I want to do better. In just about everything I’ve ever put my hand to with any earnest, I’ve wanted to do better. I wanted to be a better tennis player. I wanted to be a better speaker. I wanted to be a better leader. The effort is often there, but I always seem to fall short of my aspirations. And then there is Paul.
Paul shames me. I read about how the once persecutor of the early church made an about-face and then subjected himself to the most intense 24/7/365 world-traveling schedule that often took him straight into the proverbial lion’s den. Of his life following the way of Christ, he writes:
Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:24-28)
This was no puffery. Luke, the historian, tells the story of Paul, and it all syncs up with Paul’s words. Needless to say, when I consider Paul’s life and ministry, I fall way short.
No doubt, some of the reason I don’t meet Paul’s standard is that I lack the faith and steadfastness he did, and what I say from this point on is not meant to let me off the hook. But I think some of the disparity between Paul and me is that I don’t have the same horse he did.
I want to be a thoroughbred more than a miniature pony. I want to go fast and hard, and I want to do it all the time. Two problems with that. First, as much as I may want to line up with the world’s best racehorses, I am afraid my ride isn’t fit to run at more than the local racetrack. In other words, hard as I might try, I won’t be like Paul. I don’t have his horse. Secondly, regardless of what horse I have, sometimes it just needs to slow down and rest more than I want it to. In fact, I wonder if that’s what some of Paul’s time in prison was all about.
Jesus once told a parable of those who had been given resources by their master (Matthew 25:14-30). The focus of the parable is on the one who refused to invest what he had been given for the master’s advantage. But I am just as taken by what the story has to say about the two who invested well. One was given five and earned five more, while the other was given two and earned two more. The telling part is that the praise given to each was the same. Let me say that again: the praise given by the master to the two faithful investors was the same. The master did not expect the one who was given two to produce five. He only expected him to produce in keeping with what he had been given. No miniature horse will win the derby, but a friend to a special needs kid she may be. And my horse has its calling too.
Okay, so the horse I have isn’t as fast or beautiful or strong as others. I’ve proven that over and over again. And what I do have tends to breakdown plenty along the way. But it is the horse God has given me. To belittle it is to say that what God made is not good and to beat it beyond what it is capable is only to make matters worse.
Earlier this week I saw a Facebook post that went something like this: Adulting is saying, "It will slow down after this week,” each and every week until you die. Probably a sad statement, but I had to chuckle when I read it knowing just how many times I’ve told myself that things are busy now, but next week things will slow down. Truth be told, all of us have more things to do than we can ever do, and even with our best efforts there will always be some things that just never get done.
Jesus once told a story about a man who invited many people to a great banquet. He expected a full house, but when he sent his servants out to do the inviting, this is the kind of response he got…
As I write this, there is so much that is undone in my life. There are some financial things I need to take care of. There are some maintenance and upgrade issues with our home that need to be addressed. I have phone calls I need to make. There are meetings I need to prepare for. Out-of-town responsibilities dot the calendar and logistics must be tackled. I’ve got to fit in some exercise along the way. And, of course, pay some good attention to my lovely wife too. But clearly, it’s not going to get all done. Not even close. So the question looms: will I leave the right things undone?
In fact, I wonder if this question is among the most important ones we will ever ask. If we answer it well, it might release us from the ever-elusive stress of checking off the entire to do list, but more importantly it might keep us from missing the most valuable invitations in life. As I imagine it, leaving the right things undone probably means leaving the dishes until tomorrow so I can join a group of friends that encourages my faith. Or perhaps it means leaving some emails unanswered and inviting our neighbors over for dinner. It could mean missing the “all-important” business meeting in order to be at our kids’ big event. Or perhaps it means the “bucket list” vacation trip gets put on hold to help build a house in Haiti. In the end, leaving the right things undone could mean a whole lot of things.
I think it is safe to assume that as life goes on there will continue to be things that just never get done. I just want to make sure I am leaving the right things undone. The characters in Jesus’ parable made a big mistake. In one sense, we could excuse them for turning down the invitation. Their excuses were not wholly frivolous. Nonetheless, they missed the banquet. The banquet with the One who created them. The banquet with the One who saved them. The banquet with the One who holds the keys to eternity. That’s not an invitation I want to miss.
Despite claims that belief in God is nothing more than archaic superstition not fit for the scientific age, the vast majority of the world still believes in God. Ask people, however, why they think God exists and many can say little more than, “It’s just something you have to faith in.” I am all for faith, but only if there are some solid reasons behind it. Ask me to have faith in a bridge that has been built by seasoned engineers and I am good with that, but ask me to cross a rickety creation put together by a couple of 8-year-olds, and I might just leave the faith to you. In other words, I want to believe in God, but only if there are good reasons to do so.
So then what kind of reasons do I have for my belief in God? I’ll go ahead and offer five. Like in a trial, one strand of evidence might not be enough to tilt the scales, but when combined the evidence for God can make a rather compelling case. At least I think so.
I believe in God because we are here. That might not sound like a very strong reason, but when you ponder the nature of the universe it carries a bit more weight. Consider first that there was a time when there was no universe (that was the big discovery of the Big Bang Theory). Then consider that the universe is made up of time, space, and matter. What caused the universe? Well, it’s got to be something that is timeless, non-spatial, and immaterial since those things didn’t exist before the universe came into being. For centuries on end, and well before anything was seen through the Hubble telescope, God has been described as timeless, non-spatial, and immaterial, and beyond that a powerful, creative agent of change. In other words, God certainly fits the description of the “criminal” who could commit the crime of causing the universe.
I believe in God because I believe in intellect over luck. I am guessing you’ve seen a sound board at the back of a big theatre. There are hundreds of dials and sliders that need to be put in just the right place so that sound from the stage is perfect. Suppose a new top-end sound board is placed at the back of Houston’s grandest theater just before Broadway’s Hamilton hits town. Then imagine that when the sound engineers plug in the new board, every control is set just right for every element of the incoming musical. I am guessing they wouldn’t think they just got lucky. Rather, they would conclude that someone who already knew the venue and the Hamilton production pre-programmed it to perfection. This is the same kind of conclusion I have come to relative to the universe. The scientific community has long recognized that the dozens of cosmological constants that make the universe the universe (such as gravity, or the strong nuclear force, or the expansion rate) are remarkably fine-tuned for life to the zillionth degree. That means that if any one of them was different by just a smidgen, no sentient life would exist anywhere in the universe. Famed British astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle once wrote: “A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.” From what I’ve read, Hoyle didn’t have a lot of sympathy for God, but his “superintellect” sure seems to fit an omniscient Creator.
I believe in God because love and justice and beauty are on shaky ground without him. Suppose the world we live in just came about by chance. No God involved anywhere. We are just how the Scrabble pieces fell out of the box. If that’s the case, the love you say you have for your children, the awe you experience when you see a beautiful mountain lake, and the justice that rises within you when a friend is wronged, are nothing but chemical reactions that have evolved from millions of rolls of the cosmic dice. They are feelings or sensations and nothing more. Vocal atheist Richard Dawkins describes it this way: “In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.” I, for one, refuse to believe that. If I trust my sense of smell and sight and touch to tell me what is real, even though they have often failed me, I certainly can trust my sense of love and justice and beauty to tell me what is real, even if at times they are misguided. But if my sense of love and justice and beauty are to be trusted, then there must be someone who made things objectively lovable and right and beautiful and gave me the ability to experience them for what they are. And maybe that someone (I’ll say God) made things that way because they are true of himself.
I believe in God because of the record of history. Fake news. We get it all the time. But once in a while we are convinced we are getting the real thing. But how long would it take for that news to be distrusted? Would people in a hundred years start to distrust what was recorded a century earlier? Would they doubt it after 500 years? And on what basis would it be doubted other than to say it was old? Typically, modern historians take what historians of old wrote at face value unless there is evidence to the contrary. If that’s the case, then it seems to me we ought to take the history recorded in the Bible at face value until we see evidence to the contrary. And I as I have done my search, that kind of evidence is scant, while the evidence that the people, places, and events described in its pages keeps filling up books. That said, I believe in God because of his repeated acts in history as recorded in the Bible. Of course, some say, “But human ambition accounts for what we read. The Bible’s claims, especially that stuff about miracles, is fake news propagated to get a following.” Believe that if you will, but I think it is an odd kind of ambition considering that so many of the biblical writers were ignored, persecuted, and martyred. As Chuck Colson, the convicted mastermind behind Watergate, once wrote. “I know the resurrection [of Jesus] is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren't true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world, and they couldn't keep a lie for three weeks. You're telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”
I believe in God because I have experienced him. Let’s suppose a neighbor enters my home and kills my friend. Before the police arrive, he leaves the house. There is no doubt who killed my friend—all my senses would not lie. When the police arrive, they immediately begin gathering evidence. They look for hair follicles and blood and for the deadly weapon. They interview me, take pictures of the scene, and then leave to find the culprit and build their case. Their case will not be based on personal experience, at least not my kind of experience; it will be based on the testimony of others and evidence at the scene. I need none of that, because I know what I saw and heard and touched and smelled. Above I have mentioned four kinds of evidence that have helped persuade me that God is not a mythical creation. But while those strands of evidence are compelling, at this point in my life I am more swayed to believe in God because I have experienced him. Others might still need evidence for God (and that’s all well and good), but now that I have experienced God firsthand, it is experience not evidence that speaks most loudly to me. You might ask, and rightly so, “What do you mean you have experienced God?” Jesus once told the crowds that followed him, “Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.” I taught tennis for many years. I could give people reasons for why they should hit the ball with a different kind of swing. But it wasn’t until they put what I said into action, and personally experienced the results, that they were convinced in the value of what I said. In the last many years, it has been my aim to do the will of God as Jesus taught it. And what I have found? Only that Jesus’ words were true, for as I have walked in his way I have increasingly experienced a joy and peace and love that I can attribute to nothing other than God himself. In other words, his life at work in mine is simply evidence I cannot dismiss.
John likes to help people wrestle with the big questions of life in his work with Search Ministries. He served as a pastor in Houston for 16 years, earned his doctorate at Biola University, and is a contributing author of Reasons to Believe: Thoughtful Responses to Life’s Toughest Questions.