I believe in God… —The Apostles’ Creed
“The materialist philosophy (whether true or not) is certainly much more limiting than any religion…. The Christian is quite free to believe that there is a considerable amount of settled order and inevitable development in the universe. But the materialist is not allowed to admit into his spotless machine the slightest speck of spiritualism or miracle…. The materialist is sure that history has been simply and solely a chain of causation, just as the interesting person before mentioned is quite sure that he is … a chicken. Materialists and madmen never have doubts.” G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
The first question that must be answered is this: Is there any being that could rightly be referred to as a god? By that I mean what I think we commonly understand it to mean: a being that transcends time and space, a being that is not material or limited by physical laws, a powerful being that exists independent of humanity but which could have had a “hand” in the creation of the world as we know it.
I did not grow up attending church frequently, but we were a “Christian” family and associated ourselves with Christian churches at various times.
We did not read the Bible in my house, but we owned a few. I was taught to say the sort of children’s prayers American families pray at mealtime and before going to bed. “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” I said those words each night with my mother’s help, but I didn’t have any sense that a god might be listening. Nor did I think there was no god at all. I simply didn’t understand the possible implications of my words.
Fast forward. I had become a very angry and unhappy teenager. I was often bullied and mocked by some of the boys who were more athletic and more popular. I had a few good friends but little self-respect. I was increasingly feeling that life was both pointless and not worth living. I began making plans to kill myself. But I was nagged by a question I couldn’t answer: What if there really is a god?
In particular, what if there really was a God who punishes sin, an authoritarian God who judges and condemns? Because by this time, what I had learned from my church experiences was that God is an angry grandfather who spends his time yelling at kids for treading on his grass.
But I had heard a different story from some friends who were attending a youth Bible study. It was a story of love and sacrifice. It was a story of a God who was welcoming and inviting. A story centered around a man named Jesus who made all sorts of radical claims about God, including one in which God is a caring father waiting eagerly to welcome his wayward child home again.
So one night, I prayed a simple prayer: “God, I need to know if you’re real or not.”
Then I walked to church and met with a youth pastor. I told him that I was at the end of my rope and needed to know if God was real or not. We talked for quite a long time and then he suggested that we pray. And at the end of that prayer, something happened that I’ve never been able to explain.
I was flooded, literally flooded, with joy. I went into that church feeling as though I was carrying the weight of a thousand pounds of wet cement on my back, and in an instant that weight was lifted and I felt light on my feet for the first time in years. Years! I skipped and ran home, and as I did, I wept with joy.
I grant that it would be easy to explain that experience in materialistic ways. I was stressed. I was emotional. I was desperate to find what I ultimately claim to have found, so my mind could have simply filled in the blanks for me. I may have had a drugless hallucination. I can’t refute any of that.
Yet, I am convinced that there is a non-material explanation for what I felt that night. I believe the God I was curious about heard and answered my prayers. I believe he reached into that moment and made a connection with me, and I believe that explanation is more plausible than that my mind played a trick on me.
And having come to that conclusion, that first prayer became a starting place for a more intellectual exploration of the Bible, including discussions with other Christians and deep dives into the thoughts of theologians and philosophers. I studied philosophy in college and found the assertions of those who limited their thinking to a material world unconvincing, and certainly unsatisfying.
Small bricks fell into place and gradually built up a foundation of conviction that the God of the Bible is very real—and not at all like the crabby grandfather I had thought him to be.
There is absolutely no way to prove the existence of any particular god, much less the God of the Bible. Belief is not a matter of certainty. In the Old Testament Hebrew and the New Testament Greek, the word “belief” is something like how two people establish trust over a period of time and through a history of experiences together.
Belief is more experiential than rational. I believe because, at this point, the premise that there is a God seems highly likely, based on my experiences, the testimonies of my contemporaries, and the long history of testimonies about God related by the people of the Bible, as well as many others who have put their faith in him—people like Augustine of Hippo, Martin Luther, John Wycliffe, Charles Wesley, Rene Descartes, and modern thinkers like Alvin Plantinga and Stanley Hauerwas.
Christian faith is not irrational. Nor does it require any sort of suspension of our rational minds. The God of the Bible is a rational being who has created a structured world full of mysteries very much worth exploring and uncovering. (We’ll cover creation in another part of the creed.) The God I worship does not fear honest and rigorous rational inquiries, but he also does not reveal all that there is to know.
I believe in God. He is good, he is holy, he is just, he is merciful, and more interesting than all of that, he can be known. In fact, he wants us to know him.
[God said to Israel:] “In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.” —Jeremiah 29:12-13 (NLT)