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Maybe you really will live to the ripe old age of eighty, ninety, or even higher. Actuary tables say that these days your chances are fairly good. By most standards that would be a pretty long life span.
But have you ever thought of that length of time against the backdrop of eternity? Try plotting those eighty years on a chart next to eternity and you'll soon realize that your entire earthly life is represented by a tiny dot that's barely visible next to what follows it! What if all your days here are mostly just preparation for the life that comes next—the real one? How would knowing that now affect your priorities and daily decisions?
Let's look at this from another angle. Suppose a young man sends his fiancée a beautiful diamond ring that costs him $15,000, putting it in the little case that the jeweler throws in for free. Just imagine how shocked he would be if she responded by saying, "Thank you, sweetheart—that was such a nice little box you sent me! To take special care of it, I promise to keep it wrapped up in a safe place so nothing will ever happen to it."
That seems ridiculous, doesn't it? Yet isn't it just as foolish for people like us to spend all our time and energy on our bodies, which are only containers of our real self, the soul, which, according to Jesus and the writers of the Bible, will persist long after our bodies have turned to dust? When you think of it that way, it's easy to see that the soul has immeasurable value.
In fact, Jesus—known for his ability to speak directly to the heart of a matter—asked in Mark 8:36-37: "And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?" Our response to his question today is the same as it was when he first posed it: awkward silence, because the obvious answer is, "No, nothing!" A person's soul—my soul or your soul—according to Jesus, is incomparably more valuable than the entire world of possessions, pleasures, power, and prestige.
Maybe you aren't so sure about matters of the soul at this point in your life. Perhaps the whole realm of the spiritual seems unreal or unimportant to you, or like something you'd rather not think about until later—like when you get closer to that seemingly distant age of eighty or ninety.
May I encourage you to think again, and at least to say, "Maybe"? Admit to yourself that if these things are true, then Jesus' point about the importance of the soul is valid—big time! Do you doubt that? Then at least be consistent enough as a skeptic to also doubt even your own doubts—and keep reading. As you turn the pages, keep saying to yourself, "Maybe God is real"; "Maybe the Bible is God's message to us"; "Maybe Jesus truly was the Son of God"; "Maybe I need what Jesus offers me"; "Maybe God is speaking to me." I'm not asking you to take any blind leaps of faith, just to be open-minded enough to genuinely consider the possibility that these things could be true.
Could I also suggest that you offer a can't-miss prayer? You may not be comfortable with prayer, so move on if you need to. But you don't have to try to sound religious to pray. You can just sincerely say something like this, whether silently or out loud:
God, if you're there and if these things I'm reading are really true, please show me. If you'll make it clear to me, then I promise to respond to you accordingly. Amen.
God loves answering straightforward prayers like that! A man once came to Jesus, having enough faith to ask him for a miracle—but enough doubt to second-guess whether his request would really do any good. Jesus said to him, "Anything is possible if a person believes." The man responded with wonderful transparency: "I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!" And guess what? Jesus honored that sincere doubter's prayer, performing the miracle for him right then and there.
So be honest about your spiritual perspective—but also active in your pursuit of truth and answers for your life. I'm confident God will meet you somewhere in the middle.
Key Faith Issues
Let's talk about some of the central questions that relate to the part of us that Jesus called our most valuable possession, our souls. I think it will quickly become clear that these matters really do matter—not just for some future life in the hereafter, but for the nitty-gritty realities of daily living, as well. These include the following:
Is there a God?
Can the Bible be trusted?
Are we accountable to God?
Who was Jesus and what was his purpose?
Is divine forgiveness available?
What do I need to do?
These are some of the questions that most perplex those who think seriously about spiritual matters, their own lives, and their future.
While the vast majority of people believe in God or some form of divine being, it has become fashionable to deny God's existence and to declare oneself an atheist. Just scan the shelves of many bookstores—especially, and ironically, the religion sections. Many of the top sellers are actually anti-God books written by spiritual skeptics. Or surf the Internet and you'll see that, increasingly, the boldest and brashest opinions are being presented by people who decry the idea of God altogether.
Why is that? Has there been some new discovery that disproves the existence of a deity? Have the claims of the supernatural been conclusively refuted to the point that we can now deduce that there is no God?
To the contrary, the evidence for God is growing day by day as thinking people—including scientists, historians, archeologists, philosophers, and others, many of whom were former skeptics—find more and more support for the existence of God and for the claims of Christianity in particular. In fact, the strength of the evidence is mounting to the extent that one popular book came out recently with the title I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist.
I like that title because it really does seem to me that the problems of unbelief in God are greater than the problems of belief. To accept that nothing produced everything, nonlife produced life, randomness produced order, chaos produced information, unconsciousness produced consciousness, and non-reason produced reason would require a lot more faith than I'd be able to muster!
Why then the continual onslaught of skeptical literature and opinion? There are probably a variety of reasons—many of which have little or nothing to do with reason. But if you look at the ideas being furthered and the rationale that often goes with them, you'll find that many people have simply decided—from the outset and apart from compelling evidence or real interaction with the actual arguments for God—that belief in a divine being is un thinkable, so they don't even give it serious thought.
This approach betrays what is sometimes called an "anti-supernatural bias." In other words, the person has decided in advance that there is nothing in our world beyond nature and then proceeds to dismiss or attack any opinions to the contrary. By way of example, back in the 1940s critical theologian Rudolf Bultmann declared, "It is impossible to use electric light and the wireless and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles."
This opinion has only intensified in our current age of discovery—and skepticism. For example, the radical left-leaning "Jesus Seminar" scholars published a book that claimed, "The Christ of creed and dogma, who had been firmly in place in the Middle Ages, can no longer command the assent of those who have seen the heavens through Galileo's telescope. The old deities and demons were swept from the skies by that remarkable glass."
That's quite a claim! But pronouncing something is not the same as proving it. In fact, upon analysis, these opinions assume the very thing they purport to prove. This is the age-old fallacy of circular reasoning. They are saying, in effect, "Modern people can no longer believe in the supernatural because ... well ... they're modern people!"
Now, I'm all for electric lights, using a "wireless" (especially the kind we have today), enjoying the benefits of modern medicine, and learning all we can through the latest telescopes—but none of that even begins to address the growing body of evidence we have for God's existence. The question we need to ask is not whether we are technologically advanced, but what is the evidence for God—and how will we respond to it? In the next section we'll look at several lines of compelling evidence.
Reasons for Believing in God
Evidence from the Beginning of the Universe
Every thoughtful person believes in a series of causes and effects in nature, each effect becoming the cause of some other effect. This is the basis of all scientific inquiry. Albert Einstein put it like this: "The scientist is possessed by the sense of universal causation." But the acceptance of this as fact compels one to admit that there must be a beginning to any series—or the chain of events never would have gotten started. There could never have been a first effect if there had not been a first cause.
Consider the logic that flows through these three statements:
Whatever has a beginning has a cause.
The universe has a beginning.
Therefore, the universe has a cause.
The first statement, Whatever has a beginning has a cause, can be illustrated with a couple of real-life scenarios. If you go to the doctor to find out why a lump has begun to grow in your throat, you're not going to be satisfied to hear there's no cause for the lump—that it just sprang up for no reason. If he or she tries to pass off an explanation like that, you're going to find a new doctor!
Or if you're a parent, and you go into one of your kids' rooms and find a hole punched through the wall, you're not going to accept a causeless, self-existent hole-in-the-wall theory. Instead, you want a real explanation from your son or daughter—the old-fashioned kind that actually explains what happened.
Just as the appearance of lumps in your throat or holes in your kids' walls needs an explanation, so does the sudden appearance of a universe!
The second statement says The universe has a beginning. The only other options are to say that it is eternal and has simply always been there—an answer akin to the causeless, self-existent hole-in-the-wall theory—or to claim that it popped into existence out of thin air. But as the song in the classic movie The Sound of Music so poignantly reminds us, "Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could."
Common sense tells us that the universe had a beginning, but we know this through modern science as well. Robert Jastrow, astronomer and founding director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, summarized the conclusion of decades of scientific research in his powerful book God and the Astronomers:
Five independent lines of evidence—the motions of the galaxies, the discovery of the primordial fireball, the laws of thermodynamics, the abundance of helium in the Universe and the life story of the stars—point to one conclusion; all indicate that the Universe had a beginning.
Jastrow also goes into detail concerning what scientists believe about that amazing beginning, usually referred to in scientific circles as the Big Bang:
The matter of the Universe is packed together into one dense mass under enormous pressure, and with temperatures ranging up to trillions of degrees. The dazzling brilliance of the radiation in this dense, hot Universe must have been beyond description. The picture suggests the explosion of a cosmic hydrogen bomb. The instant in which the cosmic bomb exploded marked the birth of the Universe.
The seeds of everything that has happened in the Universe since were planted in that first instant; every star, every planet and every living creature in the Universe owes its physical origins to events that were set in motion in the moment of the cosmic explosion. In a purely physical sense, it was the moment of creation.
Popular theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking adds these amazing details about the astounding rate of expansion of the universe resulting immediately from the Big Bang, or what physicists refer to as "inflation":
According to even conservative estimates, during this cosmological inflation, the universe expanded by a factor of 1,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000 in .0000000000000 0000000000000000000001 second. It was as if a coin 1 centimeter in diameter suddenly blew up to ten million times the width of the Milky Way.
Don't rush over that quote too quickly—it warrants a second and maybe a third reading. This is a highly regarded scientist telling us what virtually every modern scientist believes: that the universe expanded at a rate equivalent to a coin in your pocket becoming many millions of times wider than our entire galaxy—which all of the efforts of modern space exploration have barely even begun to explore—and it did this in a fraction of a nanosecond! But neither Hawking nor any physicist on earth has a scientific explanation for why or how that happened.
In theological terms, we call this a miracle.
So both logic and science tell us that the universe had a beginning—and a spectacularly grand one at that. And we established earlier that whatever has a beginning has a cause. So this leads us to the natural conclusion of the third statement listed previously: The universe had a cause.
But that leads us to the realization that the cause had to be something outside the universe. And that "something" would have to be smart enough, powerful enough, and old enough—not to mention have enough of a creative, artistic flair—to be able to pull off such a grand "effect." That sounds to me like something uncannily similar to the divine being described in the Bible, which starts with these words: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." He's the same one of whom King David wrote (Psalm 19:1-4):
The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
The skies display his craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak;
night after night they make him known.
They speak without a sound or word;
their voice is never heard.
Yet their message has gone throughout
and their words to all the world.
Evidence from Design in the Universe
Suppose you are standing at an airport, watching a jet airliner coming in to land. Someone says to you, "A lot of people think that plane is the result of someone's carefully designed plans, but I know better. There was really no intelligence at work on it at all. In some strange way the metal just came out of the ground and fashioned itself into f lat sheets. And then these metal sheets slowly began to grow together and formed the fuselage and wings and tail. Then after a long while the engines slowly grew in place, and one day some people came along and discovered the plane, all finished and ready to fly."
You would probably think that guy was crazy, and perhaps try to avoid him in the future. Why? You know intuitively that where there is a design, there must be a designer, and having seen other products of the human mind like the airplane, you are sure that it was planned by human intelligence and built by human skill.
Yet there are sophisticated and highly educated people who tell us that the entire universe, with all its order and intricate design, came into being by chance—that there was really no higher intelligence involved. They claim that there is no God but nature. The American astronomer and television personality Carl Sagan, for example, frequently told his TV viewers with great exuberance that "the Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be."
More recently Stephen Hawking declared in his book The Grand Design that "spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God." Yet Hawking apparently cannot escape the principle that design points back to a designer—when only a few pages later, in the acknowledgments section, he says that "the universe has a design, and so does a book. But unlike the universe, a book does not appear spontaneously from nothing. A book requires a creator." That's quite a statement! Looking at his book—including the quote cited above about the mind-boggling expansion of matter at the Big Bang—I think it's safe to say that if it needed a designer, then the universe needs one countless times more.
This is true especially in light of our growing understanding of what many thinkers, including renowned physicist Paul Davies, refer to as the "fine-tuning" of the universe. Cutting-edge science is now telling us that the building blocks of our world—the laws and physical constants that govern all the matter in the universe—appear to be precisely balanced and finely tuned for life to occur and flourish.
Excerpted from THE REASON WHY by MARK MITTELBERG Copyright © 2011 by Mark Mittelberg. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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