Hello God, are you still there?

Why isn’t God more obvious? This question is often asked in many ways and in many contexts, by people of all levels of faith. When prayers go unanswered, why is God silent? When suffering or tragedy strikes, why would God allow this to happen? Why wouldn’t God want more people to know God’s good news? When all the “evidence” seems to counter the biblical narrative, why doesn’t God just give the world a sign? If God was revealed through many wondrous signs and miracles throughout the Bible, why doesn’t God act that way today? All of these examples get at the same issue: the seeming “hiddenness” of God.

Atheist Bertrand Russell was once asked what he would say if after death he met God. Russell replied that he would say: “God, you gave us insufficient evidence.”(1) While many who have found God quite evident would balk at Russell’s audacity, a similar struggle ensued between the psalmist and his hidden God. “Why do you stand afar off, O Lord? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” Indeed, the psalmist accuses God of being asleep in these plaintive cries: “Arouse, yourself, why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake, and do not reject us forever. Why do you hide your face, and forget our affliction and our oppression?”(2)

In fact, belief in a God who can be easily found, a God who has acted in time and space, makes the hiddenness of God all the more poignant and perplexing. Theologians have offered many explanations for God’s hiddenness: because God seeks to grow our faith, because our sins and disobedience hide us from God and keep us from seeing God properly, or because God loves us and knows how much and how often we need to “find” God. If we are honest, we are just as likely to hide ourselves from God just as the first humans did in the Garden when God sought after them. Even so we cry out just like Job did and wonder why God stays hidden away in unanswered prayers and difficult circumstances: “Why do you hide your face, and consider me the enemy?”

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The hiddenness of God is problematic for theists and atheists alike. And Christians often take for granted the narrative of Scripture which gives witness to God’s revelation. We have the benefit of a book full of God’s speech. God speaks in the wonder and mystery of creation; God speaks through the history of the nation of Israel; God speaks through the very Word of God incarnate, Jesus Christ. His life reveals the exact nature of God, and places God’s glory on full display.

But still we may wonder if we must always and only look to the past to hear God’s voice, while we wonder why God isn’t more “talkative” today? Is there any other source for God’s presence and activity in the world today?

In fact, God is often found in one of the last places many might guess: the church. At its best, the church re-tells the story of God speaking across the ages and definitively in Jesus Christ through the preaching of the gospel. But the church can also create community where God may be encountered in the faces of others as a result of the empowering Holy Spirit. Such a community is to be the symbol of God’s presence among us and with us as “God-found,” not “God-hidden.” It is to be the arms of God around us when we are hurting, or the voice of God speaking when we feel we haven’t heard from God in years. Such a community can be God’s voice, God’s hands and feet going towards the broken places of the world to bring healing, help, and comfort. Through worship and liturgy, prayer and communion, service and sacrifice the church can reveal the God who spoke and is still speaking.

God is not often revealed in the roar of the hurricane or the loud-clap of thunder, but in a “still, small voice”—a voice that is barely audible except to the most patient and still. But when the Church, broken and human as it is, seeks through the power of the Spirit to be who it is, we see God and hear God, and find God beautifully obvious.

For those who long to see God, who long to find God in the darkest hour, we may not find God in the dramatic or the victorious, the miraculous or the stupendous. Instead, we may yet hope to find him in the pew, at the table of the Lord’s Supper, in a simple hymn, or in the gift of fellow seekers longing to find God too.

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(1) Cited in Dr. Paul K. Moser’s booklet, Why Isn’t God More Obvious: Finding the God who Hides and Seeks (Norcross, GA: RZIM, 2000), 1.
(2) Psalm 10:1, Psalm 44:23-24.

Is FAITH just Wishful Thinking?

I’ve been trying to avoid using the word ‘faith’ recently. It just doesn’t get the message across. ‘Faith’ is a word that’s now misused and twisted. ‘Faith’ today is what you try to use when the reasons are stacking up against what you think you ought to believe. Greg Koukl sums up the popular view of faith, “It’s religious wishful thinking, in which one squeezes out spiritual hope by intense acts of sheer will. People of ‘faith’ believe the impossible. People of ‘faith’ believe that which is contrary to fact. People of ‘faith’ believe that which is contrary to evidence. People of ‘faith’ ignore reality.” It shouldn’t therefore come as a great surprise to us, that people raise their eyebrows when ‘faith’ in Christ is mentioned. Is it strange that they seem to prefer what seems like reason over insanity?

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It’s interesting that the Bible doesn’t overemphasize the individual elements of the whole picture of faith, like we so often do. But what does the Bible say about faith? Is it what Simon Peter demonstrates when he climbs out of the boat and walks over the water towards Jesus? Or is it what Thomas has after he has put his hand in Jesus’s side? Interestingly, biblical faith isn’t believing against the evidence. Instead, faith is a kind of knowing that results in action. The clearest definition comes from Hebrews 11:1. This verse says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” In fact, when the New Testament talks about faith positively it only uses words derived from the Greek root [pistis], which means ‘to be persuaded.’ In those verses from Hebrews, we find the words, “hope,” “assurance,” “conviction” that is, confidence. Now, what gives us this confidence?

Christian faith is not belief in the absence of evidence. It is the proper response to the evidence. Koukl explains that, “Christian faith cares about the evidence…the facts matter. You can’t have assurance for something you don’t know you’re going to get. You can only hope for it. This is why the resurrection of Jesus is so important. It gives assurance to the hope. Because of a Christian view of faith, Paul is able to say in 1 Corinthians 15 that when it comes to the resurrection, if we have only hope, but no assurance—if Jesus didn’t indeed rise from the dead in time/space history—then we are of most men to be pitied. This confidence Paul is talking about is not a confidence in a mere ‘faith’ resurrection, a mythical resurrection, a story-telling resurrection. Instead, it’s a belief in a real resurrection. If the real resurrection didn’t happen, then we’re in trouble. The Bible knows nothing of a bold leap-in-the-dark faith, a hope-against-hope faith, a faith with no evidence. Rather, if the evidence doesn’t correspond to the hope, then the faith is in vain, as even Paul has said.”

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So in conclusion, faith is not a kind of religious hoping that one does in spite of the facts. In fact, faith is a kind of knowing that results in doing, a knowing that is so passionately and intelligently faithful to Jesus Christ that it will not submit to fideism, scientism, nor any other secularist attempt to divert and cauterize the human soul by hijacking knowledge.

 

Has Science Disproved God?

The first time I met people who encouraged me to consider God, I was in college. I began by reading the gospels, and I found myself attracted to the Christian message. I found myself especially attracted to the person of Jesus and the beautiful life that he lived. But, to be honest, I assumed that belief in God was for people who didn’t think hard enough. I assumed that smart people somewhere had already disproved belief in God. More specifically, I assumed that there was some purely scientific way of understanding the world, and that miracles had no part in it.

I can remember picking up a book in a university bookshop around that time and reading the back cover, which summarized the book as an attempt to hold on to a form of Christianity while explaining away all the supposed miracles of Jesus in scientific terms. And I remember hoping it could be done, because I was longing for the person of Jesus, but I thought the traditional account of Christianity was just too extraordinary to believe.

 

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I had this assumption that the burden of proof for belief in God must be higher, because God is such an extraordinary option. Richard Dawkins puts it this way:

“If you want to believe in…unicorns, or tooth fairies, Thor or Yahweh—the onus is on you to say why you believe in it. The onus is not on the rest of us to say why we do not.”(1)

I bought into that way of thinking—that God is the crazy option, whereas a fully naturalistic and fully scientifically explainable universe is the sober, sensible, rational option. Without ever really reasoning it through, I accepted the cultural myth that we used to need God to miraculously explain thunder and lightning, rainbows and shooting stars. But now that we have scientific explanations for these things, we should stop believing in God.

That’s actually not a very good argument. A good engineer doesn’t need to keep stepping in to override systems and fix malfunctions. If God is a good engineer, isn’t the ability to explain his design in terms of consistently functioning processes exactly what we should expect?

Moreover, we no longer think we need the moon to explain lunacy. (Lunacy comes from the word lunar, because people used to think the position of the moon explained madness.) Does that mean we should no longer believe in the moon? Should we become not only a-theists but a-moonists?(2) Of course not. Even if the moon doesn’t explain madness, there are many other things, such as the tides of the oceans, that it does explain. Likewise, the reasons for believing in God extend far beyond just scientific reasons and include historical, philosophical, moral, aesthetic, experiential, and relational reasons.

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Without thinking it through, I jumped from science to scientism—from the fact that science can explain a lot to the assumption that it can explain everything. However, just because the advancement of science has taught us new things about how the universe works, that doesn’t tell us whether there is a who behind the how.

I can give you a full scientific explanation of how Microsoft Office works (well, I can’t, but a computer expert could; he could sit you down with the design instructions for Microsoft Office and give you a full scientific explanation of how it works). But that would not show that Bill Gates doesn’t exist; it wouldn’t show that there is no who behind the how. To the contrary, it would show that Bill Gates is really smart!

The how question (a question of mechanism) does not answer the who question (a question of agency), and it also doesn’t answer the why question (a question of purpose): Why was Microsoft Office created? We can only get an answer to that question if Bill Gates chooses to share it with us, if the creator of the system chooses to reveal it.

Some of the standard arguments against God based on science are actually not very good. But I think there are a lot of people out there like I was. People who might be open to Christian faith, but who have just assumed that science has made that impossible. They’ve bought into a cultural myth about the battle between science and religion without actually thinking it through.

In my own life, I’m so thankful to have met some friends, seventeen years ago, who were able to communicate to me in an accessible way their reasons for God, including their reasons for thinking that science and God are in no way incompatible. I found myself persuaded. In fact, today I would agree with Peter van Inwagen, one of the world’s foremost philosophers, when he says that “No discovery of science (so far, at any rate) has the least tendency to show that there is no God.”(3)

I would actually go further. Not only do I think science is in no way incompatible with belief in God, but I actually think that science points strongly to the existence of God, and there are four reasons why I believe this:

The universe has a beginning.
The universe is knowable.
The universe is regular.
The universe is finely tuned for life.

I believe all four of these facts about our universe are best explained by the existence of God.

  This is an excerpt from Vince Vitale’s his newly released Jesus Among Secular Gods which he coauthored with Dr. Ravi Zacharias.

*Vince Vitale is director of the Zacharias Institute at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) Richard Dawkins, “A Challenge to Atheists,” Free Enquiry (Vol. 22, No. 3, 2002).

(2) Alvin Plantinga, interview by Gary Gutting, “Is Atheism Irrational?” The New York Times Opinionator, 9 Feb. 2014, http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/02/09/is-atheism-irrational/?_r=0. Accessed 10 Sept. 2016.
(3) Peter van Inwagen, “Weak Darwinism,” Darwin and Catholicism: The Past and Present Dynamics of a Cultural Encounter, edited by Louis Caruana (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2009), 119.