Believing in God

Recently I had someone confront me quite vigorously with the question: ‘Why believe in God?’ Pilate famously asked, in the presence of Christ: ‘What is truth?’ but he does not seem to have waited for an answer (John 18:38). Nor did my dismissive friend, who barely gave me a second before his attention moved onto something else. I needed a quick quip, but could not come up with one in time. Later I comforted myself with the thought that since God is infinite, He is hardly likely to be embraced by someone who gives Him the same kind of consideration that he gives when using a remote control to flick through what television programmes are on offer.

What does ‘believing in God’ mean? Atheism never held much appeal to me. Even before becoming a Christian, I could understand why the Psalmist said that it was the fool who said in his heart that there is no God (Psalms 14 and 53). One always had the suspicion that the fool was actually hoping in his heart that there was no God. The judge of all the earth is not One that anybody would wish into being. Sin distorts our view of life; as Spurgeon observed: ‘Sin is learned without going to school.’

Belief in God seemed counter-intuitive in some ways but in other ways more obviously true, far more in harmony with reality. Calvin says that we all possess a ‘sense of divinity’. Of itself, this saves nobody, but it does trigger off a resonance within us when we face the claims of God. We are moral beings even when we indulge in immorality. What I mean is that even when people do dreadfully selfish, impure and hard-hearted things, they invariably have to convince themselves that there are good reasons for them to act the way they have. The man who deserts his wife for another woman has to convince himself that a greater love is at work. Even tyrants like Hitler and Stalin had to convince themselves that what they were doing was beneficial to a larger group, either the Aryan race or the proletariat.

Similarly, the notion that science has disproved religion seems more of a shallow slogan than a hard-wired theorem. All experience of nature seemed to point out that there was One over and above nature. Nature is often glorious, but it points to something more glorious. Job 38 seems rather self-evident. Today, as autumn unfolds, waiting to teach a Scripture class at a school, I experienced an almost uncomfortable coldness while standing in the shade and a most agreeable warmth while standing in the sun – just two metres away. And yet the sun is 93 million miles from earth! It hardly appears to be random chance in operation. Douglas Axe was surely correct to say there is something undeniable and intuitive about our sense that creation is designed.

The Bible also seemed to have a majestic authority about it even when some of it was downright alien and bewildering. As a thirteen year old, I tried to read it right through, but collapsed halfway through Leviticus. I did have a sense of ‘There is something compelling here, but I do not know what it is.’ The Bible spoke of itself with authority as something that was pure (e.g. Ps.12:6) and to be regarded as truth (John 17:17).

There were plenty of people ready to give their opinion that the Bible was outdated or erroneous or even evil, but such people always seemed to have something unhinged about them. They hated dogmatism, but were dogmatic about all dogmatisms but their own. Pharisees took on Sadducees; Nazis confronted communists; materialists debated spiritualists; and many tried to find refuge in indifference. Nothing was obviously attractive or convincing. It was, as Daniel Webster said: ‘Falsehoods not only disagree with truths, but they usually quarrel among themselves.’

Finally, there was the person of Jesus. Some said that he was invented by a committee, but such people must have never sat on a committee. Jesus always appeared to be beyond human invention; He remained a real figure in history, no matter what unbelievers tried to assert. Here was gentleness and strength, wisdom and simplicity, holiness and kindness, God and man in the one person. In a way that no other person could, it seemed somehow obvious yet mysterious, to cite John Flavel, that ‘Christ is in every way sufficient to the vast desires of the soul.’

Nevertheless, intuition is one thing, and saving faith something that is confirming yet also radically different. There comes a moment of grace when it all fits together – our moral sense, our wonder at nature, our desire for truth, and our recognition of the claims of Jesus. We bow, sorry for our sins and grateful for the cross and resurrection of the Lord. Believing in God moves beyond intuition to become standing on a rock which cannot move.

With warmest regards in Christ,
Peter Barnes