Not all knowledge is the product of the “scientific method” or “proof”. Since knowledge may be arrived at by following a variety of investigative techniques, if you rely solely on the scientific method, you limit both your acquisition of knowledge and your scope of reality.
As to the acquisition of knowledge, how you choose to gain knowledge determines how much evidence you find. And as to the scope of reality, what you consider “true” will be the result of how you regard that “evidence”.
The question, “Does God exist?” deserves serious examination. If a person’s view of reality does not include a supernatural aspect, then his own definition of reality will preclude the existence of God. For that person, none of the evidence for the existence of God is worth spending any time to consider. He looks for empirical evidence — determinations of his senses or quantitative measurements — none of which are appropriate to the examination of the supernatural.
Rather, his conclusion would be that those who believe in God are not in touch with reality (the way he has defined it) and therefore mentally afflicted. For that person, belief in the existence of God is seen as absurd and lumped together under the category of make-believe, along with UFOs, big foot, fairy-tale creatures and the like.
This is not simply a matter of disagreement, but of opposing world-views based on conflicting definitions of reality. Belief and disbelief are separate in all ways. The only context they share is that they are exact opposites. Either God is real or he is not.
Those who hold the position that God does not exist claim to have arrived at their conclusion by way of reason, adding that belief in God constitutes a superstition, or the absence of reason. Since the Bible clearly states, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God'”, they claim the Bible is opposed to reason and teaches people not to think critically.
Therefore it is vital to examine reason in order to shed light on the issue of God’s existence. Reason is the means by which knowledge is either supported or undermined. Without reason, knowledge cannot be shown to be either true or false.
The attempt to be neutral or non-committed on the question of God’s existence requires the suspension of reason, which is just not thinking about it. In other words, being neutral on the existence of God simply avoids the issue. It’s similar to Scarlett, in Gone With The Wind, saying, “I’ll think about that tomorrow”. Experience teaches us that avoidance is only a temporary fix, a putting off of the inevitable. Therefore applying reason to the question of God’s existence should not be avoided.
The foolishness of those who “reason” that God isn’t real can be seen in their own criteria. They “reason”, “If God were real, he would meet our expectations; he would do such and such; he would be thus and so; he would convince us according to our standards.” By establishing the criteria which God must meet, they place themselves above God. How reasonable is it to test for the existence of a supreme deity by making him subject to standards under the control of the tester?
You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, “He did not make me”? Can the pot say of the potter, “He knows nothing”? — Isaiah 29:16
Based on pure reason alone, it is unreasonable to conclude God does not exist. Those who say God does not exist attack the above Scripture as an example of circular reasoning. They would argue that to conclude they cannot judge God because they are inferior to him merely goes back to the original assertion that God exists. Yet, that very argument betrays the weaknesses of their position.
Beginning with the presumption that God is not real, the argument that God does not exist will always be predictably self-fulfilling. Saying, “You’re not the boss of me” could mean you lose your job, because your boss is indeed the boss. And that is basically what it means to say God is not real. It denies his ultimate authority. It assumes, “I’m the boss and I can do as I please”.
Arguments that demand “proof” for the existence of God are really disguised versions of, “If I can’t see it, it doesn’t exist”. That argument is a childish and pig-headed device which must constantly be adjusted to compensate for new ways of “seeing”. You can’t see the air. Oh, wait, we can feel the wind and see it moving things, so air must exist. Many common things “didn’t exist” until we found ways to “see” them: electricity, magnetism, bacteria, molecules, etc.
Non-believers not only set their own criteria and standards of proof (limiting their ability to “ask questions”) but they reject the testimony of believers out of hand, preventing them from seeing how others have come to their “knowledge”. Most believers do not come to the knowledge of God by demanding he prove his existence to them. They come to know God because they are open to him and willing to find out about him.
On the other hand, many who have sought to prove that God doesn’t exist, studying the Bible to “expose” its so-called contradictions and other errors in order to discredit it’s reliability, have become believers, convinced that God exists and the Bible is true. But their conversion was a product of openness, aided by their intellectual integrity. God didn’t zap them with the “proof” they demanded. They saw beyond their own criteria.
I began with Job’s words, “I know my redeemer lives.” This is the testimony of believers. I pointed out that reality is what we know. And I listed different ways we learn by “asking questions”. I discussed the importance of reason. But I’ve only been hinting at a very significant element that leads to the knowledge of God. Ultimately, believers know that God exists because God reveals that knowledge to them. Unbelievers may disregard revealed knowledge as something we simply make up. But Deuteronomy 29:29 explains the purpose of knowledge revealed to us by God:
The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.
All knowledge (whether we know it or not) is God’s. What we know about God he reveals to us, for the purpose of our obedience to him, that we might please him. God doesn’t want us to remain ignorant or unthinking. He wants us to use reason (“Come now, let us reason together” — Isaiah 1:18). We definitely should be open to learning. But the purpose of reason, learning, knowledge and wisdom should be to live our lives in accordance with God’s will, not just to be self-serving.
If the question is, “Does God exist?”, then the parameters used in examining this question must allow for the whole nature of God. You cannot reasonably argue against the existence of God by first narrowing God to fit your own criteria. If God is infinite, how can the determination of his existence be made within the confines of any controlled experiment?
Confronting this foolishness, the Bible teaches that the fear of the LORD [God] is the beginning of wisdom. The meaning of “fear” is closely tied to the word “awe”. Think “awesome” and you will begin to grasp its meaning. Very basically, the fear of the LORD is the realization that he is in authority over us; that we are subject to his judgement, whether for reward or punishment. This goes to the essence of who God is and how we should relate to him. Appropriating this essential truth starts us on the road to wisdom.
But this wisdom — God’s wisdom — is called foolishness by those who do not believe in God, while at the same time they call their own foolishness wisdom. The Bible comments on this in 1 Corinthians 3:18-20:
Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” [Job 5:13] and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” [Psalm 94:11]
As a believer, I testify that God is not a specimen in a jar to be experimented on by man. He is not a phenomenon to be observed or an abstraction open to conjecture. God is supernatural — above nature — and supreme — over everything in the entire universe. That means that we are subject to him. The appropriate thing for us to do is to worship him, trust him, love him and obey him. We can’t do that unless we first believe he exists.
If you are open to that very real question, and not simply looking for a fight, perhaps you can relate to the message God delivered to King Asa and all of Judah and Benjamin: “The LORD is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.” — 2 Chronicles 15:2
This message was given to people who believed God existed. However, it is equally true for non-believers. It speaks of the reciprocal nature of God’s relationship to man. It’s not a one-way relationship and we shouldn’t expect God to do everything.
“The LORD is with you when you are with him.” This means to be with the LORD requires an appropriate attitude and a frame of mind on your part. It doesn’t just happen.
“If you seek him, he will be found by you,” This is a promise that you will find God. But you must seek and keep on seeking until you find him. (See also Deuteronomy 4:29; Jeremiah 29:13; Matthew 7:7 and Luke 11:9.)
“but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.” And this balances off the message. God’s existence isn’t subject to an academic exercise. God will not “prove” himself to those who forsake him.
Does God exist? Yes, but he doesn’t exist for our purposes. He has his own purposes, for which we exist. Believing he exists is the way we begin to fulfill that purpose. Faith connects us with God. Those who choose not to believe separate themselves from God. Your response to God is what free will is all about. It’s up to you. God doesn’t send unbelievers to hell. They send themselves.
[UPDATE]: See “Atheism vs. Christianity: Where Does The Evidence Point”, a 1993 debate between Atheist Frank Zindler and theologian William Craig at http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL8230D1DD36193A58. It consists of 15 ten- minute segments which are respectful, well-thought out and well-documented. It was hosted by Lee Strobel, author of “The Case For Christ”, an excellent resource for scholarly evidence about Jesus.