Special Study Articles
“I Will Not Believe”
To hear of those who renounce Jesus is both discouraging and tiring. Sadly, giving up on God is kind of an “in” thing today, as online atheism has grown and taken hold of many young minds. Parents have trained their children and worked for many years only to see their children fall prey to the deceptions and seductions of a godless world. This cannot be predicted, and no parent wants to live through such a heartache, but this is one reason we need to continually shore up our faith and prepare ourselves for questions and discussion. We cannot stop the questions, and we want to encourage them, but we also must be prepared with reasonable answers (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15).
The good news on this front is that once we become acquainted with the typical arguments, we’ll rarely hear anything new. Occasionally we’ll hear a different twist on an old argument, but if we are familiar with the categories of arguments made, we can prepare ourselves to deal with specific issues. While this list is not exhaustive, let’s think about some of the categories often characterizing attitudes of unbelief:
1. Requiring that any evidence for Jesus be according to one’s own demands. “Unless I see XYZ, I won’t believe.” Then, confident that they won’t see what they’ve demanded, they can proudly say, “there’s no evidence.”
This is a problem Jesus had to face. When Jesus came into Cana, an official begged Him to heal his son. “So Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe’” (John 4:48). Jesus performed the sign, but it grieved Him that so many wouldn’t believe without it. There were times when Jesus refused to perform signs from those who demanded them (cf. Matt. 12:38-42).
Thomas expressed a similar disposition: “So the other disciples were saying to him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe’ (John 20:25).
Believing and following Jesus is ultimately a matter of one’s will and desire. It’s rarely just about the evidence. Yet, for those willing to hear, the evidence is available. “Jesus said to him, ‘Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed. Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30-31).
2. Brief, sweeping statements requiring much time to answer. Making a mess is easy. Cleaning up after a mess is painstaking and time-consuming. What this means is that we must be prepared to hear brief arguments against God and then spend the needed time to answer them. The frustrating part is that those who make these punch-line arguments aren’t usually interested in the hearing the in-depth replies that are needed. These arguments against God are superficial, and many are content to rest on that as a basis for denying Jesus. In this case, it’s not about the arguments or seeking truth; it’s about the person’s will. Nevertheless, unless we deal with them, many can be led astray.
3. Scientific-sounding pronouncements about God. Those who have come to deny God often use modern science as a catch-all for thinking that God is no longer needed. Why do we need God when we have science?
This view both misuses science and misunderstands the nature of God. A particular scientist may well be adept in his own field, but when he uses science to cross over into sweeping pronouncements about God’s non-existence, he is no longer in his field. For example, John Lennox (Oxford), answering atheistic scientist Stephen Hawking, points out, “we have a duty to point out that not all statements by scientists are statements of science, and so do not carry the authority of authentic science even though such authority is often erroneously ascribed to them” (10). He further points out, “There is a real conflict, but it is not science versus religion. It is theism versus atheism, and there are scientists on both sides” (12).
The denial of God is not scientific. Science, at any level, will never be in a position to deny God because science, as such, can only deal with material stuff, and God is not material stuff. No test, no experiment, no observation can ever pull God into a material box to prove or deny Him. This position is really just a restatement of the one above: “Unless I see scientific proof, I will not believe.” Yet they won’t ask for such proof when it comes to something like justice, love, or whether or not their own minds are capable of grasping real information. Why? Because they aren’t in the same categories.
4. Misunderstandings and bad characterizations of faith. This is one of more tiresome of the issues that needs constant correction. Atheists will often define faith as “believing without evidence” or “believing in spite of evidence.” Faith is superstitious at best, and unworthy of a rational, thinking mind steeped in science and reality at worst. Nothing could be further from the truth, but this cements the atheist’s narrative that faith and reason (knowledge, science) are diametrically opposed to each other. They aren’t. In fact, reason itself is not possible without a measure of faith, for true faith is trust (not merely a mental belief), and the ability to reason is based on the foundation that we can trust our minds to properly think. Faith, properly understood, is deeply embedded in virtually everything everyone does, whether they think about it or not.
5. Straw-manned statements about God. We commonly hear about the “flying spaghetti monster” or the “bearded sky fairy” or some such other nonsense. Much of what we hear about God is based on caricatures that Scripture knows nothing about. The challenge here is to make sure that what we are defending are not straw men or inadequate views of God. Rather, we need to be making our defense on the God we really do read about in Scripture. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to be drawn into debates about a god who doesn’t match what we find in Scripture.
6. Serious questions that deserve real study and response. While there is a great deal of bad information, bad argumentation, and straw-manning, there are those who are seeking truth and their questions deserve serious attention. We are not saying that there are no difficulties or hard questions. There are plenty of those. The problem that many have run into is that they have questions and feel that the questions have not been adequately addressed, so their doubts persist. We should not shun those questions. We should encourage people to ask the hard questions that they are struggling with so that we can work together to better understand the truth.
Lennox, John. God and Stephen Hawking: Whose Design Is It Anyway? Oxford: Lion Hudson (2011).