Salvation Aside, Why Believe in God? [Questions That Haunt]

Salvation Aside, Why Believe in God? [Questions That Haunt] May 7, 2013

Now this is a Question That Haunts:

If we take the salvation/eternity issue out of the discussion, what advantage is there to believing in God? Ideals like joy, peace, justice, love, beauty, and even community can be experienced, practiced, and enjoyed by atheists and Christians alike; these are universal ideals, and one does not have to believe in God to be happy or feel at peace. I’ve met many atheists who are MUCH more joyful, loving, compassionate, and appreciative of beauty than Christians. So, going beyond the evolutionary reasons for religion, if we’re taking salvation out of the equation, why should someone be a Christian?

You respond in the comments. I’ll respond on Friday.

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  • CurtisMSP

    First of all I’m skeptical of atheist claims that they don’t hold religious beliefs. The atheists I’ve met who are more joyful, loving, compassionate and appreciative of beauty than Christians, all have a deep understanding and experience of love. I believe God is love. So I believe some atheists are closer to God than probably anyone wants to admit.

    Secondly, I think the question takes an overly-narrow view of salvation. Salvation happens now, in the present, not after we die. Salvation is the joy, love, and compassion that you have described, experienced in community, now. That is salvation. Salvation is eternal; it has no beginning, and no ending. But we don’t have to wait to die to have salvation.

    So to answer your question: why should someone be a Christian? A person should be a Christian if the experience of their life leads them to be one. That is why.

    • Sven2547

      You use the word “skeptical” in your first sentence, but then you substitute your superstition that ‘love = God’. That’s not “skepticism”, that’s just a conflicting belief. Do you think atheists are just lying that they don’t believe in gods?

      • CurtisMSP

        It is a semantic difference, I suppose. I’m sure atheists are sincere when they say they don’t believe in gods. But the healthy atheists I know have a strong sense of love and belonging. And love and belonging are gods for me. That is the dilemma.

        I define “god” as “love”. An atheist clearly has a different definition of “god”. “God” is not superstition for me, because I feel and experience love directly; I don’t think I am imagining love when I experience it. Maybe I am imagining love, but I don’t think I am.

        So “atheism” and “belief” feel mostly like a semantic distinction to me. A person may be one or the other depending on how one defines “god”.

        • Christyinlosangeles

          But a “strong sense of love and belonging” is not at all the same thing as believing that there is a loving, personal God or having a Trinitarian view of God. Words mean things: even if love and belonging are the most important things in the world to you, they are not “gods”
          in the same sense as the Christian God. Love and belonging are ideals or values, and you could even get into a spiritual “we’re all connected, love is at the heart of the universe” thing if you want.

          But that is not the same thing as the Christian Trinitarian God. It just isn’t. Personally, I find it REALLY annoying when Christians act as if somehow, way down deep I really believe what they do. I used to be a Christian, so I know that isn’t true. I don’t believe that there is a
          personal Being that I can pray to who might then interact with the world, I don’t believe that there is a personal Being who makes any specific ethical demands or who can make any decisions one way or the other about my destination in the afterlife. I don’t believe that Jesus
          is the Son of God or that Christianity is the only or most effective way of living a compassionate, loving life, and I think the Bible is an ancient culture’s attempt to figure out the universe, rather than an inspired document.

          If you say it all just boils down to “I believe in Love.”, well great – I believe in Love too. But there is nothing specifically Christian about that, so it entirely avoids that
          “Why should someone be a Christian?” question.

          • CurtisMSP

            I answered the “Why should someone be a Christian?” question directly in my last sentence at the beginning of this thread.

            When another human tells me that they sense we share common beliefs, that makes me feel human, not annoyed. As long as they don’t try to force their beliefs on me!

  • For the relationship. When I have an amazing friend, I want other people to know them. When I think about how God positively impacts my life through that relationship, that’s something that I want other people to have. Even if salvation is off the table – it’s worthwhile now. I don’t think that this is particularly novel, but those moments I have of really walking in the Spirit make me want more.

  • edwardsmarkc

    I don’t know about God, but Jesus did have some things to say about how to live. The question is whether his way is a better way than the alternatives. If it is, then that is a reason to become a Christian.

    • Lausten

      Depends how you mean this. There is no one person, one book, one neatly wrapped up package that can guide you through life. Even many religions will say they are a “way” or a “path”, not an answer. If you agree with that, then I don’t see how you can compare them or choose one, since paths tend to wind and sometimes cross.

      • edwardsmarkc

        Not sure I agree, Lausten. People compare and choose a path all the time. Some paths have very different directions and rarely cross. The path Jesus advocated of self-denial/compassion/love of enemies is quite different than that of most cultures. Granted, some other religious paths may cross it – all the better – they would share the advantages (if you think of the attributes of Jesus’s path as advantages).
        I think we have to exclude the self-absorbed Christian from our discussion here. They are indistinguishable from other, nonChristian self-absorbed people.
        I am not sure following Jesus’s path has to have “advantages” over other paths that lead in the same direction. An advantage is an advantage. Take it however you get it.

        • Lausten

          That people choose paths and believe they are unique says
          nothing about the actual nature of those choices. Compassion, as well as many attributes of Christianity, are quite common to most modern cultures. I have a poster for Sunday School showing 13 versions of the Golden Rule. I’m not really following the rest of what you said. First you said consider if Jesus is the better way, now your saying advantages don’t matter?

  • Does believing in God earn someone salvation, anyway? So maybe the salvation/eternity issue should always be tabled in “reasons to believe in God,” if we really think Christ accomplished reconciliation for us and without our permission.

    I think people typically mean “I think there is a God,” when they say “I believe in God.” In that case, people believe in God because a “factual-God” helps explain phenomena in our world, not because a belief in God gives any sort of emotional satisfaction.

    I believe in God because it helps me reconcile the strangeness of the Christ-event. Also, why I’m a Christian.

    • CurtisMSP

      “Does believing in God earn someone salvation, anyway?”

      No, it doesn’t. Understanding a specific logical proposition doesn’t earn one anything, except perhaps a prize on “Jeopardy”. Salvation is experienced, not thought or believed. And it is given freely, not earned.

  • Craig

    Maybe there are two very different questions here: 1. Why should I believe that God exists? 2. Why should I trust him?

    Or does the question “why should I believe in God?” mean something else entirely?

    • I think that if you’d ask a stranger, “Do you believe in God?” The common interpretation would be, “Do you believe that God exists?” not “Do you trust God?” So that’s the angle I take this from.

  • Sven2547

    If we’re putting aside beliefs concerning salvation/afterlife, the biggest “pro” to believing in god(s) is preferential treatment in almost every country on Earth, assuming you believe in that area’s preferred god(s).

  • Pax

    Because it’s true. The only reason to believe anything is because it’s true.

    • Lausten

      You just moved the question one step back. Now you have to answer how to determine is something is true. Most likely your answer will be very different from a non-Christian and we’ll be right back at the original question.

      • Pax

        The question of how you determine truth is interesting, but I don’t think that was the question.

        The question is posed as though we’re playing Paschal’s Wager, and the reason one might believe in God is determined by some kind of game theoretic payoff matrix. Then, we throw out any payoff values that are infinite, and the questioner questions whether or not the “belief in God” column would come out with the greatest expected utility. I’m not sure if it would or not, but it’s not a game I would play in the first place. If the evidence compels me to assent to a truth claim, then I believe it.

        • Lausten

          I don’t think it was the question either. You are the one
          who proposed that. I don’t think it was proposed as purely utilitarian either. You end with a statement about “evidence”, but I suspect we would have very different definitions of the term, let alone what we consider evidence for God. So you still haven’t offered anything that I can grapple with. Just your own statement of faith.

    • Sven2547

      So the best reason to believe God exists is because you believe it’s true that God exists?

      Either I am misunderstanding your answer or you are misunderstanding the question.

      • Pax

        You may be misunderstanding both. I’m not employing circular reasoning, and I don’t think the questioner is asking for proofs of God’s existence (though I could be misinterpreting the questioner as well). As I understand it, the questioner asked about the /advantages/ of belief in God. I suggest that believing those things that are /actually true/ is in itself worthy. If God does not exist, then I’m not convinced that whatever joy, love, compassion, or appreciation of beauty are gained are worth believing in a fiction.

        • Sven2547

          I think everyone can agree that believing in things-that-are-true beats believing in things-that-aren’t-true. But the questioner did not ask that question. That one is easy. The question, the hard question, relates to “God”.

          If the belief in God is a prerequisite for your appreciation of joy, love, compassion, and beauty, then that’s a fine (if slightly confusing) answer.

          • Pax

            Now I’m not really sure what you think I mean.

            I’m glad that you agree with me that believing in things-that-are-true beats believing in things-that-aren’t-true.

            Isn’t “God” a thing we can apply this to?

            The questioner brought up the ideas of joy, love, compassion, and appreciation of beauty as criteria one might use to decide whether to be a Christian or an atheist. My answer rejects these kinds of criteria because they have no bearing on the truth value of the question of whether God exists (and if so whether Christianity is the true faith). In no way am I asserting that belief in God is a prerequisite for these.

    • ME


  • rjsm

    I can’t think of another way to answer the question except by asking a similar question: Why should I believe airplanes are safe to fly if I don’t want to get on one?

    1) You can believe all you want about airplanes but if you don’t ever want to travel on one and put your faith in it, it really doesn’t matter whether you think they are safe or not. There is no “advantage” to believing airplanes fly unless you want to risk your life with it. Intellectual ascensions don’t matter much on the ground.

    2) Isn’t the whole point of Christianity salvation? Not in terms of being “saved” from “eternal fire” but in terms of being saved from bondage, shame, fear, injustice, and all the other hells around us all the time… so that we can become new beings and find our true identities to “save” this world and all of humanity with it, with God leading the way. Not with platitudes but with actual restoration?

    Without salvation of any kind, I don’t think there is any point to Christianity.

    • Hey Ryan, am I right that your analogy is that God is like the Airplane, and the advantage of believing in the Airplane is only realized when you get on board and trust your life with it?

      So, then my question is, what does that life (riding on the Airplane) look like? Is it a life of joy, empowerment, compassion, love, and justice? Because the questioner is saying that those attributes of a life believing and trusting in God are found in people who admittedly do not believe or trust in God.

      What do the airplane riders actually have that others don’t? Why get on the plane?

      • rjsm

        Hey Ric, I think I’m trying to say (not very well) that there is something wrong with the question.

        This whole thing is experiential not mental.

        And maybe there are many atheists who are already flying while many Christians are still on the ground. (Even CS Lewis basically said that…)

    • Lausten

      I’m glad someone said that. I think you just created the same dilemma that creationists have when they say that without the first few chapters of Genesis being true there is no foundation for the rest of the Bible.

      • rjsm

        I guess we all have intellectual dilemmas of some kind or another.

        I’m not a Creationist – but I would say that the story of the Bible is a pretty lame one without those first few chapters. In fact, so lame, I might not bother with it.

        • Lars

          Probably off topic, but what grabbed you in those first few myths that made the rest of the Bible fall into place? I’m fortunate, for now, to be able to deal with the hells around around me and not feel that I need to be saved from something. I’m sure you would agree that not every non-believer needs to be saved from bondage, shame, fear, or injustice. Some are just regular people doing their best for their fellow humans.

  • Melanie Storrusten

    I think that we all live in communion with God, regardless of our belief. I think that “salvation” – as in reconciliation with God – was accomplished for all of us, and requires no work on our behalf, not even the work of belief. But we must be conscious of that connection if we are to fully experience the contentment and joy that it brings. For me, knowing that there is a God and that I’m connected to that source of all things good, brings me joy, peace, fulfillment, meaning, and comfort. To know that there is a God who created all things that loves me just as I am is all the good news that I need.

  • Andrew

    I agree with the questioner that it is not necessary to believe in God to experience joy, peace, justice, beauty, community, and love. Effectively, it is not necessary to believe in God to experience “salvation.”

    The only way I can answer this question is to bring it into the realm of the personal. Though my belief in God and commitment to Christianity has often wavered, I’ve been unable to shake this bedrock belief that there is Something bending the arc of the moral universe toward justice, peace, life, and love. And for me, “God” is the best word I’ve found for that Something, and Christianity is what has helped me to experience it. It’s what I’ve got.

    Put another way, believing in God is the best way I’ve found to be human, and being a Christian is the best way I’ve found to believe in God.

  • Rose Anne Karesh

    I am not sure I would say there is an “advantage” to believing in God. It’s not a decision you make because of the advantages or disadvantages. It’s a decision you make because that’s where the experiences in your life have led you. I happen to believe in God, and I believe my life experiences back up that belief. That belief then guides my other choices and actions.

    I think we get off track when we try to sell people on belief in God, trying to convince them there are advantages. God doesn’t need salespeople.

  • LHD

    In short: if there is no God, then children who suffered cruel lives and died unmerciful deaths died in vane. In the end, their lives were totally useless. The idea of an afterlife means there is healing and more and better to come. I am not saying this proves God’s existence, but it comforts me.

  • S_i_m_o_n

    When someone can go through all the troubles, trials and afflictions that Paul suffered and still write a letter like Philippians while in prison without God then I’ll give up Christianity.

  • Jesse

    This is such a good question, and one every person of faith should ask themselves at some point.


    For me this question comes down to a matter of aesthetics. The reason I remain a Christian is because I want to live a beautiful life.

    Judgments of beauty require an aesthetic, some criterion which separates the ugly from the beautiful. So in order to live a beautiful life you need some way to define beauty.

    The way I found my aesthetic was by asking myself three questions: Who, living or dead, do I admire the most? What moves me to tears? What shakes my soul?

    I’ve found that Jesus of Nazereth is my aesthetic. He’s how I define a beautiful life. I’ve noticed in my heart that every time a human action moved my soul or brought tears to my eyes that action reminded me of Jesus. And so, because I want to live a beautiful life, I follow Jesus.

  • T.S.Gay

    Edwyn Bevan published an excellent series of lectures in 1938 called “Symbolism and Belief”. In C.S.Lewis’s last interview he was asked his influences, and this was listed as exemplary. The last lecture on The Justification of Belief is about the why of believing in God. His final sentence of this series of 391 pages is “What actually causes anyone to believe in God is direct perception of the Divine”. And, of course, what causes atheism is the absence. It’s ludicrous there is any animosity in either position( but I think a scientific approach would show some). Those that believe the reality behind phenomena to be material, certainly have the much, much, much greater preponderance of evidence. As to those that believe the reality behind phenomenon to be Spirit, that is God…..full range of the Spirit means all the potentialities of the spirit of man being shown in a world-wide community( the riches of the life of Christ) of which it is the vehicle. What else is a progressive Christianity?

    • Adriene Buffington

      If I understand what you’re saying, you’re assuming a dualism of the material vs the spiritual. God as explanation of the stuff we haven’t figured out a scientific explanation for. Maybe that’s why people have NO perception of the Divine- they refuse to look in the material or scientific realms of reality.

  • I don’t know if this will exactly answer “why believe”, but my experience was such that I somehow always sensed God was there. And when I went through an intense period of doubt, specifically doubt about Christianity, and wondered if I would give it all up, I somehow knew that God was still there, and that even if I didn’t know what I was supposed to believe about Jesus, if I turned away, then something would be missing from my life. It was the tiniest of connections, but it was there. I don’t really think I held on to belief/faith as much as God was holding on to me, somehow. I get this image in my head of the connection being like a fishing line–small, thin, pretty much invisible, but still there. So, why believe? I think that the answer is going to be different for different people, because our faith journeys are not the same. If there was a concrete, logical answer as to “why believe?”, then it seems as if everyone would.

  • Jonnie

    Why? Because it affords you the best kind of community for making the world a better place. Say what you will (my much appreciated radical theology friends lurking in the background but failing to comment yet!), the intention of a/theistic conceptions of the Christian life, are attempts to retain exactly that feature–the community of God, bound by a common cause– that makes the religion so attractive. I do not think there is ANY historical or biblical reason for believing in God apart from a conception of participating in what God is doing in the world. OT guru John Goldingay loves to rant it this way: “God only wants your belief in so much as it makes you do something.” Namely, participate in the redemption of the world.

    The args for G’s existence, the idle reflecting on “hmm, does God exist?”, are innocuous, even intellectually bourgeois activities. This relates to my hobby horsing on the last QTH about “faith.” Is not something to ponder whether you have. It’s not something you choose. It’s something that happens to you, something you find yourself with.

    Belief in the biblical witness is only regarded in so much as it engenders full participation in God’s redemption of all creation. This dovetails with Jesse’s aesthetic reflections as well (which I love!). The belief matters in so much as it illumines a life bent towards participating in the project of justice and love in the world. In so much as theistic communities bear the marks of unique places to get at the project, belief should be considered worthwhile and useful.

    Seriously though, where my radical theo dogs at to challenge the whole construction of the Xian/atheist dichotomy? That would be an interesting discussion for many readers of this blog.

  • alan

    I gotta say, this question is sticking with me. So far I don’t know that the other ones have haunted me very much. Not sure I’ve got anything coherent yet, but here are some thoughts.

    The one loophole that I jumped to immediately was to say, “Salvation isn’t just about the afterlife….Shalom here and now….yada yada yada.” But the question is still nagging me. Minus the afterlife why believe in God/Be a Christian? It strikes me as a fundamentally ecclesiological question/problem. Part of it is that the church, by in large, isn’t acting like the church should, i.e. the Kingdom of God/doing what Jesus taught, and thus leaves itself open to the critique that many non-Christians are simply better people than a lot of Christians. If Christians were, by in large, above reproach and clearly behaving differently and better (in that whole compassionate/loving/ethical/beauty/etc… kind of way) than non-christians then the argument would be moot. The answer then would be, “because it makes you a better person”. The problem comes because, in our context, being Christian doesn’t make you a better person. Maybe the real issue is a lack of discipleship and faithfulness, not simply belief in God. Maybe not. Just thoughts.

  • ChuckQueen101

    A “living faith” in God, the kind that makes possible authentic God encounter, serves to connect us to a larger story and a deeper love, beyond the attachments and addictions of our “little self” (false self/egocentric self) and the dysfunctions and idolatries of our group stories/belonging systems. This gives our lives meaning, fullness, and direction and nurtures qualities like gratiude, compassion, and joy. We become more whole–better persons living with a vision for the common good and a sense of responsibility to others and the creation. So regardless of what awaits us after death, this is the way to live.

  • Lars

    Salvation from eternal torture aside, I can’t think of a single reason why I’d want to believe in God. I can think of a lots of reasons why I wouldn’t (tsunamis, cancer, war, child abuse, the Yankees). I have much more hope in society’s ability to eventually get things right, and why it’s so important to work to that end, instead of waiting for God to come crush the opposition one final time (while sweeping up the elect). It would be awesome if there was a God that protected the innocent and made sure justice was served but, from the New/2nd Testament on, I’ve seen no evidence of such a God stepping up in this regard, and I’m unwillingly to say ‘just wait until you’re dead, then you’ll be sorry’. There’s a lot of baggage that comes with belief in a relational God. There’s a lot of baggage that comes with believing in society as well, but at least I can see small, continual differences being made by the efforts of those who believe this life is just as important, or more so, than the next.

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  • Adriene Buffington

    If salvation is merely “heaven after you die” – then there’s not much reason to believing in God if you don’t believe in heaven or hell. But if salvation includes reconciliation and liberation. . . or let’s say ‘believing in God’ gives people A way of reconciliation and liberation, then that is a good reason. (Note the capital A, meaning it is not THE way.)

    I’ve recently met people who identify as Christians but don’t ‘believe in God.’ For them, (and for me too) there can be much good in being connected to a religion, a church, a community. Identity, security, belonging to something bigger and more enduring than self, working together for others. . .

    For me personally, even if there is no heaven, right in this moment, I know I am loved. Known at the deepest core of who I am, with all my beauty and my ugliness, I am absolutely, unconditionally loved by God. That is worth something.

  • Mike

    Know God personally, not a feeling, but a real person. The living God, not just some experience in your mind or body. Doesn’t the universe make it clear that God is infinitely greater than us? We make everything about us, we at not the point. It’s not about what we do, but about what God is doing. Scripture uses the phase “it is finished” or “it is done” twice. Once we Jesus died on the cross and when God makes “all things new”. It is about the greatness of God and what he does. God eternal purpose is to reveal himself that he might be gloried. God reveals himself by what he does, because what God does is in agreement with his nature and character because God is essentially holy and cannot do any amidst or contrary to who he is. Similarly, man because he is sinful, he sins. The last book of the Bible is called the Revelation because that is what it is about, Christ revealing himself as the one true God. We can see God in the creation, in Christ, in the cross. Acts 2:11 makes it clear that true believers declare the “mighty deeds of God” not their own works or experiences. False teachers are consumed with themselves and what they do, the greatness of man. God calls this Babylon in scripture and promises to destroy it. Jesus said many will come saying lord, lord, we did this in your name and he will say I never knew you. These deceivers were consumed with what they did, not with Christ and what he has done. It is appointed to men once to die then the judgment. At the judgment there will be vessels of honor filled with God’s grace and mercy and vessels of destruction filled with God’s wrath. We have all been given the knowledge of God, just some have tried to kill it or bury it or cover it up. They did that same thing with the son of God, but God raise him up and has made Jesus Lord and Christ, the savior of the world. We will all stand before God and receive a great revelation of God, but it will not be the same for all. God promises those that gained more knowledge of God in this life will be rewarded and those that buried it or hide it will suffer lost. God is good and God is love, but I think we have a hard time excepting a totally supreme sovereign God that does all things according to the purpose of his will. I have learned that this great God is full of compassion and desires mercy and not sacrifice (what we can do). But he is also just and will punish those that suppress the knowledge of God and refuse to believe and honor his Son, Jesus Christ. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but fools despise knowledge. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved (born from above) and increase in the knowledge of God because Jesus said I AM The way, The truth, and The Life. Jesus is God the Son has power over death; he alone has the power to bring us out of the grave. Jesus lives and give eternal life to all that come to him, trust him for forgive and salvation.