Apr 16 - Why In The Woorld Would I Need God?

Why In The World Would I Need God?

April 16, 2017

Easter Sunday

 

WHY IN THE WORLD WOULD I NEED GOD?

April 16th, 2017

(Easter Sunday)

 

Jesus had four half-brothers named Jacob (James), Joseph (Joses), Simon, and Judas (Jude), as well as a number of unnamed half-sisters (Mark 6:3; Matt 13:55-56). 

 

During Jesus’ public ministry, his family was not particularly thrilled about what he was doing, and, as the gospel of Mark recounts, at least at one point they thought he had gone crazy (Mark 3:21).[1]  Even toward the end of his public ministry, we are told in the gospel of John that his brothers did not believe in him (John 7:5). They did not believe that their older half-brother was the Messiah or the son of God. 

 

However, a tremendous transformation happened a few short weeks after Jesus died. All of a sudden all of Jesus’ half-brothers along with Mary, their mother, at considerable personal risk, joined the group of Jesus’ followers (Acts 1:14) in worshipping Jesus as Messiah and Lord. 

 

Within a relatively short time, one of the brothers, Jacob (James), actually became the primary leader in the very first church in Jerusalem, more prominent even than the apostle Peter (Acts 15:13-29).[2] 

 

But the danger to the first Christians in Jerusalem never subsided.  The Jewish historian, Josephus, recounts that in 62 AD,[3] the high priest Ananias illegally called together the Sanhedrin and had Jesus’ brother, Jacob, and some other Christians convicted of blasphemy and subsequently stoned to death. 

 

This of course begs the question, why those who did not believe in Jesus prior to his death, all of a sudden did believe, even though doing so meant facing the risk of humiliation and execution?

 

The apostle Paul recounts the reason what changed Jesus’ brothers minds in his letter to the believers in Corinth.

 

The Messiah (Jesus) died for our sins ..., was buried, was raised (from the dead), ... and appeared to (the apostle) Peter, then to the twelve (apostles), then to more than 500 brothers, most of whom are still alive, ... then to Jacob (James), then to all the apostles.

                                                1 Corinthians 15:4-7

 

The Jacob who Paul is referring to is none other than Jesus’ half-brother. 

 

Paul makes the point just a few verses later, that if Jesus in fact did not rise from the dead, then the Christian faith is simply not true (1 Cor 15:17-19).[4]

 

This is why, Easter is perhaps THE single most important day for Christians around the world.  If Jesus resurrection never happened, then Christianity is nothing more than wishful thinking. 

 

Of course, we are at a disadvantage.  We never knew Jesus during his earthly life, and we have never encountered him after his resurrection.  As such, we can be forgiven if we demonstrate some doubt or skepticism about Christian belief. 

 

Some of us may have grown up in a secular home where religious beliefs were simply written off as so much superstition.  To attend church or to read the Bible or to believe in the existence of God, is not something that is taken seriously.  Faith doesn’t really come naturally. 

 

Others of us who may have had some Christian background, maybe we went to Sunday school as children, or maybe we were raised in a Christian home or had Christian grandparents, .. but at some point in our lives, we decided that our religious heritage was not really for us.   

 

Maybe we noticed some hypocritical or maybe uncharitable or judgmental behaviour by those who called themselves Christian.  Maybe we had a bad experience in church. 

 

Or maybe we were confronted with some scientific facts at high school or college or university that made our childhood faith seem irrational.

 

Maybe some of us left church years ago because we asked questions and were immediately branded heretics or demon possessed.  You know, I raise questions about a literal 6 day creation, evolution, the age of the universe, or about unanswered prayer or possible contradictions in the Bible, and someone tries to cast out the demon of unbelief. 

 

Maybe we asked fact-based questions and received faith-based answers. 

 

So this Easter, I don’t just want us to think about the historicity of an event that took place on Easter Sunday 2,000 years ago.  I really want us to consider why we may be reticent to believe that Christianity may be true, or, for that matter, that God exists. 

 

I know, that’s a huge topic but I’m hoping to at least give you some food for thought within a reasonable time frame.  Let me begin by comparing two statements:

 

  1. I don’t believe

 

I don’t believe because of some significant fact that I’ve discovered.  For example, when I left the bubble of my Christian heritage, I realized that other world views are just as believable or perhaps even more so. 

 

In other words, I received some information or fact that made me question what I previously believed.  I learned about the existence of hominids other than homo sapiens.  Perhaps homo heidelbergensis, or homo erectus, or homo neanderthalsis. So I question the historicity of the Genesis account, which means I question all of what the Bible says, which means I question the existence of God.

 

Or perhaps I don’t believe in God because I cannot reconcile the amount of evil and suffering in the world with his existence.  Should God exist, surely he would not allow evil and brutal people to flourish and good and innocent people to suffer.

 

So it isn’t as if I don’t want to believe, it’s just that, for one reason or another, I don’t.

 

When that is the case, then I think there is a chance that a person may be convinced that they may want to reconsider their lack of faith.  There is information that will answer some or all of the questions being asked.

 

Is science and faith really incompatible?  Does everything in the Bible have to be taken literally?  Can an intellectually honest person believe in the existence of God?  Does the existence of evil really disprove God’s existence, and if not, how so?   

 

But another statement may be closer to what may have happened should a person reject faith.

 

  1. I don’t want to believe

 

This statement has to do with personal will and choice rather than information or fact.

 

Thomas Nagel is an American Philosopher (b. 1937 in the former Yugoslavia to Jewish parents, now 80 years old).  His last name would have marked him and his parents out as Jewish because, like many German Jewish names, it has an everyday meaning - “nail.”    

 

Nagel is also an atheist.  As well, he is a controversial figure among fellow atheistic philosophers because he is highly critical of the neo-Darwinian concept of nature.[5]  He argues that natural selection simply cannot explain certain phenomena such as the emergence of life, consciousness, and values.  In fact, he argues that Intelligent Design is a valid scientific theory.[6] 

 

However, despite this, Nagel remains an atheist. And he’s very open and honest about the reason why that is so: 

 

[First of all he states that people rightly reject religion when it is associated with objectionable morals, superstition, and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods.  And I think most of us would agree with him on this point.  But that is not why he is an atheist.  Rather:]

 

I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers.  It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief.  It’s that I hope there is no God!  I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.                  Thomas Nagel, The Last Word (1997)[7]

 

It bothers Nagel, that there are highly intelligent individuals who believe in God because it may indicate that God actually exists.  It opens up the terrifying possibility that he may fundamentally be wrong, that rejecting God may be inexcusable, and that some attitudes and lifestyle changes would have to take place in his life. 

 

Therefore, he does NOT WANT God to exist.  He does not want to think about the possible implications for his own life, should God actually exist. 

 

I am convinced that a lot of people who say they don’t believe in God, are not as self-aware, or perhaps not as honest with themselves, as Nagel.

 

In my experience the most common reason why those who leave their childhood faith do so, is NOT because they have been convinced that faith and science are diametrically opposed, or even at odds with each other. 

 

It is not because they cannot reconcile a good God with the existence of evil.

 

They don’t leave primarily because they have they personally encountered something evil within a faith community, or perhaps faith leaders - something that is a problem because the bad behaviour of those who profess belief in God does not disprove God’s existence.

 

I think that most reject God simply because not to do so would be inconvenient.  For example, to admit that God exists might challenge the lifestyle choices that are being made.

 

I am reminded of a book I read a number of years back.  A Christian husband in ministry had an affair.  The response from his Christian associates and friends was not positive.  He eventually left his Christian wife and married an atheist woman.

 

His beliefs changed as well.  He first moved from Theism to Deism, but eventually embraced atheism.

 

Let me quote from his book:

 

I am so grateful for my present life (as an atheist).  I’m living life to the hilt, pretty much guilt free.[8]  This is a statement he repeats again later on in his book. 

 

 

 

In other words, he discovered that when he left the church and rejected God’s existence he no longer felt guilty about his actions. 

 

He was then free to look for arguments that supported his newfound lack of faith, including the creation account, unanswered prayer, the problem of evil, lack of miracles, and so on.

 

So on the one hand, God’s existence can challenge our lifestyle choices. 

 

On the other hand, to admit God’s existence can challenges the concept of our own autonomy. I mean we all like to think of ourselves as independent ... able to make the choices and decisions WE want to make, and not have others dictate to us what we should be doing.  

 

But the idea of autonomy is somewhat of a Conflict in the home.  Dismissal at work.

 

This, but extention and not to be bound to what others dictate to us, whether people or potentially a cosmic creator.

 

This is part of human nature. 

 

 

 

Or, did you decide to stop believing because faith became inconvenient?  And then, after you’ve decided not to believe you simply looked for supporting arguments for your lack of belief? 

 

Did your decision not to believe predate your collection of data to support your lack of belief?

 

 

But here’s the tough one.  If your departure from faith is a decision based on will and want - I don’t want to believe because I don’t want to do this or that, or stop doing this or that, - then information will never suffice.

 

People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.                     Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)[9]

 

Pascal was one smart cookie.  In essence he was a genius. 

 

Are we not all guilty of this?  Because very few of us are on a truth quest.  We don’t wake up one morning and say, “I am willing to abandon my whole worldview if only I could know the truth.”

 

We are not on a truth quest.  We are on a happiness quest.  I want to be happy and fulfilled.  Give me a worldview and a set of values that will make me feel happy and fulfilled.  And if it doesn’t make me happy anymore, or it asks of me something I don’t like, then I’m all about changing my worldview and set of values to accommodate my ongoing happiness and fulfillment. 

 

We love the truth when it enlightens us. We hate the truth when it convicts us.                   St. Augustine (354-430)[10]

 

All of us know this when we think back to our youth when we were arguing with our parents.  Were we arguing to get to the truth? Or were you trying to get your own way? Did we ever say, “Dad, you’re so right. Thank you for enlightening me”?  NO. We argued to get our own way, not to get at the truth!  And even when we “won” the argument because our parents just couldn’t bother fighting with us any longer, we walked away knowing that ultimately they were right.

 

Or what about when we argue with our spouse.  And half-way through the argument we realize that they are right, but we just keep on arguing.  At that point it’s no longer (and maybe never was) about right or wrong or getting at the truth ... it’s about winning.

 

I won because I’m smarter, or I’ve got more endurance or a thicker skin, or because they had to leave, or because I’m wittier or more sarcastic.  But when the argument’s over, if we allow ourselves to be honest with ourselves, we might admit to ourselves that we are actually wrong.

 

We had more facts, more leverage, we were better with words. 

 

When we won’t acknowledge what we suspect to be true ...

When we won’t look for fear of what we might see ...

 

It means that something else is going on.  All the arguments out there, there is more to this that we are willing to admit.

 

If you are a person who doesn’t want to believe, who has accumulated facts and figures and arguments to sustain a worldview that suits you, what is it that causes you to not be willing to acknowledge and won’t look.

 

 

 

We all want to be masters of our own destinies. We all want to feel in control of our lives. The idea of autonomy is attractive. It makes life feel ordered and predictable. But our desire for autonomy can stand in the way of faith. One of the biggest barriers to belief in God is that we don’t want to believe because we don’t want to need anyone. But what if autonomy is an illusion?

 

The idea of autonomy is attractive. One of the biggest barriers to belief in God is that we don't want to need anyone. But what if the idea of autonomy is really the illusion of autonomy?

 

Come on in at the end of a conversation.  My agenda not to convert anyone.  Who grew up in church and left the church to come back.  Research group coined the term “nones” as referring to those who had a Christian background but are currently non-affiliated, who have left church and moved away from their faith.

 

I want you consider reconnecting with your childhood faith, but not your childhood faith.  I want you to re-engage with faith, but to begin or continue or to re-engage

 

 

Bring your skepticism, science with you.  Organized religion may freak you out, but it’s better than disorganized religion.  The church needs you back because it keeps us honest. 

 

You’ve got questions that we should wrestle

 

If there were more people like you here, you would like it here.

 

Think, they are all literalists. 

 

May be a little harsh.  For the men who have kids, and you’ve backed out because of skepticism and you took your family with you, can I just challenge you to reconsider?  Please don’t let your adult skepticism rob your kids of a foundation that will potentially be positive and ethically encouraging.

 

I don’t believe everything, but it did lay a foundation for me ... something good ethical

 

Take a step.  Do something.  You can belong (get involved to a degree) before you believe. 

 

We cannot, dare not, say, “you need to believe to belong,” because faith is a journey.  Powerful

 

Step back into the poolFollow Jesus, not the church, but don’t reject something that is undeniable for something that is as yet not explainable.  Don’t throw out everything because something threw you off when you were younger. 

 

Stepped away, possibly not into atheism,

 

Be honest with yourself (this is hard for everyone). 

 

I have to humble myself and humility does not come natural. 

 

Self-deception always takes us in a bad direction.

 

If we’re not honest with ourselves we’re stuck, we are not moving ahead.  Self-deception puts a lid on our growth. 

 

Imagine what your family of origin would have been like if your parents had been honest with themselves.  If they stopped making excuses, hiding the truth from themselves, not taking responsibility.  For some of you, growing up in your family would have been so different if your parents had been told and accepted the admonition to be honest with themselves. 

 

Some of you who are divorced would still be married if you would have been honest with yourself and your former spouse had only been honest with him or herself.  Takes courage to look into the mirror and said, “This is my problem.  I am really to blame here.  I need to quit making excuses and take responsibility for the way I’m screwing up.”

 

Challenge those of you who have stepped away from faith.  Be honest with yourself.  What does one have to do with the other?

 

 

You’re smart enough to know that if you open that door, you may not close it again. 

 

At the risk of offending you, could it be that the real reason you stepped away from faith, one of these three things:

 

  1. If God ... I’m guilty.

 

If there is God, then I’m guilty. (things in the past are so big and so embarrassing and possibly illegal, that you don’t want to ever put them front and center and acknowledge that you’re ashamed and guilty - and it’s just easier to say that when we were younger we made some mistakes).  But if it’s not just mistakes, but bigger than that, Because it wasn’t something done inadvertently, but on purpose, with intent.  And if I opened the door to acknowledging this, would I then have to say, this wasn’t just a mistake, it was a sin?

 

No one is perfect.  Everyone makes mistakes, or makes a wrong judgment call, or .

 

Your biggest mistakes you likely hurt someone and owe someone something that you cannot give back.  The years you stole from your kids because you weren’t around.  The shrapnel, the fallout, doesn’t just go away.  It follows us around. 

 

So if there’s a God, then this is something much bigger than a mistakes.  I’ve talked to so many people who when they finally pulled the lid off all that stuff, what I had reduced to a few mistakes, is now so big. 

 

  1. If God ... I’m accountable.

 

The story of the garden of Eden.  You may believe that the story is history or myth, explains so much. Story of mankind deciding, “God, we do not need you.”  Who needs you God?  Not me!

 

In all of our lives it plays out with the illusion of autonomy.  I’m my own person.  I can do whatever I want to do.  I can make my own choices.  Which always, always will lead to regret.  Because unaccountable people make regretful decisions.

 

You take two autonomous people into a marriage you will have unavoidable and unresolvable conflict. 

 

But if you admit that God exists, that would imply that you would have to submit to God.  If there is a God who holds you accountable then you are accountable regardless of your feelings about being autonomous. 

 

I don’t want to submit.  You don’t want to submit.  No one wants to submit.  Where did that come from?  Why do we resist things that are good for us.

 

My dogs never did this.  They were obedient (might spit out a pill she didn’t like so I just crammed it way down her throat and she didn’t bite me. 

 

What is it within us that resists the things that are good for us?  Pride. 

 

We lead loud and busy lives until life gets our attention. 

 

  1. If God ... I’m wrong

 

No altar call, so just play along.  “I was wrong” is difficult because of our pride. 

 

Problem with acknowledging God when we’re away for a while is pride

 

Humility always makes you smarter, wiser, bigger, because it makes you open to new information.  We resist that. 

 

I don’t want to be guilty, accountable, wrong.  These are just responses, resistance.  It explains why you have assembled your reasons for walking away.  Be honest with yourself. 

 

Your arguments against God came after your decision not to believe in God because to do so would make you feel guilty or accountable or wrong? 

 

Not wanting God is a response.  I don’t want God to exist. 

 

Ridiculously good news:  When we acknowledge that the issue is our resistance not God’s existence, we have stepped into the middle of an epic narrative about God pursuing a relationship with a rebel humanity (race) that broke relationship with God. 

 

Why this is good news: This is not about science but my personal resistance, we step into the middle of the stream of humanity that has struggled with submission to God since the beginning of time.

 

If Jesus was correct about God:

 

  1. If God ... there’s forgiveness.

 

Our rebellion and sin and mistakes are a platform where God displays his love and forgiveness toward human beings - me and you. 

 

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.     Romans 5:8

 

While we were still making mistakes?  While we were still just human and not perfect?  No! While we were still SINNERS.

 

I admit, I did it on purpose.  We know that about us.  We are sinners.  The new atheists make a big deal about this.  If God is all loving why didn’t he just forgive?  Why did there have to be any kind of sacrifice?  The answer:  Because God wanted us to be in relationship.  You cannot be in relationship with someone you aren’t willing to sacrifice for ... time, effort, financially.  If I don’t make some kind of sacrifice for you, you would never know I love you. 

 

At the center of everything we believe as Christians.  Every relationship requires sacrifice.  Every offense requires forgiveness.  Every offense coming back together and making restitution and forgiveness.

 

Through Christ God demonstrated his love and his restitution.  Do you want to really live outside of this. 

 

  1. If God ... There’s relationship

 

Parents know that.  When their kids rebel there is broken relationship. 

 

  1. If God ... There’s truth

 

There is a basis for ethics and morality.  There is an explanations for the ought’s that don’t always govern your actions, and may be the very reason why you stay away from church, but will always govern our reactions ... “you ought not to have treated me this way.  Now I may treat you that way, but hey, don’t you treat me that way.”  

 

What is the basis for my convictions about how others are to treat me, even if I don’t act accordingly myself?  Quick to be angry if they don’t do it.

 

Basis for justice, for the law in your heart that when others violate you’ll be quick to get angry at, there is a basis for the law for morality, that goes beyond utilitarianism, natural selection, social cohesion, and survival of the species. 

 

So if the question was, “Who wants God?”, then at whatever point his existence becomes an inconvenience, the answer would become, “none of us!”  But if the question is, “Who needs God?”, as it turns out, the answer is “all of us.”

 

Before he died, he wrote a letter.  In his letter he writes:

 

Come near to God and he will come near to you. ...

                                                          James 4:8

 

I had all those years I didn’t support my brother.  This is not an easier things to draw near when I’ve drawn away for so many years.

 

Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double minded.                       James 4:8

 

Admit it, it wasn’t just a mistake you did it on person. Quit playing games.  Look over there even though you’re afraid because it might demand from you.  Don’t hide behind facts about his world.

 

Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up.  

James 4:10

 

 

 

[1] “He is out of his mind”, they said.

[2] At the Jerusalem council, James’ words were heeded.

[3] Antiquities of the Jews, 20.9.1.  He assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Messiah, whose name was Jacob, and some others, [or, some of his companions].  And when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.

[4] If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.  Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If we hope in Christ for this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

[5] Nagel’s book, Mind and Cosmos (2012), has the subtitle:  Why the materialist neo-Darwinian conception of nature is almost certainly false.  “I believe the defenders of intelligent design deserve our gratitude for challenging a scientific world view that owes some of the passion displayed by its adherents precisely to the fact that it is thought to liberate us from religion.  That world view is ripe for displacement.”

[6] Nagel recommends Steven C. Meyer, Signature of the Cell (2009), which argues against chemical evolution and for intelligent design.

[7] My emphasis

[8] John Loftus, Why I Rejected Christianity: A Former Apologist Explains (Victoria: Traford, 2006), p.30.  He repeats pretty much the very same thing on p,270. (And while life is ultimately meaningless, I am living life to the hilt everyday [sic].  I’m living without the guilt that Christianity threw on me too! Life is good -- very good!  I feel better about it now than I ever have!).  While Loftus denies changing his beliefs to suit his lifestyle, it seems to me that he in fact did just that.  See also https://www.jashow.org/articles/worldview/atheism/from-apologist-to-atheist-a-critical-review/

[9] French philosopher, mathematician, physicist, inventor, and writer, who happened to be a Christian. He was only 39 when he died.

[10] Christian philosopher, theologian and writer.  Converted at age 32.