Thursday, April 28, 2011

What To Do About Atheists - Give Them Proof

For some of us the Resurrection celebrations are over, it is time to move on. We enjoyed our long weekend but it is time to get on with the reality of life; school, work, family, bills, even elections. However, for the disciples there was no "going back". If they thought their life had changed when they were with Jesus it had completely changed now after the resurrection.

Here it was several days after Jesus appeared to them and they were still locking themselves away. Their minds must have been reeling with the death and now the resurrection of Jesus. Now here they sat in limbo, not really sure what to do. They knew their lives would never be the same, that there was no "going back" but what do they do now?

Now imagine all of this happening and you missing out on it. It would be like faithfully attending church for years and the one Sunday you miss all kinds of miraculous things happen. For some reason Thomas was not with the others on Resurrection Day. He wasn't there to hear the women's report and then Peter's nor the two disciples who had returned from Emmaus. He wasn't there to see Jesus when he appeared to the others that evening of the first day of the week. So when Thomas was told what had happened by the other disciples his reaction was very much how most of the Church would respond today:

“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” (John 20:25)

Do you hear the finality of that statement? "I will not believe it." Sounds like some atheists I know. Show me proof or keep your mouth shut about it, is the essence of what they often say to me. I have been put off  a bit by this group of young men who refuse to hear the authority of the Word and often attack it's credibility. My only argument is the Word of God and my testimony, yet these are scoffed at and mocked. So I have been asking God what to do about it and he gave me a clear response: "Allow me to reveal my glory to them."

The question then was, how does God reveal his glory to those who refuse to believe? The preference Jesus has is for us to come by faith but God is not above giving proof to those who do not believe. Jesus responded to Thomas' statement by appearing again to the disciples when Thomas was with them and he showed him the marks on his body. When God wanted to reveal his glory to the world he did it through signs and wonders in Egypt. When he birthed the Church in Jerusalem he worked signs and wonders through the Christ followers:

Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. (Acts 2:43)

Jesus had preferred that people would believe him by faith, according to the prophecies but he knew many would require other persuasion:

“Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.” (John 4:48)

Even when people experience signs, wonders and miracles it still requires faith to enter into a relationship with Jesus. We still need faith to trust the promises of God. We need faith to live the rest of our life trusting that God has planned good for us even when the storms are fierce. But the mistake we often make is not believing that Jesus wants to reveal his glory to those who refuse to believe our words.

We engage in debates and we try to persuade close minded people of the truth. We try to convince people who have hardened their hearts, who are not asking questions about God but are out to prove that he does not exist. Stop using words and allow God to reveal himself by his glory. Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, reminding them how they came to accept Jesus:

My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power. (1 Corinthians 2:4-5)

Some believers scoff and say that the age of signs, wonders and miracles has long since past. No one has shown proof to me yet from the Word of God that this is God's intention, that he put a time limit on his glory being revealed. I believe that such an attitude has allowed the world to get where it is. Do you think God planned for the world to get this bad or do you think that he simply knew it would get this bad because his children would stop believing? It is an unfortunate fact that there are many Thomas' in the world who will not believe our testimony but will respond to the glory of God. We need to stop this unbelief and allow God to reveal his glory again to the world.

The next question is, how do we do this? We do it by finding out what is going on in their lives, asking them what they need done. Do they have someone who is dying of some kind of illness? Is there an impossible situation? Find out the most impossible thing and pray about that. Make it a huge thing so that there would be no doubt of God's glory. Tell them you are praying about that thing. Allow them to hear your prayer. Tell them God is going to give proof of his existence and his love for them. Stick your neck out, believe with no doubt and God will do this thing and reveal himself.

Come on now, either we believe or we don't. Either we have faith or we don't. What is the use of your words if you can't believe enough to put your faith into action? Let's stop treating Christianity as a philosophy and a goodwill agency and let's get some power behind it again. Let's open our hearts and minds so that Jesus can be revealed in his glory again. The world wants proof, let's give them proof. Speak to the mountains in their lives and see their reaction when they jump out of the way. Jesus wondered if he would find faith in this world when he returned. Well, will he?


rafdevis said...

Hi Pastor Paul,

That’s exactly what people need – proof. Belief is nothing more than making certain claims without having the evidence to back them up. And Christianity makes some extraordinary claims which would require some extraordinary evidence! No such thing is present. Myths like the ones you mention here (plagues in Egypt etc.) are exactly that – myths. They are always far away in the past, unverifiable, never objective - always colored with religious/political/personal/etc. intentions, etc. It is remarkable how people are willing to believe things so willingly without making the effort to actually verifying what objective truth is to be found in them.
You’re right when you say atheists are often close-minded – just as are religious people. These atheists are right to just push aside any religious claim because common sense tells them to. Just like you don’t have any trouble pushing aside claims about Zeus or Ganesh’ elephant head. They just take it one step further and eliminate your religion, too. It does get more problematic when people are actually looking for something like your religion because it has some wonderful elements in it. Your sense of community, the emotional experiences in your services, the arts and especially the music, the clear set of moral values enforced by a god, etc. People looking for a framework to build their lives on are often persuaded by your religion (and any other religion for that matter, seeing that’s what religion does) because it helps them live. (But in doing so they often have to accept a ludicrous set of claims about reality seeing religions need these extraordinary claims to focus their attention on. Religions built around just community, emotional experiences, etc. are harder to maintain because people seem to need something which surpasses their intellect so they can gather around it. But that’s a whole other discussion.) But basically that’s the same kind of common sense which keeps you within your religion. The common sense you have towards your own religion is the same one which helps you not accept other religions very easily, as well as the common sense which helps atheists push aside all religions at once.

rafdevis said...

[...] Now, about your literal interpretation of the Bible. The ‘simple’ atheists I mentioned here will not do the effort of debunking your religious claims because of many possible reasons: they think the claims are too ludicrous to even deserve such attention, they don’t have the intellect to actually dig deeper, they don’t have the time because they’re actually too busy living their lives, etc. But then there are the atheists who actually try and understand religions and religious people, like myself. Having been brought up in a very Christian home I have been immerged in Christianity since I was born and I’m very concerned and intrigued by how people can accept their religion based on belief and thus without digging deeper for the actual truth about things. Even though my common sense was enough to debunk it once I got to ‘the age of reason’, I’m naturally concerned with religious people. And it’s fine that people are Christians even though they have no evidence it back it up.
But now here you come and claim you’re more enlightened than any other atheist and you have the truth. Well, that’s the tipping point where you actually have to prove you’re really looking for the truth. It’s not enough to believe seeing this is a an easy excuse to not dig deeper and study the foundations of your religion. If you really want the truth, you’ll have to start studying. Christianity is the true religion? Then get to know the other religions first. The bible is literally true? Then study the history of how it came about.
In other words, don’t let faith be a hidden synonym for laziness. The truth speaks for itself but is not something that falls from the sky. You have to actually make an effort. Reading just your bible is the worst possible way to go. If you want to know if Coca-Cola is the best drink around, do you only listen to what the Coca-Cola spokesperson tells you? No. You’d have to get to know the whole soda context to be able to judge Coke truthfully.

Kind regards,

rafdevis said...

P.S. I've been waiting and looking for signs and wonders for quite a while now (along with many others). When would you be satisfied with a miracle? What standard do you maintain to judge if something is really a miracle? Because if you're really wanting to see extraordinary things your mind can easily play tricks on you. Maybe good to set high expectations and so we can erase all possible doubt at once?

Pastor Paul said...

Then I simply ask you what I stated in my blog: What can I pray for you to allow God to reveal himself to you? Is there someone sick in your family? Someone dying? You see I am one who does expect great things from Jesus and have taken part in such things. Verified miracles where brain tumours have been removed. No small stuff like headaches but the big "mountain" stuff. I am not here to defend Jesus, he can do that all on his own. I am only here to testify about him and to be used in whatever way he deems necessary. The question is, will you believe when he reveals himself to you or will you find some way to explain it away? I am brave enough to ask. Are you brave enough to accept?

rafdevis said...

Let's try something that's very hard to explain away. Someone ill or dying and getting healed would be problematic seeing this happens even without prayer (or people from other religions praying). Same thing for brain tumors.

The bible has a few examples of people being raised from the dead. My little sister Eva, almost 20 years old then, died 3 years back in a car accident. She was a radical Christian (so is most of my family) and it shook our family and the community around her to the core. If she were to rise from the dead it would be a magnificent testimony of your God existing.

Is this what you mean by mountains? But I could understand that within your religious system death is not something that falls under the category of things to be prayed for.

Another thing which would impress me is if my mother's thyroid would be healed. It's been over 20 years since it stopped working, causing multiple practical problems for her health.

Interested in your response. Now, I'm genuinely open to believing in God. In some sense there being a God would be a very comforting thing (although He'd have some explaining to do about a lot of things) as it is for religious people.

I've put some very personal items on the table here. What will you be able to be convinced of if nothing happens?

Hope to hear from you soon,

Pastor Paul said...

Then that is what we will do. We will pray for your mother's healing. Meanwhile, you should read up on Thomas. Jesus does respond to our doubts.

I am sorry to hear about your sister though. It sounds like it was a very painful time for everyone. That must have provoked a lot of questions from you. I can understand why believing in a loving, sovereign God would be difficult to live with after such a tragedy.

rafdevis said...

Ok, curious for the outcome. Should we put a time span on it? How long would it take to have a verdict?

As for my sister's death, it actually might be less hard to cope with than it is for my family. As an unbeliever you don't expect the world to be necessarily good to humans. Believers are generally (and in my family this was clearly the case) more uprooted because it shakes a worldview where the Loving God, the balance between good and evil, the trust you have in God's purpose for someone's life, etc. seem to be worthless concepts of reality.

One of the core elements of Christian (and certainly evangelical) theology is believing that God cares for you personally and has a plan for your life. This belief actually helps believers to cope with a harsh reality, it provides hope that there is someone watching out for you and your life is following a somewhat predestined path (if you listen to Him carefully, of course) and there is a sense to it all. If reality suddenly confronts you with randomness, chaos, nature’s indifference towards human happiness, etc. then this becomes something that is difficult to rhyme with the religious framework you’re in. As a pastor you’ve surely experienced how hard it is to find words to console people in your church when they experience death and other ‘evil’. Christianity has multiple theological constructs to try and make sense of it but they often fall short. It’s indeed a pity people often have to go through a painful and conflicting situation before they realize something is not quite right about their religion. (Not a very good explanation for my atheism, though, seeing I never was much of a believer). There’s a reason it’s called the ‘dilemma of evil’. Not adopting this religious framework which ‘makes you feel safe’ but rather confront reality as it is (indifferent to human happiness) does not require an answer to this dilemma seeing there is none.

All this touches the core of why Christianity is adopted by believers - it helps you live in an indifferent world. It’s a scary world and religion can give you a safe feeling for the time being or actually try and explain why bad things happen to people. The major difference between science and religion comes to the forefront here. Religion is not as much about truth as it is about human well-being. Unfortunately truth is often not something that necessarily encourages well-being seeing people are not always capable of dealing with a harsh reality. The ever recurring words of Marx saying religion is an opium, a drug for people to confront reality is not far off (even though he used in a somewhat different sense).

Christians might say life has no meaning, no sense, and thus only fear and chaos if you don’t have religion. I, personally, don’t experience this but it does show that believers are not primarily looking for truth as they are looking for ‘truth’ that makes them feel good. Interesting experiments I conduct in interviews is to ask believers to tell their conversion story, the reasons they became a Christian. Most of the time, none of them will say ‘because I did historical research’ or ‘I have studied world religions and Christianity is clearly the one and only true religion’. No, they’re about human happiness, about finding sense in life, about being part of a community, etc. Same story throughout all religions worldwide. And that’s great. Atheists need community and all the good things religion bring, too. But I prefer to base them on truth rather than things that make me feel good and comfortable.

Anyways, back to our ‘wager’ if I may call it that. Because this is one of the items which should certainly show us the direction truth goes. I don’t have to be brave to accept the outcome, I welcome it. Truth is a wonderful thing when it reveals itself. How would you like to conduct this experiment? Is your church going to pray? Would a month be enough for God?


rafdevis said...

Btw, what do you mean by reading up on Thomas? The Gospel of Thomas or just the passage in the synoptic gospels? What should I focus on? I understand it talks about doubt but I don't necessarily understand how it can help in a discussion about the existence of god.

Pastor Paul said...

It is sad that this has been your exposure to Christianity because it certainly is not the truth of the Word of God or of what Jesus taught. Jesus was sent to open the door to forgiveness and eternal life, not to create heaven on earth or to encourage us to pursue happiness. In fact, the underlying current of his teaching and example is to deny our own happiness for the sake of other people's needs. This has been the cornerstone of my purpose and living.

The world is in a fallen state and is very much like a battleground. In this Jesus has promised to keep us safe for eternity but does not promise a peaceful co-existence in this world. In fact it is just the opposite. He promised that we would be hated, persecuted and face all kinds of trials because of his name but none of it would go to waste.

It is a shame that much of the truth of the Word has been twisted to be seen as it was presented to you. I really desire to speak more of this and I will find a window of time to do it. Right now I must get out the door.

I expect an immediate response from God. As soon as your mom starts making comments that she feels different or odd get her to go to the doctor. The doctor's results will be the confirmation that the Lord has revealed himself through her healing. I am not some oddball. I am a genuine servant of the Lord who takes him at his word. I pray not with a longing and a hope but with a certainty that Jesus Christ loves you and takes great pleasure in revealing himself to you. Not only will he heal but he will also present himself to you. That was my reference to Thomas. Thomas had declared that he would not believe. Then Jesus presented the evidence that he demanded and Thomas believed.

rafdevis said...

Thanks for your response. I will definitely keep you posted on the well-being of my mother and her thyroid. Very curious about it!

I understand that what I said about Christianity bothers you. It was said from a sociological or anthropological viewpoint which tries to understand the undercurrent of religious behavior. Your explanation is an ideological approach, which of course is truthful but on another level.

Christian ideological values such as giving up your happiness for other people's sake can of course be the driving force. But in the end it is biologically determined that humans search for well-being, even if it doesn't seem so.

The drastic example is of suicide bombers who supposedly give up their own well-being for the sake of their god but in doing so are still pursuing for their own well-being - 72 virgins in heaven.

It is very hard, not to say impossible, to be completely selfless. In giving up your own well-being (which is a great thing!) for others you are still searching the well-being of your own self. On a biological level your DNA is taking care of the extended gene pool you belong to. If you're a believer in heavenly spheres you might be looking for a reward in the afterlife. If doing well for others is socially encouraged and praised within your community this brings you profit as well. Mother Theresa said helping others was the only thing that gave her peace of mind.

It is rather impossible to be completely selfless. If someone were completely selfless, he'd probably be mentally ill. Selflessness to the extreme would be a person giving up his life to save that of piece of rock.

From an ideological viewpoint the Golden Rule is a great thing indeed. From a scientific point of view it is only part of a larger puzzle which is human behavior.

Pastor Paul said...

Of course you are correct it stating this. My great motivation is the Father's love for me and my desire to hear my Lord's pleasure at my obedience to his instructions. But that's not the point I am making.

Some how the message and instruction of Jesus was hijacked so that now people are seeking personal gratification from God. Back at the beginning James told people that they were not receiving what they were asking for because of their selfish motivation, that they could spend it on their pleasure.

The Christian has not been left here so they could become rich and have a pleasant life. They have been here to fulfil the mission of Jesus, empowered by the Spirit to introduce Jesus to people, with power and authority. I am sorry that this has not been presented to you so that you could have seen the evidence of Christ for yourself.

Pastor Paul said...

BTW - your comments neither surprise me not upset me. It is expected. Spiritually matters are understood by a spiritual mind and people cannot possess the mind of Christ without the Spirit. There are many Thomas' who fill the Church, loving Jesus but denying his power to cause change.

rafdevis said...

Hi Paul,

If people are here to fullfil the mission of Jesus - what is this mission exactly? The great commandment? Going into all the world?

As for my exposure to Christianity, I must say this was really not a sad one. There are plenty of versions of Christianity which are appalling to say the least. But the churches and other organizations I know are mostly places which are truthful expressions of the best things to be found in Christianity. Working with the diocese and multiple Protestant groups in Belgium (there aren't all that many in such a small country) and abroad gives exposure to a rather large portion of what Christianity has to offer.
Notwithstanding that mainstream Christianity is based on myths and misconceptions of reality, it does help people. But that doesn't mean it's based on much truth. People look for a religion which gives meaning, which helps, which fills emotional needs, which gives guidance in life, which explains things, etc. And digging deeper for real truth as we have taken very seriously since the enlightenment has always produced a few good relationships with religious institutes, but mostly problematic ones seeing the truth is not anthropocentric and thus doesn't necessarily bring 'good news'.
It is an outstanding issue if we should confront people who are finding life difficult to live with the truth about their existence or with whatever makes them feel good. Not easy to answer that one.

rafdevis said...

No change in my mother's condition by the way. Should we do something special?

I'm actually wondering why you think God would heal her. Because he wants her to be healthy? To prove something? Both? What's the rationale behind it?

I've seen hundreds of people be prayed for and never did anything happen which could be called a miracle. Why do you think this situation would be different?

Pastor Paul said...

The mission belong's to the Father who sent his Son to plant the seed of the new creation. The old was ruined by man's disobedience and the new was planted by Jesus' obedience. The mission is to introduce this to as many people as possible and to help them mature in their relationship with Jesus. It is unfortunate that those who remain in the old will need to account for their disobedience.

Certainly there are many benefits to faith in Jesus but none of it removes the believer from the reality of this fallen world. Our challenge is to trust God in our living, having faith that he is truthful concerning his promises. Any other benefit is secondary and worthless without the redeeming love of Jesus.

Unfortunate this is difficult to understand. Jesus said that the new wine cannot be poured into old wineskin. To receive the new wine one must be transformed to receive it. Knowing that God exists is only part of it. Many know he exists but do nothing about it, It is when we trust him and love him enough to obey him that transformation takes place.

Pastor Paul said...

Why your mom? She was your choice and a very good one I think.

Jesus and his disciples were walking past a blind beggar. They asked Jesus who had sinned that this man was born blind, him or his parents. Jesus said neither but that God would glorify himself through this man. He stopped and gave the man his sight.

God will heal her simply because I am asking but my motivation is not selfish. I am asking so that he will glorify himself in this and give you the proof that he is real and active in our lives. Whether you decide to trust him is another matter.

I take Jesus at his word. He said it so I believe it. I am not here to defend him or even answer for him. This is what he told me to do so I am doing it. Your mom will be healed simply so you have the opportunity to believe.