Nothing Personal. But It’s Not Just Academic.

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In my last post I tried to provide some helpful talking points with which to engage Darwinian Evolutionists. Specifically, the encouragement was to circle back to the following issues: 1) Everything that has a beginning has a CAUSE; 2) Everything that has complex order has INTELLIGENCE behind it; and 3) If notions about God biologically developed merely for survival, then logically, so did notions against God.

I reiterated that while these truths won’t convince anyone of God’s existence, they generally will cause someone to pause and say, “Hmmm. That’s interesting.” In other words, these points might help remove an obstacle that had otherwise caused someone to write off the God of the Bible.

The conclusion that I’m hoping many people arrive at through such debate, then, is not that someone start worshipping Jesus as Lord and Savior as the result of my points. That’s asking logic to do something which the Bible teaches only the gospel can do (Rom. 10:17). Rather, my hope is to impress upon someone that two intelligent, educated, thoughtful people can arrive at very different conclusions despite looking at the same information. (As a live illustration of this, check out the dialogue thread beneath last week’s post.) Just because I don’t entirely buy what I read in my biology or geology textbook doesn’t make me a fool. If everyone accepted as conclusive everything they ever read in a textbook, the world wouldn’t have seen the genius of Galileo, Newton, Edison, or Einstein.

So, if it’s true that intelligent people can come to differing conclusions about God’s existence, despite looking at the exact same evidence, WHY do they come to the conclusions they do?

Jonathan Haidt is a social & moral psychologist who wrote the New York Times bestseller The Righteous Mind. Haidt, not a Christian, offers a tremendous amount of research which suggests that our instincts, our gut, are what truly drive us to do what we do. Much like other notable social psychologists before him (e.g. Leon Festinger), Haidt suggests that humans are capable of rationalizing any and every behavior or belief to themselves. This rationale is generally just a coping mechanism to close the gap between what we think we should be and what we actually are. Rationalization soothes any unrest that exists inside of us.

What Haidt is concluding then is that we humans like to think that we believe what we believe based on our thoughts and choices. But, on the contrary, what study after study seems to indicate is that we believe what we believe based on something else, and that our thoughts are merely attempts to find internal peace with our beliefs and behavior. Put differently, we believe what we want to believe, and we use our logic to convince ourselves and convince others that it is “right.”

I think he’s on to something.

So, how might this apply to belief in the existence of God?

I’ve spoken with a number of Christians who have struggled to understand why anyone would willfully choose not to believe in God. Of course, they often say this in reference to a loved one who has chosen not to believe in God, who has generally offered the reasoning of, “I just don’t see enough evidence.” But as I mentioned earlier, if Jonathan Haidt is right, that our beliefs are less based on evidence than they are on our wants/desires, then what would potentially be the “want” at the heart of atheism/agnosticism?

Let me propose this. Very few in the world would deny that there are various orders of life in the organic world. So, if I ask which is a higher form of life? Animal or plant? Most everyone will say animal. This can generally be illustrated by asking the question “If one or the other had to die, which would better?” Innately, most everyone will say “plant” ahead of animal. Take this a step further. Which is a higher form of life? Human or animal? Unless you’re so extreme that even PETA would consider you “a little weird for animals,” then you will choose human life over animal life. The laws of every civilization throughout history have reflected this basic truth. Okay, so our hierarchy of life right now looks like this, plants < animals < humans. The Bible teaches that there is a rung of the ladder beyond this. Fascinatingly, the secular scientific community is starting to regularly propose weird ideas concerning this too. The Bible’s very clear assertion, however, is that God is at the top of this chain of command.

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The implication then becomes obvious if you remove God from the ladder. Again, our question was, what motive would anyone have for willfully choosing not to believe in God? If we eliminate God from the ladder, humans are on top. Consequently, we (humans) have no one that we are accountable to and no one can speak into our lives and tell us how to live? For post-Enlightenment thinkers, that’s practically the very definition of liberation.

This is undeniably appealing to many humans. For instance, if you were to ask children, whether in home or school, if they’d prefer to have rules, authority figures, and consequences for behavior, most would resoundingly say, “NO!” Human nature, dating to Adam and Eve, and despite the obvious consequences, seeks independence from authority. We’re often frustrated by God’s “rules” and by what God seems to allow to happen in a sinful world. So running away from home seems like a viable option. One of the most interesting things a former atheist once said to me was, “I came to realize that I couldn’t be angry with God and not believe in him at the same time.” 

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I believe this is one personal reason for not wanting to believe in God. I’m convinced that while many people tout certain research as proof to disbelieve in God, this is simply rationale for an underlying personal feeling.

Don’t get me wrong. I also believe that there are some non-believers who actually wish to believe in God but feel as though they can’t. Charles Templeton is my favorite example of this. What I’m suggesting, though, is that I still don’t think this conviction is held on the basis of evidence as much as it is by personal feeling. Perhaps most famously, Judas Iscariot, Jesus’s betrayer, (I believe) wanted to believe that God could forgive him for his mistakes (Matt. 27:3-5), but Satan had convinced him his sin was too great. As someone who worked closely with Jesus in ministry, Judas witnessed no shortage of evidence that Jesus was, in fact, true God. But his non-belief wasn’t a matter of evidence. It was a matter of personal belief.

Now, the cynic might suggest that if I’m advocating that some choose not to believe because of personal preference rather than evidence, then isn’t it possible that some choose to believe in God merely because of a personal preference? Absolutely. I think there are probably lots of people who want to believe in God simply because the notion that there might not be a divine being, someone out there to oversee the universe, just terrifies them. That’s not at all how I’d define saving faith though. Such individuals, whom I’ll refer to as “religious,” tend to have a view of God that is performance based. They see him as one who rewards the good and punishes the bad. That’s not the God of the Bible.

So, I’m suggesting that there are essentially three spirits out there when it comes to what we believe. Irreligion, religion, and the gospel.

From what I gather, it seems as though irreligious people tend to avoid God so that they can be god for themselves. Religious people tend to use God as a means to get to whatever they really care about, perhaps even a “comfortable paradise” like heaven. But what about people who believe the gospel of the Bible? The gospel says that God, who is at the top of the ladder, so loved his creation, including rebellious people like us, that even though he is so much higher than us, he subjected himself to suffer and die for us. It’s a strange, unfamiliar love that when contemplated seems to tenderize your heart.

But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (Heb. 2:9) (see also Phil. 2:5-8)

I think there are essentially three responses to God – you can hate him (irreligion), fear him (religion), or fall down in gratitude and give him everything (Christian faith).

So I’m a Christian.

Yes, I believe evidence supports Christianity. Yes, I want to believe Christianity. But beyond that, there’s an unexplainable sensation that causes my heart to burn within me at the thought of gospel truth (Luke 24:32), from which I cannot escape. It seems almost foreign, like someone (i.e. the Holy Spirit) just put it there.

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2 thoughts on “Nothing Personal. But It’s Not Just Academic.

  1. I concur, and made the same point in response to one of the questions on “The Story” Bible study (I think it was that study!). A big reason many reject God is that doing so absolves one of accountability and responsibility to someone other than themselves. The Judas example is another one, and sometimes I’ve been subject to that temptation — not for me; my sin is too great. A few weeks ago at Resurrection, there was a sermon in which the pastor pointed out that if Paul had applied for the position of “super-evangelist” with his abysmal resume, no one but God would’ve given him a chance (my paraphrase there). When I feel myself giving in to guilt and shame and losing focus on the grace and glory of my salvation, I often come back to that illustration.
    Once again, I’m grateful for your blog posts and for ALL the other people He puts in my life that also have the “burning heart” you describe.

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