Tuesday, September 19, 2006

How Does One Know God is Really There?

One of the main differences between Christianity in the American South versus Christianity in the very un-"Bible Belt" city of Boston is that us Southerners do not have to confront the basic questions of faith. In Southern culture where it's chic to wake up a tad earlier on Sunday morning to put our time, as well as add the adjective "Christian" to our lives, we can get whatever it is we want out of faith by simply doing the aforementioned two things. Whether God is really there or not is irrelevant. We can avoid this foundational question because the culture around us never brings us to a point of question.

For me, God is logical. This is where it starts. Statistics tells us that the universe we observe is an impossibility, left to random chance. It takes no greater a leap of faith to believe that something or someone is behind all of this than it does to say that nothing or no one is behind all of this.

Thus, given a creating power, I follow Jesus because the worldview he describes is the worldview I encounter. This world is filled with brokeness. Both external (war, famine, disease, natural disasters) and internal (despair, hopelessness, insecurity, dissatisfaction, anger, selfishness). Every time humans try to conquer these things on their own, we fall hopelessly short. I know this in my own life, as I constantly stuggle with the internal brokeness. I see it in the world's history, as we seem no closer to destroying war, famine, disease, and natural disasters than we have been at any point previously.

Christianity's solution is God, not us (and this make sense, given our track record). Christianity is unique in that there is nothing required of us to be reunited with God. Quotas do not exist in the Bible. By dying on the cross for the sinful brokeness that we have never been able to fix, Jesus reunited us to God. All we have to do is believe that this is true and accept the reunion and the personal relationship with God which results. We cannot make ourselves righteous, but we can believe.

Given what I see in this world, only Jesus makes logical sense. This is how I know God is really there.

But that is just logic, and given the emotional beings that we are, logic often does not cut it. I know God is really there because I tried him. I believed. I took him up on his promises and dared him to show himself a liar. And the crazy thing is, he came through. He gave me companionship in times of loneliness. He gave me purposeful work when life seemed pointless. He gave me rest and freedom when life only offered anxiety and stress. He gave me confidence when I was drowned in insecurity. He is real and relevant, never failing to meet me when I need him. Through all of this, he never ceases to show his love for me.

So how do I know God is really there? As a friend once told me, once you've seen the ocean, no one can tell you it's not there.

14 comments:

Jenn Pappa said...

I like that you are encouraging us to THINK through the revelations God has provided. Too often Christianity is looked as a crutch for our emotions, instead of the answer to the problems/questions of the universe.

I agree that God has revealed himself to us- through creation and our conscience and even more specifically through scripture and the history of Israel. And I believe you can logically see God when you follow these revelations.

However, this is an uphill climb for someone who is, as Romans says, "supressing" the truth of God. And we are all in this state to begin with. Something has to happen for us to be brought out of it. I believe this something is God opening our eyes so that we can see and understand these revelations. In Ephesians it talks about God lavishing wisdom and understanding on us so that we can believe.

We can't just logically think out everything and save ourselves, God saves us.

Ephesians 2:8-9
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

However, this knowledge should, like Ben said, actively encourage us to think and reason through the revelations that God has empowered us to understand.

Great post Ben. Lots to think about.

James W said...

Oh, I miss logic! Ben, have you read Francis Schaeffer's "He Is There and He Is Not Silent"? It is an amazing book that looks back at the fundamental philisophical questions men have asked for centuries (do we exist and why? is there a right and what is it? can we know things and how?) and logically works through them using the different answers people have suggested. What Schaeffer ends up with is that whatever started or created reality must have been personal (starting with something impersonal like matter or energy wouldn't explain our personality unless we agree that it isn't really personality, just a coincidence; and starting with something impersonal would make morals arbitrary, because whether you murder someone or not it's all the same atoms swirling about randomly). He even shows that, because we are individuals, but we also have unifying ideas like "humanity", the Trinity must exist!

I would highly recommend it to you. I don't always understand what he is saying the first time through, but at the end it is one of the greatest pieces of "evidence" for God I have ever come across.

If only this Post-Modern world still accepted logic...but, ah, as jenn said above, even human reason is often overruled by human obstinance. All the same, Christians should not fear logic as a tool of conveying the gospel. To paraphrase Schaeffer again, if what we believe is really true, then it will be true in the world around us.

I agree. Great post Ben.

PS I covet your job at Borders! I hope to work at the one here over winter break to get my foot in the door for after graduation.

James W said...

Oh, I miss logic! Ben, have you read Francis Schaeffer's "He Is There and He Is Not Silent"? It is an amazing book that looks back at the fundamental philisophical questions men have asked for centuries (do we exist and why? is there a right and what is it? can we know things and how?) and logically works through them using the different answers people have suggested. What Schaeffer ends up with is that whatever started or created reality must have been personal (starting with something impersonal like matter or energy wouldn't explain our personality unless we agree that it isn't really personality, just a coincidence; and starting with something impersonal would make morals arbitrary, because whether you murder someone or not it's all the same atoms swirling about randomly). He even shows that, because we are individuals, but we also have unifying ideas like "humanity", the Trinity must exist!

I would highly recommend it to you. I don't always understand what he is saying the first time through, but at the end it is one of the greatest pieces of "evidence" for God I have ever come across.

If only this Post-Modern world still accepted logic...but, ah, as jenn said above, even human reason is often overruled by human obstinance. All the same, Christians should not fear logic as a tool of conveying the gospel. To paraphrase Schaeffer again, if what we believe is really true, then it will be true in the world around us.

I agree. Great post Ben.

PS I covet your job at Borders! I hope to work at the one here over winter break to get my foot in the door for after graduation.

James W said...

Stupid Blogger server...I forgot how much I loath it.

Sorry about the double post

Ben said...

James - Good to hear from you (even if it was in Doublemint Gum comercial fashion)! Thanks for offering insight. I have not run across Schaeffer's book, although I really am attracted to the title. Maybe I will use my Borders employee discount to purchase it :)

Jenn - Thanks for deepening and broadening the discussion with your comments. I love the focus in your comments on God as the actor. In re-reading my post, the repetition of the subject "I" is acutely painful - not that we are passive beings but that God is the one saving. My personal thoughts on God's revelation are confusing, as there are a lot of questions concerning it from which I run simply because they are hard. My personal ignorance aside, it must be made clear that God is the primary agent, he is the hero of this story. Our thoughts do not save. He does. Thanks for bringing that out where my post failed to place the emphasis where it needed to be.

This idea of salvation is wildly fascinating and frustratingly difficult for me. I'd love to hear some of ya'll's thoughts in response to what Jenn has posted.

Nicole said...

Uh, my semi - intoxicated "but WHY do you believe in God" rambling didn't have anything to do with this did it.....????

Jenn Pappa said...

"In wine there is truth"... I've heard that said in latin but I don't know how to spell it... however, it must be old and wise if it is in latin... hehe

Anyways, I'm just saying sometimes true concerns and questions come out best when inhibitions are lowered... though it is more admirable of course to face those questions in the sober light of day if you can.

Cheers to asking good questions!

Chris Pappa said...

My wife convinced me to look at this thing called "blog," so here I am, against my better judgment, responding to a discussion begun by a man I have never met. At least we both majored in English.


Logic is a funny thing. Men at various points in history have used it as a means for discovering the "truth," only to come to radically different conclusions. Thomas Aquinas believed you could reason your way to a knowledge of a Biblical God; Rene DesCartes began with a statement of doubt ("I know that I doubt."), progressed to existence, ("I doubt, therefore I think. I think, therefore I am") and also re-created Christianity from a "purely logical framework."

The problem is that non-Christians have done the same, and come to conclusions that God does not exist, or that he is pantheistic, etc. Our sinful natures only allow us so much; even our logic is imperfect.

This is why the Bible is the basis for belief. There are proofs and evidences, to be sure; yet these are mere evidences, liable to be stripped away in an instant. What are we to do when we doubt God? Reason will not appeal. When we feel far from Him? Logic does not carry us back. We cling to the truth because God has shown us that it is true, and even when our mind and experience scream otherwise, we say as Job did, "I know that my Redeemer lives."


There you go. My first blog response.

Chris Pappa said...

ps "In vino veritas" is the Latin...not sure of the author

Tammy O said...

Congratulations, and welcome to the blogging world, Chris! =}

According to Romans 1, we can clearly draw from what we see in the world around us that God exists and are responsible to worship Him as our Creator. However, as Chris pointed out, man's reasoning is twisted by sin, and we bend our reasoning around our desires. Romans 1 also says the world chose not to acknowledge God, "and their foolish hearts were darkened." (ESV)
We understand the things of God through the Holy Spirit. He is our teacher. Christ said that the Holy Spirit "will teach you all things." Indeed, until they received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the disciples had no idea of the meaning of the events that had transpired, despite Christ having told them on many occasions. They were beyond the limit of their own understandings. God has revealed Himself to us in his creation, his works, and his word, but we are only capable of understanding those revelations as the Holy Spirit teaches them to us.
See I Cor. 2:6-16
"...these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God." v.10
"Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God." v.12
"The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." v.14
See also Eph. 1:17-18
There's definitely a lot more to be said on the subject, but this is way to long already. (sorry)
Ben, maybe you could direct your friends to the CFL forums for extended discussions?

Ben said...

Nicole, to quote the imaculate band Chicago: You're the inspiration.

Even though I hear the kids aren't listening to them anymore these days, I still think they're hip.

I'll second Jenn - cheers to asking good questions!

Nicole said...

Yea, I kinda figured. Don't base everyone in Boston on me though.

P.S., I have issue with the "God is logical" argument, but I'll keep my mouth shut :)

Tammy O said...

No, please share. We need a need a free flow of ideas. I promise we won't jump down your throat. Well, at least I won't. I can't speak for everyone else.

katie said...

nicole and I are clearly from the bible belt city of boston because I read this and I give myself forhead wrinkles and say wait, what?