Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Believing In Christmas Is Logical

I have a confession to make. I doubt sometimes.

I was raised in a Baptist church. I was in one of the families that, if church was being held, we were there. I was saved at an early age and grew up believing without question. For many years, I never seriously considered the possibility that God was not real or that the Bible was not accurate.

A few years ago, that changed for a couple of reasons. First, I started a job and had a coworker who was an atheist. The nature of flying jobs is that you spend a lot of time with the other crewmembers and get to know them very well. On long trips, the two of us spent a lot of time talking, solving the world’s problems and discussing the nature of God and religion.

They say that it isn’t polite to discuss politics and religion, but that is because too many people can’t disagree agreeably. My atheist friend, who I’ll call Rob, and I were different. We both liked logic and reason and could have long discussions over difficult topics in a calm manner. Sometimes we would agree and sometimes we would agree to disagree.

Rob was unlike the stereotypical atheists. He was sympathetic to religion, once telling me that he wanted to believe but simply could not. Still, he saw the value of religion as a tool for instilling morality, which he thought made the world a better place. When our families had dinner together and my kids said the blessing, he bowed his head in a very unatheistic manner along with the rest of us.

In fact, Rob, despite his atheism, was one of the most moral and charitable people that I’ve ever known. He was generous to a fault and always ready to help others who were in need. As we walked around various cities on layovers, he would frequently give money to homeless people. I remember more than once watching him slip money into the pockets of people sleeping on the street. His charitable heart put me to shame.

Rob was an analytical guy. In his examination of spiritual matters, he ultimately came to the conclusion that the universe and mankind were the result of random chance. We discussed the astronomical odds against the earth forming just at the right spot in a solar system and orbiting just the right type of star to allow life to develop as well as the minuscule chance that evolution would blindly steer developing life into a higher intelligence. He acknowledged the slim probabilities but maintained that the one chance out of billions was the number that had come up.

The second factor in my questioning was my diagnosis with skin cancer. I wrote about my stage one melanoma after it was removed almost two years ago now. While my cancer experience was much less traumatic and invasive than many, it was the first time that I had faced a real health crisis that could have killed me. In the wake of the melanoma, I realized with my gut what I had known intellectually for years: that death could come at any time.   

With that realization and with my place in eternity on the line, I didn’t want to trust blindly in a religion that I’d never really tested. If we do due diligence before buying a house or car or committing to a new job, shouldn’t we research our religious beliefs? If God is real, what we believe about him and what we do about those beliefs is the most important decision of our lives.

Religion is really a two-fold question. The first question is whether God exists. The second, in a world with many different religions preaching wildly diverging beliefs, is which is the most correct and appropriate path to God.

Logically, there are three possible outcomes. The first possibility is that there is no God, in which case, the whole point is moot. The second possibility is that there is a God but you pick the wrong belief system, which could be disastrous for your soul. Finally, the third possibility is that there is a God and you choose wisely with the result being that you spend eternity in heaven. This is the optimal outcome, but it is especially important to avoid the second.  

There are many evidences for God including the improbability that random chance got us to where we are, but one of the most interesting to me is a scientific study in which British researchers found evidence that consciousness continues after death. The AWARE study found that 40 percent of patients with cardiac arrest were conscious while they were clinically dead and prior to resuscitation. Dr. Sam Parnia pointed out that the memories described by the patients were not merely hallucinations but “detailed recollections of visual awareness in this case were consistent with verified events.”

So, I did what countless people down through history have done before me. I questioned God and put him and the Bible to the test. I looked at other religions to see how they compared. I read about ancient history and the documentary evidence for the Bible. I read about the problems and inconsistencies in the Bible. I wrote about this spiritual journey in another article after I came to the conclusion that God is real and the Bible is as true as imperfect humans can make it.

The Bible As History” by Werner Keller became one of my new favorite books. I was astonished at how much archaeology backed up Biblical accounts. Although direct archaeological support for the Flood and the Exodus are still scant at this point, there is an abundance of evidence for Israel’s kingdom period. Further, over the past few years, I’ve watched as reports of new discoveries roll in that lend more support to Biblical claims. Although the Flood and the Exodus are difficult to prove, they are also difficult to disprove.

Two other very good books, Lee Strobel’s “The Case For Christ” and Warner Wallace’s “Cold Case Christianity,” built a similar case for the validity of the New Testament. Both men began their investigations as skeptics and ultimately found that the evidence for the God of the Bible was so strong that they became believers.

In contrast, the skeptical claims against the Bible crumbled as I investigated them. Prophecies from Islam seemed vague and unfulfilled compared with those of the Bible. There seems to be no archaeological support at all for the Book of Mormon. Other religions teach that good works earn your way into heaven or that people sent to hell are given a second chance. The lack of exclusivity from these religions argues against them. If they are true and you don’t pick them, it’s no harm and no foul. Atheist claims often seem to rely on the position that they cannot understand God and therefore deny his existence or, as with Rob, hold that natural processes, however improbable, must be true.  

But Christianity is different. It claims to be an exclusive path to God. It also has both archaeological and documentary evidence to back up its claims. If Christianity is true and you don’t pick it, you’ve missed the boat.

The evidence for Christianity is not limited to scholarly works and logical reasoning, however. There have been many instances in my life where there has been evidence of the supernatural. I described in the discussion of my melanoma how a prophetic dream led me to the doctor after several dermatologists had ignored the cancer on my face. My wife and I also once experienced what seems to have been a physical manifestation of a spirit that left a mark on her body with no physical explanation.

I discussed all this with Rob, who said that he wished he could have similar experiences and then maybe he could believe too. In Rob’s case, the resistance to belief seemed to be rooted in a bad experience with the church from years earlier. This was a tragic example of how hypocrisy and bad behavior by God’s people can undermine the Gospel.

My experience with Rob is one reason that I’ve been so critical of the church’s support for Donald Trump. Rob’s belief was made even more difficult by what he saw as hypocrisy in supporting a man whose life and actions contradicted their beliefs and principles.

So why am I writing this on Christmas Eve? A common theme for generations has been that the original Christmas gifts were God’s gift of his son Jesus (“Yeshua” in his original language) to save mankind and the offer of forgiveness for our sins. It’s true that these gifts form the foundation of both Christmas and Christianity in general, but modern seekers are not limited to the Biblical narrative.

Another Christmas gift that God has given to 21st-century seekers is the gift of accumulated science and scholarship that backs up the first century Gospels. We have at our disposal 2,000 years of research that can help us determine that God’s gift of Jesus and his offer of forgiveness are true and our only hope of salvation.

The tragedy is that all too often the actions of Christians alienate seekers like Rob. Emotional reactions to hypocrisy and bad behavior can trump the objective truth of the evidence. All believers should strive to not be the reason that people turn away from God and should pray for those like Rob who have been led astray.

Even with all I’ve experienced and read, sometimes faith doesn’t come easy. But questioning God is not sinful and can ultimately make your faith deeper. Sometimes belief is more of a choice than an emotional response.

Jesus told Thomas, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” Today, we can’t physically see Jesus face-to-face, but we can see the evidence of his existence and his actions more than any other generation since that of Thomas and the other disciples. We just have to look at the evidence and decide how to react to it.

Merry Christmas.

Originally published on The Resurgent

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