Continued from Part one.
Ancient Israelites were drawing the attention of the culture of the day and all cultures down through the ages of how vital it is to believe in the existence of God. For Israel, theoretically as they were in Babylonian captivity and recounting how Elohim or Yahweh provided for them in the past, this became their hope. A way to radically connect their lives to a higher meaning.
That meaning and hope can still be found today. In our world, western civilization in the 21st century, we hear a lot about the rise of the religious ‘nones’. Some of you probably read the Pew Research Study and subsequent articles about it and heard how many people are not associating with church or organized religion anymore. I won’t get into the specific numbers but this is one of the fastest growing groups in America.
Here at Seed Church, we have seen great friends go through this haven’t we? Sometimes, they have a crisis in life or they come to a place where they don’t believe anymore for whatever reason and leave our community here at church. Now, we still have friendships with these people and we don’t shut anyone out at all but there still is a sadness to see people we care about abandon faith in Jesus.
A popular phrase is often muttered, ‘I’m spiritual but not religious.’ We hear this a lot in Seattle. So, what is interesting is it doesn’t seem like people are going to a hardcore atheism (like the New atheists) but still maintaining an open position to God and spirituality.
Here is the big question for us: Why does belief in God matter? Why does belief in this God that we heard about in Genesis 1 make a difference? Does belief in God make us merely feel better? Is belief in God just something we have always done or done for a very long time? What is the point? Why is this important?
Since I’m speaking, I should make a confession. I’m kind of a fan of the late Christopher Hitchens, the new atheist. I have read 3 of his books and I just finished a book by Larry Taunton, a pastor, which was about his friendship with Hitch (as his nickname was). In this book (which sadly wasn’t very good), Taunton describes a theorem that Hitch had that he used in debates all the time. Hitch would say (paraphrase) ‘Tell me one thing, morally speaking, that you Christian can do that I cannot do as an atheist?’ Now, his question is flawed because if we are basing Christian morality on the 10 commandments (though there is certainly more to it than those tablets Moses brought down), the first 2 commandments have to do with worshipping the true God and not having idols. By definition, an atheist cannot worship the True God so that is one thing that a believer can do that an atheist can’t. Hitch’s point though is well-taken: he can choose not to commit adultery, he can choose not to steal, he can choose to not kill anyone just like a believer can so what difference does belief in God make?
Thesis: By connecting with the true God that is testified to in Genesis 1, we can find a transcendent meaning and purpose to our lives.
Let’s face it and be real. Faith in God in the fallen world we live in can be extraordinarily difficult. When we look around at the world, read the news, and learn about the things going on out there, trusting in God can take just about everything within us. People who have tremendous faith in Christ suffer horribly right along side those who have no faith at all. The inverse is also true. People of faith sometimes have mostly comfortable and fun lives right alongside those who don’t believe at all. What difference does it make?
We could spend a bunch of time on apologetics, which is valuable to do and discuss, no doubt. We can talk about the cosmological argument related to God being the First Cause in a universe of cause and effect or what Aristotle called the ‘Unmoved Mover’ or ‘Prime Mover.’ I think this is an effective argument for me. Nothing cannot create something so that means something must be eternal, right? Or we can talk about the design argument and the fine tuning of the universe. This can also be effective to a certain extent.
These are merely intellectual arguments though (that again can be helpful) but do they really speak to why the existence of God matters?
1) Belief in God matters because it gives us a way to see the world. A foundation to sift information through and solid to construct our worldview and values upon. In Genesis 1, God brings order out of chaos. Believing in God helps us do this same thing. The world can seem random and chaotic. Trusting in God and helping us to see the world like He does can order this chaos.
2) Belief in God helps us to look outside of ourselves to others and challenges us to love without condition. This is not based on the ever changing sentiment about love in pop culture that is shallow and fake. God’s love is transcendent and rooted in firm commitment’s (covenant). Do we really meditate on the fact that God loves us or has it just become a phrase that we sing and pray with empty, cliche words? Believing that God loves us changes everything. That God loves our kids, our families, our communities, our country, our world. Really believing that God loves us and is for us changes our outlook as we go through this world. It affects everything about our lives.
3) Belief in God helps us to have unity when our society and culture is bitterly divided. In our country, we see this partisan outrage everyday. People literally hate other people because they have different political beliefs. The cool thing about Seed is we have people from all across the spectrum. What God can create in this community is a unity among us, with all our differences, around Him and His kingdom values. This can be a big difference that belief in God can make in our community and with our friends.
4) Belief in God can inspire and empower us to be free from things that may entrap us. God did not cease to be a Creator after the 7th day. He can create in you a new heart and new desires to conquer addictions, to be free from guilt or shame from the past. He can free us to have a deep seated joy through the difficulties of life that Jesus also faced when He was a man.
5) Belief in God gives us a present and future hope especially related to justice. To dive deeper into this enigma, I want to compare and contrast two people. I don’t know if these two have ever been compared before but I’m going to give it a shot. On one side here, we have Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr….a noble person, civil rights leader, Christian pastor, and one of the most consequential people in American history. On the opposite side, we have film director Woody Allen. Woody has made some really great films and some lousy ones.His personal life is a mess reportedly and he has been accused of extremely awful things. Have you heard of anyone comparing these two? Let’s see how this goes.
Woody Allen, in 2005, made a movie called ‘Match Point’. The theme of the film is that there is no cosmic justice. Everything is absurd and meaningless. If justice happens in this world and existence of ours, it is nothing but fateful chance.
In contrast, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Had the famous saying, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ This implies that there is a progress of justice toward a final conclusion. A reckoning. A direction that justice and morality are headed in while being orchestrated by a Higher Being. Even if we don’t see justice in this life, justice will eventually prevail because God will bring it to us.
And this belief about justice from these two personalities and the tension that we feel wherever we are in between those two points. Eventually in the life of a true believer in God, these intellectual concepts move from being just in our heads to the core of our being. Jesus not only inspires us toward His Kingdom values of ‘Love God with all your heart mind, soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself’ but He empowers this work in us. Purpose. Meaning. Mission. Hope.
Hope comes because even if we don’t see the gospel and justice take root in our lifetimes, we know they eventually will come upon the creation being brought to completion by the True God who created the heavens and the earth. God did not cease to be a Creator after Genesis 1. He still is creating and one of those acts of creation is giving those who want to follow Him a new heart. Ezekiel 36:26 states, ‘And I will give you a new heart, and a new Spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.’ For those struggling with addictions or entrapped by sins that you feel are getting the best of you, God can work and change your heart. For those struggling with apathy or a sense of being overwhelmed at the craziness of our world, God can create in you a new heart and guide you to the things you can do to help build His Kingdom and pursue justice even if they are the littlest of steps.
When cultures, governments or other groups perform evil acts, we follow a transcendent moral code given to us by Jesus. When we fall short of our own moral code, we are offered God’s grace and Christ continues to embrace us. To view others, with the Spirit’s help, through Jesus’ perspective which includes upholding them as bearing the image of God, we can be kept from getting carried away by a poisoned, evil ethical system of thought advanced by our society. All people, from unborn to the elderly, both sexes, all races, are valuable to God as they bear His image. Another difference that belief in God makes. Not only helping us to have an intellectual framework to discern truth and morality but we are given His Spirit to be empowered to live according to His truths in the manner of love.
At the end of the day, arguments and debates can be made from any position. If any of you have been in a debate class, you already know this. The thing about taking debate is that we learn by often getting assigned viewpoints we disagree with and then we have to defend them.
All information can be spun around and used for whatever purpose. Same with the debate about God. Here is the question: how do you want to see the world? What do you want to place your trust in? Do you want to see the world as random chaos? According to this view, we are all extremely lucky to be here (against all odds) and morality and ethics are simply human constructs subject to adjustment and change depending on who is in power. Another way to see the world is that in the beginning God created. He brought order out of chaos. He created all things: sun, moon, stars, plants, trees, animals and human beings. All of these things are beautiful and inspire awe and wonder because they come from the true Creator’s hand. And this Creator came into history as Jesus, a poor carpenter from Nazareth, to speak the truth and ask us to follow Him.
May we see the world through the poor carpenter from Nazareth’s eyes. The brutal death He suffered and the empty tomb on the third day. And may we see from the testimony of John’s Gospel (chapter 1) that at the beginning of the creation of the universe and earth, this homeless carpenter was there (present in the creative act) and was even there even prior to the creation to eternity past. ‘In the beginning was the Word….’