Monday, May 07, 2007

How can I believe in God?

I just finished a sermon series on objections to the Christian faith by ending at the beginning: the question of atheism.
If a person doesn't believe in God, all of the other arguments for Christianity don't matter.
So how can I believe that God exists? By three thoughts:
1. It is impossible to prove that God does not exist.
2. It is reasonable to believe that God does exist.
3. It is foolish not to seek God if He does exist.
[To read this entire sermon, click on the comments and read the first comment below.]


Brother Bob said...

"The Problem of Atheism: How can I believe that God exists?" (Jeremiah 29:12-13)

INTRODUCTION: In the past weeks, we have examined many objections to the Christian faith. We have examined the problem of credibility, the problem of Darwinism, the problem of evil, the problem of Hell, the problem of hypocrisy, the problem of intolerance, the problem of miracles and the problem of relevance. We have found Biblical answers to each of these objections to Christianity.

Today we end at the beginning and deal with the problem of atheism. For even if we answer every one of these objections, if a person does not believe in the existence of God, none of the other questions will matter. So today let us tackle the problem of atheism.

So how can a person believe that God exists?

I. It is impossible to prove that God does not exist. (Psalm 14:1)

First, we should point out that it is impossible to prove that God does not exist!

Some people think that it is just as hard to prove God exists as it is to prove that He doesn’t exist. Not so! It is much harder to prove that He does not exist.

Proving that God does not exist is like proving that there is no gold in Alaska. It is much easier to prove that there is gold in Alaska. All one has to do is to find one speck of gold dust. But to prove there is no gold in Alaska, one would have to dig up every cubic inch of the largest state in the nation.

In a similar way, what would you have to know to prove there is no God? You would have to know everything! Once the famous atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair was debating Jerry Root. Root asked her, “How much of that which there is to be know do you claim to know, 10%?” She laughed and said, “Okay, 10%.” Then he asked, “Is it possible that God might exist and be part of the 90% of reality that you admittedly don’t know?” She paused and was silent for about a minute. Then she said, “No,” and quickly moved on to another question. She did not want to admit the obvious—that unless you have all knowledge, you cannot prove that God does not exist. (Art Lindsley, C.S. Lewis’s Case for Christ, p. 85-86)

No wonder Psalm 14:1 says, "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'"

II. It is reasonable to believe that God does exist.

Not only is it impossible to prove that God does not exist, but it is reasonable to believe that God does exist.

Atheists often ridicule people who believe in God as ignorant and stupid. “I don’t believe in God, I believe in myself,” says the atheist. G. K. Chesterton points out that most people who are in lunatic asylums believe in themselves, too. (Gilbert K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, p. 175.) A man can believe he is a chicken and believe in himself. A woman can perform for the judges of “American Idol” and believe in herself. That doesn’t make their beliefs true.

I submit to you that it is more reasonable to believe in God.

Every argument that atheists use can be turned on them, and in addition there are many, many reasons that can be given to believe in God.

For example, atheists claim that belief in God is wish-fulfillment. They say that people wish there is a God, so they dream him up. But we can reply that atheism is wish-fulfillment. Atheists wish away any moral responsibility by wishing God did not exist so that they don’t have to be accountable to Him.

Again, atheists claim that belief in God is “the opiate of the people.” That is, they are saying that people escape reality by believing in God. But we can reply that atheism is the opiate of the conscience. In other words, atheists try to escape moral guilt for their sin by saying there is no God (Art Lindsley, C.S. Lewis’s Case for Christ, p. 130).

And one other example, the favorite of atheists, is to say that God cannot exist because there is evil in the world. Before he became a Christian, C.S. Lewis believed this argument against God. He had experienced a lot of tragedy in his childhood, and he thought that if God were good and powerful, He would eliminate evil, so God must not exist. But gradually Lewis saw that he was inconsistent to believe this. He began to ask himself, “Where did I get the idea of evil?” He realized that he got the idea for evil from a good God. So even this argument of atheists can be turned on its head. We can reply that the very fact that the atheist knows that something is evil shows that there must be a standard of good, and that standard is God (Art Lindsley, C.S. Lewis’s Case for Christ, p. 147-148). What’s more, love could not exist if people were robots and did not have a choice between doing good and evil.

So every argument that atheists use against faith can be turned on its head. What’s more, there are many, many arguments that can be used in favor of faith in God. Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli list 20 of them. (Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, pp. 48-86.) For the sake of time, I will give you three good reasons: a reason from experience, a reason from design, and a reason from morality and conscience.

Experience (John 9:25)

The man born blind who was healed by Jesus could testify to a changed life, and nobody could dispute his experience. In John 9:25 we read, "He [the blind man] replied, 'Whether he [Jesus] is a sinner or not, I don't know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!'"

The religious experience of millions of people is a powerful evidence for God. People can deny the existence of God, but they cannot deny the fact that millions of people of every time, language and culture have believed in God and claimed to have an experience with God. When the white men first came to the New World, they found Native Americans who had never had contact with Western society, yet they believed in a Great Spirit.

Atheists often claim that people who believe in God are ignorant, or even neurotic. But they have a more difficult time making this claim when confronted with the fact that so many great world leaders like George Washington believed in God, great musicians like Beethoven believed in God, great artists like da Vinci believed in God and great scientists like Werner Van Braun believed in God.

Atheists often claim that much harm and cruelty has been done in the name of God. They conveniently omit the fact that millions of hungry have been fed and sick have been nursed in the name of God. Remember that after Hurricane Katrina, there were no atheist relief organizations to help, but thousands of Christians came to help.

Yes, when you meet a person with a changed life, you meet a powerful reason to believe in God.

Somebody might reply that I have only given an emotional reason to believe, so let me next given a scientific reason to believe.

Design (Romans 1:20)

In December 2004, Great Britain’s most famous atheist, Antony Flew, decided at age 81 that he could no longer deny the existence of God. What caused him to change his mind? It was the complexity of the scientific evidence discovered in nature, especially the amazing evidence of DNA, that made him decide that it had to designed by an intelligent Creator.

"I think that the most impressive arguments for God's existence are those that are supported by recent scientific discoveries," Flew said. "... I think the argument to Intelligent Design is enormously stronger than it was when I first met it." (“Famous atheist now believes in God,” Associated Press, December 9, 2004; David Roach, “Famed atheist sees evidence for God, cites recent discoveries,” Baptist Press, December 13, 2004.)

The design of God’s creation, from the tiniest protein to the most complex galaxy is another reason to believe in the existence of God. Romans 1:20 says, "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."

Atheists reply that the amazing complexity of nature happened by chance over millions, even billions of years. But as Antony Flew finally decided, it takes more faith to believe in chance than to believe God designed it! Why? [Hold up a combination lock.] Suppose a combination lock has numbers ranging from 00 to 99, and only one sequence of turns can open the lock (e.g., 34-98-25-09-71.) There are 10 billion possible combinations, but only one can open the lock. Saying that nature happened by pure chance is like saying that I randomly twirled the combination lock until it opened. It could happen by chance, but it might take a while. [Twirl the combination lock.] Let’s see, 10 billion seconds is a long time, isn’t it? Multiply that by every species that would have to randomly mutate into another species, and you get an idea of how unlikely it is that nature became so complex by pure chance. On the other hand, if someone turned the lock a few times and opened it on the first try, we would assume it was not by chance, right? [Turn the combination lock and open it.] In the same way, when we look at the complexity of creation, we can reason that it didn’t happen by chance, either, but God made it. (William Demski, The Design Revolution, p. 87)

Morality and conscience (Leviticus 11:44)

So we have seen that it is reasonable to believe in God because of the experience of millions of people, but it is also reasonable to believe in God because of the scientific evidence of creation. Now let me give you a third reason to believe in God: the moral compass in your own conscience.

Leviticus 11:44 says, "I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy." Because God is holy, he calls us to be holy. We believe in morality because there is a God who is holy and good, who put that universal moral code in our souls and expects us to do right.

Atheists never get tired of telling us that everything happened by chance. We should ask them, then where did morality come from? Did we just happen to decide by chance that feeding the hungry is good and committing adultery is wrong? No, reasonable people recognize that morality is a quality within our souls. Peter Kreeft says that the “moral conscience is the voice of God within the soul” (Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p. 73).

Many postmodernists would say that there is no God and no absolute right and wrong because everybody has to find his or her own truth. They would claim that what is moral for you may not be moral for me. Thus they would claim that morality does not mean there is a God, because different people have different morality.

We would disagree, saying there is a universal moral code, because everybody knows that murder is wrong, and stealing is wrong, and child abuse is wrong, etc. But for the sake of the argument, suppose the postmodernists were right, that everybody has to find his or her own right and wrong. They would still have to admit that there is still one moral absolute: we all need to follow our own consciences. But where did you get a conscience, and why do you have to obey it? It must have been given to you by someone higher and greater than yourself, if you’re supposed to obey it. That Someone is God.

You see, if atheists are right, then there can be no moral absolutes and there is no reason to obey the conscience (Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p. 72-77). No wonder atheist dictators like Joseph Stalin in Russia or Mao Tse-tung in China could murder millions of people with no regret.

Thank God most people aren’t atheists, or we might have more mass murders! Yes, there is every reason to believe that God exists.

III. It is foolish not to seek God if He exists. (Jeremiah 29:12-13; Matthew 7:7-8)

We have seen that it is impossible to prove that God does not exist. We have also seen that it is reasonable to believe that God does exist. Since these things are true, it is foolish not to seek God.

Suppose that you are receive a letter in the mail telling you that you are a descendant of the late great billionaire Howard Hughes, and that you are entitled to his family fortune. What would you do with that information? Would you shrug it off and say, “I don’t think it’s true”? or would you seek to find out? You would hire a lawyer and a private investigator and see if you could find out if you were related to Howard Hughes, wouldn’t you?

In the same way, if you know that there is good reason to believe that God exists, wouldn’t it be foolish not to seek Him?

Jeremiah 29:12-13 says, "Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart."

If you were going to seek God, where would you look? What is the best-known book in the world that more people have consulted to know God, more than any other book? [Hold up the Bible.] It’s the Bible, isn’t it? If it is possible that God exists, that it seems to me it would be foolish not to check out this book and see what it says about Him.

And when you read this book, what person rises to the top as the theme of this book? He is God’s one and only Son, Jesus Christ, isn’t He? Listen to what Jesus Himself said about seeking God in Matthew 7:7-8: "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened."

If you look for God, you will find Him revealed in Jesus Christ. Jesus is like the magnifying glass of faith. When I put a magnifying glass over a book, the tiny letters come into focus as they become larger and clearer, and letters around the edges become distorted and unclear. When I seek God, I discover that Jesus is the magnifying glass that brings God into focus. In Jesus I see God in the flesh. In Jesus I see God’s love lived out by His sacrificial death on the cross. In Jesus I find how I can believe in God. (Philip Yancey, Reaching for the Invisible God, p. 139.)

CONCLUSION: If you have been attending this church for the last two months, you have heard me tell you for weeks reasons that you should believe in God and believe in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross to pay for your sins.

Maybe you’ve been thinking about placing your faith in him, but you’ve delayed. You might be afraid of how your life will change. You may afraid of the risk of taking that leap of faith. For these or some other reason, you have put it off.

Don’t be like the donkey that starved to death while staring back and forth at two different bales of hay. The two bales were an equal distance, so he couldn’t decide for either one, and he died of starvation. (Philip Yancey, Reaching for the Invisible God, p. 47)

If you’ve been thinking about it, it’s time to make your choice. Will you decide for God or against Him? Will you take Pascal’s wager?

The French scientist Blaise Pascal was a believer who asked, “Where are you going to place your bet?” If you place it with God, even if you are wrong, you lose nothing. But if you wager that there is no God, and you are wrong, you lose everything (Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p. 85).

If I had nothing more to go on than a wager, I’d bet on God. But I have much more. I have every reason to believe that He is the Creator who put a moral compass in my soul. I have experienced Him change my life. I have talked with Him in prayer. I can tell you from experience that I know He is real.

Yet I cannot believe for you. You must decide for yourself. Which way will you choose?

Bloodiest of Ladies said...

I think it's a folly to attempt such arguements. You're verging on the same logical fallacy so many accuse Islamics of.

Personally I think the only way to explain ones religious belief (or lack of them) is 'I have my reasons'.

Brother Bob said...

On the contrary, it is greater folly to explain one's religious belief or lack thereof by saying 'I have my reasons' if one has no reasons.

Bloodiest of Ladies said...

I only meant that I think reasons for religious beliefs are varied and highly personal. I don't think they would often apply to anyone but the person expressing them. But then I could be wrong, I'm not very experienced with this.

Brother Bob said...

I agree that religious beliefs are varied and personal. This does not, however, preclude the possibility that some of those beliefs may be wrong and some may be right.
I may have a highly personal belief that I am a chicken. It may be something I pretty much keep to myself, and just tell myself that I'm a chicken, and if I share it with a friend who says, "No, you're not a chicken," I might reply, "Well, you have your belief about it, and I have mine." I suppose my friend could just humor me and say, "Well, if you want to believe that you're a chicken, then who am I to say that you're not?"
But then, maybe my friend could take a different approach with my poultry self-delusion and gently show me the truth...

Bloodiest of Ladies said...

I suppose you have me there. :) And I doubt I'll ever stop laughing about 'poultry self-delusion'.