Before you say, “I don’t believe.” Chapter 3

Have you carefully considered the reasons why Christians believe in God?

It is basic to Christian belief that the God who is, has revealed Himself to us.  Our understanding of God is based on what God has said about Himself.  There are many ways in which God has left ample evidence that He is the author of all things.

First, there is the wonder of creation.

We live in an amazing world, where beauty, symmetry, order and harmony mean that awe and wonder are the natural response to what is around us.  Even atheists such as David Attenborough acknowledge that!

It is estimated that there are between 200 – 400 billion stars in our galaxy, the Milky Way.  The newest estimates, gained by the Hubble space telescope, suggest that there are 500 billion Galaxies with about 300 billion stars for each galaxy.  The nearest of these galaxies to ours is 25,000 light years away from the sun.  And did all that come about from nothing?  In fact, can anything ever come from nothing?  Am I really to believe this just happened?  Who is trying to fool whom, and why?  Everything around screams that there is a God, just as the footprint on Robinson Crusoe’s island convinced him that someone else was on the island.

Are we to believe that the fine tuning of the universe is without a Designer?  There is perfection in the tuning of the electromagnetic coupling of electrons to protons in atoms, and in the ratio of electron to proton mass (1:1836). The sun is the perfect mass, and any difference would lead to our planet being unable to support life.  Earth is exactly the right distance from the sun for there to be a stable water cycle.  The earth’s gravity, axial tilt, rotation period, magnetic field, crust thickness, oxygen/nitrogen, carbon dioxide, water vapour and ozone levels are just right.  It takes a greater act of faith to believe that all this came about without a creator than to believe God is the maker of all things.  Former atheist Sir Fred Hoyle states, “common sense interpretation of the facts is that a super-intelligence has monkeyed with physics, as well as chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces in nature.”

And to be more specific in focusing on the wonder of creation, am I also to accept that the pelican beak and pouch, (which holds more than its stomach can, and is capable of being used as a sophisticated touch-sensitive fishing tool, and which has a mean hook called a mandibular nail at the end of its beak, vital in catching or killing prey), just happened by random chance?

Google in the word Heliconia, a tropical flower from South America, or Sturt Desert Pea, a beautiful creeping plant from Australia, or just imagine the beautiful Snowdrop, which is so delicate and intricate in design, yet pushes itself through frozen soil with the first promise that winter is over, and then tell me that there is no God who made ‘all creatures great and small’.

Or take a moment to think of your eye focusing and refocusing hundreds of times a day with the pupil which is constantly adjusting to the amount of light. Then think (but not for too long!) about the infinitesimally minute sperm and ovum which met and made you with similar features to your mother and father.  Your body began with just one cell, which over a seven day period divided into two.  Seven days later, it was four.  In seven day periods it kept doubling.  At 40 weeks, or nine months, there are close on 10 thousand million cells that make up the body, and throughout our lives several billion cells die and are replaced by cellular division.  It is a brilliant house in which to live, but just as I do not believe that my own house appeared without a builder, nor do I accept that my body had no maker.  Do you?

Secondly, we have an in-built conscience, a sense of right and wrong, and awareness of morality.

A tiny child is aware of fairness; we know some things are not really just; there is an aptitude, an innate intuition that is according to Mahatma Gandhi, ‘a higher court than courts of justice, and this is the court of conscience.  It supersedes all other courts.’  The Bible in Romans 2 states that people have a law written on their hearts; that is why there is a general consensus with the Ten Commandments, as given in the Bible. People are aware of absolute standards.

(If you are looking for an intriguing question to pose to those who say that absolute truth does not exist, ask them if that idea is absolutely true.)

Of course, conscience, that voice within, can be suppressed or twisted and distorted, but nevertheless it is inherent in human beings.  From where does it come, and why is it so powerful?  The 19th century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaad wrote, ‘A man could not have anything upon his conscience if God did not exist, for the relationship between the individual and God, the God-relationship, is the conscience, and that is why it is so terrible to have even the least thing upon one’s conscience, because one is immediately conscious of the infinite weight of God’.

The Ten Commandments

 And God spoke all these words:
 ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
 ‘You shall have no other gods before me.
 ‘You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in Heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
 ‘You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
 ‘Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.  For in six days the Lord made the Heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
 ‘Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
 ‘You shall not murder.
 ‘You shall not commit adultery.
 ‘You shall not steal.
 ‘You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.
 ‘You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.’

Thirdly, God has revealed Himself through Scripture, the Bible.

The books which make up the Bible were written over a period of about 1600 years, by 40 different authors from various cultures.  This extraordinary Book, the world’s best-seller, makes astonishing claims.  It says that ‘All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable …’ Time and again throughout the Bible we read that ‘God spoke…’ or ‘God said…’  We read that ‘no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never can be by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.’

The Bible begins by recording the beginning of life and the creation of all things.  It gives the moral law, the account and consequences of human rebellion against God, and unfolds the drama of God’s great act of rescue through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  It describes how the world will ultimately come to an end, and details the new Heaven and earth.

The Bible is uniquely consistent and authentic, so despite the time period over which it was written, it has a complete unity in its message.  Archaeological discoveries are totally consistent with all that the Bible teaches.  Sir William Ramsey, Professor of Classical Archaeology and Art at Oxford University, was extremely sceptical about the accuracy of the New Testament.  Venturing on many archaeological digs in Asia Minor convinced him of its truth and led to his Christian conversion.  He wrote, ‘I began with a mind unfavourable toward it … but more recently I found myself brought into contact with the writings of Luke … it was gradually borne upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvellous truth … You may press the words of Luke in a degree beyond any other historians and they stand the keenest scrutiny and the hardest treatment.’

We shall see later that repeatedly detailed prophecies about distant events are fulfilled precisely as written.  The Book has changed countless lives bringing them peace and purpose where before there was none.

The Bible tells us what God is like: all-powerful, all-knowing, omnipresent, unchanging, holy, just and loving.  We read that there is only one true God, who is Triune – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – personal, and relational.  He is a spirit, and is eternal with no beginning or end.  The opening words of the Bible are, ‘In the beginning God created ….’ And in those words alone atheism, humanism, spiritism, rationalism, materialism, deism, polytheism, pantheism are dispelled.  We see at the end of Genesis 1 that when God made the first man, humans were made with the unique ability to experience the supernatural and enjoy an eternal connection with God.

Fourthly, God has revealed Himself through the person of Jesus.

No other person has had the influence for good that Jesus has had. Millions today follow Him, not because they are compelled to, but because they have trusted Him, finding Him to be as good as His promises, and so they love and obey Him.

His birth – the place and manner of it, His life – the miracles, healings and teachings, His death by crucifixion, His resurrection and continuing influence, were all foretold by the prophets long before His birth.

The Bible makes clear that Jesus is God incarnate, God clothed in humanity.  God came to our world and was called, ‘Immanuel – God with us’ and ‘Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.’  This was prophesied by Isaiah 700 years before, ‘For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder, and His name will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end.’[1]

No one else taught as Jesus did.  But His words and works were totally consistent, so that He only taught what He Himself had lived.  When He told us to love our enemies, or turn the other cheek, or go the extra mile, or pray for those who persecute us, He was telling us to do just what He had done throughout His life.

His example has never been surpassed.  He healed the sick and paralysed, gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the mute, strength to the lame and wholeness to the leprous.  He raised the dead, calmed the storm at sea, fed the hungry, walked on water, cared for the underdog, comforted the grieving and transformed the lives of all who trusted Him.

Though living 80 miles north of the capital city, He set His face to go to Jerusalem, where He would be crucified and lay down His life, carrying the sin of the world on Himself.  He, the eternal one, paid for the sin of the world, so that we might be spared an eternal penalty for our rebellion and wrong.  He died as the substitute-Saviour.  In paying the penalty for our sin, He has made a way back to the absolutely holy God.

He was buried, and three days later rose from the dead. (We examine the evidence for that in Question 20).  He did what no mortal could ever do.  He conquered the great conqueror, death!  He who said “I am the life” defeated death.  He had laid down His life for us, and then lay in a tomb, dead and cold, until the first Easter Sunday morning when He rose from the dead and revealed Himself risen to literally hundreds of people.  God has made Himself known through the Person of Jesus.  That is why Christians encourage everyone to read the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke or John – to be introduced to Jesus, and God Himself.

Then, God reveals Himself in Christian conversion.

When individuals turn from what is wrong in their lives, and look to Jesus for forgiveness and new, spiritual life, they find that God has, in fact, turned to them.  He becomes real to them, so that there is a living, dynamic relationship with God.  He directs and guides people.  He gives the desire, and the power, to live in a way that demonstrates a love for God and for others and the situations that are around us.

Perhaps the most famous conversion of all time was that of Saul from the city of Tarsus situated in what is now modern-day Turkey. Born about the same time as Jesus, he was a great intellectual, multi-lingual, and deeply religious.  He belonged to the strictest of Jewish religious sects, which was bitterly opposed to those who were putting their trust in Jesus.  On a mission to Damascus to round up and silence Christians, he was dramatically confronted by the risen Jesus.  His conversion to Christ led to a 180˚ change in his life.  For the next 30 years or so, he travelled the then-known world proclaiming that Jesus is Lord and Saviour, establishing churches, and giving us many of the books of the New Testament in our Bible.

Saul’s Conversion

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from Heaven flashed around him.  He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” The men travelling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”
“Yes, Lord,” he answered.
The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”
 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem.  And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”
 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.
After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.
When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.
Acts 9:1-27 (New International Version, 1984)

That conversion happened twenty centuries ago, but millions of men and women, young and old have had similar life-changing experiences as they have met with the living God. God, who has revealed Himself generally, reveals Himself individually to those who turn to trust Jesus as Lord and Saviour.  More recently, for example, David Hamilton, a former member of the Loyalist paramilitary, found the reality of Christian conversion.

David Hamilton joined the UVF as a teenager and in 1978 was jailed for involvement in bombings and bank robberies.   As a young teenager he had seen acts of terrorism on television, but didn’t really understand why Catholics and Protestants were fighting or why there was rioting. He remembers the day it affected him, for he was coming home from school, walking alongside the river, and four or five guys whom he knew came up to him, and one said that they should beat David Hamilton up and throw him in the river. Having done that one of them asked David, “do you not know why we did that? It’s because you’re a Prod, and Protestants and Catholics fight each other”.

So David made the decision then that Catholics were bad news. It was a turning point in his life. Some of his best friends at that time were Roman Catholics.  One of them was Bobby Sands, who was the first one to die in the hunger strike, where IRA protested at the way they were treated in prison. If you had asked David when, as youngsters, they would be kicking a ball around on the street together, he would have told you that Bobby was one of his best friends.  It would have been inconceivable to him then that they could ever have become enemies. But that is what happened. Years later he met these guys in jail.

David then joined the Rathcoole KAI (Kill All Irishmen) gang because for him, it was safety in numbers. There was rioting going on. Someone had the idea that they burn all the Catholics out of their houses. He made petrol bombs and threw them into the homes of the Catholics. That was his first act of terrorism.

Later, some guys came into a bar and said they were starting a Protestant paramilitary group to fight the IRA, asking who wanted to join? Most of the gang members put their hands up. David did the same.  The IRA were fighting and killing, and he thought that if he could fight back then he would. So he joined the Protestant paramilitary organisation called the UDA (Ulster Defense Association), and 6 months later began weapon training. He was just 17 when they gave him a gun.

Later that year the police came and kicked down his door at night. Handcuffed, they took him to the interrogation centre where he was questioned.  Later, he was to be imprisoned for nine months. At that time, such prisoners had political status (the prison was known as Long Kesh), so David wore a terrorist uniform.  Almost unbelievably, in the morning after breakfast, they had bomb making classes with live explosives, and in the afternoon they did weapon training with real weapons; they had guns in jail! David learnt more in jail about terrorism than he did outside. When he was released one year later, he went straight back to being involved.

At the start David had been involved with minor things, such as stealing cars for other men to use, and then burning them afterwards, or transporting weapons across the city. But eventually David was questioned about murder, bank robberies, bombings and hijackings. All of those things he was involved with at some stage. When he was in jail the second time he made the decision to join the Ulster Volunteer Force. At that time they were probably the most feared terrorist group in Northern Ireland. They were very much on the offensive, rather than the defensive, and he wanted to attack the IRA.  So he joined that particular group and became heavily involved. He was even using his own home to store weapons.

David was not interested in religion in any shape or form. Being a Protestant meant that he was ‘loyal’ to Britain and to the Queen, but not to God. Men in jail called themselves Protestant because they were anti-Catholic. To him, religion only identified what side he belonged to. It was nothing to do with God, it was more political. They needed to put a label on it and that’s what they used religion for. The conflict was more over political issues than religious ones.

David believed in God, but when he visited church in jail he didn’t care much for religion. But sitting in his cell one night David believes that God gave him a revelation of how He had spared his life on a number of occasions: like the time when he was blown up by a bomb that he had planted himself, and another incident when someone else tried to kill him by shooting him three times. Then one night he sensed the call of God who wanted David’s life changed more than anything. He went to pick up the prison cell Bible, and tried to read it.  But he found the language in the version he read to be archaic.   After going back and forth to the Bible he read in the front words from John’s Gospel, ‘For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ (John 3:16)

David reasoned with himself about the text.  He thought that God loved the world because He had made it, but it was staggering that God should actually love David Hamilton individually.  Overwhelmed by such love, mercy and grace, David decided to become a Christian.  The Bible promises to those who truly repent, that they can know their sin is forgiven. He found that assurance of sins forgiven and peace in his life.  For a couple of years he struggled with forgiving himself. But David came to understand that sin and guilt are taken from those who believe in Jesus.  For the next five years in jail he studied the Bible.

In prison, he had made friends with IRA men who themselves had become real Christians.  Upon release, they were going around schools in Northern Ireland talking about reconciliation. People tried to kill them, shoot them; they came to his home to kill him because he, with the others, was promoting reconciliation. Today David is a Church minister.  He has known God do miraculous things in his life, such as the way he was released from his involvement with the UVF, when many others were murdered if they wanted to renege on their vows to the organization.  David is a completely changed man.

We have looked at five ways in which Christians believe God has made Himself known.  It now remains for the honest skeptic to explain the order, beauty and wonder of creation, the universality of human conscience, the Bible’s fulfilled promises, the evidence for the resurrection, and the powerful change of life that comes with Christian conversion.  But for you, would you be willing to call out to God, ask Him to make Himself known to you, and bring you into a relationship with Himself that is both intimate and eternal.

[1] Isaiah 9:6-7

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