Approaching the question of how one can know God exists has been made difficult through movies and clips seeking to provide proof and evidence. Even if God’s existence could be demonstrated, it would not necessarily lead to salvific truth. Someone who proves there is a “god” can be as lost as anyone else.
In his biographical book, Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis explains that he was absolutely lost until he found “joy” in Christ through his conversion experience; Lewis learned that even if people could be brought to the realization that there is a god, they would still be utterly lost without Christ.
Rational arguments concerning God’s existence begin with assumptions about creation. For example, an assumption of a universe that came into being through unguided, fatalistic processes leads to nihilism, while the assumption that all reality — physical and immaterial — came from something or from someone results in a possibility for meaning and a belief in an infinite, personal God.
Christian apologetics means “giving a defense”
Apologetics is the study of the “defense of faith.” A defense of faith seeks to help individuals find reasons for believing in God’s existence as well as in salvific truth claims.
Ravi Zacharias said it well, “The goal in most conflicts is to destroy your opponent. The goal in apologetics is to win your opponent.”
Readers may come to this chapter wanting to be equipped to share salvific truth with family, friends, neighbors, or colleagues who do not know Christ. In my own case, for example, I began learning about salvific truth at a time when my father was not a believer.
My father was a brilliant man. By the time he became a scientist, he had earned two doctorates. One was a Doctor of Science from a university in Japan comparable to an American Ivy League school, and the second, a Ph.D. in Geochemistry from the University of Alberta. I thought, “If I can give him reasons or enough evidence, then I can convince him to be saved.” My love for my father led me into my study of apologetics.
Defending the faith
People from all walks of life will often ask one or more of the following metaphysical questions: Why should I believe the Bible? Is there salvation outside of Christianity? How do we know that God exists? Given evil, how can one justify God? Are the miracles in the Bible just made up? Why should I believe in Jesus? This chapter speaks primarily to the question of God’s existence.
The argument for a pragmatic knowledge of God’s existence
A pragmatic approach to faith is made by J. I. Packer in Knowing God, where he raises two fundamental questions: “Who is God?” and “Who is man?”
Jonathan Edwards, a Protestant pastor and perhaps the greatest theologian America has ever produced, directed individuals to the experience of faith. He advanced his pragmatic theology in the 18th century, a time when enlightenment thinking contributed to false teaching — but also led to a time of great revival.
Edwards makes the point, based on Psalm 34:8, that knowing God empirically differs from knowing God experientially:
“I can show you honey. You can observe and see the beautiful golden hue, the way the light bounces off parts and penetrates parts and radiates a beautiful glow. And I can tell you that it is sweet. And you can believe that it is sweet when I tell you it is. However, unless you have tasted it, you don’t truly know it is sweet. You can believe it is sweet because I told you, but believing honey is sweet doesn’t mean you really know it is sweet. You only truly know honey is sweet when you have tasted it.”
For Edwards, it is not observing, or stating, or believing, but tasting which leads to knowing God.
By Edwards’ standards, Charles Chauncy (1705-1787), a liberal clergyman during the Great Awakening, was wrong in directing individuals to follow the theological experts in opposition to knowing God in incarnate being. Without knowing and experiencing Christ, the idea of the existence of God will remain incomprehensible. Knowing God comes fundamentally through the regenerative work in bringing together mind and heart.
The practice of apologetics
In practicing apologetics, the church must not withhold from the world, nor must it confuse and conceal the fact that God is knowable through grace, and only in Sola Gratia are people able to experience and know. For this reason, apologists must acknowledge the limits of all arguments, including natural theology with its doctrine of another kind of knowability of God. An infinite God cannot be deduced from a finite world. Faith in God can neither be rationally certain nor empirically evident; revelation is paradoxical and requires a leap of faith.
If, in fact, God created the universe and everything else that exists, and he did so ex nihilo (out of nothing), then God exists objectively beyond all arguments based on analogies or cause-and-effect relationships in nature. Creator means one who alone exists, and everything else exists only as the work of his will and word. It would be absurd to prove the existence of one who is present.
Argument apart from the work of the Holy Spirit will not convince people of God’s existence. That would be like a child asking for a reason to trust her mother. The best way to learn to trust someone is to get to know that person.
On the matter of the Bible, unbelievers may say, “Well, I don’t believe in the Bible because it is inconsistent. I heard all the stories about Jesus as a child in Vacation Bible School. I took a college class about how the Gospels were not actually written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.”
Apologists can encourage these people to read the Bible to get to know God’s love through the person of Jesus. By analogy, one does not perform source criticism on a love letter; one writes a love letter to someone to get to know her better, and it would be a simple mockery to try to prove a loved one’s existence through the letter. Rather, one gets to know a wife through a relationship with her. This does not mean, finally, that believers should not ask the hard questions about how we got the Bible and about its sources.
Human freedom consists in the ability to choose good over evil in spiritual matters. People have the power either to cooperate with God’s Spirit and be regenerated, or to resist God’s grace and perish. The lost sinner needs the Spirit’s assistance, but faith is God’s gift.
The grace of God does not merely reconcile us to God; it enables us to know God.
Apologetics as the work of faith
By the grace of God, in October 2011, my father came to know and experience the saving grace of God, and I praise God for this great milestone. People think, “So you convinced him?”
No! My father’s salvation came from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. In God’s grace, only in solagratia, are people able to experience and know God exists and who God is. The confession of faith must begin in the experience of Christ followed by any account given of it.
Learning to account for our faith in the presence of unbelievers, and sometimes in the presence of believers who hold different opinions about matters of faith, should not be practiced as a science or even as an art. Natural theology with its doctrine of another kind of knowability of God must be resisted.
The book of James demonstrates the complex truth of apologetics as the work of faith. James gives Abraham as an example of an individual whose “faith was working together with his works, and by works, faith was made perfect” (James 2:22). It is through the quality of doing that the incarnation of God’s son, Jesus Christ, is known.