Saturday, January 17, 2015

Why I believe in God

temporaryIn the beginning, I believed in God because my parents told me to. I was raised in a Baptist church in Georgia and we were typically in the pews every time the church was open. We not only regularly attended church, my parents and other extended family members lived their faith in Christ seven days a week.

As I grew up, I questioned the beliefs that I had been taught. I knew the Bible, but I didn’t know that it was true. I wanted to determine for myself whether God was real and the Bible was true or whether I was wasting my time.

I began my investigation with research. Two memorable books were “The Bible as History” by Werner Keller and “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel. “The Bible as History” satisfied my doubts about the historical reliability of the Bible. Unlike some other religious texts, much of the Bible has been verified by archaeology. Other parts of the Bible, such as the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, might not have been verified by archaeology, but neither had they been disproved. Absence of evidence does not equal evidence of absence. For example, many skeptics considered King David to be a myth until 1993 when a rock with the inscription “House of David” was discovered in Galilee. Other evidence has been discovered since then.

Lee Strobel did for the New Testament what Werner Keller had done for the Old. “The Case for Christ” argued for the validity and historicity of the Gospel accounts. Strobel, an atheist at the time he wrote the book, used the reason and logic of an investigative reporter to prove to himself that the authors of the Gospels gave a true and somewhat verifiable account of events in First Century Jerusalem.

On the scientific front, there were several sources that helped me answer my doubts as well. The most persuasive was Dr. Hugh Ross and his team of scientists at Reasons to Believe. I first became aware of Dr. Ross, an actual rocket scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, through his book, “Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men,” an analysis of the UFO phenomenon. The Reasons to Believe team was not pastors and evangelists who dabbled in science; they were scientists who did not find Christianity and science to be mutually exclusive.

Science probably will never conclusively prove (much less disprove) the existence of God, but it can offer much circumstantial evidence for his existence. A Christmas Day article by Eric Metaxis in the Wall St. Journal detailed the long odds against life being formed through random chance.

Science can also more directly support the existence of God. A peer-reviewed study by British scientists in 2014 found convincing evidence of life after death. The study found that 40 percent of cardiac survivors who had been clinically dead reported some sort of awareness. Many of the people who report near-death experiences (NDEs) come back with knowledge that they could not have otherwise. Colton Burpo, the boy who inspired the book and movie, “Heaven Is For Real,” is one example. Burpo returned with knowledge of an elder sister who had died before being born and who Colton had never been told about.

In many cases, nonbelievers consider divine signs to be coincidences, but how many coincidences with astronomical odds against them does it take to prove that there is purpose behind them? Purpose behind seeming coincidence was the subject of two books by Jonathan Cahn. “The Harbinger” and “The Mystery of the Shemitah” both point to the staggering number of “coincidences” that link the Bible to the September 11 attacks and the two largest financial crashes in U.S. history. How many coincidences must be stacked atop one another before the odds are simply impossible?

I also looked at the opinions of people on the opposite side. I investigated claims of Biblical errors, contradictions and problems and found them all to be overblown. In many cases, the purported errors could be resolved by simply looking at the larger context of the passage. In other cases, the translation to English subtly changed the meaning from the original languages. In all cases, there was a reasonable explanation. There is even collection of Biblical “difficulties” and their explanations.

The problem of miracles is a stumbling block for some people, but if you believe that God is real and that Jesus is God, then it isn’t really a problem to believe that God and Jesus can do miracles. In some cases, miracles can be explained away as natural phenomena, but, quite often, natural phenomena require miraculous timing to be considered miraculous. If God is the creator of the universe, then he obviously has the power to control nature.

Another difficulty for many people is why, if there is a God, that there is so much evil and suffering in the world. To me, this is the wrong question. A better question is, if there is no God, why there is any good and altruism in the world at all. It isn’t in man’s self-interest to help the poor and weak.

Likewise, pointing to the failings of believing Christians doesn’t disprove the underlying truths of the Bible. Rather, since the Bible teaches that all people are imperfect and sinful, such failings are to be expected.

My belief in God goes beyond the academic and theoretical, however. My belief is that God is a personal God who still intervenes in the daily lives of people on earth. I have heard many cases of such interventions, ranging from strength to deal with adversity or addiction to healing to angelic protection. In a couple of cases, I have seen miraculous healing of people that I knew firsthand. In far more cases, I have seen the grace and strength that believers have when dealing with almost overpowering adversity. Among those are my mother, currently undergoing her second bout with cancer; my brother-in-law, who struggled for years with the after-effects of childhood cancer; and my wife’s cousin, Chad, whose brain tumor miraculously disappeared for a time, only to return a few years later. I have seen miraculous healings, but any healing, whether supernatural or medical, is only temporary. Even Lazarus ultimately returned to the grave. Rather, his body returned to the grave while his spirit returned to Heaven.

In my own life, I credit strength from God with seeing me through dark times in my life when there seemed to be no hope. While I have never had a “burning bush” moment, I do believe that God has spoken to me in other ways, including warnings when I strayed. In at least one case, I directly witnessed an event that has no other explanation apart from the supernatural.

I don’t have all the answers. I can’t explain why God does things the way he does. Not having all of the answers, however, doesn’t mean that I don’t have enough information to see the reality of God.

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