“Now, faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen…. By faith we understand….” (Hebrews 11:1ff)
There are good reasons not to believe in God, not to believe in Jesus, and not to believe in Holy Scripture.
A wise servant of the Lord will want to learn what they are and why people hold on to them. In doing so, he will better understand his own belief and will be able to respond to the questions/attacks of unbelievers.
This is far more important than the typical Christian realizes.
We cannot effectively counter the resistance of the unbeliever–whether he/she is a seeker, an agnostic, skeptic, atheist, or full blown antagonist–until we learn why they reject the heart of the message of the Christian faith.
Faith. It starts with this and perhaps ends there also.
The very nature of faith means while there are good reasons to believe, there are also reasons not to believe. Otherwise, it’s not faith.
The theist–one who believes in God–decides the reasons “for” God are greater than those against Him. The atheist–one who does not believe in God–attaches greater weight to the reasons on the negative side of the balance sheet.
To the Christian who says there are no reasons for not believing in God, that only a fool would say otherwise, I suggest you may want to become re-acquainted with the concept of faith. Faith demands that some questions remain open and some evidence is missing. It’s like “hope” in Romans 8:24. “Hope that is seen is not hope. For why does one still hope for what he sees?”
Question: But doesn’t the Bible say “The fool has said in his heart there is no God”? Yes, in Psalm 14:1. But notice what it does not say: that everyone saying that is a fool. Those are two separate things altogether. A fool may eat chocolate cake, but everyone eating chocolate cake is not a fool.
If you know it all, have all your questions answered, have settled all your doubts, are missing no parts of the puzzle, and you now “see,” then you do not need faith. You are operating by sight, not faith.
However, that is not going to happen in this lifetime. Get that.
Not. Going. To. Happen.
Why not? Because God’s word says, “We walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). And, “Without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6).
God has so established things that His faithful will never get all issues settled in this life, but will go forward trusting Him “in spite of” the missing parts of the puzzle. That “in spite of” is the area where faith operates. Think of Job. After losing his children in death and all his possessions the same day, he said, “The Lord gives; the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Then, when his body was assaulted by disease and sores and he was as miserable as it’s possible to get, he said, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15). That is faith!
However, the unthinking skeptic, the kind who likes easy answers that do not require him to think, will say religionists are delusional, that we believe things that are not so. “Like a man in a dark room looking for a black cat,” is how some have described it. “And the cat is not there,” adds another. What they are describing is not faith, but “blind faith.”
Believers draw a sharp line of distinction between saving faith and blind faith.
The thing about blind faith is there is no evidence for it. Someone dreamed it up and convinced others it’s so, but they are believing a delusion. For instance, I would say that the Mormons’ belief in their some day becoming gods who rule over planets of their own is a pipe dream for which the evidence is completely absent. The ancient Egyptians’ practice of surrounding the corpse of their pharaoh with furniture and food for the afterlife was a vain hope, a mistaken understanding of life after death, for which there was no basis. They had faith, true enough, but it was a blind faith.
Blind faith is not worth the counterfeit paper it’s written on.
Faith in the existence of God, in the historicity of Jesus Christ, and the validity of the Word of God, those are in a category by themselves. There is an abundance of evidence for each of these. Evidence That Demands a Verdict is how Josh McDowell puts it in the numerous volumes he has written on the subject. Other authors that come to mind for weighing in on this are Lee Strobel and C. S. Lewis.
But if there are reasons to believe in God, in Jesus, and in the Bible, the nature of faith demands that there are some reasons for disbelieving, for taking the opposite point of view.
This is elementary, my dear Watson, and we are restating the obvious, but let’s do so anyway just to be clear:
–There are some questions about eternal things for which we will have no answers in this life.
–There are some strong points made by unbelievers (whether having to do with pain and suffering, inconsistencies and hypocrisies in the lives of believers, arguments on Creation or Noah’s Ark or what happened at Sinai or the Incarnation, and a thousand other areas) that need to be heard by believers.
–And we will not have satisfactory answers to all of those questions. (We will have some; just not all.)
So, if the inquirer demands that believers answer all his questions before he is willing to turn to God, he will never come.
Even we believers have unanswered questions of our own. And, if we would expect the outside world to respect our faith, we must admit this is so. (To be sure, some Christians will be threatened by the very idea, and the immature may even grow hostile toward believers who say such a thing. They cannot see that faith requires not only evidence but also open, unsettled questions for which no satisfactory answers have been given.)
Question: What unanswered questions–doubts even–do I personally have? Answer: That is none of your business. To share that with others might be spreading doubt and encouraging unbelief.
As a favorite professor of mine said in seminary, “My job is not to share my doubts. I figure you have enough of those of your own.”
What are we saying? That there are…
–some reasons not to believe the Bible
–some reasons not to go to church
–some reasons not to give your hard-earned money into offerings
–some reasons not to commit your life to a God you’ve never seen and cannot even prove exists
We say all of this to make the point that…
1) To doubt is not an aberration, not necessarily an insult to the Almighty, but can be an important step on the way to belief. Honesty in the inquiry is the issue. The seeker who honestly considers all the evidence will make some wonderful discoveries.
2) God’s servants must recognize that all unbelief is not evil, but can be merely a failure to consider all the evidence.
3) God’s apologists (i.e., those who answer inquirers and questioners) should understand the reasons some choose not to believe and have an answer for them, but do so respectfully. That’s the point of I Peter 3:15. “Be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hoper that is in you, with meekness and fear…”
There are answers, however, to the great majority of their questions.
The reasons for believing are stronger than the negatives.
To wait until they have all the answers, every doubt removed, all fears gone, and solid feelings in favor is a fool’s errand. This will not happen in this life.
Now. The single best way for an inquirer to consider his/her questions is to read the Scriptures. Here are our suggestions on that…
–Start with the New Testament (Matthew chapter 1). Do not start with Page 1 of the Old Testament (Genesis 1). Only after you have become well acquainted with the New Testament message should you drop back and read the Old.
–Read it with an open mind, trying to hear what it’s saying, not to argue with it.
–Read large amounts at one time, several chapters.
–Read it consecutively, not jumping here and there. Start with Matthew 1 and read all the way through Revelation.
–A prayer I’ve known inquirers to pray is this: “Lord, if you are there and have anything to say to me, I’m listening.” If you’re able, pray it each time you come to read the Word.
–Read with a notebook handy. Jot down verses you want to remember or think more about or discuss with someone.
–Bear in mind you will encounter many things you do not understand. Those that concern you, you will want to write them down for further reflection and possibly discussion with a friend who knows the Bible. But when you find teachings that sound strange, are beyond you, or do not make sense, just keep reading.
–When you have finished with the New Testament (Revelation 22), go back to Matthew 1 and start over. You will get more understanding the second trip through than the first.
Here’s a promise from Scripture: “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17).
When you have read through the New Testament twice (over a brief period), then you are ready to drop back and read writings by Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, or C. S. Lewis.
And when that happens, I predict good things ahead.
Measuring atheism is complicated. Some people who describe themselves as atheists also say they believe in some kind of higher power or spiritual force. At the same time, some of those who identify with a religion (for example, say they are Catholic or Jewish) say they do not believe in God.