Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Why I Believe, Part I

When I was 12 years old, I broke my arm. When I went to the doctor weeks later to have the cast removed, a man in the waiting room decided to have a little fun with me. He told me I needed to watch out for the saw that they would use to cut off my cast. “Usually it’s safe,” he said, “But if they get too close to the skin, you could get cut.” He pointed to a scar on his knee (which anyone with a brain would’ve known was a surgery scar) and said, “See what they did to me when they cut a cast off my leg?” Soon thereafter, they called me in. I sat there terrified as the nurse sawed away on my cast. When I felt something touch my skin, I nearly jumped out of the office.” “Oh, don’t worry,” she said, touching the saw to her palm, “This thing can’t hurt you.” I felt like a fool.

Intelligent people don’t swallow everything they’re told; they test ideas to see if they are worth believing. If you are a Christian, do you know why you believe as you do? Plenty of people grow up in a Christian environment, believing what they’ve been taught, only to abandon their beliefs when they get older. In truth, they never really tested what they believed, and when their beliefs were challenged, they had no answers. They felt foolish. So is that all your Christianity is? Are you simply believing what you’ve been told by others? It’s important as followers of Jesus that we decide why we believe in Him. Our faith must be based on something rational, or else it’s not real. I suggest Christians read books like The Reason for God, by Tim Keller, and The Case for Faith and The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. Discover the evidence for Christ. Then decide for yourself which evidences are most compelling.

I’m not telling you to doubt your faith; I just think we as believers need to test it. We need to be ready to dialogue with others who do not believe as we do. I want to share with you my own seven most compelling reasons that I believe in Jesus. They may not be compelling or convincing to you. In fact, many of them are quite subjective. My point is not to convince a skeptical person, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that what I believe is true. Instead, I just want to help you think reasonably, rationally and biblically about why you believe what you believe. Trust me, if you don’t test your beliefs, something (a negative circumstance in life) or someone (who believes differently) will. So here it is: The first two most compelling reasons why I believe. In a later post, I'll list the other five.

The existence of anything: Where did everything come from? What was here before it? Many people talk about the beauty and complexity of this world as compelling evidence for the existence of God. I had a professor in seminary (Dr. Bill Tolar) who would preach a sermon in chapel once every three years called Creation: Chance or Choice. In the sermon, he listed ten characteristics of Earth that make it uniquely hospitable to human life, including the amount of oxygen in our atmosphere, the distance from our sun, the tilt of our planet on its axis. If any of these ten characteristics were even slightly different, he said, the Earth could not sustain human life. The chances of one planet containing all of these characteristics by chance was infinitesimal. Wasn’t it more likely that Someone created this planet for the specific purpose of housing human life?

It was a very convincing sermon. But maybe that was only because I wanted to believe it. After all, plenty of people examine that same evidence and come away unconverted. They might say, “Look, it’s very simple. 13.7 billion years ago, the universe was very dense and very hot. Then came the Big Bang, when all that energy expanded rapidly. As the universe cooled, that energy formed into subatomic particles, which became atoms, which then formed stars and planets. All of this, of course, took millions of years. With billions of stars and planets, it’s not so hard to imagine that one would just so happen to possess all of the necessary characteristics to be the breeding ground for the evolutionary process that produced us today. You don’t need a god for such an event; you just need one of the billions of planets and stars to be able to sustain life, and enough time for that life to evolve into human form.”

Logically, such an argument is certainly plausible. If I wanted to believe that God did not exist, that is the theory I would have for the origin of life. There is a problem with that theory, however: If the Big Bang sent energy cascading through the universe, ultimately forming planets, stars and the cast of Jersey Shore, where did all that energy come from? To put it crudely, all the “something” had to come from “something.” Unless there was “Someone” who was able to make “something” out of nothing…what theologians call “Creatio ex nihilo.” And once the atoms formed into planets and stars, how did inanimate matter become a single-celled living organism from which all life evolved? No one really knows the answer to either of those questions. Well, actually Someone does…

Morality: My parents have two dogs, Cassie and Snuggles. They are sisters. But when my dad feeds the dogs, Snuggles will not let Cassie eat. She will literally stand guard over Cassie's food bowl, growling at her, until she goes away. Then Snuggles will gleefully eat the food in both bowls. If my dad didn’t interfere, Cassie would starve to death. And for all you cat lovers, have you ever seen your loving kitty when she has caught a mouse or a bird? She will keep the poor creature alive, playing with it, until she gets bored. Only then will she kill it. We call this behavior cruel. But where did we get such an idea? Genesis tells us that human beings were created in the image of God. Unique among all the other creatures, we bear His likeness and reflect His glory. Part of what that means is that we have an innate sense that some things are simply wrong. So when you’re watching the news and you hear that a man has abused a little boy, and you feel anger, that anger is a proof of God’s existence. Why should you care what happened to some kid you’ve never met? You care because God made you this way. If He hadn’t made us this way, we wouldn’t be aware of our own sin. If we didn’t have that awareness of sin, we couldn’t be saved.

Again, that argument doesn’t convince everyone. Non-believers will point to moral codes among animals. For example, ants have a moral code, working together and sacrificing for the good of their community. Morality, according to this idea, is simply a list of instincts embedded in our minds because they’re good for the survival of our species, which is what makes evolution possible. And, they say, once our species had evolved this list of approved moral behaviors, we had to come up with a reason why these things were right or wrong. That’s where we came up with the idea of God and religion.

But there is a problem with that argument as well. Plenty of our moral values have no biological necessity. For just one example, how do we account for a moral value like compassion? If morals are simply the manifestation of our instinctive desire to see our species survive, shouldn’t we be happy to see weaker people die off so that they will no longer be a burden on the rest of us? For that matter, why would we see cruelty to animals as a bad thing? Moral values point to the existence of a moral God.

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