What Does It Take to Believe in God?
- Eric Metaxas Author
- 2017 17 Mar
Faith and Reason; The Question of Meaning; The Definition of Trust
When I was a kid, I had a book titled You Will Go to the Moon. But by the time I gained possession of the book, which was handed down from a relative, Neil Armstrong had already set foot on the moon! The book described what that journey would be like, and it suggested that by the time I was a grownup, people would be going to the moon for restful weekend getaways. Of course that hasn’t happened, but it was a nice idea.
But imagine for a moment that you and a group of people have been charged with the task of getting to the moon. A number of you are brilliant physicists and mathematicians and engineers and astronauts, and you have everything at your disposal to make a lunar excursion happen. But let’s say that most of you don’t believe the moon exists. Houston, you have a problem. If you don’t believe the moon exists, you’re never going to put all the pieces in place that are needed to actually get there. And the fact is, you’ll never know what it’s like to bounce around in a one-sixth gravity environment. Think of the fun you’ll miss!
Many of us get caught up in debating whether God exists, and we never get past that question. But the goal of life isn’t figuring out whether he exists; it’s taking that as a given and proceeding from there. That’s where the fun lies.
Q: How do you know if you believe in God?
A: That depends on what you mean by “believe in God.” Because you can intellectually believe in God without trusting in him, without loving him or knowing him. For example, Satan and his demons believe that God exists (James 2:19), but they also hate God. So just believing in God doesn’t really mean anything. Many times people will say, “I believe in God,” but it has absolutely no bearing on their lives. If they really knew who God was, they would live differently, they would put their lives in his hands. So mere intellectual belief that God exists isn’t much of a big deal. If Satan and every demon in hell believe God exists, then mere intellectual assent can’t mean much in a good way, can it?
Q: I never thought of it that way.
A: So those who believe in God have to go one step further and say that they trust in God, that they put their faith in him, that they believe he is who the Bible says he is, and that he loves them more than they can ever imagine. If you know who God is, you will want to turn your will over to him, because you trust him with your life, you trust that his plans for you are far better even than the plans you’ve made for yourself. But if you don’t really believe that God is the loving and wonderful God of the Bible who knows you intimately and loves you passionately, you’ll never feel free to trust him with your life. You’ll always hang back out of fear that it’s all a trick and you’re being hoodwinked.
Q: What if you can’t believe because you aren’t sure and don’t believe you can ever be sure?
A: Almost everything in life is a judgment call. In criminal cases in a court of law, there is a required standard of proof known as “beyond a reasonable doubt.” You have to weigh the evidence and make a judgment. You aren’t saying that the evidence falls completely on one side and that it’s an open-and-shut case. You are weighing the evidence on both sides of the argument and ultimately making a judgment call.
We do this all the time in many areas of life. We’re never 100 percent certain about anything because we couldn’t possibly be. When we get in a car and turn the key, we trust that the car will work and will take us where we need to go. Some people know exactly what makes a car run, but most folks really don’t have a clue. But this doesn’t mean that we don’t get in the car and drive places. We’ve made a reasonable judgment call that the car works. We don’t have to understand every little thing about the car, but we know enough right now. We know what we need to know. And this knowledge, though incomplete, is not based on nothing. It’s based on the evidence we have. We’ve ridden in a great variety of cars, and we’ve seen them work. We have no reason to doubt the evidence. Just because we don’t know what a differential is, or what a universal joint is, or how an automatic transmission works, or what the technology is behind antilock disc brakes doesn’t mean we don’t know enough to make a good judgment about whether we can trust the car to get us to work. We know more than enough to make a wise decision, so we open the door, get in, and drive. And it’s just like that with God. At some point we need to make a decision.
Q: But why do we need to make a decision? Why not simply choose not to make a decision one way or the other?
A: Because that’s being intellectually dishonest. Not choosing is a kind of choosing. We are never going to know everything, and we may still have lots of questions, but the big question is whether there is more evidence on this side of the God argument or on the other side. If not knowing something makes us feel unqualified to make any kind of decision in life, we are like the guy who refuses to get in a car because he doesn’t fully comprehend the internal combustion engine. We all have lives to lead, so who has the time to spend years studying motorized transportation? No sane person would be that ridiculous. We’d deny ourselves something good for no good reason.
But when it comes to God, people say that unless they can really know every little thing and solve every mystery, they won’t make a decision. At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself if those people really want to make a decision. Maybe they don’t want to make a decision, and so they use this excuse to get out of it. If someone did that with a car, you’d know they were crazy. At some point you have to get in and drive because you need to go places. Likewise, in deciding for or against God, we have enough evidence on which to base a decision, if only we’ll face up to it.
Q: All of this requires a lot of faith. But isn’t faith just an idea or a fiction?
A: The Bible says that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)
Q: You just lost me.
A: Okay, let me back up. The Greek word for faith in the New Testament is pistis, which really has more to do with trust than with intellectual belief. So what we have faith in is what we trust in. This applies to small things as well as large things. For example, I have faith that the chair I’m sitting on will support my weight. I put my trust in certain things, and that means I have faith in them; I trust them to do what they are designed to do.
But faith in God is no different than faith in my favorite chair. I am relying on the trustworthiness of something, based on past experience and knowledge. But for some reason, whenever people talk about faith in God, everything gets a little mushy.
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For example, if you told me that you have faith that your car will start in the morning, but for the last five mornings, it hasn’t started, I wouldn’t say, “Hey, it’s great that you have faith in your car.” On the contrary, I’d say, “What’s wrong with you? Your car hasn’t started in five days, and nothing has changed to make it start, so your belief that it will start is pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking.” And really, it’s worse than that, because you’ve missed five days of work, and you’ll now miss a sixth and likely get fired. You need to understand that what you believe is quite different from reality. If you believe that your car will start, you should base that belief on good evidence. Instead, you have evidence it won’t start, and yet you believe it will. That isn’t faith; that’s foolishness. Believing in something that isn’t true will only get you into trouble.
In the New Testament, Saint Paul said that he and the disciples didn’t believe in myths and fairy tales. It’s not enough that the Bible is full of nice ideas. What it says must be real and true the way history is real and true, or else we’re simply kidding ourselves.
Excerpted from EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT GOD (BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK).Copyright © 2005, 2017 by Eric Metaxas. Published by WaterBrook, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.
Eric Metaxas is the #1 New York Times best-selling author of several books, including Bonhoeffer, Amazing Grace, Miracles, and If You Can Keep It. He is the host of The Eric Metaxas Show, a nationally syndicated daily radio program.
Image courtesy: Unsplash.com
Publication date: March 17, 2017