Beyond Belief – How Can You Possibly Believe the Bible Is True?

OK, so here it is. Throughout this little series on apologetics (the ability to explain your faith, and also hopefully to make it more clear to those who are skeptical of Christianity), I have been referring to the Bible as my main proof text. And now it’s time to turn the magnifying glass toward this book that is foundational to our faith.

It’s a fair question, after all: How can we trust the veracity of a book written by 40 different authors over the course of 1600 years? A book seemingly overflowing with myths and impossible events. I mean, yeah, maybe it’s useful as a historical reference or slightly interesting in the way other mythologies get your attention.

The world is too smart, too scientific for this now, aren’t we?

Well, not so fast. In this post, I’m going to cover four key characteristics of the Bible that help explain why we can trust that the Bible is true and not a bunch of made-up nonsense.

Characteristic #1: The Bible’s Reliability

How Do We Know the Old Testament is Real?

The biggest jackpot discovery regarding ancient manuscripts of the Bible came in 1947 when a Bedouin shepherd named Muhammad (Ahmed el-Dhib) stumbled across a small opening of a cave while looking for his lost goat. In the cave, he discovered what has come to be known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Here are a few facts about the Scrolls relative to the Bible, thanks to Bible.org:

  • 11 caves were discovered, containing 1100 ancient documents, including many scrolls and more than 100,000 fragments
  • Fragments from every Old Testament book except the book of Esther were discovered
  • Using 3 different methods for determining the dates of the manuscripts, scholars determined that the scrolls dated from as early as the third century BC to the first century AD
  • Prior to this discovery, the oldest known version of the Old Testament was known as the Masoretic Text, which is where the Old Testament we use today was translated from. The Masoretes were Jewish scholars between AD 500 and 950. Scholars compared the text of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which had been created 1000 years earlier, to that of the Masoretic Text. They found no substantial difference.

OK, maybe that’s interesting, you may say, but who cares? What does that prove?

Well, one of the strongest arguments for the case of Christianity and the deity of Jesus is based on Old Testament prophecy, which only he can fulfill. I will talk more about the divinity of Christ in an upcoming post, but for this discussion, I’ll point out that there are over 100 prophecies regarding Christ in the Old Testament. These prophecies were made and written down centuries before Jesus was born. They are very specific in their details. Skeptics question the date of the prophecies, sometimes even claiming that they were written during or after Jesus’ earthly life. Among other proofs, the Dead Sea Scrolls, which includes all the Old Testament books that prophesy Christ’s arrival, life, and death, prove that these manuscripts were written centuries before Jesus’ birth.

But what about the New Testament?

There are several tests scholars use to determine the validity of ancient documents. One is known as the bibliographic test. This looks at a combination of the number of manuscripts that exist (higher is better) as well as the gap of time between when the document was written and the date of the earliest manuscript still in existence (lower is better). Thanks to the Evidence Unseen website, I have this chart, which compares several famous ancient documents to the New Testament:

Borrowed from Evidence Unseen: https://www.evidenceunseen.com/theology/scripture/historicity-of-the-nt/1-bibliographical-test/bibliographical-test-chart-2/

To help interpret the “so what?” for this, here’s a quote that summarizes this well from the website of the Southern Evangelical Seminary and Bible College:

Noted British manuscript scholar Sir Frederick Kenyon wrote, “The interval then – between the dates or original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed.” Thus both “the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the [NT] <New Testament> may be regarded as firmly established.” No other ancient book has as small a time gap between composition and earliest manuscript copies as the NT.

From the Article “Has the Bible Been Accurately Copied Down Through the Centuries?” by Dr. Norman Geisler (clarification of acronym added)

Are There Other Tests for the Validity of Ancient Documents?

Yes, there are at least two others. One is called the internal test, and the other is known as the external test.

For the internal test, you study the text searching for clues to determine whether the author is attempting to be fraudulent–to make up myths–or if she/he is attempting to provide a factual account of the events they are recording.

A great example of this is with Luke, who wrote (of course) the Gospel of Luke as well as the Acts of the Apostles (a.k.a. the book of Acts), and Sir William Ramsay (1851-1939), a Scottish archeologist. Skeptical of the Bible, Ramsay set out to disprove it by attacking Luke’s ability as a historian, claiming he had made a lot of mistakes in his references to place names and historical figures throughout his gospel and the book of Acts. Ramsay went to Asia minor to do archeological research to prove his point. However, what he found was that in dig after dig, all the evidence he found supported Luke’s references.

The website Evidences of the Bible put it this way:

Governors mentioned by Luke that many historians never believe existed were confirmed by the evidence excavated by Ramsay’s archaeological team. Without a single error, Luke was accurate in naming 32 countries, 54 cities, and 9 islands. Ramsay became so overwhelmed with the evidence he eventually converted to Christianity.

Borrowed from Evidences of the Bible: https://bibleevidences.com/archaeological-evidence/

It goes on to add:

Ramsay finally had this to say:

I began with a mind unfavorable to it…but more recently I found myself brought into contact with the Book of Acts as an authority for the topography, antiquities, and society of Asia Minor. It was gradually borne upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth3.

Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy…this author should be placed along with the very greatest historians

Borrowed from Evidences of the Bible: https://bibleevidences.com/archaeological-evidence/, referring to William M. Ramsay’s book, St. Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen, 1892, pg 8

There are several other aspects of internal tests for the validity of ancient documents (enough to make another whole post), but in the interest of time/space, let’s move on to external tests. An external test, of course, uses sources outside the document to confirm its validity. When it comes to the Bible, one great source of validation is archeology (as noted with the story about William Ramsay above). There is also this quote from Dr. Nelson Glueck, one of the most outstanding Jewish archeologists of the 20th century:

“It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference. Scores of archaeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or exact detail historical statements in the Bible.”

Dr. Nelson Glueck

In spite of being Jewish, it’s interesting that he doesn’t limit his observation to the Old Testament, but concedes this truth about the entire Bible. As an example of this, here’s a passage from the website of Dr. Brad Alles, Assistant Professor of Education at Concordia University Wisconsin:

Another familiar event is Joshua and the battle of Jericho. The destruction of the city and its walls is listed in Joshua 6:20. “When the trumpets sounded, the people shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the people gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so every man charged straight in, and they took the city.” As archaeologist John Garstang dug at Jericho during excavations between 1930-1936, he found to his amazement that the walls had fallen outward so attackers could climb over them and enter the city. Normally, attackers batter walls inward after laying siege to a city.

Dr. Brad Alles, from a post on his website entitled Does archaeology confirm the Bible?

Similar to the internal test, I could spend an entire post covering different external tests that substantiate claims in the Bible, but again in the interest of time, let’s move on. I promise the other characteristics are shorter!

Characteristic #2: The Bible’s Authority

I know this is somewhat of a circular reference, but here is how the Apostle Paul summarized the authority of Scriptures to Timothy, his son in the faith:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God, may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Paul, in 2 Timothy 3:14-17 (NIV)

Here are some points that substantiate the claim that the Bible was written under God’s authority:

  1. As I alluded to earlier, the Bible was written by 40 authors from different regions and countries speaking different languages over the course of 1600 years, yet there is a unity to it. Imagine 66 pieces of a jigsaw puzzle all fitting together perfectly even though the 40 people creating the pieces lived across 16 centuries and most of whom never spoke with one another. The only way this could happen is if God inspired each of the authors to write their stories.
  2. There are many very specific prophecies in the Bible quite a few of which have already been fulfilled. Only God is able to know the future. Here are some statistics regarding the number of prophesies:
    1. Various books cite different figures, depending upon the manner in which one counts the prophecies. For example, one writer may count a single verse as a prophecy, while another may see three or four prophetic elements within the same passage.
    2. J. Barton Payne’s Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy lists 1,239 prophecies in the Old Testament and 578 prophecies in the New Testament, for a total of 1,817. These encompass 8,352 verses.
    3. The above information is from the Christian Courier website, in a post by Wayne Jackson entitled “How Many Prophecies Are in the Bible?”
  3. Jesus’ own endorsement of the Holy Scriptures–he quoted the Old Testament 78 times. He treated the Old Testament as inspired and authoritative. I guess we need to listen to him, since he said he was going to rise from the dead and then he did it. More on this in an upcoming post.

Characteristic #3: The Bible’s Popularity

The Bible is by far the most widely published book in the history of the world–more than 6 billion copies have been printed, according to Informory.com. The Bible is the most widely quoted, the most widely discussed, the most widely debated, and the most widely attacked book in all of human history.

Not that this makes the Bible true or trustworthy, but on the other hand, there must be something important and essentially different about it for it to have attracted this much attention throughout history.

Characteristic #4: The Bible’s Unique Applicability

This one is most striking to me. This book speaks into my heart, into my journey. It provides comfort when comfort is needed, strength when that’s what I require. How can this book be so alive when it was written thousands of years ago? Because God breathed his life into it, so his life could pass to us through these words.

I like to play games with words, and this one is striking to me: when you combine the words “God’s Word” together and break them apart again, you can get “God Sword.” Maybe I’m just stranger than I thought, but I’ve always seen power in this.

This is not a rule book, a book of historical facts, or even a religious handbook. This is a love letter from the One Who Made Us to us, his beloved. He knows us better than we know ourselves, so it’s no wonder it speaks to our hearts so effectively.

Is there any other book that can speak to so many different people in ways that are unique and meaningful to them?

Posted in Christian, Faith | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beyond Belief – Do You Believe in Truth and Morality? Absolutely!

Author’s Note

As I sit down to write this, I began with a prayer that my words will not get in the way of the message God wants to convey. This post, like all others from this “Beyond Belief” series, is intended to focus on a particular topic that I have seen be sticking points in Christianity for people who are not yet followers of Christ. Today’s blog is intended to focus on the faith twin-topics of absolute truth and morality. But since the “freedom of religion” guaranteed in the U.S. Bill of Rights has devolved into something more like “freedom from religion”, these topics have unfortunately taken a decidedly political turn. It is not my intent for this to become a political rant, so that is part of my prayer–that I stay true to God’s admonishment not to let my political opinions rudely disrupt the words of grace and peace and encouragement that I am supposed to put forth. If you feel I have failed in this regard, please leave a comment to that effect and I will make whatever revisions are necessary to get myself out of the way.

The Big Question

To begin with, let me start with the big question that I’ll spend the rest of the time addressing: Is truth something that exists externally from each of us (“absolute truth”), or is it something we each create and define for ourselves (“relative truth”)?

Why Is This Important?

You might be wondering why I thought it was worth including this in a series intended to help Believers explain their faith and to help those seeking to learn more about Christianity gain a better understanding. The answer is straightforward. Jesus described himself in this way:

Borrowed from YouVersion: https://my.bible.com/verse-of-the-day/JHN.14.6/32933?version=111

I might be tempted to say to you something like “I am telling the truth,” but I would never tell you “I am the truth.” So Jesus must have meant something very specific when he said this to his disciples. More on this later. For now, it’s enough to say that since Jesus equated himself to the truth, we should spend some time understanding what he meant by that and unpacking why it’s important to our relationship with him.

The Twins: Truth and Morality

Why did I refer to these as twin topics of the faith? Simply because truth provides the measuring stick by which you determine the morality of something. The terms “right” and “wrong” or “good” and “bad” have no meaning unless there is some set of laws that define them. If I’m driving 50 miles per hour in my car, is that the right speed or the wrong speed? Well, if the posted speed limit is 25 MPH, then it’s definitely the wrong speed!

When it comes to humanity, then, truth can be viewed as a set of guidelines or laws (in the more generic sense of the term, not the legal definition) that determine the morality of our behavior. This is, in its most basic sense, how truth and morality are linked. And the way we view truth guides and determines how we act.

Aha! So Christianity Is About the Rules After All!

I wanted to address this since you might be tempted to think you caught me in a contradiction regarding my previous assertions that being a follower of Christ is about being in relationship with him and not about following a bunch of rules. But this is not really a contradiction at all.

I’ve been blessed to have 3 kids, all of whom are grown now. But when they were little, we had rules for them that were intended to keep them safe. For example, “Look both ways before you cross the street.” In spite of these rules, I would hope that my children would describe me as a loving dad who wanted to teach them what’s best for them, not an overbearing tyrant who created rules just for the sake of having rules. The rules provided a healthy framework for their relationship with me, but it did not replace the relationship. I also hope that if you asked them to describe my characteristics in our relationship, they wouldn’t just list all the rules I had for them.

In the same way, God is a loving Father, more perfectly loving than I could ever be. So he provided rules for us to keep us safe and free from bondage, to provide a framework for our relationship with him, but that were not intended to replace our relationship with him. In fact, Jesus put it this way:

Borrowed from YouVersion: https://my.bible.com/verse-of-the-day/JHN.8.32/67128?version=111

Wait, So You Think Rules Set You Free?

I know it seems counterintuitive, but it’s true. We like to think that freedom means we can do whatever we like, but it really means we can do whatever we like within certain boundaries. Here’s a quote from Lord Acton that summarizes this well:

Liberty is not the power of doing what we like, but the right of being able to do what we ought. - Lord Acton
Borrowed from AZ Quotes: https://www.azquotes.com/quote/546447

To go back to the example of my kids, we had a rule forbidding them from hitting one another. Whenever one of them broke that rule, they faced punishment, not only to teach them that this behavior was unacceptable, but also because it infringed on the rights of their siblings not to get hit. Similarly, if I walked up to you on the street and punched you in the face, I could go to jail for aggravated assault, not only because this behavior is unacceptable, but also because it infringes on your right not to get punched in the face. And ironically, if I felt that I was free to punch you in the face, it would ultimately result in my losing my freedom altogether. So the law against aggravated assault (hopefully) sets you free from getting punched in the face.

Back to the Big Question

So which is it–absolute truth or relative truth? Is there a truth that exists outside of you and me, or are we free to define truth for ourselves? Is there a standard of morality–right and wrong–that exists outside of you and me, or are we free to define morality for ourselves? These are really all the same question.

Our culture today is heavily weighted toward relative truths. What’s true for me is true for me, and what’s true for you is true for you. As long as we don’t try to enforce our truths on each other, we should be fine, right?

Wrong.

One problem with this approach can be summarized with this question: what about when my truths are in direct opposition to your truths? For example, what if you and I sign a contract together, but one of my truths is that it’s OK to break that contract and cheat you if it benefits me to do so? That may run afoul of your truths if one them is to be treated fairly.

Herein lies the broader problem with relativism: if we have no common definition of truth, how do we determine what’s right and wrong?

We can’t.

Of course, we have laws that help with this to some extent, but even with many volumes of national, state, and local laws, the government can’t possibly regulate all nuances of human behavior. At some point, our sense of morality kicks in to guide us toward fair and ethical behavior. But that breaks down, and takes the foundation of our society with it, if we each have our own definition of truth.

Trying to avoid getting political but recognizing that this comes right up to that line, let me say that this is one of the areas in which we are destroying this great country from within–the notion that we each can define our own set of truths and our own sense of morality, our own definitions of right and wrong.

To emphasize this point, here are a few excerpts from an essay based on a speech given by Michael Novak when he was given the Templeton Prize in 1994:

This most perilous threat to the free society is neither political nor economic. It is the poisonous, corrupting culture of relativism. Vulgar relativism is an invisible gas, odorless, deadly, that is now polluting every free society on earth. It is a gas that attacks the central nervous system of moral striving.

During the next 100 years, the question for those who love liberty will be whether we can survive the most insidious and duplicitous attacks from within, from those who undermine the virtues of our people, doing in advance the work of the Father of Lies. “There is no such thing as truth,” they teach even the little ones. “Truth is bondage. Believe what seems right to you. There are as many truths as there are individuals. Get in touch with yourself. Do what feels comfortable.”

Those who undermine the idea of truth do the work of tyrants.

Michael Novak, “Awakening from Nihilism”, an essay is adapted from a speech he gave at Westminster Abbey upon receiving the Templeton Prize in 1994

There’s Got to Be a Better Way

On the other hand, our loving Father has provided a definition of truth that can and should be common to all of us. This common ground gives us a fair and consistent measuring stick by which we can all discern right from wrong.

To be fair, I should say that for the last 2000 years, people have perverted the Bible, twisting its words to justify their atrocious behavior. I am most certainly not condoning that. We must all take care to view the words in the Bible through the lens of Jesus’ behavior. One implication of this is that we can use God’s truths as a yardstick for our own behavior, but it’s not an open invitation to judge the behavior of others. That’s still only God’s job, not ours. The abuse of this is what has caused so many secular people to view the Bible as a weapon we will use to beat others over the head.

The Apostle Paul provides helpful guidance about this in his letter to the Galatians:

Borrowed from YouVersion: https://my.bible.com/verse-of-the-day/GAL.5.22/2618?version=111

On the other side of that same mirror, he lists some behaviors we can fall into if we are not living by the guidance of the Holy Spirit:

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God since this offers our world and our country the last best chance to get us off the slippery slope of moral relativism and back onto firm foundations.

Paul in Galatians 5:19-21 (NIV)

Coming in for the Landing

I’m running long, so let me try to wrap this up. One reason its important for us to understand absolute truth is because Jesus, in a discussion where he was emphasizing his equality with God, stated that he is the truth. We have to grapple with that, come to terms with what it means–that there is a single source of truth, which is external to all of us. God is this universal, external source of all truth.

Another reason this is important is because this is part of the culture war raging all around us–absolute truth is seen as bad and narrow-minded and judgmental, but the “enlightened” alternative of relativism is believed to be more friendly and inclusive and intellectual.

None of these beliefs could be further from, well, the truth (if you’ll pardon the pun).

Posted in Christian, Faith | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beyond Belief – Do You Believe in Miracles? Yes!

On February 22, 1980, sportscaster Al Michaels uttered the greatest phrase in the history of sportscasting: “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” The occasion, of course, was at the end of one of the biggest upsets (if not the biggest) in all of sports–the US men’s hockey team defeated the heavily favored Soviet team 4-3. This was a group of amateur American hockey players–mostly teenagers–competing against probably the best professional team in the world at the time. You may have at least seen or heard of the movie they made about it.

I am a big hockey fan, and this was undoubtedly one of the brightest moments in USA Hockey history. It was certainly a significant and unexpected upset.

But it was not a miracle. Sorry.

To say something like that, though, I suppose I’d better make it clear what constitutes an actual miracle.

In my research for this “episode”, I hadn’t been able to find a satisfying definition of what a miracle really is. The closest definition I had found in a secular source was this:

An extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

That comes pretty close, but in timing that only God can orchestrate, the pastor at my church (Brady Boyd at New Life Church) spoke briefly while introducing a guest preacher on Sunday. In his comments, he gave this outstanding definition:

“A miracle is when the divine God comes into our natural world and changes something that only he can.”

Brady Boyd, October 3, 2021

Based on both of these definitions, then, it would seem that the “Miracle on Ice” was really just a remarkable, unexpected, and unusual occurrence, but not a miracle.

Miracles as Signposts

The Bible, of course, is full of descriptions of actual miracles. Here I will reiterate an acknowledgement that I am using the Bible as a source text to demonstrate that the claims of Christianity are true, which may seem to be circular logic. I will address the truth and veracity of the Bible in an upcoming post.

So what is the point of recording miracles in the Bible? In John 14, Jesus explains why it was important for the miracles he performed to be remembered:

“Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.”

Jesus, as recorded in John 14:11 (NIV)

In other words, even if you don’t believe what I say, you should believe in the miracles I have performed, which you have seen with your own eyes (i.e., “evidence“).

Earlier in my faith journey, I asked an associate pastor friend of mine why Jesus didn’t do more miracles to remove all doubt from everyone alive in his time in his little corner of the world. Wouldn’t that have made Christianity spread faster, and make it easier for people to believe in him today? I don’t remember what his answer was, but I do remember that it was unsatisfying.

Here’s how I would answer my own question, many years further along in studying the Bible and growing deeper in relationship with its Author: For one thing, John said at the end of his Gospel that Jesus did quite a number of other things as well, but there simply wasn’t enough room to record them all (John 20:30 and 21:25). For another thing, there were people who witnessed Jesus’ miracles first-hand, yet their hearts remained hardened–so seeing miracles would not guarantee belief. Incidentally, the group of people whom this happened to the most were the religious people, who thought they already had God figured out, and Jesus didn’t fit into their neat little box.

I also believe there’s an element of faith involved here as well. Whether you observe a miracle or read about it in the Bible, you have to be willing to accept that the divine God will come into our natural world to change something that only he can. If you refuse to believe that, you will try to devise and/or accept other (supposedly) “scientific” explanations, no matter how implausible or how impossible it is to achieve the same outcome if you repeat the steps leading up to the event, which is a requirement to prove something using the scientific method (i.e., repeatability).

To summarize this section, the purpose of miracles is to point to Jesus/God by substantiating the power and the work of Jesus/God.

Wait a Minute–There Were People Who Saw Miracles But Didn’t Believe Them??

It’s true. An even better example of this than the ones I alluded to above is documented in Matthew 28, after Jesus’ resurrection:

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.

Matthew 28:16-17 (NIV, emphasis added)

It doesn’t say who it was that doubted, but at least one of Jesus’ 11 remaining disciples doubted that he had really risen from the dead! Granted, this would be a difficult thing to accept when you have no lens through which to view it (What do you mean he rose from the dead? Dead is dead!), but on the other hand, these people had traveled with Jesus for 3 years and had seen him perform all kinds of miracles, including raising Lazarus from the dead.

So what does this mean?

For one thing, it’s OK to doubt miracles. God can take it. He will find other ways to reach you.

For another thing, since each of these disciples went on to do great things to further God’s kingdom on earth, presumably they came around and realized that Jesus really had risen from the dead. Meaning, be patient with God and he will be patient with you. Again, he will find other ways to reach you if miracles are unconvincing to you at first.

Also, in the end, it would seem that miracles cannot create faith; they can only support and nourish a faith that already exists.

If God Can Perform Miracles, Why Don’t We See More of Them?

Usually the context of a question like this is something along the lines of, Why didn’t God answer my prayer? or, perhaps even more specifically and poignantly, Why didn’t God heal my loved one? I’m afraid there aren’t satisfying answers to these questions. I have some theories that I’ll cover some other time, but ultimately we will need to add them to the list of questions we want to ask God when we meet him face-to-face.

In terms of the frequency of miracles, the question might go something like this: If God performed so many miracles during Biblical times, why doesn’t he perform any (or as many) nowadays? To that I would say, He is performing miracles all the time–we just may not have eyes to see them. For example, our culture has a tendency to explain away something as coincidence that could just as easily be God’s intervention–orchestrating events in unlikely ways to achieve an outcome. Or answer a prayer.

This is why I say I don’t believe in coincidences.

Also, if we go back to the earlier definitions of a miracle, I would contend that God frequently comes into our natural world and changes things that only he can. There are great examples of this all around us: every time God breaks into the hardened heart of someone and turns that person toward him, that’s a miracle. A selfish person is made to care about others; an impatient, ill-tempered person becomes loving, patient, and kind; an entitled person is awakened to the reality of the blessings that rain down on us from heaven and adopts a posture of gratitude.

These are changes that God is making in me and so many others.

These are miracles, and they are still happening, every day and all around the world.


As a post script, I wanted to include a great quote I found from Tim Keller while I was doing my research for this post. It’s an excellent perspective on miracles, but it’s also a bit long, which is why I wanted to include it here at the end.

We modern people think of miracles as the suspension of the natural order, but Jesus meant them to be the restoration of the natural order. The Bible tells us that God did not originally make the world to have disease, hunger, and death in it. Jesus has come to redeem where it is wrong and heal the world where it is broken. His miracles are not just proofs that he has power but also wonderful foretastes of what he is going to do with that power. Jesus’s miracles are not just a challenge to our minds, but a promise to our hearts, that the world we all want is coming.

Keller, Timothy. The Reason for God (pp. 95-96). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition

Posted in Christian, Faith, Miracles | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beyond Belief – How Do We Know God Is Real?

Continuing our way through this series of posts in an area of the faith known as apologetics (i.e., explaining your faith), we come to a topic that’s paramount for anyone just beginning their exploration into the veracity of the claims of Christianity: Is God real? If you believe He is, how do you know?

To the extent that people in our culture even pay attention to the topic, it seems to have become increasingly fashionable to write off the notion of God and the stories in the Bible as mythology, along the lines of the stories of the gods and goddesses of Greek or Roman mythology. Science reigns supreme, or perhaps more commonly, a pseudo-science in which average people take other people’s word for it without validating the theories and assertions for themselves. Someone said so on social media, and they read a book or article about it, so it must be true.

Isn’t that what you’re doing here, smart guy? Declaring something as true?

Well, yes, except I’m not asking you to take my word for it. Everything I am saying in these posts is verifiable, and if you question anything I’m saying, I invite you to research it. If I say anything incorrect, I welcome feedback in the comments to set me straight.

What Is Reality?

To begin with, I want to address the question of what constitutes reality. A popular view in our culture today is that reality consists of observable, scientific phenomenon. There is only the natural world, things that can be measured.

This view obviously leaves no room for the supernatural–also known as the spiritual–world. Secularists contend that this is all a figment in the imagination of religious people. Myths dreamed up to attempt to explain the unexplainable.

To people who believe this, I would ask: Are you able to measure hope or love or joy? How would you explain creativity and imagination? Do any of these things impact the way you interact with others? In spite of your inability to measure it, can you tell when someone possess one or more of these things? If so, how?

And so on. Unless someone is able to explain these things away, I will hold on to my assertion that reality consists both of the natural world and the supernatural world.

Since God is not part of the observable, natural world, we have to assign him to the supernatural world. But based on the assertion that reality consists of the natural and supernatural world, no one can contend that God is not real based only on the fact that he is not part of the observable, natural world.

Science vs. Religion – Which is Correct?

Here is another assertion I will make: science and religion are not mutually exclusive. As we discussed in the previous section, science is able to measure and observe the natural world, but it is worthless when it comes to the supernatural world. This is where religion comes in. If I had only a hammer, that would be fine if everything I encountered was a nail. However, if I come across a screw, a screwdriver would clearly be the better tool for engaging with it than my hammer.

Having said this, though, I want to make an important distinction: just because religion deals with the supernatural, that does not mean that we should accept its assertions without applying logic and reason. But as I’ve said before, it’s also important to keep in mind that not everything in the supernatural world will be within our grasp to understand, even with the help of religion, just like not everything in the natural world is in our grasp to understand. This is why science continues to evolve and advance, in the same way that our understanding of God continues to evolve and advance.

But anyway, there is nevertheless an element of taking a step of faith when your investigation of Christianity leads you to a place, as it has many others before you, where your logic and reason-based approach leaves you no choice but to accept it as truth.

Back to the question of science vs. religion, the other thing I’ll say is that I am a computer scientist by training and trade, yet I have no trouble maintaining both a scientific and religious view of the world at the same time without losing my mind. And there have been plenty of people a lot smarter than I am who have also mastered the peaceful coexistence of science and religion in their great minds. For example, Francis Collins is the Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). He is a physician-geneticist who has both an MD and a PhD. Prior to being appointed to head the NIH, he led the Human Genome Project, which effectively mapped out human DNA for the first time. This is how he described enabling religion and science to coexist in his mind:

So where, then, is the discordancy that causes so many people to see these views of science and of spirit as being incompatible? In me, they both exist. They both exist at the same moment in the day. They’re not compartmentalized. They are entirely compatible. And they’re part of who I am.”

Francis Collins, from a 2004 PBS WGBH Educational Foundation Interview

He also had this to say about the interaction between science and faith:

Francis Collins Quote: "By investigating God's majestic and awesome creation, science can ...
https://quotefancy.com/media/wallpaper/1600×900/2795690-Francis-Collins-Quote-By-investigating-God-s-majestic-and-awesome.jpg

Bottom line: you can and should use reason and logic and science when examining the validity of the claims of Christianity, including the assertion that God exists.

Philosophical and Science-Based Arguments for God’s Existence

I’m running a little long here, so I’ll try to go through these explanations for God’s existence quickly and include links in case you’d like to investigate further.

Teleological

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “teleological” is defined as “exhibiting or relating to design or purpose especially in nature”. Most commonly referred to as “intelligent design,” this argument contends that:

Some phenomena within nature exhibit such exquisiteness of structure, function or interconnectedness that many people have found it natural to see a deliberative and directive mind behind those phenomena. The mind in question is typically taken to be supernatural.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Moral

According to Got Questions?, the moral argument for the existence of God goes like this:

The moral argument begins with the fact that all people recognize some moral code (that some things are right, and some things are wrong). Every time we argue over right and wrong, we appeal to a higher law that we assume everyone is aware of, holds to, and is not free to arbitrarily change. Right and wrong imply a higher standard or law, and law requires a lawgiver. Because the Moral Law transcends humanity, this universal law requires a universal lawgiver. This, it is argued, is God.

From Got Questions?

Cosmological

The cosmological argument for the existence of God is also known as the “First Cause Argument.” The idea here, according to All About Philosophy, is that everything has a cause, so there must have been a first cause. This first cause, it explains, was itself uncaused.

This idea was first put forth by Plato and Aristotle in the 4th and 3rd centuries BC. Thomas Aquinas later adopted the idea for his Christian world view in the 13th century, saying the First Cause is God. More recently, Christian philosopher William Lane Craig summarized this argument as follows:

  1. Whatever begins to exist, has a cause of its existence.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause of its existence.

This argument is actually supported by modern science since “most scientific models for the origin of the universe, such as the Big Bang model, support the view that the universe had a beginning.”

Conclusion

So that’s it for now. There are others as well, but in an attempt to avoid boring you any further, I’ll leave it at this.

What about you–do you believe that God is real? Why or why not?

Posted in Christian, Faith | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Beyond Belief – Faith and Doubt and Disbelief

When our youngest daughter was about 7 or 8, she approached us with growing doubts about the existence of Santa Claus. Her older brother and sister had hinted here and there that her belief was babyish. When she asked us if there really is a Santa Claus, my wife said something to the effect of, “Well, things like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are meant to represent the spirit of the seasons.” After thinking about this for a moment, our daughter responded, a horrified look on her face, “You mean there’s no Easter Bunny, either?!”

The reason I mention this humorous, if maybe a little sad, story is to demonstrate doubt dissolving into disbelief. Doubt can do that.

Does that mean we should be afraid of doubt? That’s what I’d like to unpack in this latest post in the series on apologetics, which is a fancy way of saying that you are able to explain your faith in a way that makes logical sense.

In some religious circles, doubts scramble away like cockroaches when you turn the lights on.

Here are some quotes I found that seem to underscore this idea.

But is this the way it should be? Is doubt really this terrible?

No, I don’t think so.

But wait, you may ask. Isn’t this a faith-based blog? Aren’t you always talking about the importance of faith?

Well, yes. But the point of view expressed by these quotes assumes that doubt is the opposite of faith. Doubt is bad, doubt is the enemy.

But that’s not the case. Far from it, actually. Here are a few quotes that ring more true to me than the earlier ones.

https://www.azquotes.com/quote/1461487?ref=faith-and-doubt

Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is one element of faith.

Paul Tillich

Take faith, for example. For many people in our world, the opposite of faith is doubt. The goal, then, within this understanding, is to eliminate doubt. But faith and doubt aren’t opposites. Doubt is often a sign that your faith has a pulse, that it’s alive and well and exploring and searching. Faith and doubt aren’t opposites, they are, it turns out, excellent dance partners.

Rob Bell

Let’s see how Jesus handles someone who doubts the claims that he had been resurrected. The Apostle John recounts this story in the twentieth chapter of his gospel.

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

John 20:24-25 (NIV)

If we take the first view of doubt–that it is to be feared and avoided more than spiders and snakes and dentists combined–then of course Jesus would be furious at one of his closest followers who didn’t believe he had risen from the dead, despite Jesus’ statements to that effect several times before his crucifixion. But let’s take a look at how Jesus actually responded when he saw Thomas.

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

John 20:26-29 (NIV)

When Jesus says to Thomas, “Stop doubting and believe,” we are tempted to hear Jesus’ tone of voice as one of irritated admonishment. Something like, “Oy vey, Thomas! Will you quit with your foolish doubts already?” But that’s not the way we should read this. Jesus starts the conversation by patiently addressing Thomas’ doubt by inviting him to investigate his wounds in exactly the same way Thomas had said was needed for him to believe. Based on this, it would be better to read Jesus’ words, “Stop doubting and believe” as something more gentle, like “It’s OK that you doubted, but now do you believe?”

One other note about this conversation: some people are tempted to read Jesus’ final statement, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” to mean that Christians are called to believe in Jesus without any evidence of his believability–to just take that blind leap of faith. But as I wrote about last week, ours is a sighted faith. God invites us to examine the object of our faith to determine its validity. What Jesus refers to here is simply visual evidence–“those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

But is visual evidence the only kind of evidence there is?

No.

Has anyone seen the wind? Has anyone among us seen Abraham Lincoln?

I don’t think so. But do any of us have trouble believing in them?

So here’s the thing: the reason I’m talking about doubt today is because it’s a natural part of everyone’s faith journey–at least that of anyone who wants to go beyond the superficial and dive deep into the depths of God. This means that you should not be ashamed of your doubt when it arises. You should not pretend it doesn’t exist. Remember, doubt is not the same thing as unbelief.

Actually, if you have doubt but try to sweep it under the rug, it could be devastating to your faith journey. Doubt is a little bit like stinky cheese. When you encounter it, you should deal with it right away. If you don’t, it’s only going to smell worse and worse over time. Doubt left uninvestigated could one day blow up your entire faith since everything you learn about God is built upon the layers of everything you knew before.

How should you deal with doubt? You dig into whatever it is you’re doubting. Study it in the Scriptures. Talk to your small group or other trusted friends or mentors about it. Think deeply about it. Talk to God about it–He can handle your doubt! In fact, He welcomes it since it means you’re thinking about your faith.

The Apostle Paul advises Timothy, his son in the faith, in this way: “Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.” (2 Timothy 2:7, NIV).

It is through investigations like this that our faith deepens. God graces us with occasional glimpses into His higher ways. Somewhere along the way of our journeys, He helps us construct our faith on a firm, immovable bedrock foundation. Yet at the same time, He shows us that it’s OK not to understand everything about Him, and it’s even OK if our understanding of Him changes over time. We are ever floating in the tension between the fluidity of growth and the solidity of our faith foundation.

And that’s exactly how God intended for us to be!

Posted in Christian, Faith | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Beyond Belief – Think About It: Sighted Faith

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 27:32 (NIV, emphasis added)

Who said you need to put your brain in neutral in order to believe in Jesus? Why is there this notion by those who are not yet followers of Christ that faith and thinking are mutually exclusive, or that ours is a blind faith?

To be fair, this idea is somewhat self-inflicted. According to Christian historians, this stereotype became prevalent because of some revivalist movements in America in the early 1800s. For example, J.P. Moreland explained in his book Love God with All Your Mind:

During the middle 1800s, three awakenings broke out in the United States: the Second Great Awakening (1800-1820), the revivals of Charles Finney (1824-1837), and the Layman’s Prayer Revival (1856-1858).  Much good came from these movements, but their overall effect was to emphasize immediate personal conversion to Christ instead of a studied period of reflection and conviction; emotional, simple, popular preaching instead of intellectually careful and doctrinally precise sermons; and personal feelings and relationships to Christ instead of a deep grasp of the nature of Christian teaching and ideas.  Sadly, as historian George Marsden notes, ‘anti-intellectualism was a feature of American revivalism.

J.P. Moreland, Love God with All Your Mind, p.23 (emphasis added)

In other words, these preachers pushed for an immediate conversion to Christianity, appealing to people’s emotions rather than their intellects to try to win them over. While there is certainly nothing wrong with an immediate conversion, nor with being in relationship with Christ, we must still over time develop an intellectual understanding of the claims Jesus made. Failure to do so will lead to a shallow faith that is in danger of withering under any sort of scrutiny, either internally or by others.

Jesus emphasized the importance of developing an intellectual understanding of his claims when he explained the Parable of the Seeds to his disciples in Luke 8:

“This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.”

Jesus, in Luke 8:11-15 (NIV, emphasis added)

Said another way, we can go back to the quote I started this post with, where Jesus stated it is just as important for us to engage God with our minds as it is for us to connect with him via our hearts and souls.

Ours is a sighted faith, not a blind one.

Does this mean we have to fully understand everything in the Bible before we can become a follower of Christ? Thankfully, no, or else that would be a very small group of people. Maybe just the Apostle Paul and C.S. Lewis. But we should always be investigating the claims made in the Bible to expand and deepen our intellectual understanding of God. This is how we build our faith on bedrock instead of sand. Here’s how Paul put it:

Borrowed from YouVersion: https://my.bible.com/verse-of-the-day/ROM.12.2/526?version=111

“By the renewing of your mind.” There it is again. And if you’ve spent any time studying and unpacking Paul’s writings–especially his letter to the Romans–you know he’s not kidding around when he says this. You need to have your thinking cap on when you’re wrestling with Paul!

By the way, referring back to my earlier mention of “blind faith”, I think Paul may also be admonishing people here not to have blind faith in the wisdom of the world or the age in which we live, either. In other words, just because a Hollywood celebrity or famous scientist or some random person on social media claims that it’s silly or outdated or superstitious to believe in God, that doesn’t mean we have to believe them. But just as I am saying we should investigate the claims in the Bible, we should approach their assertions with the same level of intellectual curiosity.

Another “by the way”: I recognize that I am using the Bible as a proof point for why we should believe the Bible, which is rather circular logic. I do plan on covering things like the historicity and validity of the Bible itself in an upcoming post. But I want to unpack these “beyond belief” concepts one at a time.

Anyway, there’s one last set of ideas I want to cover today. With this talk about investigating the Bible and intellectual curiosity, what do I mean by that? What does that look like?

Well, whenever you investigate anything to determine whether it is worthy of your faith (recall from last time that we all have faith, it’s just a matter of what we have faith in), you move through these basic stages:

  1. Evaluation – this is where you’re checking to see if the thing you’re investigating is worthy of your faith. Questions for this stage might include:
    1. Is this thing well-constructed? Recall the analogy of an airplane that I used last time. If you got onto a plane that was full of holes and generally seemed to be falling apart, would you stay on? Or would you head to the exit as quickly as you could?
    2. Is the thing you’re investigating logical? Does it make sense in its context? Meaning, does it fit within its operating principles?
    3. Are there multiple ways to check the validity of the thing you’re investigating?
  2. Confirmation – assuming you reach the conclusion that the thing you’re investigating is worthy of your faith, the next determination you would make is whether it meets a need for you. If you need to get to Toledo, OH, but don’t live anywhere near there, an airplane would be relevant for you. But if you don’t need to go to Toledo, or if you live nearby, you probably wouldn’t be interested in getting on an airplane to get there no matter how well-constructed it is.
  3. Acceptance – once you have determined that the thing you’re investigating is worthy of your faith and it meets a current need, you accept it. You demonstrate your faith by submitting to that thing you were investigating. You get on the airplane heading for Toledo.

So that’s it for today. As we move through these posts, we’ll see that Biblical faith is not blind at all. It is based on reason, logic, and evidence. It’s true that to become a follower of Christ requires taking a step of faith, but that step should be taken as much for intellectual reasons as for emotional ones.

Also, if you perform an honest, thorough, and intellectually curious investigation into the claims in the Bible, it would also take a step of faith to be an atheist. So being an atheist is not an absence of faith, it is faith in your ability to explain your belief that God does not exist.

With that, let me leave you with a few great quotes from C.S. Lewis related to this topic.

CS Lewis | Cs lewis, Lewis, Faith
Borrowed from https://i.pinimg.com/originals/8e/ec/45/8eec45c11fa6d671d952c0b8586e2116.jpg
Pin by Rebekah Johnson on Beliefs and Convictions | Cs lewis, Atheism, Evangelism
Borrowed from https://i.pinimg.com/originals/fa/d0/2f/fad02f940b89c88f83408d0714d02767.jpg
This CS Lewis quote totally DESTROYS atheist's logic - The Horn News
Borrowed from https://thehornnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/CS-Lewis.jpg
Posted in Christian, Faith | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Bravery – Remembering September 11, 2001

Photograph & Quotation Copyright © 2021 by David K. Carpenter, All rights reserved
Copyright © 2021 by David K. Carpenter, All rights reserved
Copyright © 2021 by David K. Carpenter, All rights reserved
Copyright © 2021 by David K. Carpenter, All rights reserved
Copyright © 2021 by David K. Carpenter, All rights reserved
Copyright © 2021 by David K. Carpenter, All rights reserved
Copyright © 2021 by David K. Carpenter, All rights reserved

United, we stand.

Otherwise, we crumble from the inside.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Beyond Belief — Faith and Doubt

As we make our way into a series of posts on apologetics (explaining or defending your belief in Jesus), let’s start by exploring the foundations of faith and doubt. Before beginning today, I’d like to remind everyone that everything I say here I mean with utmost respect for those who are not yet followers of Christ, and I do not mean for anything I say to be insulting.

Starting with faith, I have heard non-believers saying they don’t have faith or they’re not a spiritual person because they “follow the science”. However, I’d like to point out that every time someone who “believes in science” accepts a scientifically proven fact without understanding the science behind it is really exercising faith. In other words, they believe that thing without fully understanding it. That’s faith.

Let’s take flying on an airplane as an example.

Photo by Ross Parmly on Unsplash

How many people who get on an airplane fully understand the laws of aerodynamics that cause a metal tube, which can weight in excess of 875,000 pounds (396,893 kg), to be able to lift off the ground and stay airborne? Without understanding that, everyone who gets on a plane expecting it to get them safely to their destination is demonstrating faith in that airplane and the science they don’t understand.

All of this is to make the point that there is no such thing as a person who does not have faith in something.

So then it comes down to the veracity of the things in which people put their faith. We will unpack the science and veracity of Biblical faith in upcoming posts.

Next, let’s look at the 10 most common root causes of why people doubt Christianity:

Photo by Md Mahdi on Unsplash
  • Believers behaving badly – sadly, this happens more than I wish it would, but if someone is treated poorly by followers of Christ, it can make that person bitter toward Christ himself, especially if there’s a pattern of such treatment. Even if people witness bad or hypocritical behavior by Believers that’s not directed at them, it can still turn them away from Jesus. For example, if a Believer shoots a doctor who performs abortions, what kind of message does that send to the watching world? Is this the way Jesus would have wanted us to act? Is it any wonder news media outlets devour stories like this?
  • Superficially believing that science and belief in God are mutually exclusive – there is, of course, nothing wrong with science, as long as its followers are willing to follow the scientific method. This means that they start with a hypothesis on a particular topic, then begin an open-minded investigation into the facts to determine whether or not their hypothesis is correct. I start with “superficially” here because I believe that people who reject Christ for this reason have not employed the scientific method in investigating the veracity of the Bible.
  • Apathy – this isn’t so much a root cause for doubting Christianity as it is for doubting the importance of Christ in the world or in our lives. However, the end result is the same–people in this category don’t accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. As I’ve alluded to previously, this most closely identifies where I was when the Hound of Heaven found me.
  • Laziness – similarly, some people have a vague notion of the unbelievability of the claims of Christianity, but don’t make the effort to investigate them. I also think this applies to people who are dabbling around the edge of Christianity, some of whom may even consider themselves to be Believers. It is not for me to judge, so I am not, but my concern is that people like this may fall away from the faith at the first setback they encounter. They do not know the Peace of Christ that surpasses all understanding. Jesus never gave us the option to dance around the edges of following him–either you accept him as your Lord and Savior and receive his gift of grace so freely offered, or you remain in darkness. There is no in between. There must be a reason Jesus told the Parable of the Sower, as recounted in Luke 8:1-15.
  • Behavioral (on the part of the unbeliever) – some people are cynical or skeptical by nature. Others may have some sort of emotional baggage associated with the faith that keeps them away.
  • Egotistical – some people live under the illusion that they don’t need anyone else, including God. To believe in God would displace themselves at the center of the universe, and would mean handing over the keys to their fate to someone else. Similarly, sometimes this comes in the form of superiority, as in the sentiment that poor, little weak and stupid Christians are not as strong or as smart as they are since we believe in this supposed mythology.
  • Social / Social media – for people in this category, it is more important to be liked by their peers (or even people they don’t know) today than it is to ponder what happens to their soul in eternity. This is the very definition of the herd mentality.
  • Way of life – some people back away from the edge of the cliff of following Jesus because they are concerned they will have to change one or more things about their way of life, which they do not want to do.
  • Circumstantial – it’s quite natural for someone to whom bad things keep happening to question the existence of a loving God. That questioning is fine as long as it is followed by an honest and earnest investigation into the Truth. But unfortunately, often the notion of the existence of God is dismissed in people like this without investigating because they have the mistaken impression that God has promised us an easy life–so if their life isn’t easy, there must not be a God. There is no such promise in the Bible, which they would see if they investigated. In fact, like Jesus himself, most of his followers named in the New Testament were executed for their beliefs. Where in that story would anyone get the impression that being a Christ-follower means we should have an easy life?
  • Theological / Preferential – there are stories about God in the Old Testament that can make him seem like a monster, especially when taken out of context. People may latch onto those micro-pictures of God without stepping back to look at the broad, sweeping narrative that in the end shows how much God loves the world and everyone in it. They may point to these stories and say they don’t want any part of a God that is such a monster.

I’ll unpack and address the evidence and science behind the claims of Christianity in upcoming posts, but I wanted to lay this additional groundwork before jumping in.

Did I miss any major reasons why people reject Jesus? What have you encountered, or experienced yourself?

Posted in Christian, Faith | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Beyond Belief — Before the Beginning

Let’s remember for a moment back to the time before we passed through death of our old self and into our new life, our new selves. Was your journey toward rebirth simple and straightforward, or was it a prolonged wrestling match? Do you remember it as a single moment in time, as if someone (God) flipped a switch in you, or was it more evolutionary in nature, a gradual process that one day led you to realize that you had become a follower of Christ?

What was the foundation of your hope at that time before the beginning of your new life?

What questions did you have about God and life and Christianity? Where did you find the answers?

I’m going to jump into a set of posts on the topic of apologetics. For anyone new to the faith or unfamiliar with it, this does not mean, as the word seems to imply, that I am apologizing for being a follower of Christ. Quite the opposite, really–it refers to defending or explaining our faith. Not in a mean way, but in a way that meets people where they are to help them understand the truth, if they are earnest seeking to find it.

Perhaps one of the most interesting perspectives on this comes from people who were originally atheists–those who outwardly claim there is no God–but then ended up being believers. Here are a couple of my favorite books from people who fall into this category (note: these are affiliate links):

  • Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life, by C.S. Lewis. The same C.S. Lewis who wrote the “Chronicles of Narnia” and many other books started his faith journey as a vocal atheist who began investigating reasons to support his belief that there is no God. Over time, his readings led him to trade in his atheism for agnosticism, acknowledging “some sort of God as the least objectionable theory.” Next, he evolved into theism, but not yet Christianity–so he believed in God, but not yet Jesus. However, as he continued his investigation, God placed several believers in his life, the ultimate result of which was that Lewis himself became a believer, admitting, “That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.” Lewis’ conversion story is so compelling because he had spent so many years as a non-believer and was dragged by God, kicking and screaming, into a relationship with Christ.
  • Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus, by Lee Strobel, who was a journalist for the Chicago Tribune. Annoyed by his wife’s faith, he set out to apply his investigative journalist skills to disprove the existence of God so she would stop believing this nonsensical mythology. However, the course of his investigation led him somewhere else entirely–he ended up becoming a follower of Christ as a result. In the book’s introduction, he says, “But when I changed those lenses—trading my biases for an attempt at objectivity—I saw the case in a whole new light. Finally I allowed the evidence to lead me to the truth, regardless of whether it fit my original presuppositions.” Although he says this about his journalistic process relative to a criminal case he had investigated previously and not the conclusion he reached, it’s still an important point regarding his findings.

It’s worth noting up front, though, as I try to unpack some of the deepest questions or objections people have about God, Jesus, and the Bible, that at the end of it all, the final step in anyone’s journey into a relationship with our Creator is up to them. We can and should shepherd others along to help them process what they’re experiencing, and pray with/for them while they’re going through it, but ultimately it is up to them to take the leap of faith into the waiting, wide open arms of our Loving Father.

There’s something else to mention here. We must never condemn or judge (or act in any other distasteful way toward) anyone who is not yet a follower of Christ simply because they don’t understand or accept his message. For one thing, God must first soften their heart, making it fertile soil to receive and nourish the seed of his message. In other words, no matter how eloquent and patient and right you are, if God’s not in that effort with you, you will never convince them of anything.

For another thing, we make it harder for people to accept the message that God is a loving, caring Father if we chase after them with torches and pitchforks like an angry mob seeking an evil monster.

Remember grace. Remember that we were once as they are, where nothing about Christianity makes sense (What do you mean by “the blood of the lamb”? That’s disgusting!). Remember that we didn’t get to this point, to this relationship with Jesus, on our own merits. We were able to receive his gift of salvation only because he first softened our hearts, then put someone or something in our path at just the right time so we’d be open to exploring the depths of God.

And remember that Jesus characterized God as a good and patient Father who waits for all of us on his great big front porch, watching for his prodigal sons and daughters to realize the foolishness of their ways and come crawling to him. Remember that he loves them so much he won’t wait for them to reach his porch, but instead leaps off the porch and runs out to welcome them, his arms wide open, in the shape of the cross. (the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Luke 15:11-32)

That’s our God, and these are the people he wants us to help find their way home.

Posted in Christian, Faith | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Whispers from God

How Jehovah’s Witnesses Caused My Relationship with Jesus

Someone commented on my last post, remarking on the believability factor of the Bible, for which I’m grateful. It made me think back on my own journey to relationship with my Lord and Savior.

I wasn’t raised in the church, and honestly, I didn’t really give it much thought. At least not until I started dating a girl in high school who was a Jehovah’s Witness. Even then, I didn’t give it much thought because she didn’t seem to be all that into it and she never seemed to mind that I wasn’t religious.

Our world came crashing down, though–or so it seemed (everything feels like a Shakespearean tragedy when you’re 17)–when her father announced that we could no longer date because I was not a Jehovah’s Witness. This made me consider the “easy” way out: I would simply become a Jehovah’s Witness. Problem solved, right? Of course, I had no idea what this meant.

So I set out to learn more.

This plan caused probably the biggest series of arguments I ever had with my parents. I mean, what right did they have to tell me what I could or could not do when it came to religion since they were not religious themselves??

We finally reached a compromise that I could go to a Jehovah’s Witness meeting after I attended three services at “mainstream” Christian churches. This seemed reasonable, so I agreed.

One thing I had been told by the Jehovah’s Witnesses as they sought to bring me into the fold is that they are different from other churches because they believe Jesus is an angel, not that he is part of the triune God. In other words, they did not believe in the Trinity, whatever that meant.

So when I went to my first service at a “mainstream” Christian church, you’ll never guess what the topic of the sermon was.

The Trinity.

Weird, right?

I have to admit that the sermon’s explanation of the Trinity didn’t make a lot of sense, but it at least resonated with me enough that I thought it was worth exploring further. (And now, all these years later, on some days, there are still aspects of it that are hard to explain!)

Anyway, at the time of that sermon, I thought it was the strangest coincidence. But now, as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t believe in coincidences. I do believe, however, that God works in our lives even before we know who He is, and that the things He does are often beyond what we can understand. So that’s why we’ve invented human terms like coincidence and karma, to explain the unexplainable that only God understands.

I’ll spare you all the sordid details, but suffice it to say that this is the highlights version of my story of how the Jehovah’s Witnesses unintentionally led me to accepting Christ as Lord of my life.

The Need for Answers

What’s the point of all this?

Well, for one thing, I think it’s helpful for us to remember back to a time when none of the Biblical stories made sense to us. This may help us to relate in more meaningful ways and in “normal” language to those we encounter who don’t understand or believe any of it. It can also help us deepen our own faith if we challenge our own long-held understanding or assumptions about certain topics and then explore for better answers.

For another thing, there’s something that draws us humans into the search for answers. We all want and need to believe in something. Even those who claim to have no religious beliefs put their faith in science or some such thing (which is not to say that a belief in God and a belief in science have to be mutually exclusive).

Interestingly, as an example, I was recently talking with a good friend of mine who I thought was a life-long atheist. I asked him this about statements he had made previously indicating a posture of gratitude for the blessings in his life: “When you say you are grateful for your blessings, who are you grateful to?” (I know the grammar isn’t quite right there, but I always feel sort of snooty saying “whom”. I mean, who talks like that any more (or is it “whom”?)? He thought about it for a minute and said that he doesn’t really consider himself an atheist any more. He thinks about it like there’s a great spiritual force out there, which he usually refers to as “the universe”. I told him we call that great spiritual force “God”, but left it at that for now.

Anyway, to bring this thing in for a landing, I think it is God himself that plants in all of us the desire to search for answers, even though he knows he is the ultimate Answer to all our questions. He also gave us free will to decide for ourselves what we think the right answers are to life’s biggest questions. If he had done otherwise, if he had not given us free will but rather compelled us to believe in him, it would not be belief at all, but rather a mindless acceptance of a dictator’s demands. And this would be a terrible foundation for the loving relationship he desires to have with each of us.

So whether we recognize it or not, it’s a God-given blessing that we are allowed to believe he doesn’t exist. Isn’t that strange?

But that’s OK, it’s not important to God that his ways always make sense to us, as the Prophet Isaiah passed along in a quote from God:

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 55:9 (NIV)

So back to the “believability factor”, I wanted to mention that I’m planning to address some aspects of this in upcoming posts. My friends, if there are any unbelievable topics you’d like me to help unpack for you and with you, please leave a note in the comments.

In closing, I’ll share a poem I wrote that ponders the question of where we got the need for answers.

Whispers from God

What rustles and stirs
The core of your deepest self?

The sun sinks beneath the western 
Edge of your world, 
Flinging golden rays heavenward
As the sky remains undecisive:  
Azure, orange, red, violet?

Emerald forest after rain glistens,
Hailing its reunion with sunlight.
The scent of a thousand layers
Of decaying trees is somehow clean,
Refreshing, inviting, soul-nourishing.

A child is born, a new
Tiny human completely
Dependent on you to survive.
Instantly you love your daughter, son,
But they don’t love you, 
They don’t know you. Not yet.
But they will
In their own way,
In a thousand moments to come.

A stranger stops to help a new friend
Change a flat tire in the snow.
A stranger volunteers to feed new friends
At a soup kitchen.
A stranger puts an hour’s wage
Into the hat of a new friend who is unable to 
Find work or a home 
So that person can live another day.

Longings, whispers from God:
For beauty, for deep inexplicable peace,
For love and belonging, 
For life the way it’s meant to be.

Who gave us these?
The universe? Evolution?
Who has set eternity in our hearts,
If not the One who made us
To be eternal?

Copyright © 2021 by David K. Carpenter
All rights reserved
Posted in Christian, Faith | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment