Monday, March 17, 2014

Re-thinking "Proving God Exists"

by Curtis Allen

Recently, I got into a twitter battle with an atheist who somehow got a hold of a statement about God that I had tweeted. She immediately objected to my perspective, challenging me to prove that God even exists. With my mind racing, and realizing I was limited to 140 characters on twitter, I replied back with what I thought to be a witty and insightful response. I said, "I'll prove that God exists when someone proves that he doesn't." It didn't work. She wasn't impressed. And we went at it for over an hour on twitter. 140 characters versus 140 characters. It was epic.

After giving that situation some thought, I started to ask myself, "What is the best way to prove the existence of God?" This is an age old question that has multiple answers to it. Most of them really good, but none of them getting to the heart of the issue. At least not to me. Here's why. The question of God's existence is not just a litmus test for proof of a transcendent being. It is a question that probes at the deepest level of a person's soul. They are inquiring about the purpose of life. And they are trying to answer why all of the perplexing things in this world happen the way that they do. When someone is asking for proof of God's existence, they are really asking for the purpose of their own existence. And how to make a difference in this life. That question comes from the Imago Dei (made in God's image) of a person whether they know it or not. It's that side of them that was created to glorify the creator. And like a child who's been adopted but still has a strong desire to know his or her birth parents, so are the people asking about the existence of God. This question is missional.  

Usually when the question "Can you prove God exists" is asked, people go the scientific route. They start with the Cosmological Argument (every effect has a beginning cause), then maybe the Teliological Argument (Intelligent Design) and/or the Ontological Argument ("a priori" --if one can conceive of God then he must exist), often trying to explain God from the metaphysical, scientific perspective. On many levels this is good, but no one seems to stop and ask, "How does God want us to prove his existence?" 

It has been said that each of the 3 arguments listed above can be seen in scripture. If that is true, then there is one more argument that can be seen in scripture, that gets at the heart of this question. And this one is the one I think God wants us to use to prove his existence. But what's sad is, I have missed it all this time. So, how does God want you to prove his existence? Easy. When asked that question, the answer should almost always be this, "I believe that God exists because he has revealed himself in the person of Jesus Christ." Wait for it... Wait for it...

In this sense we prove the existence of God by proving that Jesus was God. Why is this the best way? Because ultimately (missionally), we are not trying to get people to believe in Yahweh of the OT. Or some metaphysical being, distant, but out there somewhere waiting for us to find him. Most of us shouldn't even try to prove that God exists from areas that we can't explain very well (like the arguments stated above). But we can prove that God exists in the way that he wants us to, by his self-revelation in Jesus Christ. In doing this, we get to the heart of the matter of what, or better who, people must believe in. As well, since Jesus was a legitimate historical figure, it puts the onus on the questioner to disprove that a historical figure claimed to be God and demonstrated that claim solidly enough that gazillions of people believe in him (In other words, Jesus is either Liar, Lunatic, Legend, or Lord). 

So what does that look like? Well, John 1:1-4 is our introduction. "1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men." 

We see that the Word was there in the beginning, that it was with God, and in fact was God. Then we see that this Word was a He (vs.2). Not to mention that this He-Word is responsible for all creation (vs.3). So the inevitable question becomes who is the He that is also called the Word in the beginning of John? John 1:14, 16-17 helps us. "14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth...16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." While no method is full proof, you can see that already this argument does what some of the scientific ones do not. Don't get me wrong, the above arguments are good (though Immanuel Kant and a few others have crafted very good responses to them, thus minimizing some of the strength of those arguments), but at best, most of what they do is bring one to the brink of salvation when explaining them. But, you still have to cross the bridge of faith in Christ even if the person agrees with one or all of the above arguments. But, by proving God's existence through Jesus, it cuts to the chase of what they're really after, and what we're really after. 

Someone might say that this doesn't prove that Jesus was God (is, to be exact), or that he thought he was God (these are slow pitch softballs I'm throwing at you, though they are still often used to denounce Jesus' divinity). To that, you return to the scriptures ( There's plenty of verses to use in the gospels, I'm just staying in the gospel of John).

John 10:22-33 "22 At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ (You'll probably have to explain what the Christ meant to those who were asking), tell us plainly." 25 Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. 30 I and the Father are one." 31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus answered them, "I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?" 33 The Jews answered him, "It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God."

Or this...

14:8-11 "8 Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us." 9 Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves."

And this...

John 19:6-8
6 When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, "Crucify him, crucify him!" Pilate said to them, "Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him." 7 The Jews answered him, "We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God." 8 When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid.

At the very least we can demonstrate that Jesus claimed to be God, and that his claim was verified by the men who hated him. They knew he was claiming to be God (Blasphemy). Again, this doesn't satisfy every question, but it puts the responsibility on the questioner to wrestle with the claim that Jesus made of himself, just like the people did when he walked the earth in human form. You'll probably have to get to the validity of the scriptures being the Word of God (which is not really that hard to prove either), but that is a different post.

It is a monumental task to prove that God exists, and that he created the world when much of the data proving it relies on faith (Hebrews 11:3, 6). But, if we can learn to see those questions as missional (evangelistic opportunities), we can focus our attention, primarily, on Jesus' divinity, rather than on facts that we have to try to remember from Wikipedia. Let's stay in the scriptures. And bring that question down to where it needs to be. For it is not as difficult as we think to prove the existence of God. We just need to do it in the way he lays out in the bible.