Preface: These two essays are my admittedly feeble contribution, for now, to people who ask whether belief in God and belief in Jesus Christ as God are reasonable (justified) beliefs. No attempt is made here to prove either God or Jesus (as God) directly; my only interest is in demonstrating, in a simply language as possible and as briefly as possible, why Christians believe their beliefs are reasonable and not irrational “leaps of faith” that require sacrifice of the intellect.
These essays are not copyrighted and readers may circulate them so long as they do not alter them in any way. I offer them here to everyone–except those who would abuse them by altering them. Keep them whole, do not edit them, include my identity as their author if you choose to re-post them somewhere. I would like them to find as wide dissemination as possible.
*Sidebar: The opinions expressed here are my own (or those of the guest writer); I do not speak for any other person, group or organization; nor do I imply that the opinions expressed here reflect those of any other person, group or organization unless I say so specifically. Before commenting read the entire post and the “Note to commenters” at its end.*
Does God Exist? An Answer for Today
Roger E. Olson
An Essential Foreword
Every few years there is a new “burst” of atheism. During the first two decades of the 21st century there has arisen something people call “the new atheism.” That label encompasses the writings of a select group of primarily American intellectuals including Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett. However, anyone knowledgeable about intellectual history, especially modernity, knows that these atheists have put forward no new arguments against belief in God. They have simply repackaged arguments that go back a very long way—at least to the first great modern atheist Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872). The so-called “new atheism” has given rise to a virtual avalanche of responses by theists, believers in God. Among the most notable responses have been those by scholar-pastor Timothy Keller in The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, theologian-philosopher David Bentley Hart in Atheist Delusions, and theologian-philosopher Edward Feser in The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the new Atheism.
This whole debate is a re-hash of old arguments; there is virtually nothing new to say on this subject. So why this essay now? Simply because most of the responses to the “new atheism” have been book length and too challenging for the average lay person who simply wants to know whether belief in God is reasonable and wants the answer in simple language and brief form. That is my aim here: to answer that question in simply language and brief form for inquiring minds.
My apologies to intellectuals who will necessarily find this answer shallow and cursory. To them I say: Read the books I mentioned above! Or, if you’re up to it, read one that preceded the “new atheism” and is largely forgotten and unread due to its age and size and depth: Catholic theologian Hans Küng’s Does God Exist? An Answer for Today. I have “ripped off” his book’s title for this little essay tract with apologies to him. I strongly urge readers to go deeper by reading the mentioned books if this essay tract does not satisfy.
My method here will be to pose questions and offer answers. Obviously it will not be possible to cover every possible objection to belief in God or argument for belief in God here. I will simply attempt to offer brief, simple (but hopefully not simplistic) answers to some of the most common objections to belief in God. Some of the questions will be ones posed by theism—belief in God—to atheism.
First, however, it is essential to explain what is meant here by “God.” Much of the controversy over atheism and theism (belief in God) is muddled by different concepts of God. I find, for example, that many of the arguments I read and hear against belief in God are aimed at a “God” I do not believe in and that many Christians do not believe in. For example, many atheists assume that “God” necessarily means a Supreme Being who controls all that happens. That is not the only even Christian concept of God. Many atheists also assume that “God” necessarily means a Supreme Being who is arbitrary, manipulative and incapable of suffering.
Admittedly, some of historical Christian theology has portrayed God in those ways. However, that is not the only “picture” of God held by intellectual Christian theists. Apparently, most atheists have not even read very deeply in Christian theology; the only “God” they seem to know about is the “God” of what is known as “classical theism”—an immutable (unchangeable), all-determining, impassible (incapable of suffering), absolutely sovereign deity who delights in punishing people. They have very little understanding of the God of the Bible as explained, for example, by modern theologians such as Jürgen Moltmann—one of the most influential Christian theologians of the last century. (See his books The Crucified God, God the Creator, The Coming of God, and The Spirit of Life.)
The God spoken of here is the God of Jesus Christ—creator, redeemer, sustainer and friend of sinners, the personal, supernatural (above nature but also working in and through nature), Supreme Being whose nature is love.
Where Is the Evidence for God’s Existence?
We live in a postmodern world in which “evidence” is itself very much debatable. What counts as evidence is a matter of perspective and experience. The real question that should be asked before this one is: On whom does the burden of proof life? Is it the theist (believer in God) or the atheist who should give account of his or her belief? After all, the atheist does believe also! “Atheism” is not merely disbelief in God; atheism is belief that nature is all there is (naturalism). In other words, it is a rival worldview, a philosophy, a belief or set of beliefs. So one might well ask the atheist “Where is the evidence that nature is all that exists?”
It is absolutely essential to treat atheism as a belief system even though many atheists are not aware of having a belief system. Atheism stands on the shoulders, so to speak, of naturalism. If there is no God (or anything or anyone like God), then the universe, nature in its largest sense, is all that exists. Can that belief be sustained evidentially? Well, many atheists will argue, it can be because we actually experience nature with our five senses. But deeper thought raises questions that belief in nature alone cannot answer such as “Why is there something rather than nothing?” Does nature, the universe, explain itself? The “big bang” hardly answers the question as it simply raises the question of what came before that.
The point here is simply that believers in God do not have to bear the burden of proof. Historically, belief in God or something like God has been nearly universal. Atheism, naturalism, is relatively new in world history. Can it prove itself? Can it answer the metaphysical questions put to it?
One group of Christian philosophers stand on what is popularly called “Reformed epistemology” and argue that belief in God is “properly basic.” That means it needs no proof or even justification; it amounts to a common sense belief on the same level as belief in other minds. Can one prove that other minds exist? All depends on what “proof” means. It is possible, although contrary to all common sense, to deny the existence of other minds. A solipsist is a person who believes he or she is the only one who really exists. It is impossible to prove to a committed solipsist that others exist outside his or her imagination or “dream state.” Reformed epistemologists such as Nicholas Wolterstorff and Alvin Plantinga, two of the most notable Christian philosophers of the last half century, argue that belief in God is “properly basic” and therefore the burden of proof is on the atheist, not the theist.
Earlier it was mentioned that in our postmodern culture what counts as “evidence” is very much a matter of perspective. In other words, one cannot assume that everyone agrees on what counts as evidence. Therefore, and this is supported also by Reformed epistemology, the atheist demand for evidence for God is not what it seems on the surface and the believer in God, or the person who wants to believe in God but has been confused by atheists’ objections, need not cave in to the demand for “evidence” in the sense the atheist means.
“Evidence” for God’s Existence: What Is It?
Having said all that, now I will claim that there actually is evidence for God’s existence even if said evidence does not count as evidence within the atheist’s world perspective (naturalism). Over the centuries several powerful arguments for God’s existence have been developed and worked on in great depth and detail. All have given rise to many arguments back and forth, for and against them. Much of this discussion has happened in the highly refined “air” of philosophy. That branch of philosophy that deals with the arguments for God’s existence is known as philosophical theology and some philosophical theologians, ironically and somewhat paradoxically, are atheists. That is, they study the arguments for God’s existence and attempt to refute them.
Let it be said right now that no single argument for God’s existence constitutes “proof” in the modern, scientific sense as that is meant in the experimental sciences. Almost all are indirect proofs in the sense of “Here is a phenomenon that cannot be adequately explained without reference to God (or something like God).” In fact, much of science itself uses such indirect proof. For example, astronomers “knew” of the existence of the planet Neptune before it was observed through any telescope. How? By the motions of other bodies in the solar system.
I said that almost all of the arguments for God’s existence are indirect proofs. There is one, at least, that claims to be a direct proof but not in the empirical or evidential sense. It is traditionally called the ontological proof and is highly debatable. It claims to prove the existence of God from the concept of God alone (a priori argument). This will not detain us here even though it is very interesting.
Before very briefly mentioning the main indirect proofs, arguments, for God’s existence, let me say that British Christian writer C. S. Lewis spoke for most Christian believers in God when he said that he did not believe in God because he could see God but because he saw everything else in the light of God. He used the illustration of the sun; one does not have to “see” the sun to believe in it because the sun is what illumines everything seen. So Lewis, like most Christians, did not claim to be able to provide direct proof of God; he claimed that, at least for him, belief in God was certain because without God everything in his experience fell into darkness. That is, life was meaningless.
The first and perhaps oldest indirect proof for God’s existence is that the universe and all it includes does not explain its own existence. This is popularly known as the “cosmological argument” and has had many forms. Its most basic form is simply that everything in the universe, including the universe itself, the cosmos, is dependent and finite. In other words, it might not be; there is nothing necessary about it. Put another way, as asked before, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” That, said German philosopher Martin Heidegger, is the most basic question of all. He, an atheist, did not know the answer. In fact, only a theist knows the answer: Because there is a necessary being, One whose existence is not dependent or finite but who exists eternally, without beginning or end, and explains all else that exists. That being is Being Itself, God. Without positing God a person has no explanation for the existence of finite beings and the whole universe is made up of finite beings and is therefore itself finite.
A second indirect proof for God’s existence “piggybacks” on the first. Why can’t the universe itself be infinite and self-existent? The reason is because it, the universe, the cosmos, is not intelligent. Only an intelligent Being Itself, a designing mind, can serve as the ground and explanation of the universe, the cosmos. This argument often goes on to attempt to explain that the universe, especially conscious life, cannot be explained without reference to a Grand Designer. The universe, especially conscious life, especially human consciousness, does not explain itself; it cannot have “happened” by accident. The usual response from atheists is that given enough time anything is possible. This second indirect proof, often called the “teleological argument” or “argument from design,” appeals to intuition to say that the emergence of conscious, free, responsible human life cannot be merely accidental because if it were such truth itself would be a chimera, an illusion. This response is so subtle it takes philosopher Plantinga a couple hundred pages to explain in Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism.
For those who would like to read a relatively simple statement of this “cosmological argument” (which the above paragraphs very inadequately express), I recommend American philosopher Mortimer Adler’s book How to Think about God. When he wrote it, Adler was not yet a religious person. He certainly was not a Christian yet. He did believe in the existence of a God and believed that could be proven logically from the evidence of the universe.
It might be interesting to some readers to know—about the arguments presented above—that one of the most famous atheist philosophers of the 20th century, Antony Flew, became a believer in God (not a Christian) near the end of his life—after many years of arguing against belief in God. Antony Flew himself attributed his “conversion” (from atheism to theism) to his study of what is called “Intelligent Design Theory” or what I above labeled the “teleological argument” for God’s existence. He came to believe that the universe we live in, nature, cannot explain itself and requires for explanation a deity, something like a personal and intelligent creator God. Several books have been written about this famous conversion.
A third indirect proof for God’s existence is from objective right and wrong and is sometimes called the “moral argument” for God’s existence. This is the one argument German philosopher Immanuel Kant thought was the most valid and it is the one Küng revises and offers in Does God Exist: An Answer for Today. According to Kant (and others), if there is no God there cannot be objective right and wrong; right and wrong would then be subjective even if culturally constructed. In other words, to put it bluntly, as Russian novelist Dostoevsky said through one of his character (in The Brothers Karamazov): If God does not exist, all is permitted. Not “permitted” by people, perhaps, but permitted if one can get by with it. In other words, only a “higher law” than “man’s law” can accuse man’s law of being unjust. This is the argument indirectly used by Martin Luther King, Jr. in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” to undermine segregationist laws in the South.
Hans Küng, in Does God Exist: An Answer for Today (1980), argues that both atheism and theism are “rational basic choices,” but atheism necessarily brings with it nihilism. Only belief in God can justify “basic trust” in the meaningfulness of reality, of life. Basic trust is essential to healthy human life (Erik Erikson); a person cannot really function in life without it. Nihilism is belief that life is meaningless; all is absurd. Küng cogently argues that nihilism is logically embedded in, intrinsic to, atheism. Only belief in God avoids nihilism. Küng admits this is far from a “knockdown, drag out” proof of God’s existence, but he argues that since very few atheists are nihilists they must either give up their atheism or become nihilists.
I believe Küng’s argument is the strongest one against atheism even though it falls far short of absolute proof of God’s existence. However, it should be noted that very little of any real importance in life can be proven absolutely!
It seems to me, having considered atheism very seriously, having read many atheists’ books and interacted with knowledgeable, intelligent, articulate atheists over many years, that atheism is not really a rational choice and that is where I disagree with Küng. Everyone knows that objective right and wrong exist, that some things are absolutely evil and other things are good and that these categories are not merely subjective preferences or cultural creations. But this knowledge assumes a standard of good and evil, right and wrong above nature. The “law of nature” is survival of the fittest; the only logical social outlook, perspective, for a naturalist is Social Darwinism—that “might makes right.” Very few people really believe that, especially when they are on the “receiving end” of powerful evil.
What about Evil? Doesn’t the Reality of Evil Disprove God?
This is one of the oldest and most debated questions about God. It has given rise to something called “theodicy”—philosophical-theological defense of God in the face of evil. There have been many theodicies throughout the centuries, but theodicy has become a special challenge after the Holocaust and other horrors of the 20th century. Some have called evil “the rock of atheism” because so many atheists claim they cannot believe in God because of the horrors of the world including especially the European “death camps” such as Auschwitz where even children were killed.
The traditional way of stating this “problem of evil” is this: If God is good he wants to stop evil; if God is omnipotent he can stop evil; evil exists and continues so God must not exist.
While this argument impresses many people I want to stop here and turn the tables, as it were, and ask the atheist why anything is truly “evil” if there is no God or anything like God above the world of nature. In other words, if nature is all there is, and if nature, as is well known, is ruled by a “survival of the fittest law,” why talk about evil—except as “what you don’t like?” In other words, what I am asking is whether the concept “evil” still has the same weight in naturalism—which is the worldview of the atheist.
If I were an atheist I would not call anything “truly evil;” I would just say of horrible events “I don’t like that” or “my culture abhors that” or “I wish people wouldn’t do that.” In other words, I (and I suspect most people) invest in the concept “evil” much more than what naturalism, atheism, can carry.
Here is a question to consider: If nature is all there is why doesn’t might make right? Again, as with Küng’s indirect proof of God’s existence, this is not a “knockdown, drag out, proof” of anything; it is an argument I do not think the atheist can win—unless he or she is willing to say that “evil” really is only a cipher (a word or concept) for what people happen to abhor. But why abhor them? Why think of “evil” as more than a sentiment or cultural norm?
I suspect almost everyone believes evil is more than that; almost everyone feels, even if they deny it, that there is a universal law that makes such horrors as the Holocaust absolutely, unequivocally, wrong. But if there is no God (or anything like God), how can there be any absolutes of right and wrong?
Ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle realized this and created in their own minds and for their followers a God-like reality as the “reservoir” of moral and ethical absolutes. Even the Enlightenment skeptic Voltaire said that if God did not exist we would have to invent him—to explain to people why they should care about more than selfish pleasure. Kant, perhaps the greatest of all modern philosophers, and not an especially devout Christian (if one at all) argued very strongly that without God there can be no absolutes of right and wrong.
Now, of course, atheists can and do live moral and virtuous lives; this argument in no way insults atheists as automatically immoral or bad people. The argument is that they have no reason to give for it other than personal choice, personal preference, cultural norms that have no ground or basis in anything transcending culture.
One of the most consistent atheists of the modern world was Russian-born novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand, author of such great works of fiction as Atlas Shrugged. She was a naturalist; she believed nature is all there is. And she drew the right conclusions from that belief. She argued that since God does not exist and nature is all there is selfishness is virtuous because nature’s only moral law is survival of the fittest. Helping the weak, she argued, may give a person satisfaction, but there is no reason beyond that for helping the weak. In fact, helping the weak is against nature; it corrupts the gene pool. Nature “wants” to weed out the weak and help the strong survive.
Like nihilism in Küng’s argument for God, selfishness is logically embedded in atheism even if atheists choose not to be selfish. The point here is that, as Rand actually argued, if nature is all there is, selflessness may be considered immoral, unethical. She talked openly about “the virtue of selfishness” and argued that selfishness is virtuous because of evolution without God.
Now I will turn around and attempt to answer the atheist’s question about God and evil—although I don’t think the atheist has any ground to stand on in demanding an answer because I think he or she has no right to talk about “evil” as an absolute.
Many believers in God have offered reasons why God might allow evil in his world. Some have redefined “God” so radically that “God” doesn’t seem to be the same as in traditional Christian (and other) theism. For example, “process theologians” deny God’s creation of the world and his omnipotence; God’s only power, they argue, is the power of persuasion. That’s why there is evil in “God’s world;” God can’t help it. Evil is what humans do that is completely against God’s will. But this reconstruction of the concept of God seems to make God weak, dependent and helpless; very few Christians want to redefine “God” that radically.
So what are some responses to the problem of evil that are consistent with traditional theism—belief that God is the “maker of heaven and earth” and omnipotent?
One is that evil is necessary to demonstrate the good; “good” without evil would not be as clearly good. So God allows evil to show what good really is—the opposite of evil. Naturally, this argument, often called “the greater good” arguments, doesn’t satisfy atheists and it doesn’t satisfy many theists, believer in God, either.
Another one is that the world in which we live is not meant by God to be a comfortable place but a “veil of soul-making” in which struggle creates character. So God allows evil in order to challenge us to know our need of him and to become people of good character by fighting against evil together with him. Again, many critics, including many theists, don’t think this answer really satisfies—especially in view of the Holocaust and similar horrors.
Finally (for now), another theist response to the problem of evil is to say that, although God is the maker of heaven and earth and omnipotent, God limits himself to allow humans genuine free will. The argument here, generally called the “free will argument,” is that even God cannot give free will to creatures and then guarantee they will not misuse it. So, for the sake of free will, God the omnipotent creator, limits the use of his power to allow free creatures to either obey him or disobey him. If he did not allow us to disobey him he would not be the God of love who lets us be free. The best contemporary, brief and relatively simple, expression of this is theologian Gregory Boyd’s book Is God to Blame? His answer is “no”—unless we want to give back to God our free will.
This free will argument is the best of all answers to the problem of evil. (Not that it ought to come first because an atheist doesn’t even have a right, logically, to ask about “evil.”) There are many “parts” to the argument and Boyd does an excellent job of handling all the parts. Space limitations here make it impossible to rehearse all of his answers so I will leave interested readers to buy the book and read it for themselves.
Doesn’t Belief in God Hinder Responsibility for the World?
Many atheists have argued that so long as people believe in God they will lack motivation to change the world for the better because they will either think the world is as God means it to be or that God will eventually solve all the world’s problems. In other words, some atheists believe belief in God results in infantile irresponsibility for action to make the world better.
This is the weakest of all the atheistic arguments, however, because history has proven that believers in God have often been in the forefront of changing the world for the better. Think Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King, Jr. and the abolitionists who called for abolition of slavery most of who were believers in God. (Check out William Wilberforce, a strong believer in God who used Christian theism to bring about the abolition of slavery in England in the early 19th century.) To be sure, some believers in God have fallen into the trap of “quietism”—the heresy that says Christians (and other believers in God) should just meditate on God and not go out to change the world. But quietism is not at all necessary to theism and most theists have not been quietists. Modern, secular society loves to play up this illusion of believers in God as either terrorists or quietists, but history proves that to be illusion.
Again, the believer in God should not bow to the atheists’ argument here but turn the tables: If there is no God, why attempt to change the world except for yourself and those you personally care about? Put bluntly, Why fault Hitler and his followers for trying to change the world to their advantage if there is no “higher law,” which requires belief in something like God, to say that he and they were absolutely wrong? “Changing the world for the better” can mean many different things. Hitler and other genocidal dictators have always thought that they were changing the world for the better—for their better (i.e., for the betterment of their people). What makes them absolutely, unconditionally wrong?
In fact, if properly understood, belief in God provides a powerful motive, perhaps the only really effective motive, for changing the world—to be more like God’s vision for what it should be.
So what have I accomplished here? Only that which I set out to accomplish—namely very briefly and in a very cursory way, accessible to virtually any English reader—to set forth some questions and answers about atheism and theism. It was none of my intention to prove the existence of God or disprove atheism, but I hope I have created some doubt in at least some readers’ minds about some of the arguments of atheists against belief in God. And I have offered some suggestions for further reading to fill in the gaps in this necessarily incomplete essay.
Is Jesus God? An Answer for Today
Roger E. Olson
An Essential Foreword
A person might very well believe in God but deny that Jesus Christ is the perfect revelation of God or God incarnate. Traditionally, Christians have made the claim that not only does God exist, but Jesus Christ is God incarnate—the Son of God, eternally equal with God the Father, and Savior of the world. Here a very feeble attempt will be made to argue that belief in Jesus Christ as God is more reasonable than denial that Jesus Christ is God. I am using the present tense simply because part and parcel of Christian belief about Jesus Christ is that he is still God incarnate.
As with God’s existence (see the essay above “Does God Exist? An Answer for Today”), the deity, Godness, of Jesus Christ is not amenable to the kind of proof some people desire and demand. The irony is that they, the same people, believe many things that are not amenable to “knockdown, drag out” proof. In fact, very little of any real importance is provable in that kind of direct, absolute way.
So our question here is only whether belief that Jesus is God is reasonable, justified belief. Most Christians believe Jesus is God without proof or even intersubjective evidence. That is, they came to hold that belief experientially rather than rationally or based on evidence that other people would accept as evidence. “Jesus claimed my life and changed it” is a common explanation given by Christians for why they believe Jesus is God. By that they usually also mean that Jesus has the value of God for them in that only God can do for them and in them what Jesus Christ has done. Belief in him, having a personal relationship with him through prayer, for example, has radically transformed their life in a way not otherwise possible—as far as they are concerned.
However, the question whether belief that Jesus Christ is God is reasonable is not unreasonable; nor is it blasphemous or heretical. Even many Christians who believe in Jesus Christ as God would like to know whether their belief is reasonable.
Here, therefore, and however, no attempt will be made to “prove” that Jesus Christ is God in any direct way; the only reasons given here will be indirect proofs in the sense that certain events and phenomena are more readily explained by belief that Jesus was and is God than by belief that Jesus was only a man.
If Jesus Was Not God, What Was He?
Of course, many people, including some who call themselves Christians, believe that Jesus Christ was only a prophet or only a great religious personality. Perhaps the highest and best they can believe about him is that he was the ideal of humanity. And many, perhaps most, non-Christians would also admit that he was one of those things or all of them. Very few people disregard him as nothing special or cast aspersions on him—because of his excellent teachings and example.
However, as Christian writer C. S. Lewis pointed out in Mere Christianity, the things Jesus said and did do not seem to fit with those beliefs about him. Would a man who forgave people’s sins be a godly prophet, a great religious personality, the ideal of humanity? After all, it’s not just that Jesus said God would forgive if they repented; he forgave their sins as if he were God!
At his trial Jesus was charged with blasphemy because he made himself equal with God. He did not deny it. During his ministry in Palestine he identified God’s own kingdom with himself and made people’s decision about God’s rule and reign their decision about him. Was he perhaps a megalomaniac? And yet his focus seemed to be compassion.
Lewis did not create the argument, but he used it in a very concise and articulate manner: Jesus was either a lunatic, a liar, or the Son of God in a unique sense. A man who went around saying the things that he said and doing the things that he did would be a blasphemer or a lunatic were he not God’s own Son. But let’s not quibble about the meaning of “God’s own Son;” in that context—Jewish Palestine—God’s own Son would be God himself. And Jesus so closely identified his own mission with God’s mission that the two were inseparable.
Remember, though, that we are not here attempting to prove that Jesus is God to someone who does not even believe in God! And even someone who does believe in God, like the Enlightenment skeptic Voltaire, can believe Jesus was a great human prophet but still not believe he was or is God. The problem such a person faces, however, is that Jesus acted and spoke as more than a prophet.
What Does Jesus’s Resurrection Reveal?
Most Christian apologists, defenders of Christian belief, will go beyond the above reasoning to add as all important the fact of Jesus being raised from death. There were numerous eyewitnesses who went on to die because they believed that they witnessed Jesus alive after his manifest death and burial. And if Jesus was not raised from the dead, why and how would his disciples have formed into a band of world changing apostles? His death would have devastated—and did! Until he appeared to them and his tomb was empty. And his appearances to them were beyond normal human understanding; he was not just a resuscitated corpse! His new bodily existence was supernatural. He could walk through doors!
German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg, long time professor of theology at the University of Munich, spent a lifetime arguing for and defending the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ including the empty tomb from historical reasoning. In other words, he argued very cogently, using “indirect proof,” if Jesus remained dead after his crucifixion his disciples would not have become the early Christian church that turned the world upside down and suffered so much because of its testimony, its witness, to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (See Pannenberg’s very careful step-by-step argument for the resurrection and Jesus’s deity in Jesus—God and Man.) Pannenberg then went on to argue from the resurrection that Jesus was God incarnate. Again—indirect proof: Why would God raise a lunatic or blasphemer who claimed to be God from the dead? Rather, Jesus’s resurrection was God’s attestation of the truth of Jesus’s claims about himself—to be equal with God.
How Is It Possible?
If you believe in God, eternal and omnipotent, maker of heaven and earth, nothing is impossible—for God. God can do whatever he wants to do that is consistent with his own nature and character. So raising a man to new life from death is not impossible—if you believe in God.
But another, related question often arises here: How can a human being be God? Christian belief says it is possible because human beings are created in God’s own image and likeness as proper vehicles for God’s own indwelling. In other words, human being is “open to God” and God is “open to humanity.” According to Christian belief, God “took to himself” this human being Jesus Christ in a perfect union such that Jesus’s own personal “self” was the Son of God even as he had a fully human nature. Again, as with the problem of evil (discussed in the essay above about God’s existence) the key is God’s self-limitation. God the Son, God’s own eternal second person, the Logos/Word of God, condescended to enter into human existence and voluntarily chose to restrict his attributes of glory and power in order to grow and learn and suffer and even die.
Admittedly, all this seems fabulous to non-Christians, so no attempt is made here to prove belief in Jesus as God to someone whose mind is closed to it. The only goal here is to argue that belief that Jesus was and is God incarnate is not irrational, unreasonable, foolish. It is, in fact, a belief that has turned the world upside down through the ages. To real Christians (not all who call themselves “Christian” are!), belief that Jesus was and is God is the main motive for seeking his kingdom on earth, for striving to conform their own lives and their social world as much to the ideals Jesus set forth in his famous Sermon on the Mount as possible.
Finally, an Appeal to Experience
Christians are people who believe God really wants to have communion with us, with human beings. Therefore, we believe God is willing to reveal himself to people who earnestly seek to know him for the right reasons. So, we finally appeal to open-minded skeptics to ask God to reveal himself to them and to ask Jesus Christ to enter their lives bringing God to them. We believe that when the gospel of Jesus Christ is spoken—as here—that God the Holy Spirit reaches inside a person’s “heart” (the center of their personality) and convicts them of sin and invites them to submit to his transforming work beginning with forgiveness and continuing with reconciliation with God and restoration of the broken image of God in them. That only requires repentance and trust. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself,” so “Be reconciled to God” by faith, trust, and heartfelt sorrow for sin. The final proof is in this experience if people will let it happen to them. It requires no effort or work or achievement; it only requires empty openness to God, confession of sin, and acceptance of the work of Christ for them on the cross and through his resurrection. The ultimate “proof” in religion is always “the Spirit and the power” (G. E. Lessing) or “the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit” (John Calvin). Yet, Christians believe that what the Spirit “proves” inwardly is not irrational but reasonable even if not directly provable by secular means and methods. Again, very little of any real importance is.
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