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The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask (With Answers)
By MARK MITTELBERG
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Copyright © 2010 Mark Mittelberg
All right reserved.
Chapter One "What makes you so sure that God exists at all-especially when you can't see, hear, or touch him?"
This was it-the day I was finally going to pop the question.
After years of friendship and many hours hanging out together, I knew my feelings for Heidi had grown beyond merely "being in like"-the truth is, I was really in love with her!
Was Heidi in love with me-enough to be willing to become my wife? That's what I was about to find out. I felt fairly confident, but as any guy in my shoes knows, until you actually hear her say "yes," you live with a certain amount of trepidation and doubt.
When the moment came, I worked up the nerve and blurted out the question. Heidi's reply? After a brief hesitation-one that felt like a million years-she agreed to marry me! I don't want to imply that I was excited, but the fact that I shouted, "She said YES!" over and over probably gives away my true feelings.
Was our love real? It certainly seemed to be on that day. As it did on the day of our wedding. And when each of our kids was born. And when Heidi brought me freshly brewed coffee this morning. After more than twenty-five years of marriage, I think we've made a pretty strong case: our love for each other is genuine.
Love is not a physical entity, and yet it's very real. In fact, for those who are in love, it can be more real than the world around them! But in order to know if there is true love in a particular situation, sometimes we need evidence. And being the skeptic that I am, I needed fairly strong evidence.
In my relationship with Heidi, evidence of her love emerged along the way-she wrote me notes that reflected her affection; she spent hours with me on the phone; she seemed to enjoy being around me; she even gave me loving looks sometimes. Then there was the big day when she agreed to marry me. While each one of these actions pointed to her love for me, taken together they provided overwhelming confirmation. I could put it like this: the cumulative evidence was more than enough to believe that Heidi's love for me was the real deal.
But can I prove it to you? Can I show you our love for each other in a tangible way-one that you can see, hear, or touch? No, the love itself is invisible. It's one of those things that you have to detect through its effects. Much like air: You can't see it (unless you're in downtown Los Angeles), but you can breathe it, experience it, and move in it. Or like gravity-it's not visible, but you'd better not try to ignore it!
THE INVISIBLE GOD
One of the most important issues that surfaced in the survey we talked about in the introduction-in fact, tied for first place as the question respondents most hoped nobody would ask them-was this: how can you know there's a God? He's not tangible; you can't weigh him, measure him, touch him, or see him with the naked eye-or detect him with radar, for that matter! His presence doesn't register with any of our senses, and yet you believe in him. Why?
It's a challenging question that's obviously central to all we believe as followers of Christ. So how can we respond?
First, we can point out to our friend, as I did above, that there are plenty of important things we believe in without seeing, hearing, or touching them. Love, as I've explained, is a profound reality, and most of us believe in love. But love itself is not a material thing. It's not something we can see, hear, or touch directly.
The Christian understanding is that God is not a material thing either. This is clear in John 4:24, in which Jesus tells us "God is Spirit." Unlike my friends, my dog Charlie, my iPod, or my mountain bike-all of which I can see, hear, and touch because they are physical, material things-God is a spiritual being or reality, and spiritual realities are not the kinds of things that can be seen with physical eyes or heard with physical ears or touched with physical hands. So I guess we shouldn't really be surprised that we can't experience God in the same way we can experience those other things.
A PERSONAL RESPONSE
But that's not to say we don't experience God in other ways. If you are one of his true followers, you have experienced him on a personal level, and I trust you sense his presence and work in your life on at least a periodic basis. I know that years ago in my own life I felt God's touch on me in numerous ways, leading up to the point at which I put my trust in Christ. Some of those "touches" were wake-up calls in which he showed me the dead-end path my life was on, convicted me of sins, and revealed that I was made for much greater purposes than I was experiencing at the time.
Then, when I finally gave in to what I'm confident was the Holy Spirit drawing me to trust and follow Christ, I sensed his forgiveness and his acceptance as God's newly adopted son. That squared with what I later read in Romans 8:15-16, where Paul says, "You received God's Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, 'Abba, Father.' For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God's children."
And since that time I often know, in hard-to-explain and internal ways, that God is prompting me to speak to a person, send an encouraging note, challenge a wayward brother in the faith, or pray for someone in need. And occasionally I sense him guiding me in bigger life decisions regarding my work, ministry involvements, moves to new locales, and so forth. These leadings don't come every day, but there's a marked pattern of them in my life-they've had a huge influence in my overall direction and impact.
I share some of these details to show that one of the ways I know God is real and active in our world is that he's real and active in my life, and I'm guessing you'd say the same thing if you're a committed Christian. If so, then that's a natural part of our answer to people who ask us this question about God's existence. We know he exists because he's our friend! He has forgiven us and turned our lives around, and he speaks to us, guides us, redirects us, and rebukes us when we need it (see Heb. 12:5-12)-always acting out of love for us and what's best for our lives. So one point we can make is our humble acknowledgment of his presence and activity in our daily experience.
Our testimony alone can have a powerful influence on others, especially those who know us well and are therefore inclined to trust what we say. It can also influence those who have seen clear evidence of God's work in us-they can't see him, but they can see what he's done in our lives.
Experience is hard to argue with. That's why the apostle Paul often appealed to it, as did other biblical writers. He said to his skeptical listeners in Acts 26:12-16, for example, "One day I was on such a mission to Damascus.... A light from heaven brighter than the sun shone down on me.... I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? ... I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. Now get to your feet! For I have appeared to you to appoint you as my servant and witness.'" Paul went on from there and gave further details, but it's clear that his account of God's activity in his life made an impact. Agrippa, one of his listeners, interrupted and asked him, "Do you think you can persuade me to become a Christian so quickly?" (v. 28). To which Paul, the consummate evangelist, winsomely replied, "Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that both you and everyone here in this audience might become the same as I am" (v. 29).
Telling others about God's activity in our lives can be a powerful tool, but many people will not be convinced by that alone. They might conclude that you're sincere-but that you're mistaking coincidences in your life for supernatural interventions. And some people may even question your sincerity. So let's explore some other ways we can point to the effects of the invisible God in our world by using examples that everyone can access. For the rest of this chapter we'll look at three of the best examples of evidence for God's existence that we can share with our friends: two that are scientific and one that is more philosophical in nature. (Note that other powerful kinds of evidence could be given to support belief in the Christian God, including those from history, archaeology, and the records of prophecies and miracles preserved in the Bible. I do so in my book Choosing Your Faith ... In a World of Spiritual Options, where I present twenty arguments for the Christian faith. Some of that information will come out naturally as we address the other questions in this book.)
As I've been exploring these matters for the last twenty-five years or so, I've come to believe that today, perhaps more than in any other period of human history, the fingerprints of God have become exceedingly evident for anyone who is willing to search for them. Each of these arguments is powerful on its own and has convinced many people of the reality of God. But when considered together, along with our own testimonies of experiencing him in our daily lives, the cumulative case is staggering.
EVIDENCE #1: THE EXISTENCE OF THE UNIVERSE
Throughout history, many people have supposed that the universe always existed. A number of famous ancient thinkers from the East (such as Lao Tzu, a central figure in the Taoist religion) and the West (such as Aristotle) believed that the universe is eternal-in other words, that it never had a beginning. This was a fairly prevalent view among philosophers and scientists up until the twentieth century. They had their reasons for believing this, but there was no effective way to either confirm or disconfirm their beliefs-until recently.
Fortunately, in the last several decades there has been an exponential growth of understanding in many areas of science, especially in physics, astronomy, and cosmology. This third area, cosmology-which is the study of the origin, structure, and development of the physical universe-has seen explosive advancements in recent years. Let's look at one example.
In 1915, Albert Einstein developed the general theory of relativity (which is far too complex to explain in this chapter, even if I could fully explain it!). This theory, which is now almost universally accepted, has certain implications. One is that the universe-defined as time, space, matter, and physical energy-had a starting point in history. And, since it had a beginning, it's not eternal as Lao Tzu and Aristotle believed. As a matter of fact, through Einstein's equations we can trace the development of the universe back to its very origin, back to what's called the singularity event when it actually popped into being (what is often referred to as the "Big Bang").
Now, many scientists and others, including Einstein himself, didn't like this result (perhaps because it sounded too much like the biblical account of Creation?). So they tried to find an error in the equations-one that would allow for the universe to be understood as eternal after all. But they didn't succeed. And recent experimental observations have provided even more support showing that Einstein had it right: the universe really did have a beginning.
One of the scientific confirmations of Einstein's theory was provided by the Hubble Space Telescope, named after American astronomer Edwin Hubble. This impressive telescope allowed astronomers to see that the universe is actually expanding-and the farther away the galaxy is, the faster it's moving. This led most scientists to further reinforce their conclusion that the universe had a beginning point from which it began this expansion process.
So how does this Hubble confirmation of the origin of the universe provide evidence for God? Great question! Here's how: if the universe had a starting point in history, then obviously it began to exist. But if it began to exist, then it must have had a cause for its existence. Things don't just begin to exist without a cause. Science itself operates on the principle that all events need a cause. As Einstein once declared, "The scientist is possessed by a sense of universal causation."
But if the universe needs a cause for its coming into being, then that cause must be beyond the universe. As we saw earlier, the universe-by definition-is time, space, matter, and physical energy. So the cause for the universe must be something beyond time and space and matter and physical energy. In other words, the cause must be something uncannily similar to what we commonly refer to as "God"!
Before completely landing on this conclusion, let's look at an objection to it. My friend Chad Meister, who has his doctorate in philosophy and teaches philosophy of religion at the graduate level, told me a story about what happened to him awhile back at a dinner with his wife and others from the company where she was an accountant. The firm was celebrating the end of tax season and had invited the employees and their spouses for a nice dinner at a five-star restaurant. Chad happened to sit next to a pilot for a major airline. As they ate, the conversation eventually came around to spiritual matters, and the pilot said he didn't believe in God-which is not a very good position to take when you're having dinner with the likes of Dr. Meister!
Chad brought up this cosmological evidence from the Hubble telescope, and the pilot responded, "Yes, but how do you know it is God who created the universe? Maybe an alien did the creating!" Chad replied, "Maybe so! But let's keep in mind that our alien, whom we can call Bob, is timeless (that is, outside of time), nonspatial (outside of the spatial dimension), immaterial (not made up of any matter), and does not consist of physical energy, yet was powerful enough to create the entire universe-all the billions and billions of galaxies, each of which has billions and billions of stars. In light of that information, you can call him Bob, but I call him Yahweh! This is the transcendent God beyond space and time in whom Christians have believed for two thousand years."
Can you see how powerful this information is-even when people try to escape it with clever stories about things like aliens or elves? Even Richard Dawkins, probably the most prominent proponent for atheism of our times, admitted in an article in Time magazine that "there could be something incredibly grand and incomprehensible and beyond our present understanding." When challenged with "That's God!" he replied, "Yes. But it could be any of a billion Gods. It could be God of the Martians or of the inhabitants of Alpha Centauri. The chance of its being a particular God, Yahweh, the God of Jesus, is vanishingly small."
Against that kind of a diversion we can say, "You can call him what you want, but the evidence from the origin of the universe tells us a lot about what he is like-and the description sounds amazingly similar to what the Bible tells us about one particular God, who actually is called Yahweh, the God of Jesus, the Creator of the world."
It's worth noting that the initial reaction of some Christians to the very idea of the Big Bang at the beginning of the universe is negative-but I don't think this is necessary. Yes, many scientists hold that this event was completely natural, unaided by any outside force or intelligence (such as God). But as we've seen, the evidence is against them. The event itself calls for a cause outside of the universe-one that is wise and powerful enough to be able to pull it off. That's why Einstein and many other thinkers in his day and since then have resisted the idea of the Big Bang-they didn't like the theological implications that came with it. But from a Christian point of view, the Big Bang sounds like an awfully compelling scientific description of the biblical doctrine of creation ex nihilo-"out of nothing."
One other objection that frequently comes up is this: "Well, if everything needs a cause, then who caused God?" But this is a misunderstanding of the argument itself, which does not say that everything needs a cause-just everything that has a beginning needs a cause! Science shows, through Einstein's calculations and Hubble's telescope, among other things, that the universe had a beginning-therefore the universe needs a cause. And that cause is the immaterial, eternal God of the universe, who had no beginning and who therefore does not have or need a cause.
Excerpted from The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask (With Answers) by MARK MITTELBERG Copyright © 2010 by Mark Mittelberg. Excerpted by permission.
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