The Atheist and I ask different questions

I must confess to getting a bit tired sometimes of people trying to counter Christianity by arguing against the existence of God. They seem convinced that believing in God is the heart of the Christian faith. That’s not accurate at all. 

The atheist asks, Is there a god? and answers in the negative. The Christian does not consider that to be a question worth a moment’s attention. Instead, we ask something like, What does God promise to us and expect of us?

A parallel: Another person might be able to teach me something new about my wife but cannot debate with me the question of whether she exists. I know her. It’s as simple as that. I do not know or understand everything about her (even after 47 years!) but I’m not asking whether she exists. I love her and she loves me. It’s really as simple as that.

I love God and, incredible miracle of grace, God loves me. I have long since entrusted absolutely everything to him, all my past, all my present, and all my future.

The pseudo-science that pervades much of western culture reminds me often of the young fellow who learned what a ruler was for. He went around for days measuring everything. After a while, he announced to his mom, “You and dad have been real nice to me but I don’t think you love me.” When she asked why he said such a thing, he simply replied, “Because I can’t measure love with my ruler so I guess there isn’t such a thing as love.”

He was a silly boy, obviously, but no sillier than those people who believe that anything which can’t be measured by “science” just isn’t real. People like Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens are simply immature.

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About mthayes42

I am a retired pastor, interested in the Bible, cross-cultural ministries, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the current and past history of western civilization.
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8 Responses to The Atheist and I ask different questions

  1. Ashley says:

    So you presuppose that your god exists and work from there? If not, and you do in fact “know” that this entity exists, can you please explain how you know?

    Re: whether god exists you say “The Christian does not consider that to be a question worth a moment’s attention.” I’d have thought if you are going to entrust your entire life to such a being you’d want to be certain that it exists?

    • mthayes42 says:

      Good questions, Ashley. Thanks for your thoughtfulness. The Christian does not ask about the existence of God because that’s a question asked before one becomes a Christian. I was agnostic (which, in my case, means an atheist without the courage to say so). When I became a Christian it was because of an experience which led to a conviction, not the other way around. I did not first become convinced of the existence of God and then commit myself as a follower.

      Here’s a shortened version of my story. A friend became a Christian the year we both turned 19. I was surprised that an intelligent person would fall into a 2,000 year old superstition but I agreed to read the Bible a bit to try understanding what had happened to my friend. What I discovered was that Jesus was an extremely attractive person. I was drawn to his integrity, his rare combination of strength and gentleness, and his ability to know people without getting hung up on the details or the masks. I found myself feeling badly that I had missed him by 2,000 years. I was sure he was the kind of person who would take me seriously, would be insightful and see my heart, and would speak straightly to me.

      I could sense that the writers of the stories about Jesus truly loved him and that gave them something like an integrity of their own. I kept trying to convince myself they were just making up the stories but at the same time I was becoming increasingly aware that I was not reading very honestly. The stories just weren’t what I would expect blind devotees to fabricate.

      As my year of Bible reading progressed, I began to meet people who called themselves Christians. Most of them seemed pretty thoughtless about their faith but a few seemed to me to be thoughtful, realistic, strong, kind. . .qualities that reminded me of Jesus and of the biblical writers. So I would make a point of asking them about the center of their lives and their worldviews. Without exception and without hesitation, they all said, Jesus. That seemed stupid to me, since a guy who died so long ago could be admired but not followed.

      But the tension wore on me. Because of what I had seen of Jesus, I knew what qualities I was looking for in people. Those people who had that “something” all credited Jesus. But Jesus, I assumed, was dead. It just didn’t make sense to me.

      Then a rather rude fellow, one of those Christians to whom I was not at all attracted, pressured me into praying. To get him off my back, I said I’ll pray the most honest prayer I could, even though I was sure he would not like it. So I prayed, “God, if you’re up there please come down and let me know. I admit I keep coming to dead ends in my life and my thinking. Amen.”

      And that was it. There was no faith involved but it was honest: If there were a God, I wanted to know.

      Now comes the part that must seem utterly irrational to other people but it was totally life changing for me. I immediately forgot the prayer but was shocked the next morning at how blue the sky was and how green the trees were. I got out of bed early and went for a walk in the forest and was practically overwhelmed by the sheer beauty that surrounded me. And when I was in the presence of some Christians later that morning, I felt close to them and felt a great love for them. I was baffled at how happy I felt.

      That evening, about 24 hours after my prayer, I heard somebody mention “Jesus Christ.” I cannot begin to explain what happened to me in that instant. There was somehow an instant recognition. I prayed and God answered and Jesus was the answer. It was as if someone had opened the box of a jigsaw puzzle and thrown it up into the air. . .and all the pieces came down linked together to form a perfect picture.

      I don’t often tell this story because I know non-believers will think I’m trying to tell them that ought to believe because of some inexplicable and sudden change that happened to me. That’s not my purpose at all. Because my experience, while deep and life-changing, was essentially non-rational, I can’t imagine anyone would be convinced by it. I’m telling the story now just to suggest that rational arguments for or against the existence of God are simply too shallow to touch the reality of what happened to me. . .and to millions of other people around the globe over the centuries.

      I’m sure my story satisfies nothing for you and I apologize for that. But for me it was the beginning of a lifetime of listening to people’s hearts and helping them find the way that God is reaching out to them. After 52 years of faith and of watching people and o being deeply involved in people’s lives, all I can say is that the evidence has been piling up. So — for me, not for a non-believer — God’s existence is simply not a question at all.

      May you, Ashley, walk with integrity and love. . .

      Mike

      • Ashley says:

        Your conversion experience takes place around the ages of 19-20. This is an age commonly reflected upon as one of little enlightenment of any kind. I was certainly clueless about pretty much everything at that age. Have you put your beliefs under much scrutiny since your conviction?

        The rest of your experiences are hardly unique. Many have found inspiration in literary figures, subjective beauty in the natural world and been happy among friends without coming to the conclusions you have, yet you imply that your experiences have been more profound and that through them you have come to know deeper truths than others, with nothing but assertions to make your case.

        I appreciate the long response but it raises significantly more questions than it offers answers. In principle I’d like to let theists be theists but concerns usually arise with how the theist’s beliefs influence their interaction with the rest of society. I don’t know what particular flavours your own worldview takes. There are as many Christianities as there are Christians. I will follow your blog and may comment from time to time.

      • mthayes42 says:

        See why I was hesitant to tell my story? It is hard for a non-believer to resist the idea that a Christian expects his or her personal story to be convincing to others. As I said in my first response to you, I wasn’t thinking you’d hear my story and suddenly say, He must be right! I would most certainly never be persuaded of some fundamental truth simply by another person’s individual story.

        All I can say is that something very deep changed in me in that whole experience. In the 52 years since then I have asked ten thousand questions about the existence and character of God but there is always something in me that is deeper than my questions, something which prays, “Lord, please help me understand this.”

        So I told you my story not to persuade you but simply to tell you that I have reasons for my faith, reasons which are sufficient for my heart. When I think of someone placing their faith in — for example — science, I find myself thinking there is far, far too little evidence that science can even address the most important things in life. So, while I have a great respect for science and the amazing things it is accomplishing, I just can’t come close to thinking it is an adequate guide to life.

        And when I hear your reasons for being a basically moral person, I thank God for your clarity of thought and for your good fortune in having been raised in an environment that provided adequate moral guidance for you. The difference between us, you see, is not that I disagree with your morality but that I thank God for it.

        Must drive you crazy, I know. Sorry ’bout that.

        Mike

      • Ashley says:

        I was not expecting that you would convince me either. I like to ask to see if theists will offer something more than a personal anecdote of an experience of their god’s presence. Never happens. It’s not that a theist interprets their subjective experiences this way that really bothers me, but how their newfound beliefs influence their interaction with the rest of the world, as I said in a previous post. In any case this same conversation has played itself out on the Internet thousands of times with no resolution so let’s leave it that.

        I will add however that in saying “since then I have asked ten thousand questions about the existence and character of God” you seem to me to have contradicted the premise of your original post.

        I appreciate your compliments.

      • mthayes42 says:

        I agree that we’re not likely to persuade one another. That wouldn’t be a worthy or respectful goal for either of us. Meanwhile, there may be much else we can talk about. I’ll keep following your blog and entering into the conversation now and then. Please do the same with mine. Okay?

        One detail: You’re right in your last observation. Instead of saying I’ve had ten thousand questions about the existence of God, it would have been more precise to say I’ve often had questions about the presence/involvement of God. Thanks for reading so carefully.

        Mike

  2. Well, if god did my laundry and made me breakfast I’d not doubt his existence either. That’s a bad analogy. I imagine that at one time, those who did not think the earth to be flat were also thought immature. I imagine that those who thought we might one day be able to fly were also once thought immature.

    You ‘know’ your god exists yet you have no proof of this. The psych wards are full of people that believe things without evidence. How are you any different?

  3. mthayes42 says:

    Thanks for the note, amigo. Our real difference lies not in the question of God’s existence but in the prior question: What constitutes evidence?

    For reasons that are a bit hard to see, “science” has chosen to accept not just that it can measure physical reality but spiritual as well. Real science does an amazing job on physical reality but it totally inept in the deeper, more important qualities of life. It is simply the wrong measuring tool. That’s not a criticism of science but of those who think science has the only tools that can measure reality.

    I used to be involved in campus ministry at universities on the West coast. It was very interesting to me that 90% of the Christian faculty members I knew were professors in the hard sciences. There is no significant problem between science and faith, so long as we don’t think science is the only way to know something.

    I see evidence of God all around me in nature and especially in people. How am I any different from someone in a psych ward? Well, in some very important ways, neither you nor I are re so very different from them. After all, the human race is marked by countless frailties to which we all are vulnerable.

    There is a difference nonetheless. The people of faith whom I enjoy and respect are both coherent in their beliefs and are deeply at peace with a sense of God-given meaning and purpose. The atheist is simply an existentialist, claiming with Camus and Sartre that, while life is actually meaningless, we should each make up our own meaning. To me, that just doesn’t sound either mature or realistic. That’s why Camus recognized that the only worthwhile question is whether we should commit suicide. He couldn’t give an answer to his own question.

    Or, as one non-believing math professor put it, “Why do you Christians always have to insist that things have meaning?” My question, with Camus, is, “How can non-believers live with no meaning?”

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