June 12, 2016

Loud Glory

On occasion I’ve had a conversation about the Christian faith with someone who was not a follower of Jesus in any meaningful sense and who may have even taken up the description “atheist.”  And as we talked about the faith this other person eventually brought up the excuse that “I would believe in God if only there was enough evidence.”  Perhaps you have encountered this line of thinking before when you’ve been talking about the faith with a non-believer.  Now, more often than not this kind of a statement is really just a smoke screen and is code for, “I’m done talking about this so please go away and leave me alone.”  But if you want to have some fun with the other person, act like you don’t understand the code and push them a little bit.  Ask them a follow-up question to keep the conversation moving and even moving in the direction you’re wanting it to go: “What do you mean by that?”  You could also ask something like, “Well, for you, what would constitute ‘enough evidence’?”

What this does is it puts the ball back in their court.  It forces them to think a bit about their objection and whether or not it’s a good one.  That second question in particular is useful because the fact is: there’s lots of evidence out there in favor of the existence of God.  There’s evidence in favor of the reliability of the Scriptures.  There’s evidence in favor of the historical reality of both the death and the resurrection of Jesus.  There’s evidence in favor of the fact that the lifestyle Jesus commends is better than any other lifestyle a person might choose.  When it comes to the various truth claims of the Christian worldview there’s more evidence in its favor than for any other out there.  The real question is whether or not a person has sufficiently narrowed their definition of what counts as evidence such that what does exist is not considered viable any longer.

Furthermore, claims like this one are sometimes made contradictorily in light of other statements they’ve made.  For instance, I once had a conversation with a young man who made this claim.  I asked that second question and he finally said that if God came down and made Himself known in some totally undeniable fashion he would believe.  But, at the same time, earlier in our conversation he ruled out the existence of the supernatural generally.  You see the problem here, right?  With this anti-supernatural bias in place, it wouldn’t matter if God knocked on his door and took him out for dinner.  He would simply find a way to explain it naturally.  That says a whole lot more about him than the viability of the available evidence.  The fact is, when a person has committed themselves to such a position as this young man had, they are essentially wearing blinders to reality.  Because, again, the reality is that there is evidence in favor of God and the life He calls us to live everywhere we look.  We don’t even have to look very hard for it.  In order to find boatloads of it we can do something as simple as taking a walk.

Well, this morning we are in the second part of our series, Offer a Reason.  The goal for this series is to help you not only be, but feel more equipped to share your faith with unbelievers in your life.  I’m calling the series “Offer a Reason,” though, because of what we talked about last week.  Then with the help of 1 Peter we looked at the fact that evangelism is not nearly as scary a thing as we sometimes make it out to be.  I wonder how much of that fear is planted in our hearts and minds by the Enemy.  In any event, what evangelism really boils down to is that we are to offer a reason for the hope that we have.  Now, this assumes that you know the reason for the hope that you have which is why I encouraged you last week to go and figure it out if you don’t.  But once we have given some thought and word to that, we are to simply share our stories of hope with other people.  Stories are a powerful thing.  You can’t very well argue with someone who is simply sharing what happened to them.  And for most people, sharing stories like this combined with demonstrating for them the character of the Jesus you follow is enough to coax them into the kingdom.

But, sometimes that’s not enough.  Sometimes the other person comes at life with a bit more skeptical a lens than many people wear.  These folks really do need a little more information in the form of evidence than others do.  Fortunately, as I’ve already said, that evidence is available in spades.  All we need to do is present it to them.  Here, though, is where many folks run headlong into the second major source of fear when it comes to evangelism: not knowing enough.  Well, as promised last week, in the rest of our time together this morning and again next week we are going to address this perceived lack.  I’m going to give you some information in the form of arguments and evidence that when combined with your own reasons for hope make a powerful apologetic in favor of the truth and worthwhileness of the Christian faith.  What makes these arguments so powerful is that they are drawn from the kind of everyday, commonsense experiences that everybody has.  These are pieces of evidence that even a moment’s pause for reflection about the world and how it works will reveal as both viable and verifiable.  These are evidences that even the ancients with their pre-scientific worldviews were able to see and record.

As a matter of fact, if you will grab a nearby copy of Scriptures and find your way in it to Psalm 19 you can take a look at this with me.  In Psalm19 King David is marveling at the way the glory of God is revealed in creation and then reflecting on what he should do about it.  Check this out starting at v. 1: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.  Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.  There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.  Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.  In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.  Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat.”

That’s masterful poetry there.  This is King David at his best.  So what’s he saying?  He’s saying that God’s glory is revealed in creation.  Creation itself “proclaims” the glory of God.  His wonders are shouted aloud every day and every night. What’s more, these declarations are impossible to miss—“There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.”   What David is saying is that simply by observing the beauty of the created world we can catch glimpses of the wonder of who God is.  Now we can’t know everything about Him from these.  We can’t even know enough from nature on its own to get us to the point of salvation.  But that natural swell in our hearts when we encounter in raw and unfiltered form the beauty of creation is a huge gleaming signal in our spirits that there is something more to this world than what we can see and that this something more is good.  God has put His stamp on the world He has made and He placed it obviously enough that we don’t have to look very hard to find it.  Why even the existence of the world in the first place begs for an explanation.  How did it get here?  Why does it look the way it does?  Why does it work the way it does?

Now, in ancient times most people generally just assigned such things to the gods.  They could clearly see that creation was a task beyond what any person could muster.  The source of it all must be supernatural.  In more modern times as some skeptics have been emboldened by various scientific discoveries there has been a very much concerted effort to show how the whole thing came about by either chance or necessity.  But ironically as our scientific knowledge of the world and its workings has continued to expand both of those explanations have been revealed to be almost laughably inadequate.  Indeed, while a hard look at the world and everything in it by itself should be enough to convince us that it’s the work of someone greater than us, a little bit of science helps arrive at such a conclusion with even more confidence than before.  And in a day when most people are trained to listen to “scientists” as if they are experts on everything, using some of the findings of modern science to boost our arguments is a pretty good strategy when it comes to being prepared to offer a reason for our hope.

As a matter of fact, I want to look briefly with you at three really strong pieces of evidence or arguments in favor of the existence of God that result from hearing the proclamation David spoke of in Psalm 19 through the lens of modern science.  The first of these is called the Kalam cosmological argument.  This argument, when stated formally, has two premises and a conclusion.  The first premise, or statement is this: whatever begins to exist has a cause.  That makes sense right?  If something exists in this world, there was something else that caused it to come into being.  The idea of spontaneous generation was rejected as unscientific over 100 years ago.  Some skeptics may want this not to be true, but if wishes were dollars they’d all be rich.  The second premise is: The universe began to exist.  And again, most of us hear something like that and think, “Well, yeah…”  But prior to about 80 years ago most non-Christian scientists assumed that the universe had always been here.  More on this in just a minute.  For now, though, just know that the universe had a finite beginning at some point in the past.  Well, in a formal argument like this one, if the premises are true, the conclusion follows logically.  Thus the conclusion here is simple: The universe has a cause.  Now, this doesn’t take us all the way to the Christian God by any means—indeed, this argument was first devised about 500 years ago by Muslim theologians—but what we can say is that given the nature of the universe this cause must be not only external to it (lest it cause itself which would negate the premises and thus the conclusion), but because of that spaceless, timeless, immaterial, uncaused, and incredibly powerful.  Well, there aren’t very many things other than the Christian God that fit that particular set of parameters.

The second piece of evidence I want to equip you with this morning comes out of the second premise of the Kalam argument.  The universe began to exist.  Remember that I said this was not something the broader scientific community believed not all that long ago?  Well, in 1915 a young scientist named Albert Einstein presented what he called his General Theory of Relativity.  This totally changed the nature of the study of physics.  It served as the first major domino in a series of transformational discoveries about the nature of the universe.  The second of these dominoes came in the 1920s as two physicists named Friedmann and Lemaitre, each working independently with Einstein’s General Relativity equations, predicted that the universe is expanding.  Well, something cannot expand infinitely.  The expansion had to start somewhere.  This prediction and its implications rocked the foundations of the non-Christian scientific world even to the point of prompting Einstein to fudge one of his equations a bit to show the opposite to be the case.  But in 1929 Edwin Hubble (of the Hubble Telescope fame) observed what he called the Red Shift of heavenly bodies.  This observational evidence proved correct the prediction of Friedmann and Lemaitre and additionally demonstrated that the entire universe had sprang into being out of a single, fixed point.  Committed atheists in the scientific community soon began referring to this idea as the Big Bang.  They meant it as a ridicule but the name stuck.  And wouldn’t you know it…it sounds an awful lot like what Genesis 1:1 describes as the way God began creating the world.  Since that time scientists have come up with all kinds of alternative explanations to the clear Christian implications of this finding, but most of these when pressed are pretty unconvincing.  Instead, what we have as one of the most solidly attested explanations for how the universe came into being is something that rings with incredible similarity to what we’ve been saying all along.  And if we’re right about the beginning…what else are we right about?

One more here and then we’ll talk about what all of this means for us.  Since scientists discovered proof that the universe does in fact have a fixed beginning point they have discovered more and more details about its working.  Careful observers of the world have for some time recognized that there are a great many things about the universe that seem to work just right and to our benefit.  Absent a scientific framework one might call all this serendipitous.  The design of the universe is not random but elegant and planned with incredible precision and care.  In the last few years, though, we have gone beyond simply making observations to assigning them mathematical values.  The precision of these numbers boggles the mind.  Stephen Hawking wrote in his classic book The Theory of Everything that “if the rates of expansion one second after the big bang had been smaller by even one part in a hundred thousand million, million, the universe would have recollapsed before it ever reached its present size.  On the other hand, if the expansion rate at one second had been larger by the same amount, the universe would have expanded so much that it would be effectively empty now.”  Another well-known physicist, Roger Penrose, got even more specific.  He wrote that “the Creator’s aim must have been [precise] to an accuracy of one part in .  This is an extraordinary figure.  One could not possibly write the number down in full in the ordinary denary notation: it would be 1 followed by 10123 successive “0”s!  Even if we were to write a “0” on each separate proton and on each separate neutron in the entire universe—and we could throw in all the other particles as well for good measure—we should fall far short of writing down the figure needed.  [This is] the precision needed to set the universe on its course.”  That last sentence is the most important there.  The precision needed in the beginning to make sure everything in the universe turned out like it is today is a number larger than the total number of atomic particles in the whole universe.  That the universe was designed with such mind-blowingly incredible precision suggests in a rather insistent manner that there was in fact a designer behind it.  Someone certainly can make the argument that the whole thing came about by chance, but the burden of proof rests rather heavily on their shoulders.

Indeed, as King David announced: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”  But is that it?  I mean, again, none of these three lines of argument take us to the point of salvation by themselves.  So why spend so much time adding these to our evangelism tool belt?  Because as the title of the great apologist Josh McDowell’s magnum opus proclaims, this is evidence that demands a verdict.  You can go about your days blissfully unaware of these incredible pieces of evidence, but once you know about them they demand that you do something about them.  To ignore them as if they don’t matter is to be intellectually dishonest.  Okay…so then what’s the point?  Why invest time in learning something that if shared aloud in, say, a classroom setting will, depending on the professor, earn you ridicule, scorn, and possibly even unjust grade reductions?  Well, for one because we’re commanded to offer a reason for our hope and these three are pretty powerful reasons for hope to offer.  But two, because of where each of these point the person who is intellectually honest.  And where do they point?  They point to the glory of God.  All creation points us to the glory of God.  And when we have encountered the glory of God we come back for more.  Come back to the text of Psalm 19 and see where King David goes next.

“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.  More to be desire are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.  Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.  Who can discern his errors?  Declare me innocent from hidden faults.  Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me!  Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.  Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

So where does he go?  David’s observation of the glory of God in creation takes him right back to the Scriptures where he finds over and over again that they are right and true and worth using as a guide for living.  Did you see that?  The law of the Lord is perfect.  The testimony of the Lord is sure.  The precepts of the Lord are right.  The commandment of the Lord is pure.  The fear of the Lord is clean.  The rules of the Lord are true.  He comes away from this experience with the Word of the Lord transformed.  Look again at what he said there in v. 12: “Who can discern his errors?”  That’s not an acclamation of praise of God (by posing it as a rhetorical question whose answer is, “No one because He doesn’t have any”).  That’s a cry of humility.  We can tell this from the second part of the verse: “Declare me innocent from hidden faults.”  And what might these “hidden faults” be?  In v. 13 David identifies them for us as “presumptuous sins.”  Well, what exactly is a “presumptuous sin”?  How about assuming we know better than our Creator?  How about operating out of a worldview that assumes the supernatural doesn’t exist?  How about assuming on the powers of science alone to tell us everything there is to know about the world and its workings?  Is this not an echo of the original sin of Adam and Eve—to know better than God how to live our lives and what is good for us to know?  By this puffed up—and false—knowledge we can become dominated by the lie that we will find all that we need to live the best lives we possibly can somewhere other than God.

Folks, people fall prey to this particular delusion all the time and most of them aren’t scientists.  How many people do you know right now—friends and family members; coworkers and neighbors—who while perhaps giving a weak lip service to some kind of a generic belief in a god who roughly approximates our God in truth live lives that proclaim their deep-seated belief that they know best about how to live their lives.  They don’t need Christians or the church or some God who hasn’t ever done much for them anyway telling them what they should be doing.  Yet the truth of the matter is that all creation points us to the glory of God.  So for example, what if in addition to your consistent demonstration of the love of Christ to them combined with the sharing of your personal reasons for hope in Jesus as Lord and not merely Savior you were able to share with them the incredible evidence of the intricate and precise design of the universe?  Surely a God who was capable of designing the world with  accuracy (and, yes, you’ll probably have to explain to them just how big a number that really is) might know a thing or two worth heeding about how the people whom He also created in equally mind-blowing detail would be best served to live in it.  Wouldn’t that God be worth knowing in a little more detail than you do now?  Do you see how this works?  All creation points us to the glory of God and by knowing just a single reason how you’ve been able to move someone a small step in His direction.  You’ve planted a seed that someone—maybe you—will water so that it can grow and bear the fruit that leads to eternal life.  All creation points us to the glory of God.  We need only point to the pointers.

Now, you might be thinking: but what if they do reject the evidence?  Well, notice that I haven’t ever said you should give the evidence by itself.  The evidence is best offered in the context of a consistent Christ-like example and your own reason for hope in Jesus.  Those two things by themselves, when faithfully applied, are often enough to draw someone to the truth.  The evidence we’ve talked about this morning only sweetens the pot.  But what if the other person isn’t science-minded at all?  Why, I’m not really science-minded at all.  That’s okay.  You can still point to the evidence.  But still, what’s been our big idea this morning?  All creation points us to the glory of God.  Creation isn’t all science.  Creation also includes the way people interact with each other.  Well, when it comes to how people interact with each other, most folks even if they don’t care two wits about science at least have an opinion about which way is the best.  And if you’ll come back next week as we wrap up this series, we’ll talk about one more piece of evidence from the realm of morality that will knock your socks off…and just maybe the socks of your non-Christian friends and family as well.  You won’t want to miss it.