This Is Why
I Believe In Believing
1. The 2008 American Religious Identification Survey found that the number of Americans who are “nones” – that is, who claim no religion at all – is now 15% of our population, up from 8% who identified themselves this way in 1990. It was the only demographic group that grew in all 50 states.
2. A recent approving article on the front page of The New York Times was headlined, “More Atheists Shout It From the Rooftops” (April 27, 2009). It told of organizations which are putting up billboards that say “Don’t Believe in God? You Are Not Alone” and conducting family-oriented programs where like-minded nonbelievers can meet.
3. In a culture like this, it is increasingly important that we be ready to say why we believe in believing. Peter wrote, “But in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV).
1. I believe in believing because I recognize in human experience no alternative to believing.
a. There are ultimate concerns which come to all of us; they cannot be avoided by any of us.
i. I face questions like: Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? What should I do? Where am I going? So do you.
ii. Our ultimate concerns have to do with the real meaning of our lives, with what we have an obligation to do, no matter what, and with what we consider to be real and how we then relate to that.
b. The way we deal with these concerns – or don’t deal with them, for that matter – is, essentially, our religion.
i. The questions don’t go away, nor do their answers lose their importance, merely because we have no position on them.
ii. Atheism, or non-belief, is not the lack of religion. It is an answer to the questions of life just as surely as any faith is, though it answers them differently.
c. Our problem is not that fewer and fewer people believe in anything, but that more and more people are members of “the Church of Me.”
i. Barry Kosmin, co-author of the survey we mentioned earlier, says, “More than ever before, people are just making up their own stories of who they are. They say, ‘I’m everything. I’m nothing. I believe in myself.’”
ii. I believe in believing something more than that. I am not content to bet my existence that I am a “what” instead of a “who,” or to invest my being in the proposition that my life doesn’t matter anyhow.
2. I believe in believing because I understand within myself such a longing for something to believe in.
a. This may be understood as an intuitive longing for a reality which exists and is needed by a human being.
i. There are answers to satisfy our other appetites.
ii. J. Budziszewski tells of a student who had been told that the only reason he believed in God is that he had been brought up that way.
(1) What makes you so sure you believe in God only because you’ve been brought up that way?
(2) Did they also teach you that one plus one equals two and two plus two equals four?
(3) Did you believe everything they told you?
(4) Did they tell you out of the blue that God made the world, or was it the answer to some question? (I asked , ‘Who made the word?’)
(5) So you’re saying that even as a child, you had intuitive knowledge of the principle of sufficient reason.
(6) There’s at least one more thing you knew: you didn’t ask what made the world – you asked who made it.
(7) So what made you think that a personal rather than an impersonal cause made the world – that it was made by a who and not a what?
(8) If only a who can make a who, and the world includes whos, then only a who could make the world.
(9) You knew intuitively that a powerful who was responsible!
b. British scholar and author N.T. Wright, in his book Simply Christian, describes four “echoes of a voice” within us which believing makes sense of. I find these same things tugging me in the direction of belief.
i. One is that a central feature of all human life is a desire for justice, a longing for things to be put right that is never fully satisfied.
ii. Another indication that something more than modern secularism lies just out view is the yearning for spirituality that keeps cropping up in us.
iii. A third call telling us that there is someone in the mist ahead for whom we were made is the hunger for healthy relationships: we all know we belong in relationships and that it’s hard to get them right.
iv. The other thing is the appreciation we have for the beauty of the earth, a beauty which is real, but incomplete and fading. What does beauty mean, and what is it there for?
3. I believe in believing because history confronts me with someone toward whom belief is the only worthy response.
a. I know from the historical record that Jesus of Nazareth lived – not because I believe he lived, but because he did – and became a powerful influence.
i. Historian Michael Grant has written, “...if we apply to the New Testament, as we should, the same sort of criteria as we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material, we can no more reject Jesus’ existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned.” (Cited by Habermas, 36)
ii. Jewish historian Flavius Josephus wrote of Jesus in his Antiquities around 90-95 A.D. The Arabic version of his statement about Jesus says, “At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. His conduct was good and (he) was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive; accordingly he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.” (Cited by Habermas, 193-194)
b. What I am saying is that the New Testament presents in Jesus Christ a person who fulfills each of the great human longings we have mentioned and is, therefore, the proper basis upon which we may deal with the ultimate concerns.
i. He brings justice to victory. (Matt. 12:18-21)
ii. He is the expression of true spirituality. (Mk. 10:42-45)
iii. He establishes healthy relationships. (Jn. 10:17; 13:34-35)
iv. He demonstrates the beauty of grace and truth. (Jn. 1:14)
c. Perhaps you can see, then, that I am not suggesting that believing matters without regard to what is believed in, nor that believing something makes it so, nor that as long as one believes something what he does is irrelevant.
1. I believe in believing because there is no alternative to believing, because something in my inner being compels me to believe, and because I am convinced that believing is the only proper response to Jesus.
2. There is not an alternative universe with a different reality. “Simon Peter answered, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God’” (Jn. 6:68-69).
3. That’s why I believe that he is Lord and that there is hope in him (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15)!