Why I Believe

Most of this website deals with answering objections to Christianity.  Equally important, however, is to make the positive case for Christianity.  Starting from scratch, why should anyone believe?

The first step in making the case is to show why I believe God exists.  Without believing in at least a general kind of God to start, it is impossible to make sense of any of the specifically Christian ideas about Him.  There are many reasons to believe God exists, including:

1) First cause.  That the universe exists at all suggests a Creator of some kind.  (Yes, the “who created God?” question can be addressed too.)

2) Consciousness.  I can accept the theory of evolution as a description of the physical ancestry of man.  However, the conscious, self-aware “soul” defies explanation in physical terms.  Yet I can observe directly that I am self-aware.  This puzzle is widely recognized as perhaps permanently unsolvable within a natural science paradigm.  The best explanation for our souls is that they have a supernatural origin.  Our souls are deeply personal and give us a basis for believing that God, too, is not just a Creator, but also “personal”.

3) Morality.  Human beings widely accept that right and wrong are objective things, and that “right” is not just whatever nature inclines me to be doing at a given moment.  This idea makes no sense unless there is a God, but we can observe our conscience as just as we can observe that we are conscious.

The creation, consciousness, and conscience are the evidence that God is a Creator, is personal, and is the author of the moral law.  This case can be made without reference to any kind of holy book.  I believe each of us has a spiritual capacity to know God directly, but I realize the evidence is important for someone in a position of skepticism.   My remarks above are an abridged case for a Creator; I’ve expanded upon them here.

The second step is showing why I believe Christianity is true.  First, we need to define what Christianity is.  As I’ve discussed here, the central claims of Christianity are that Jesus is Lord and that God raised Him from the dead.  What evidence is there to believe the Resurrection, or any other miracle?  I find three things:

1) The “Church”.  Not in the sense of a specific denomination, but the community of all believers.  The vast majority of religious movements die out.  What is it about this one that led it to stand the test of time?  The long answer is offered by Chesterton.  The short answer is that among the “great” religions that have flourished, Christianity is the only one that offers all of the following (see here for more details):

a) Appearance on the scene at a known point in history, in the course of real events, rather than as vague legend from a distant past (Hinduism and Judaism don’t have this quality).

b) Founded by a person or people who had no political or business or military aspirations that provide ulterior motives (Islam and Judaism don’t have this quality).

c) Proclaims a personal God consistent with belief in a Creator, an individual soul, and a moral law (Buddhism is more of a practical philosophy than a message from God, Hinduism is a broad family of thought systems not offering any single consistent worldview)

d) Based on miracles performed in front of crowds rather than the private revelations of an individual (as in Islam).

e) A non-violent movement founded in an environment of persecution from two sides, from the first generation (Christianity is unique here).  There are plenty of examples of men willing to die for false ideas, but none of men willing to die for ideas they know are false.

2) The documents that the early Church set forth, the New Testament.  These were written in the lifetimes of the eyewitnesses and make claims about things that happened in a public setting.  They also include numerous details embarrassing to the apostles, and the Crucifixion was a terribly shameful thing to try to turn into anything positive.  If one were to invent a religion as a hoax, it would not be Christianity.  One fails to see how it gets off the ground without some kind of help from the Holy Spirit.

3) The person of Christ Himself.  People claiming to be God are typically obvious lunatics (or liars looking to make a fast buck).  None of the other “great sages” of history (Socrates, Buddha, etc.) ever claimed to be God.  Yet Jesus is typically thought to be wise and good even by those who don’t believe he’s God.  It is a most unusual thing.  The best explanation is that He was telling the truth.

Finally, the third step is to show why, if any of this is true, it matters to you right now.  The reasons for this become clear as one learns more about it, but the highlights are:

1) Family.  When people find long lost family, they often experience great joy.  The process of learning about God is like that in a way.  Your heavenly Father wants to you to know Him, and you can do that by coming to know His Son through the scriptures and prayer.  And you have billions more brothers and sisters than you ever thought.  There is great joy in discovering this.

2) Purpose.  There is a big difference now in seeking to maximize the enjoyment of your remaining lifespan as optimally as possible, versus living for God’s purposes with an eternal time horizon.  The person living for himself has to figure out his or her number , while the person living for God seeks to store up treasures in heaven.  Doing the latter requires overcoming old habits.  This is an ongoing process that is never perfected in this lifetime, but the rewards, in terms of joy, peace, and purpose, begin immediately.  Loving your neighbor as yourself, as a moral imperative, is actually much harder than it sounds at first.  The art of it, though (and I am still learning it), is to allow that idea to graduate from something theoretical to something felt.  I often recall a sign I used to walk by on the street when I worked in downtown Louisville, Kentucky.  It marks the spot where Thomas Merton “was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people“.  It’s hard to know, of course, exactly how Merton or anyone else felt at such a moment, but I don’t think I could have had the glimpses I’ve had of it in my own life without first having accepted on faith the idea that God loves all those people too.

3) Judgment.  This is the unpleasant part of the Christian message for those starting out from a skeptical perspective.  If you don’t believe judgment and sin are real concepts, it can be bad news to find out that they are.  This may not be the eternity of torment taught that is preached by some Christians, but simply getting whatever we “fairly” deserve is not something to be desired by anyone who has closely examined their life.  The “good news” of Christianity is that Jesus has provided a solution to this problem that you may not have known that you had.  Forgiveness and mercy are available in abundance to those who call on God and who offer forgiveness and mercy to others.