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Friday, March 16, 2018

Why Not to Believe

Steve Taylor sang a song back in 1990 titled Harder to Believe Than Not To. It came from a line from a letter from Flannery O'Connor, an American writer from Georgia, who was responding to friends who were shocked that she would believe something so unfashionable as Christianity. She responded that there is a high cost to following Jesus and, as such, "It's much harder to believe than not to believe." The truth is, the world has several reasons not to believe.

Someone said that the most controversial verse in the Bible is Genesis 1:1 - "In the beginning, God ..." It is the driving conflict between humans and God. "Is it about Him, or is it about Me?" As we all know, it's about Me. Except God disagrees. But "all about Me" underscores our everyday existence, our entire worldview. So the question becomes, "Who are you going to believe?" The result is an inherent conflict ... with God (Rom 8:7).

The first message of the Gospel is the bad news -- we are sinners (Rom 1:16-18). We are all sinners (Rom 3:23). In fact, there is none good; not one (Rom 3:12). Now, of course, none of us believe this. We're all pretty good. Well, not completely good, of course. I mean, we all agree that to err is human, that "nobody's perfect." But sinners? Worse, there is a penalty involved -- eternal damnation. Torment for the rest of eternity. Hell. "Okay, now hang on! Just because we've may have committed some ... mistakes here, why does that call for such a drastic result?" Well, since it's all about Him and He is infinite, the crimes we have committed against Him are infinite and the payment is, too. Having stood carefully on "It's about Me", this is another reason not to believe.

"But, look, we can be reasonable. Let's just say You're right. Let's say it's all about You and not us and that we are actually sinners. Maybe we even risk Hell. Do You have a solution?" This shouldn't be too bad, we figure. I mean, everyone knows that there is a "good enough". If we can be good or, at least, "better than you", we should be okay. Right? The solution God offers isn't helpful. No, there is no "good enough". No, there's nothing we can do to mitigate our debt. No effort, no work, no penance. If there is a solution, we don't play a part in it. Another reason not to believe. (Because, remember, the original problem is "It's not about Me" and we don't find that acceptable.)

So, none of my works, none of my effort, none of my penance will do. So, what? Are we without hope? (Puny religion.) No, of course not. There is a remedy. God sent His Son to die on our behalf. Death is required; He took that death. He lived a perfect life and paid the price. In this, God is both just and justifier (Rom 3:26). He doesn't surrender His justice but also maintains grace and mercy. This is God's remedy, but even the Bible recognizes that this answer won't fly. "We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles (1 Cor 1:23). "Sounds too barbaric," we say today. "God is too bloodthirsty," we taunt. Because, after all, it is all about Me, not God, and this just won't do.

"But let's just say that you have something there, okay? Let's just let your whole premise thus far stand. Why be a Christian? I mean, the debt is paid, right? No need to do anything else. End of story." Again, that idea is predicated on "It's all about Me" and falls short. "There is no other name given under heaven among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12) Jesus stated unequivocally, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." (John 14:6) This isn't a catch-all, universal fix. It requires faith, agreement, submission. Another reason not to believe.

"Look," we finally say, "you're really pushing it. Now you're saying we need 'faith'. You're not even going to offer proof?" Well, proof is a problem. Proof is defined as the argument or evidence that establishes the fact of a statement, but that kind of proof doesn't exist. Biblical faith takes evidence and reason and goes to the next step. "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (Heb 11:1) "Yes, that's what we're saying. You're arguing that we have to trust in something we don't see?" Yes. And that requires an act of God (e.g., John 6:63-65). So we're back down to "It's all about God."

We believers are convinced that we have something here. It flies in the face of the underlying premise of Natural Man. It carries bad news -- really bad news. It eliminates the abilities of humans to solve the problem and lays it on the back of a single gift of God, His Son, who died on our behalf and paid our price. It refuses to allow alternatives or other routes. It stands on faith in things not seen, a faith that is given by God. In the end, it starts and ends with God. In the end it is all about Him. Perhaps you can see why it might be harder to believe than not to. It's just that ... well ... that doesn't mean it's not right to believe.

1 comment:

Bob said...

It is quite right to say that you have not any righteousness; but it is quite wrong to look for any (within yourself). It is, "Look unto me." God will have you turn your eye off yourself and look unto him. The hardest thing in the world is to turn a man's eye off himself; as long as he lives, he always has a predilection to turn his eyes inside, and look at himself; whereas God says, "Look unto me." Charles Spurgeon.