Wednesday, December 14, 2005

how is someone persuaded that God exists?

In a thoughful little blog post on December 9th, Rebecca tackled Virginia’s request: "I wish someone would just give me a good argument to share with non-believers about why the Bible is true."

Cutting to the chase, Rebecca replied in effect, you can’t argue for the authority of scripture until you’ve established the existence of a God. Then she threw out the challenge for readers to suggest books for Virginia to read on this topic.

The wheels in my head started turning immediately on reading this little ‘interchange’ last night (yes, I’m hopelessly behind in keeping up with my favorite blogs), and I considered adding a comment. However, it was the end of the day and I commonly suffer from evening fried-brain syndrome, so I didn’t. Instead I’ve mulled over this challenge in the intervening hours and have come up with a few thoughts on how people come to the conviction that there actually is a God - and that this God is the God of the Bible.

(And I will be using Bible verses to buttress my points, because I believe that it is only through the lens of the Bible that we see the world, life, and people as they are in reality).

1. Instinct. People are born with a sense that something greater than themselves exists (Ecclesiastes 3:11; Romans 1:18-21). So from the outset we are, in a way, flowing with the current as we attempt to prove the existence of God.

2. Intellectual reason and argument. There is a place for attempting to persuade people of the existence of God and the truth of the Gospel by intellectual means. Paul used this method repeatedly and sometimes successfully (e.g. Acts 17:16-34; Acts 24:25). We are told to do the same (1 Peter 3:15). (Some entry points: Intelligent design; the nation of Israel; the Bible - its history, its progressive revelation yet consistent message, its fulfilled prophecies).

3. Lifestyle and testimony. Sometimes people are convinced about God’s existence by watching the lives and hearing the testimonies of Christians (Acts 4:32-35).

4. Prayer. I think we – at least I – often forget the spiritual dimension of what is involved here. We think that if we can only win the argument and prove that our position is superior intellectually, the battle will be over. Wrong! Because there is much at stake here. The lifestyle implications of a person truly accepting the existence of God and the claims of the Gospel are huge and our whole culture mitigates against it. We set ourselves up for disappointment when we try to do this convincing with our own cleverness. Because understanding and accepting spiritual truth involves not only the intellect but also the spirit.

It involves and needs an opening of spiritual sight (Acts 26:17,18; 2 Corinthians 4:6). And so like Paul we need to pray that the spiritual eyesight of our friends, family, acquaintances, co-workers etc. will be opened (Ephesians 1:15-23).

5. Signs and wonders. The Bible is full of instances where the supernatural broke through and the result was people convicted that not only did God exist but that He was also interested in them personally (Acts 5:12-16). Though some say these things don’t happen any more, I believe they do. I have heard many stories of people, especially Muslim people – even here in Canada – whose dreams and visions of Jesus convinced them that He is real and as a result they have come to believe the Gospel as explained in the Bible. And stories of God breaking through in a variety of miraculous ways abound in cultures around the world. (Listen to this talk about what is happening right now in Ethiopia.)

6. The Bible itself. Though quoting Bible words about the existence of God to prove the existence of God will not carry much weight with the casual inquirer, I believe the Bible itself is such a miraculous book that an honest and thorough study of it will convince the student of the existence of the God behind it. I have heard of people who started out studying the Bible with a view to proving it false and instead coming to faith. God himself has promised that His word will accomplish what it sets out to do (Isaiah 55:10,11; Jeremiah 23:29). And for those of us discouraged by the apparent lack of results, I remind myself that the person who scatters seeds needs to be patient to see the harvest.

Finally, I would submit that God is never boxed in to using one of these methods alone (and there are doubtless others I’ve not thought of). He uses a combination to convince people of His existence and the truth of the Gospel. I guess for me the challenge is to work in cooperation with Him. I need to be ready to reason and give an answer, to live in a way that pleases Him and to testify, to pray for those in my world who are unconvinced, even to the extent that God will break through to them supernaturally, and to sharpen my sword skills (Hebrews 4:12).

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