Faith comes easily for some people. I envy them. As much as I’ve tried, it’s always been a challenge for me. I question. I doubt. I need answers. I need clarity. Certainty. Understanding. Just when I gain acceptance of something that seems to be nailed down as fact or truth, another question arises. For most of my life these questions and doubts lived just under the surface, always present, always a point of consideration, but never faced head-on. Until a few years ago, when I realized my faith was empty, lacking the conviction that only comes from being thoroughly challenged.
The quest I set out on, to tear everything I believed to the ground and to explore where a thorough search for truth would lead me, brought me first to read every source text I could find that profoundly disagreed with my own beliefs. If my beliefs were wrong, I wanted to know that this was the case. I explored scientific texts purporting to discredit the very idea of God and creation. I explored texts from other religions offering an alternative to Christianity and the Bible. My search was not an effort to confirm my faith, but to find fundamental truths I could be sure of – facts and principles to build my life on. However convenient or inconvenient. However familiar or unknown. However comfortable or uncomfortable for me, or for others. These are the conclusions my search has led me to. I hope, in some way, these thoughts will be helpful to you in your own journey:
- The existence of matter requires a point of origin. Atheists contend that “God is an unnecessary hypothesis – you can explain everything without him.” The problem is, you can’t. See my previous posts for discussion on this, but science has no answer for the original existence of matter. No matter how well it may seek to answer questions about what happened after the beginning of the universe, it simply has no explanation for how matter itself came into existence. We are forced to choose between an eternally existing God, or eternally existing matter, with no beginning and no source or origin. This one fact alone has driven me back time and time again to belief in God.
- The existence of life requires a source – a creator. There’s a passage in the Old Testament (Isaiah 29:16), that asks if what is formed will say to the one who formed it, “You did not make me”? It’s what we seem to scream out, angrily, defiantly, at every opportunity. But the fact is, science doesn’t have the answers of origins. No matter what science may be able to explain or not explain about the evolution or continuation of life once it began, it has no answers for how it began. I’ve read the “scientific” arguments that we will one day explain everything, that we don’t need God to explain our existence, and that religious people are just clinging to a myth because they can’t accept the fact that science has made God unnecessary. I dug deep into those assertions looking for facts to back them up, but all I found were more assertions. No truth. No facts. Assumptions. I believe in the importance of science, but unfortunately, any assertion that science can explain the beginning of life is, well, unscientific.
- The Bible is a credible source of answers. Having come to the conclusion that there must be a God for matter and life to exist, the question was still “who is this God?” Having already read the Bible, I studied other religions, read their texts, and explored their teachings to see if they had answers for the basic questions of life. How did matter come into being? How did life begin? Who are we? What purpose does our existence serve? What are the facts of our story? What I found was a focus in almost all religions on the latter questions, but a lack of direct answers to the first two. I’ll spend more time on this in future posts, and welcome thoughts or challenges, but I was profoundly driven back to the Bible as the only religious text that sought to give direct and credible answers to the questions we all need answered.
- The Bible is written to be verified or falsified. A couple of years ago, I purchased an Archaeological Study Bible. It was one of the more meaningful purchases of my life. Sure, it’s a great tool for study, with articles throughout on historical places and individuals connected to the words and accounts throughout the Bible. Part of why I got it was certainly for that continued opportunity for study, but just as much or more I purchased it because it represented an awareness I had come to after a tremendous amount of study: the sheer fact there can be an Archaeological Study Bible is part of what has strengthened my faith in the Bible as a source of truth. Having studied the key texts of other faiths, I found that some included no attempts at history, but were purely teaching or philosophy. Naturally, that also meant these had no historical facts that could be verified or disputed. Others that did present as containing some element of history were written in a manner so vague as to make any real verification or falsification impossible. The Bible is one long stream of falsifiable facts. The names of cities and of leaders of cities. The distances of travel from one place to another. Dates and locations of events. Every once in awhile I read some challenge to the Bible because one leader or city hasn’t been located yet in our archaeological efforts. No mention of the thousands that have. No mention of the ones that were considered not to exist, until they were found. And no mention of the sheer boldness and integrity of a religious text written across thousands of years that simply puts itself out there to be challenged. Here’s what happened. Here’s where. Here’s when. Here’s who. Question away. This wasn’t just written so you’ll believe. It was written so you’ll know.
- The Bible passes the “embarrassment factor” test – in spades! As historians consider whether an account is truth or fiction, one important element they consider is the embarrassment factor. Put simply, if you’re going to make up a story about yourself or someone you want the world to admire, you’re probably not going to include mention of the times when they were cowardly, sexually immoral, dishonest, or just plain stupid. The Bible, fairly constantly, does all of the above. The “heroes” of the Bible are men and women who lied, stole, hid, got involved in sexual relationships they had no business being in, and very often had to be called on the carpet before they even recognized what they’d done wrong. Throughout the Old and New Testaments, the Bible simply does not read as a book made up to promote a religion or to glorify a group of people. Other religious texts often read as hero stories, with good characters who are consistently good and bad characters who are consistently bad. Which isn’t life, and which reads as heroic fiction. While the ugliness of some of the Bible accounts may serve as a stumbling block at times, it is also one of the main reasons I keep coming back to it as a reliable telling of events.
- The core witnesses of the New Testament risked, and mostly lost, their lives for a message that was only worth telling if it was true. And these are their own accounts. Not the kind of words you write because you want to be remembered by them. Not the kind of message you die for unless you believe it’s true and you’re desperately sharing something you believe the world has to hear.
- Jesus is the answer for the problems of guilt, meaninglessness, and death. It’s true of course that we’re all looking for more than answers that explain our existence. We’re looking for answers to the problems in our lives. I’ve heard it said that the problems of guilt and remorse are actually caused by religion; that religious standards of right and wrong are what make people feel guilty in the first place and that we’d all be fine if it weren’t for these “rules” that religion has forced upon is. One problem I’ve always had with that argument is that the same people who say this also bristle at the idea that atheists have no source of morality. “Of course we know right from wrong. Of course we still value doing what is good for others. We don’t need God for that!” Okay, well then you also know guilt and remorse. It’s inherent. Another problem with the argument is that there seems to be significant evidence that there is actually a God, which means these standards aren’t created by religion but by God Himself. All of which leads us back to what we need the most – mercy. You might say all religions are based on mercy, but my readings say otherwise. Most religions are in fact based on justice. If you do good, you’ll receive good. If you do bad, you’ll receive bad. Our sin creates an extreme gap between us and any concept of God or eternal reward. Most religions, either implicitly or explicitly, are built on man’s best understanding of what it would take for us to bridge that gap. Extraordinary behavior or profound understanding. The right final balance (more good than evil across a lifetime). An almost endless stream of lifetimes adding up to eventually, finally, achieving nirvana. Jesus, and only Jesus, represents God actually reaching out to bridge the gap for us. It’s opposite. Religion turned on its head. Outside of the box. Not what mankind would have come up with on its own. It’s also what gives not only hope, but meaning to our lives. We love because we are loved. We forgive because we know we have been forgiven. We show compassion because it was shown to us. We get how people need to be treated because we realize how important it was for God to see our needs and treat us that way.
- The teachings of Jesus are life- (and world-) changing. Compassion. Selflessness. Forgiveness. Love, not only toward those who love us but even toward those who would be our enemies. Helping others beyond all expectations and requirements. The animosity I see toward Christianity is fascinating. I believe some of it is certainly a result of exposure to individuals who profess Christianity but whose behavior is anything but Christian. On the other hand, some of it seems to be an anger response to teachings that, if accepted, would require an absolute and complete change of everything in the recipient’s life. But if you’ve accepted that there must be a God, and have begun the search of teachings to determine whose words really have the insight into what a deep, meaningful, and fulfilling life would actually be, it’s hard not to be astonished and drawn to the words of Jesus, the Christ.
- Natural moral law, conscience, and the existence of love. In short, I’ve listened to evolutionary psychology and its attempts to explain (or to explain away) the existence of altruism, an internal moral standard, and selfless love for other people, and it’s remarkably unconvincing. Evolution simply does not have an answer for love and selflessness. It shouldn’t exist. But it does. To me, our creative instincts point to our being made in the image of a creator. Much like that, our loving instincts, knowledge of right and wrong, and tendency to care if we’ve crossed moral lines all point to our being made in the image of a God with those characteristics.
- The placebo effect, man’s seemingly inherent bent toward faith, and man’s constant quest for something beyond himself. A doctor gives you a sugar pill, and your body responds to it as if it was the real thing because your mind believes it’s actual medicine. It’s called the placebo effect, and it’s exceptionally powerful. It works because what our mind believes can actually change what happens in our bodies. Not just whether you think you feel better, but what happens physically and chemically. Put differently, we’re wired for faith. When I was in grad school, a fellow doctoral student named Peter noted that I was a Christian and began to explain to me the stupidity of my beliefs by pointing out that people in almost every society have gravitated toward some belief in God. How did I explain that, he wondered. It’s still one of the more bizarre moments in theological discussions I’ve had. To Peter, the fact that most people on the planet gravitate toward some faith in a supreme being meant that there must not be a God – that we must all be making it up. Peter, you should know, considered himself a scientist. But this was the least scientific approach possible to the question. The fact that mankind constantly searches for answers beyond itself, that it inherently leans toward a belief in God in some form, and that it has an innate capacity for faith, would seem to point toward, not away from, God.
Not convinced? That’s great. I’m not trying to convince you – but I do hope to give you something to think about. Disagree? Let me know why. Have other reasons of your own? Share them. Agree or disagree. I look forward to hearing your point of view.