An Open Letter to my Children on why I believe in the existence of God To Bekah and Alex, Sarah and Adam, and Jesse and Katie, my much loved children, I trust you are all well. You all know that my father, your grandfather, died in 1989. But what you may not know is that there were many things that I regret not having time to talk to him about. I didn’t take of have the opportunity to ask him about his beliefs and where he stood regarding his faith or lack of it. And I wish I had taken the time to ask him more. So I am writing these thoughts now in order to share some beliefs and convictions that I have with you and possibly with your friends too. I don’t want you to go through the same regrets sometime in the future when I am not around to ask in person. I realize that much of what I may share in this booklet is something you already know, but I feel that it is time to put some of these thoughts down so that you have them as a spiritual legacy from me to you. I have often said, maybe not enough to you directly, that my greatest desire is that you would be able to stand on my shoulders and exceed any ‘exploits’ (especially for God) that I may have accomplished. Because my faith in God and in Jesus is the most important part of my life, I wanted to be sure that you knew and remembered that. I hope to clearly describe and explain why I believe in the existence of God. This will not be a surprise to you as you already know that I believe that God exists. You have known for many years, through my imperfect words and deeds, that I have held this belief. I find this issue to be vital to whether or not my, or your, faith in Jesus Christ is relevant or not. This applies both to the world in which we find ourselves, and to the people that we know, love and relate to in our everyday lives. And so I hope that you will share this online booklet with your, and our, friends.
To begin I have to admit that in the past there have been, and still are, many people who hold to this belief in Jesus who have not acted or behaved in a Christlike way towards those who disagree with them. History is full of too many events and tragedies where supposed followers of Christ used their belief in God to oppress, control, and kill their neighbors. The Crusades, the Inquisition, the witch trials, and many wars and acts of violence, up to the present day,, are all evidence of the abuse, by professed Christ followers, of the Christian gospel as exemplified and modeled by Jesus Christ. We have to agree with Paul in his letter to the Ephesian church, that if you stick your enemy and he bleeds â€“ he is not your enemy (Eph. 6:12)! Yet, I regret that these mistakes were and are being made, and I need to identify and repent of those same attitudes and mistakes that I have made over the last 40 years of seeking, imperfectly, to follow Christâ€™s example. You all know the many times that I misrepresented God to you while your mother and I were raising you. And fortunately you were able to forgive me for those mistakes, or sins, that I committed against you. My prayer now is that the mistakes of the past, committed by those who follow Christ, will not become a stumbling block to you or your friends. We all know that the world needs to see an accurate picture of what Christ looks like and who he is based on the example provided by his church (those who know, obey and follow him). I think we can agree that Jesus was the best example ever of what it means to live a loving and sacrificial life amongst fellow human beings. He is the only one who ever did that consistently and completely. And to this day he is seen by most people as the best demonstration of what it means to live a life of selfless - love, forgiveness, and integrity. C.S. Lewisâ€™ famous trilemma provides a very helpful insight to the atheistic argument that because 3
no God exists, Jesus was just a great teacher and no more. Many people today acknowledge that Jesus had good things to say and that his life was exemplary. But they add that he was just a good teacher or good person and not truly God in the flesh, as Christians hold who believe in the existence of God. Lewis in his book “Mere Christianity” points out that this conclusion is indefensible. He reminds us that Jesus made the most astonishing claims, not only about God, society and ethics, but also about himself. He claimed to have the authority to forgive sins, to be the representative of all humanity who came to die in order to reconcile man to God, and to be the only way for people to attain salvation (a restored relationship with God). Faced with the fact that Jesus made these claims about himself, there are three things that we might say about him: Either Jesus’ claims were false and he knew it, or his claims were false and he didn’t know it, or his claims were true. If you carefully read the New Testament (NT) stories about Jesus’ life and work (what is known as the Gospels – the first four books of the NT) you will discover that Jesus didn’t give us that option either. As Lewis states Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic, or (who he said he was) the Lord. Jesus’ words about his identity leave us no choice but to believe one of these three options. Based on all the clues and historical evidence that we have there is but one best option and that is that he was who he said he was – the Lord - the Son of God. So I want to be clear that what I am talking about here is not a religious decision or commitment. It is not deciding to follow and imitate some religion’s doctrines. It is a decision to respond honestly to the facts and the truth about becoming a follower of Jesus and him alone. Jesus’ life demonstrates that with God’s help we too can live a life that increasingly approximates his example. We can’t do it alone and that is why we need to repent and believe 4
in order to become his disciple or follower. The more you learn about Jesus, through reading about his life and hearing his words and obeying his teaching, the more you will experience his love, peace, and a transformed life. Coming to realize that he will never leave, or forsake, or hurt, or abuse, or become hypocritical in his relationship with us sets us free to become otherfocused instead of remaining self-focused. He is the person we follow and attempt to imitate, not religion or the church. If we could all do that then we would be a long way toward seeing real peace on earth. I believe it is possible. I think it would be good to first look at a few of the most common arguments against the existence of God, or arguments for atheism. (By the way when I use the word or term argument it doesnâ€™t mean what we sometimes imagine when we hear it. Here it is just a technical term in philosophy or debate and not an angry or violent exchange.) One of the most common arguments is that belief in God is an emotional crutch or wish fulfillment. This has been raised by many thinkers and philosophers for centuries now. One of the most famous was Sigmund Freud who believed that God was the invention of a fearful psyche. He said that because human beings feared death they created a wish for a divine father and that religions developed partly from this. So is faith in God wishful thinking? Are those who believe in him just attempting to avoid the reality of life without God? In answering this question it is important to note that fearful people invent all kinds of ideologies and beliefs. But there is no logical basis to say something wished for canâ€™t exist. I may wish that I will be a better father to you now than when you were growing up in our family in Amsterdam. That is something that very well could come true. And I am working at that
presently! You three will have to ultimately give that verdict. I also may wish that I was a foot taller and more muscular so that I could have played NBA basketball. But that wish, outside of genetic engineering, has not and never will come true or be possible. So wishes are universal. And the fact is that Freud, and others like him who use this argument against God’s existence, also had wishes that they hoped would be fulfilled. Freud believed that wish fulfillment in Christians was an illusion. But much of his belief in the power of science, reason, and progress was also a wish fulfillment. Thus there is a very serious flaw in the formulation and foundation of his thinking. The important question then becomes, ‘In what or in whom are we wishing or hoping?’ Wishes reveal the god-story in every heart. We all have a belief or hope (wish) that is a longing for and a story about reality. What is true and what is not. Everyone believes or puts their faith in something or someone. So the death wish Freud believed all humans hold is as much a wish as belief in God. And the atheist’s view that Christian faith is an emotional crutch is also flawed. Atheism can just as easily be seen as an emotional crutch. If Christianity can be rejected as irrational just because some people find it comforting, then the same can be true of atheism. And if Christians were looking for a comforting belief-system they could have come up with a much better one than Christianity. Christian teaching says that following Christ will be hard and will involve suffering of different sorts. This is not the definition of an emotional crutch. And finally, an idea can only be comforting if you have some reason to believe it to be true. So Christianity is only effective as a crutch for those for whom it is not merely a crutch.
A second common reason given by those who don’t believe in God is the problem of evil. This argument is probably the most historical and famous one against belief in God’s existence. The argument goes like this: ‘if there is an all-powerful, all-knowing and good God then he would prevent all suffering and evil. Because all evil and suffering has not been prevented, then such a God can’t exist.’ A first response to this very valid argument is to realize that according to the story of reality that belief in God provides, we humans are created with a free will. Much or most of the evil in the world occurs because we choose to create it. You only have to stay superficially aware of world history and present day global and local news to realize that most evil is inflicted upon man by man. The story about God’s perspective on reality tells us that he created us free beings in order to allow us to choose to love and obey or reject and disobey his desires for all of us. So the fact that suffering and evil persist is not a reason to conclude that God doesn’t exist. I still clearly remember suffering that you three went through that I wish I could have prevented. Bekah and Jesse both had accidents that resulted in your breaking front teeth that had to be worked on and that cost you many dental visits (oh what pain and suffering takes place in that dentist’s chair)! And of course Sarah your accident was most painful to you and to all of us. You were six and on the way to the bus stop in North Amsterdam coming home from school with Bekah. When you ran in front of a car crossing the road and had your leg broken and some head wounds. What a trauma that was for all of us, but especially for you. We were all relieved that you weren’t hurt worse. There were logical reasons why you all suffered and we could have appealed to God’s power to prevent or protect you, but for some reason he didn’t, at least from those incidents. So suffering and pain
are a part of life and God actually promises to redeem our pain by bringing good out of bad. And at least you all three learned the hard way what not to do to suffer in those ways again. A third argument against the objective existence of God is the question stated as, ‘Aren’t all religions the same?’ This argument, also called religious pluralism, believes that all religions in the world are equal and that none is better than the other. Christianity is therefore offensively exclusive in believing that there’s only one true God and not many equal ones. Those who believe in the God of theism are accused of being intolerant. So the God of the Bible is relativized and made just one of many equal deities. But one major response to this argument is that those who believe that all religions are the same don’t understand tolerance. In fact they don’t need tolerance because they say that every belief (religion) is the same and equal. Tolerance is the ability to disagree with another faith belief and yet treat the ‘other’ respectfully and lovingly. So it is only the religious exclusivist who can exhibit tolerance for all those other belief-systems that they believe to be false. There are not equal gods who need to all be accepted as basically the same. There is only one God who provides a story of reality which best fits the reality that we all know and experience. Another atheist argument is that all religions lead to the same place as if they were different routes up a mountain to the same summit. But if that were true it would take an objective, outside perspective in order to paint all religions with the same brush of equality. There would still need to be a higher being or deity to appeal to in making this presupposition. The God of the Bible is the only personal deity who reveals and explains that He is the only one who deals honestly with man’s guilt and sin with a real solution that fits our situation and circumstances.
Tim Keller in his book, “The Reason for God” writes about the clues of God. I want to discuss a few of those in trying to show you some of my reasons for believing in God’s existence. Before looking at those clues it is important to realize what the apostle Paul spoke about in his letter to the Roman church in the New Testament section of the Bible. He states in Romans 1:18-25 that though humans knew what was right they suppressed the truth and exchanged the glory of God for idols. Ravi Zacharias says that if you believe that God is dead then you make man god. When that happens we worship idols made of stone and images of man, animals, or nature. He quotes Malcolm Muggeridge who affirmed, ‘if God is dead then someone (or something) will have to take his place.’ In our Western world today we have made man god. He is the measure of all things. I believe that those who today don’t believe God exists do what I did prior to coming to believe in God from my heart. They have rejected the creator-creature distinction that Paul spoke about in Romans 1. We are all created to be dependent thinkers who need God to understand truth and how to love him and others as we seek to live well. When we reject or suppress God we become foolish and not wise and we build our worldviews (which drive our values and behavior) on our own ideas, or those we discover from previous god-suppressors, and we begin to develop the belief-systems we have been discussing – those separated from God. The arguments against the existence of God all are based on irrational beliefs that will not hold up to logical reasoning. Our greatest wishes reveal our deepest stories. The universality of guilt and dread and our subsequent hope for salvation is one of those deep stories placed by God in all humanity. That is the source of the world religions who apart from the true God seek to find other ways of reaching him. But it is the God of the Bible alone who 9
deals with this guilt and fear. We are made to interpret the evidences of nature and reason and history in light of the Christian story of reality. If we use any other story we fail to find what is really true, about God and about ourselves. The wish of atheism is flawed not only because of what I mentioned earlier (something wished for can be possible) but also because it is built on an inadequate foundation which gives no basis for absolute certainty that there is no God. And if wish fulfillment were illusion, as Freud suggested, then his belief in science and progress was also illusion. It is because some people have developed a God allergy that they can’t make the step of faith to believe that he exists. Believe me I know why many of us struggle with this idea because I did as well. You know some of my faith journey, but maybe not all of it. I came to faith after growing up in a believing home, although your grandfather eventually became an independent thinker and rejected God as unloving and not all-powerful. He felt this way because God did not prevent the tragic death of his nephew in a drowning accident (the problem of suffering and evil). I attended church regularly and knew what the Bible said about God and Jesus, but in the end I decided to make myself god and rejected that which I had known, in order to live my life the way that I chose. I acted and behaved as if I was god and nothing mattered except my selfish desires for keeping the focus on me and not God or others. I became a pretty difficult person to be around. My temper was explosive because I felt no person or thing should stand in the way of having my needs and desires met. It wasn’t until I reached a point of desperation and realized that I could never ‘save’ myself from myself, that I finally turned back to God and asked him to forgive me and show me how to love and serve him and others. In many ways this was the prodigal son stage in my journey. I believe that to some degree we all have to go 10
through this search and mistake in order to see things accurately. I believe that is what has happened to you three in one way or another. We will have to chat about the differences and similarities of our journeys the next time we are together. I had to learn that suffering, pain, and evil are a part of a world that has been affected drastically by those of us who have chosen to reject God’s offer of salvation, meaning, and purpose in life. I have come to believe that almost all of the suffering and evil we experience in our world are a result not of a careless or unloving God, but are due to the wickedness, sin and selfishness of human beings – just like me. C.S. Lewis wrote in regard to these things in his book, “The Abolition of Man”, that if we believe these men (those we make god instead of aligning our lives with the creator God) we will produce a generation of men with brains and stomachs, but with no chests and hearts. This is the condition we find ourselves in today. Without a commitment to God as our creator and to us being his creatures who need his leading and protection, we have become dependent on the independent thinkers of our day who believe in the ability of mankind to save themselves. And because we operate on the enlightenment premises of the worship of reason and desire, we experience an emptiness and emotional confusion. So most suffering and evil are a result of the consequences of the free will of mankind who decides to reject the creator-creature distinction. Another way to grasp this is that our sinful choices have caused us to be separated from God, our creator; as well as had a damaging effect on creation, the earth. Many natural disasters, which I believe are also the result of our rejection of God, cause untold suffering and pain to millions of people annually. Paul, the
biblical writer, mentioned that God’s existence was evident to all from what God had made and revealed to humanity, and thus the presence of evil and suffering are mankind’s responsibility and should not be blamed on God. There are purposes for suffering, some of which God reveals to us, and some of which he doesn’t – at least at present. I have to admit I don’t know why God permits some suffering. But I do know that suffering builds character and some spiritual growth can’t take place without pain and suffering. For instance the exercise of compassion (a good thing) can’t take place without those in need of compassion – which usually entails some form of suffering for those persons (a bad thing). We often don’t see until much further down the road on this journey of faith why he permitted suffering in our lives or how he has redeemed or transformed it for our and others good. Those apparently unjustified instances of pain and suffering, have, in the end, loving explanations as God saves ‘from’ as well as ‘to’ by allowing people to suffer or even to die for apparently unjust reasons. Let me get back to the clues to God’s existence as I believe they will also help us to grasp why God’s existence best fits the facts. The first is what Keller calls the mysterious bang or first cause argument. This refers to the well accepted belief in the scientific community, both Christian and non-Christian, that our universe had a beginning, and that beginning was a rather large explosion. In fact there is evidence from recent research that the universe continues to expand. This first cause clue states that because the universe had a beginning that there must have been a force outside of it that brought it into being. The theist’s position is that everything that begins to exist has a cause of its existence. If something comes into existence, then there must be something else able to bring it into existence. Nothing comes from nothing, which is the atheist’s argument. The Christian belief story holds that this force was the creator 12
God. Many scientists, from Newton to Einstein were theists who believed in a God who created the world we know. Another clue is known as the fine-tuning argument. Keller calls this the ‘Cosmic Welcome Mat!’ This is the discovery that for the universe to have been created, there are around 15 created constants (built in features such as the gravitational constant, various constants about the strong and weak nuclear force, etc.) of the physical world and universe which must all have had values that together fell into an extremely narrow range. That this was the case, though, was either an extraordinary fluke and incredible luck (the atheist’s position), or was intended by the big bang’s Creator. Had the rate of expansion been even fractionally slower—one part in a million million—then the big bang would have been followed by a big crunch before life could have developed. Had the rate of expansion been even fractionally faster—one part in a million—then stars and planets could not have formed. The probability of this perfect calibration happening by chance is so tiny as to be statistically negligible. So it is more reasonable to believe in a creating God outside of our world preparing it for our appearance. This is a strong clue that there is a God. Even using random chance, which is the basis of independent thinking, God-rejecting man, it takes more faith to believe this ‘welcome mat’ was a pure accident rather than an intended feature of God’s creation. Another strong clue for the existence of God is the regularity of nature. All scientific, inductive reasoning is based on the assumption of the regularity (the “laws”) of nature, for example that water will boil tomorrow under the identical conditions of today. Without inductive reasoning we couldn’t learn from experience, we couldn’t use language, we couldn’t
rely on our memories. Many great philosophers have wrestled with this fact, yet science cannot prove the continued regularity of nature, it can only take it on faith. Many scholars in the last decades have argued that modern science arose in its most sustained form out of Christian civilization because of its belief in an all-powerful, personal God who created and sustains an orderly universe. Human civilization has performed amazingly in the fields of science, research and invention or innovation precisely because they have ‘obeyed’ these laws or regularities of nature. Where we have failed miserably is in thinking that there are no ‘laws’ or regularity to our relationships with a creator God and with other people. Mankind has ‘disobeyed’ these truths and principles with the result that we see much devastation and damage in the relational sphere of our existence. It is another strong clue that God really does exist and that he not only built absolute laws or regularities into the universe and into us, but that when we don’t align our lives with these truths in the relational realm – we suffer untold pain and brokenness. These clues and arguments provide a cumulative strength to the argument that God exists and still desires to be involved with all of his creation. I trust that this letter helps you remember some of what we have discussed before as you grew and questioned your own faith commitments. And I hope and pray that it will help your friends, and mine, to also know this great and wonderful God who loves them and longs to know them personally. Blessings and love, Dad/John
References – Campbell-Jack. Walter Campbell, Gavin McGrath, and C. Stephen Evans. New dictionary of Christian apologetics. Inter-Varsity Press, 2006. Selected articles. Craig, William Lane. The Teleological Argument and the Anthropic Principle at http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/teleo.html - accessed on 17 June 2011. Existence-of-God.com. http://www.existence-of-god.com/index.html accessed on 19 June 2011.
Keller, Timothy. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. Riverhead Trade, 2009. Kreeft, Peter, and Ronald K. Tacelli. Pocket Handbook of Christian Apologetics. InterVarsity Press, 2003. Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. MacMillan, 1952. MacDowell, Josh. New Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Nashville, 1999. Paulsen, Steve. Interview on Salon.com with Francis Collins (head of the Human Genome Project) at http://www.salon.com/books/int/2006/08/07/collins accessed on 13 May 2011.
Plantinga, Alvin. “Two Dozen (or so) Theistic Arguments,” available at http://www.homestead.com/philofreligion/files/Theisticarguments.html and mentioned in Keller, Timothy. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. Riverhead Trade, 2009. Wright, N.T. Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense. SPCK, 2006. Zacharias, Ravi. Just Thinking podcasts at http://www.rzim.org/resources/listen/justthinking.aspx accessed on 16 June 2011.