If God really exists why doesn’t He prove it? (Click here to read the talk.)
If God really exists why doesn't he prove it?
It’s a pleasure to be looking at this fascinating question together.
There have been some strong opinions down the years as to whether God exists and whether he has proved his existence or not. There have been polar opposite opinions, from C. S. Lewis to Richard Dawkins, from Blaise Pascal to Marcus Aurelius (the old guy in the film gladiator for those of us who are cinematically-inclined)
One famous opponent of belief in God was the quintessential British aristocrat of the last century – Bertrand Arthur William Russell. He was once asked how he would respond if he reached the pearly gates of heaven and was asked by the Almighty – come on Bertie, why did you not believe in me?
His response, if you’ll forgive my impression, was:
“Not enough evidence, God, not enough evidence.”
This philosophical Earl had obviously asked himself our question and concluded that God had not only refused to prove his existence, but had not given us any worthwhile evidence at all.
But was old Bertie right – has God provided enough evidence for us to believe in him or not?
I want to answer our question this afternoon in a way that speaks to the whole spectrum of opinions about God’s existence – for those who are as sure about God’s existence as they are about the existence of their own nose, let this be reinforcement for your own witness; for those who believe in God but wrestle with a range of doubts, let this be a comfort – for those who are interested in the idea of God but have lots of reservations, let this be a green light to believe – for those who are sure that God does not exist, let this be food for thought.
I’d like to use our passages from Romans as a springboard to answering the question, and I’ll look at three things, namely the question of proof, the General Evidence and the Specific Evidence, then we’ll take a step back and look at what the answer to this question might mean for our lives.
So first I’d like to do what all the best debaters do – answer the question with another question. And my question is – what do you mean by prove?
So we could call this first point – the question of proof.
It’s very important to stress that we are all, whether we realise it or not, deeply influenced by the current thinking of our culture. In years gone by, people thought you were right to believe in something if you had good evidence for believing it – if the evidence for it outweighed the evidence against it. But over the last 100 years there has been a new way of thinking in our modern culture that says – if there is not 100% indisputable scientifically-verified proof for something you should not believe it, a-la Richard Dawkins.
People who agree with this new way of thinking often pose the question ‘why doesn’t God prove his own existence?’ and by proof they mean 100% indisputable scientifically-verified proof. They don’t see such proof, and so they conclude that God cannot exist – case closed, they’ve won.
But Professor Dawkins shouldn’t break out the champagne just yet. There are many things which are deeply wrong with this particular theory of proof. First – it shoots itself in the foot – because what is the 100% indisputable scientifically-verified proof that you should only believe those things which have 100% indisputable scientifically-verified proof? There isn’t any. Secondly there are many things we are completely sane in believing without such proof – such as the reality of the past or that other people are not figments of our imagination, at least I believe that – I hope you do too.
Thirdly - what would such proof of God look like? It’s been said that God should have written ‘made by God’ on every atom, or created a huge neon sign in space saying ‘Jesus saves’. But what language would these be in? And even if these 100% indisputable proofs were there, people might begin to resent this God who kept intruding into their lives by appearing at their dinner parties, or who kept blasting out announcements from heaven when they’re trying to have a nap.
A key Christian truth is that God did not create mankind so they know that he exists. Rather God created mankind to enter into relationship with him. Consider a marriage. It would be strange if a husband were always demanding 100% scientifically-proven evidence his wife loves him with lie-detectors or psychological tests. That’s just not how relationships work. But the husband knows his wife loves him because he has enough evidence, not 100% evidence [repeat].
So do we have enough evidence for God’s existence?
The answer is – absolutely.
So the basic answer to our question If God really exists why doesn't he prove it? is – he has!
And it’s my very excited opinion that he has provided loads of evidence, rather than not enough. Romans 1 verse 19 says that God has made it plain…
And now we turn to our passage to think about two types of evidence which God has given for his existence.
Firstly – what I’ll call the ‘general evidence’ that there is a God, and secondly what I’ll call the ‘Specific evidence’ that the God of Christianity exists.
So let’s look at the General Evidence.
Back to our passage – in one of my favourite verses of the whole Bible, Paul says:
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
Paul is saying that God’s existence has been clearly seen since the creation of the world. You may be thinking – ‘that’s alright for you to say, but it doesn’t seem clear to me!’
Here we have two sub-points.
- a) First – creation.
Well first of all it is interesting that Paul mentions creation. He says ‘since the creation of the world’, but I think he equally could have said ‘because of the creation of the world’. For it remains a most compelling question – how and why did the whole universe come into existence in the first place? Many people throughout human history – maybe even you yourself – have looked at the beauty and splendour of nature – the sunset, the stars at night, and asked – where did this all come from?
The traditional answer has been that God made it all. That answer has been challenged over the centuries, with many saying that the universe has just existed eternally. But in 1927 the Belgian priest and astronomer Georges Lemaître made the claim that an expanding universe like ours could be traced back in time to an originating single point. The idea of the Big Bang has developed into the prevailing theory on the origin of the universe. And this theory states that everything – all matter, energy and even time itself began to exist at a single point in the finite past.
The question then arises – so why did the Big Bang happen in the first place? The only thing that could cause the universe to begin would be a spaceless, timeless, unimaginably powerful being – in other words, God. But then comes the classic question – well who created God then? The simple answer to this question is that God, by definition, has no creator, because if he did, that creator would be God! To ask this question is like saying ‘why does a triangle have three sides?’ One of the attributes or characteristics that makes God God is that he exists without being created.
- b) Second point of general evidence – conscience.
Now we turn to our attention to the second passage from Romans. Paul says in Chapter 2 verses 14 and 15
“when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.”
Paul is saying that even for people who don’t believe in God, the requirements of right and wrong are written on our hearts. Despite the tendency among some today to deny that things are right and wrong, deep down we all know that there really is such thing as objective right and wrong, independent of what individual people think or believe.
- S. Lewis began his defence of Christian Faith, called ‘Mere Christianity’ with the point that all of us appeal to an external measure of right and wrong – every time we say ‘that’s not fair!’ or ‘that’s a terrible thing to have happened…’ we are showing that we believe there is an independent standard of rightness and wrongness by which we can say whether an event or behaviour is right or wrong. But what has this got to do with God?
Well if this independent measure of right and wrong does not come from God, where does it come from? From the way we have evolved? But if moral values have simply evolved then why are we morally obliged to obey them? We have evolved to walk upright on two legs and to digest meat, but we are not morally obliged to walk upright and digest meat. Do they come from a kind of contract, where we all agree to be nice to one another? Here the question is – why should we obey this contract? If someone replies – in order to be nice to people, you’re just repeating the contract, not saying why we should obey it. In fact if we keep asking why should we do good and avoid bad we keep going round in circles until we have to say – because good and bad come from God – he wrote the sense of right and wrong onto our hearts.
The Christian faith asserts that all of us will be answerable to God for our actions. This is not a comfortable truth. For many people, if we’re being brutally honest, the easiest way to get rid of this uncomfortable truth is to deny that there is such a thing as right and wrong, and deny that there is such a being as God. But for Christians these truths are cause for great joy – we can actually enter into relationship with the creator and judge of the world.
So we’ve seen some of the General evidence for God’s existence in creation and conscience. There is more general evidence for example in the unbelievably improbable fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life, or from the existence of the mind, but time restricts us.
So now we come to look at the Specific Evidence for the Christian God.
We’ve looked at God as creator, now we’ll look at God the Son – Jesus Christ, and God the Holy Spirit in relation to our question today.
We can know God exists from the creation and from our sense of right and wrong. But God has spoken to mankind and revealed what he is like ultimately and decisively by coming to earth as a human being. But then we may well ask – can we prove that Jesus is indeed God incarnate?
Well I think you’d be surprised as to how incredibly reliable the documents relating to Jesus’ life really are.
Nobody doubts the existence of Julius Caesar, or the main facts of his life, for example his Gallic Wars or his death by betrayal. There 10 manuscripts which attest to Caesar’s existence and exploits, the earliest that we have was written about 1,000 years after the original which it copies. Compare that with 5,600 manuscripts of the text of the New Testament; the earliest in our possession was copied only 90 or so years after the original. By far the majority of New Testament scholars agree on the dates and key events of Jesus’ life – namely his unprecedented view of himself as the Son of God, his miracle-working ministry, his death and his resurrection.
This last fact is of utmost importance – what greater evidence can there be that Jesus was who he said he was than the fact of his resurrection from the dead. Again, you may be surprised by where contemporary scholarship sits on this topic. Even sceptical researchers agree that some of Jesus’ women followers found his tomb empty and that Jesus made appearances to his disciples after his death. The question today is not so much whether these things happened but how to interpret them.
If the New Testament is reliable, and we have good grounds for thinking that Jesus really did rise from the dead, then we need to take seriously what is written in the New Testament and what Jesus says about himself.
So we’ve thought of the Specific Evidence for God’s proving his existence in terms of Jesus.
Now let’s look at the Holy Spirit.
Now having said that there are many different evidences that God has given for his existence in creation and conscience, it’s important to say that you can know God exists without even having thought about such evidences. For Christians believe that the Holy Spirit witnesses directly to us about the truths of Christianity.
There are two points to make here.
First – this is not to be construed as an evidence for God’s existence by which Christians will try to persuade non-believers that, for example, the resurrection really happened. It would not be terribly compelling for a Christian to say ‘the Holy Spirit tells me Jesus rose again so you should believe it.’
Secondly – the real point here is that you or I can know, and I mean really know with as much confidence as knowing that we have a nose, that God exists and that Jesus rose from the dead. Because the Holy Spirit is that person of the Christian Trinity who speaks to our minds and souls and assures us that Christian beliefs really are true. From later on in Romans chapter 8 - “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”
Now if you’re interested in delving more into this please see me afterwards, but I want to stress that if you have put your faith in God, and have experienced the joy of knowing Jesus as saviour and Lord, that is all the evidence or proof that you need – because the Holy Spirit is working within you. This witness of the Holy Spirit is as reliable in giving you truth as your eyes or ears, because the truth you are given is from God himself. Even if you hear arguments against belief in God, even if you experience great doubt, either mental or emotional, you can know that Christian truth is indeed true, because God himself has witnessed to you.
The Christian Philosopher Alvin Plantinga gives the analogy of you being accused of a crime you know you didn’t commit. All the evidence stacks up against you – and yet you know you didn’t commit the crime! So it is with a Christian’s knowledge of God. Even if they feel the weight of criticisms and doubt – at the end of the day nothing can overcome the knowledge of God that comes from the Holy Spirit.
So we’ve looked at what it means to prove something, and then at General and Specific Evidence.
My last question is – so what?
Let’s take a step back and look at what all this might mean for our lives.
So maybe there is good evidence that God exists – but what has that got to do with me?
Here we return to the start of our reading from the book of Romans.
At the end of chapter 1 verse 17 we read: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’
Many modern critics misunderstand what a Christian means when he or she talks about faith in God. These critics will define faith as a ‘leap in the dark’ or as ‘believing in something for which there is no evidence’. This is a complete misrepresentation. When Christians talk about faith, they mean trusting in someone they know is real. It’s like me saying ‘I have faith in Sam to correctly analyse the new Star Wars film’ – it’s not that I have no evidence for Sam’s existence but screw up my eyes and force myself to believe in him – I know he exists and I trust him (as regards Star Wars analysis).
So it is with Christians. Having such trust in God, says Paul makes us righteous. This is what God wants from every single human he has created – to go back to an earlier point – not for them simply to know that he exists but for them to love him and have faith in him.
If God really exists why doesn't he prove it?
Bertrand Russell was wrong. For those who sincerely seek after God, he has provided ample evidence. Jesus said – seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you. And behold- I stand at the door and knock. At the end of the day, for most people the question of evidence for God is not an intellectual one but an emotional one. There is plenty of good evidence to satisfy even the greatest intellect, indeed a brief look at the last 2000 years will show a wealth of supremely intelligent Christians.
The question is – do you want God to exist? Do you want sin to be real? Do you want there to be a judge who will hold you to account? Do you want to open the door to Jesus and surrender your life to the one who died on the cross for you and rose again that you might have eternal life and eternal bliss with him?
To him be the glory, now and for ever more, Amen.