Belief in God

Is it Reasonable?

The Apostle Paul argues in the New Testament that belief in God is utterly reasonable. In fact it is so reasonable and so in accord with common sense that a failure to face this truth has consequences – serious consequences. He writes in Romans 1:

"The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth [about God, our creator]."

He then immediately explains why:

"For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse." (Romans 1.18-20)

That is not just a New Testament perspective; it is an Old Testament perspective as well. So writes King David, in a Psalm attributed to him:

"The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork."
(Psalm 19.1)

But what about the modern world and the 21st century? Is our amazing universe as now understood still able to convince? The answer is, "Yes, most certainly." Take Sir Fred Hoyle (1915-2001), the British astronomer and cosmologist. As a younger man he was a militant atheist and was able to find theoretical support both for his atheism and for the remarkable "coincidences" necessary for the emergence and conservation of human life. But ultimately what has been called in astrophysics, "the atheist's dilemma", changed Hoyle's thinking. The dilemma says that "either there are monstrous coincidences of fine tuning in nature, or there is purpose in the universe." This led to Hoyle writing in later life as follows:

"A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics… The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question."

That was written back in 1981. In 2016 Roger Wagner and Andrew Briggs in their elegant book, just published, 'The Penultimate Curiosity – how science swims in the slipstream of ultimate questions', point out that …

"… in the years that followed Hoyle's discovery many other 'fine tunings' have been identified in the basic constants of reality, all of which were necessary for what another Cambridge cosmologist, Martin Rees, has called a "biophilic" [life friendly] universe to exist. To ascribe them to chance has seemed increasingly problematic."

Is it Sufficient?

However, is it enough just to believe that God exists? According to the letter of James the answer is, "No!" For, he says, belief in God needs to result in some positive outcome in a person's life. So he writes for someone whose faith does not lead to life changes as follows:

"You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder!"
(James 2.19)

What more, then, is needed? First, we need an understanding of the nature of God. But what does that mean? Well, the problem today is far less the problem of the likes of Richard Dawkins and the younger Hoyle saying the Christian faith is unreasonable; rather, the problem today (as often down the centuries) relates much more to what God is like and how that affects us. Here is a robust statement of the problem by the theologian, R. C. Sproul, writing in a forward to the book, 'Whatever happened to the Reformation?':

"As far as I am concerned, the greatest issue facing the Christian church as we move into the twenty-first century is the character of God. Unless we recommit ourselves to understand who God is and what he is like, nothing else in the Bible will make sense. Apart from understanding God's justice, wrath, mercy and holiness, there is no way we can understand the gospel. The cross will make no sense to us if we do not understand why God's character required it. But if you understand the character of God, then not only does the gospel make sense, but the doctrines of Scripture, Christ, and everything else fall into place."

All this is in line with the letter to the Hebrews where it says:

"Without faith it is impossible to please him [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards [literally, 'pays wages to'] those who seek him."
(Hebrews 11.6)

And that is in line with Romans 6.23 that says:

"The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Both of these statements simply follow from the fundamental and classic formulation of the nature of God. This was given by God himself to the early Israelite leader, Moses, during an awe inspiring theophany, at a cardinal time in the history of our planet, and as recorded in the book of Exodus:

"The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation."
(Exodus 34.6-7)

It is so clear. The real God, the creator of this unfathomable universe of space and time, is merciful and gracious – a God of true and genuine love. However, he is also committed to justice - "by no means clearing the guilty". This is so hard for many to understand in the 21st century. It seems unloving that retribution (for such it is) should be essential to being just. But fair retribution is no more than making the punishment fit the crime. Mercy is somehow ensuring more leniency. Mercy, therefore, is meaningless without some fair standard whose outcome it softens. Also unless there is some concept of fair retribution, there is no limit to what you can do in terms of deterrence (for example, torture for minimal offences) or in terms of reformation (long incarceration in psychiatric hospitals for minimal offences). The punishment has to be "just", for the Bible and common moral sense witness to a moral order where some offences or sins are "worse" than others and deserve stiffer penalties. Armed robbery is worse than parking your car in the wrong place! Why this is so important is because divine judgment and retribution is at the heart of the Christian "gospel" – or good news. For Jesus Christ, as our Saviour, at the Cross of Calvary, mercifully bore the divine judgment (or wrath or retribution) for sin that would otherwise have fairly been visited on us.

Finally, Belief in God

In the Apostles' Creed, "I believe in God" is literally "I believe into God". It is more than "belief that God exists and has a certain character", necessary as that is, for it is a faith commitment to the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit – one God in three persons. But what does that commitment involve? Paul wrote:

"if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."
(Romans 10.9)

You need to confess publicly that Jesus is the divine Son - the Lord (and your Lord whom you obey). And you need to believe that he left a tomb empty that first Easter morning. For the resurrection of Jesus proves he was the divine Son, the second person of the Trinity; it proves that as by faith we unite with the risen Jesus, by his Holy Spirit we can have new life; also it proves his death really was in our place for our sins. So you will be saved by faith in Jesus Christ the Lord. Salvation means, regarding the past, your sins will be forgiven; regarding the present, you will have a new start in your spiritual life; and regarding the future, you will have a wonderful hope of resurrection life and heaven. Yes, Jesus Christ will come again. However, this time not for salvation but for judgment!

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