If we are honest, every one of us has questions about our faith. We ask ourselves things like: 'Is the Bible true?' 'Why does God allow suffering?' 'Am I truly forgiven?' 'Will I really go to heaven when I die?' Dr. Robert Jeffress answers these and other challenging questions facing Christians today. Drawing upon the best research available, How Can I Know presents logical and concise responses that anyone can understand and easily share with others. In an age of information overload, simplicity is essential. Every chapter is filled with illustrations and application that will appeal to the average reader, giving them a renewed hope and reassurance of their faith.
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About the Author
Dr. Robert Jeffress is pastor of the 11,000-member First Baptist Church in Dallas. His television program Pathway to Victory is seen on over 1,200 television stations around the world. His daily radio program Pathway to Victory was launched in 2011 and is on 725 radio stations around the country. Dr. Jeffress is a regular contributor on FOX NEWS, CNN and other mainstream media, having been interviewed on more than 600 radio and television programs.
Read an Excerpt
How Can I Know?
Answers To Life's 7 Most Important Questions
By Robert Jeffress
WORTHY PUBLISHINGCopyright © 2012 Robert Jeffress
All rights reserved.
HOW CAN I KNOW THERE IS A GOD?
I was saved by God when I was five years old. I was called by God into the ministry when I was fifteen. I made a pledge to God to remain faithful to my bride when I was twenty-one.
I serve God by pastoring a large church. I write and talk about God to a lot of people. I converse with God every morning, night, and throughout the day.
Occasionally, I wonder if God really exists.
And I imagine you do too.
I regularly encounter people in my church who won't admit to having any doubts about anything, including the existence of God. "I may have questioned a lot of things, but I have never doubted that there is a God who loves me," they proclaim. These people seem to represent the vast majority of Americans who profess belief in God. According to a recent Gallup poll, nine in ten Americans say they believe in God. Apparently Americans are much more inclined to believe in God than the rest of the world's population. Just over half (51 percent) of people worldwide claim to believe in God's existence. However, I'm not sure that people are as sure about God's existence as they profess.
Daniel Dennett, author of Darwin's Dangerous Idea, is representative of the new atheists who have launched a vitriolic attack against so-called theists. As much as I disagree with just about everything Dennett believes, I think he is correct in clarifying the distinction between actual belief in God and what he terms "belief in belief." If you more deeply question those nine in ten Americans who say they believe in God, you will find that what they really believe in is not God but their own beliefs about God. If they truly believed in God, wouldn't they conduct their lives differently? And if over half of the world's population and 90 percent of Americans acted as if God really existed and would one day evaluate their lives, wouldn't this world be in much better shape than its current state? Even atheists like Dennett can get it right every now and then!
Whether we are willing to admit it or not, most all of us have wondered about the existence of God. The only people who never doubt are those who never really think. I agree with Mark Buchanan's assertion: "The depth of our doubt is roughly proportional to the depth of our faith. Those with strong faith have equally strong doubts. That principle bears out in the other direction as well: People with a trivial and shallow faith usually have trivial and shallow doubts."
This book is for those of you who have sincere questions about religion but may be too embarrassed to voice them. Perhaps you have grown up attending church and realize you should know the right answers to these questions—but you don't. And even if you feel confident in your own beliefs, you would be hard-pressed to answer questions from a friend, coworker, or family member such as:
"How do you know the Bible is really true?"
"How do you know Christianity is the right religion?"
"How do you know there is such a thing as life after death?"
Maybe you picked up this book because although you would like to be a better person—maybe even a religious person—you have some legitimate doubts that have kept you from embracing Christianity. If so, you can relax. Rather than berating you for your doubts, I will address them intelligently and compassionately. Questioning foundational beliefs is not a sin but a necessary prerequisite for faith.
Obviously, the most foundational question about faith is the one we begin with in this chapter: how can we know there is a God?
WHY WE DOUBT THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
Why do people—believers and nonbelievers—question the reality of God? I believe there are five major sources of doubts about God.
You can tell your child that the tooth fairy exists and describe her beauty, kindness, and concern for children who are dentally challenged. You can even leave apparent evidence of her existence under your child's pillow (after you've traumatized your child by tying the loose tooth to a knob and slamming the door shut—remember that?). But sooner or later your child catches on that the tooth fairy is imaginary. And from there it is just a short journey to natural doubt about the Big Man Upstairs (I'm referring, of course, to Santa Claus).
Let's face it: it's hard to believe in an invisible being no matter what other people claim about that being. If God would appear visibly so everyone could see Him, surely that would be enough to silence our doubts. I know, I know. God did appear to the Israelites in the form of a cloud and to others in the person of Jesus Christ two thousand years ago, and people didn't believe. But I wasn't around back then, and I'm confident that those supernatural manifestations would have been enough for me (at least, that's what I tell myself).
I believe that God not only understands but empathizes with the natural challenge of believing in and committing our lives to Someone we have never seen. My belief is not based on some warm imaginative thought about what I hope God is like but on what He has said about the subject of doubt. Tucked away in a small book of the New Testament that most people flip past as they race to Revelation are these words from God spoken through Jude: "Be merciful to those who doubt" (Jude 22 NIV). Those six words reveal God's empathy toward those of us who occasionally question the reality of a Being we've not yet seen but have committed our lives to serving.
Some people doubt the existence of God on philosophical grounds. The most often cited philosophical argument against God is the existence of evil and suffering in the world. Eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher David Hume attempted to discredit Christianity by his now-famous dilemma: "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?"
Hume claims that there are only three explanations for evil in the world: First, God would like to prevent evil but can't because He is impotent. The second choice is that God is able to prevent evil but chooses not to, making Him evil. If God is neither impotent nor evil, then the only logical conclusion is that He doesn't exist, since evil is a reality in the world. Of course, there is another explanation that Hume conveniently omits—we will explore it in chapter 4.
We tend to be prisoners of our own experience. If we grew up in a family that did not believe in God, we will be prone to question the existence of a divine being. Certainly there are some notable exceptions to that general rule. Some years ago I invited William Murray, the son of the late atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair, to share with our congregation his story about his conversion to Christianity. Watching the unhappiness and inconsistencies in his mother drove Murray to reject her belief system—which in this case was her disbelief in God.
However, the experience that leads many people to deny the existence of God is being disappointed by God. The loss of a child, the betrayal by a mate, the abuse by a parent, or the reality of un-answered prayers lead some to the conclusion that there is no God. Ted Turner, the media mogul who founded CNN, traces his rejection of Christianity to watching his sister die after he pleaded with God to save her life.
We tend to assume that most atheists are intellectual giants who have examined all of the philosophical and scientific evidence for God and, after much deliberation, have concluded that He cannot exist. We sometimes harbor a secret fear that perhaps the atheist has discovered some smoking gun that proves once for all that there is no God.
I admit that sometimes I fall victim to that fear. Not long ago I went on a national cable news show to debate the president of the American Atheists Association. For a brief moment prior to the interview I was apprehensive, wondering what fiery dart the atheist would pull from his intellectual arsenal to shoot down my arguments. I need not have worried. His tepid arguments only reinforced what I have always known to be true: atheists tend to reject God for spiritual rather than intellectual reasons.
The apostle Paul reminded the Roman Christians that evidence for God's existence is available to all people:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:18–20)
As we will see in the next section, the evidence for God in the cosmos is overwhelming. So why do people ignore that evidence? Paul continues,
For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. (Romans 1:21)
Although atheists have received a general knowledge of God through creation, they have intentionally rejected that knowledge. Why? If there is a divine Creator who made us, then it is only reasonable to conclude we must submit to Him—something an atheist is unwilling to do. Contrary to popular belief, atheists are not earnestly scouring the universe for any evidence of God so that they might believe. An atheist has no more interest in finding God than a thief has in finding a policeman. Instead, as Paul asserts, the atheist deliberately rejects the evidence for God that is all around him.
But he is not content just to reject the truth about God; the atheist must replace that truth with his own truth:
Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. (Romans 1:22–3)
Paul is referring to people who replace the worship of the true God with the worship of idols that reduce God to a manageable and nonthreatening deity. Atheists, and even many theists, engage in the same reductionism in order to eliminate the need for God, or at least to transform Him into a deity more to our liking.
When I read the phrase "an image in the form of ... birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures," I think immediately of the theory of evolution, which is an alternative faith-based explanation for the origin of life. Don't let anyone fool you: evolution has as much to say about the existence of God as creationism. The former is rooted in the presupposition that there is no God (or at least not one who had anything to do with the creation of life) and the latter starts with the assumption that "In the beginning God created ..." Both evolutionists and creationists approach the question about the origin of life with specific assertions about God that require a great deal of faith.
Even many who claim to believe in God feel the need to refashion the God of the Bible. After Rabbi Harold Kushner lost his young son to disease, Kushner concluded that he could no longer believe in an omnipotent God who could intervene in human affairs but chose not to. Rabbi Kushner claimed that "even God has a hard time keeping chaos in check" and that "God is a God of justice and not of power." Kushner's attempt to shrink God to a more intellectually manageable deity reminds me of the observation, "In the beginning God created man in His own image, and ever since that time man has been trying to repay the compliment!"
Few atheists admit they are rejecting the abundant evidence for God for spiritual reasons. Instead, they try to convince people that science has driven the final nail into the coffin of theism. Richard Dawkins, another one of the "new atheists," claims in his best-selling book The God Delusion that it is impossible to be a scientific thinker and a theist. To substantiate his claim, he cites a 1998 study showing that only 7 percent of American scientists in the National Academy of Sciences believe in a personal God.
The average person (who, according to the Gallup poll, most likely believes in God) is threatened by that statistic. He reasons that since scientists are smarter than he is and most scientists don't believe in God, then his belief in God must be rooted in fable rather than fact.
However, such a conclusion is ill-founded for two reasons. First, the study fails to identify the cause-effect relationship between scientists and their beliefs. It's the "which came first: the chicken or the egg?" dilemma. Let's concede the fact that the majority of scientists are atheists or agnostics. Which came first: their pursuit of science or their rejection of God? People assume that scientists' atheism is the result of their being scientists. But couldn't they have just as easily started with a rejection of God and then pursued the study of science as an alternative explanation of the origin of the universe?
The second problem with concluding that belief in God is unscientific because so few scientists are theists is that this conclusion is circular reasoning. Let me explain. The scientific method requires observing and testing a hypothesis in nature. Only that which can be observed and measured in nature can qualify as a scientific explanation for why things are the way they are. The scientific method is based on naturalism—the assumption that nature is all there is and that the universe is a closed system. There is no allowance for the possibility that some things can only be explained by that which is "above nature" (the meaning of the word supernatural).
Such a self-imposed limitation in the pursuit of truth is the reason evolutionists have been successful in ensuring that their view of the origin of life is the only view presented in public education. Evolution is labeled as "science" since it is based on the natural, and creationism is labeled as "religion" because it is based on the supernatural. Secularists argue that evolution belongs in the school classroom and creationism belongs in the Sunday school classroom.
But wait a minute! Suppose for the sake of argument that there really is an invisible, transcendent being who is responsible for everything in the universe. Would not that reality be a scientific explanation for the origin of the universe, as well as a religious one? Yet by definition naturalism cannot allow for such an explanation, even if it is true. The scientist who bases his reasoning on naturalism says, "God cannot be the Creator of the universe because my belief system does not allow for the existence of a God who could create the universe." That is circular reasoning.
It is a profound mistake to allow scientists to get away with equating science with reality and then limiting science to that which is observable in nature—because the result is the widely accepted conclusion that reality is only that which is observable in nature. Philosopher Alvin Plantinga demonstrates the absurdity of such a circular argument:
[It] is like the drunk who insisted on looking for his lost car keys only under the streetlight on the grounds that the light was better there. In fact, it would go the drunk one better; it would insist that because the keys would be hard to find in the dark, they must be under the light.
To limit one's search for the truth about the origin of life to that which is "under the light" severely limits the honest inquiry of all possibilities. But such a self-imposed limitation in no way eliminates the possibility that the answer exists outside of that which can be seen.
Excerpted from How Can I Know? by Robert Jeffress. Copyright © 2012 Robert Jeffress. Excerpted by permission of WORTHY PUBLISHING.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1 How Can I Know There Is a God?,
2 How Can I Know the Bible Is True?,
3 How Can I Know Christianity Is the Right Religion?,
4 How Can I Know God Is Good with All the Suffering in the World?,
5 How Can I Know I'm Going to Heaven When I Die?,
6 How Can I Know How to Forgive Someone Who Has Hurt Me?,
7 How Can I Know How to Start Over When I've Blown It?,
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