Is the Christian faith intellectual nonsense? Does God really transform us?
“If God exists and takes an interest in the affairs of human beings, his will is not inscrutable,” writes Sam Harris about the 2004 tsunami in Letter to a Christian Nation. “The only thing inscrutable here is that so many otherwise rational men and women can deny the unmitigated horror of these events and think this is the height of moral wisdom.”(1) In his article “God’s Dupes,” Harris argues, “Everything of value that people get from religion can be had more honestly, without presuming anything on insufficient evidence. The rest is self-deception, set to music.”(2) Oxford zoologist Richard Dawkins similarly suggests that the idea of God is a virus, and we need to find software to eradicate it. Somehow if we can expunge the virus that led us to think this way, we will be purified and rid of this bedeviling notion of God, good, and evil.(3) Along with a few others, these atheists call for the banishment of all religious belief. “Away with this nonsense” is their battle cry. In return, they promise a world of new hope and unlimited horizons once we have shed this delusion of God.
I have news for them, however—news to the contrary. The reality is that the emptiness that results from the loss of the transcendent is stark and devastating, philosophically and existentially. Indeed, the denial of an objective moral law, based on the compulsion to deny the existence of God, results ultimately in the denial of evil itself. Furthermore, one would like to ask Dawkins: Are we morally bound to remove that virus? Somehow he himself is, of course, free from the virus and can therefore input our moral data.
In an attempt to escape what they call the contradiction between a good God and a world of evil, atheists try to dance around the reality of a moral law (and hence, a moral law giver) by introducing terms like “evolutionary ethics.” The one who raises the question against God in effect plays God while denying God exists. Now one may wonder: Why do you actually need a moral law giver if you have a moral law? The answer is because the questioner and the issue he questions always involves the essential value of a person. You can never talk of morality in abstraction. Persons are implicit to the question and the object of the question. In a nutshell, positing a moral law without a moral law giver would be equivalent to raising the question of evil without a questioner. So you cannot have a moral law unless the moral law itself is intrinsically woven into personhood, which means it demands an intrinsically worthy person if the moral law itself is valued. And that person can only be God.
In reality, our inability to alter what is actual frustrates our grandiose delusions of being sovereign over everything. Yet the truth is we cannot escape the existential rub by running from a moral law. Objective moral values exist only if God exists. Is it all right, for example, to mutilate babies for entertainment? Every reasonable person will say “no.” We know that objective moral values do exist. Therefore, God must exist. Examining those premises and their validity presents a very strong argument.
Of course, the world does not understand what the absoluteness of the moral law is all about. Some get caught, some don’t get caught. Yet who of us would like our hearts exposed on the front page of the newspaper today? Have there not been days and hours when like the apostle Paul, you’ve struggled within yourself, and said, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:15, 24). Each of us knows this tension and conflict within if we are honest with ourselves.
In that spirit, we ought to take time to reflect seriously upon the question, “Has God truly wrought a miracle in my life? Is my own heart proof of the supernatural intervention of God?” In the West where we go through seasons of new-fangled theologies, the whole question of “lordship” plagued our debates for some time as we asked, is there such a thing as a minimalist view of conversion? “We said the prayer and that’s it.” Yet how can there be a minimalist view of conversion when conversion itself is a maximal work of God’s grace? “Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). In a strange way we have minimized every sacred commitment and made it the lowest common denominator. What might my new birth mean to me? That is a question we seldom ask. Who was I before God’s work in me, and who am I now?
The first entailment of coming to know the God of transformation is the new hungers and new pursuits that are planted within the human will. I well recall that dramatic change in my own way of thinking. There were new longings, new hopes, new dreams, new fulfillments, but most noticeably a new will to do what was God’s will. This new affection of heart—the love of God wrought in us through the Holy Spirit—expels all other old seductions and attractions. The one who knows Jesus Christ begins to see that her own misguided heart is impoverished and in need of constant submission to the will of the Lord—spiritual surrender. The hallmark of conversion is to see one’s own spiritual poverty. Arrogance and conceit ought to be inimical to the life of the believer. A deep awareness of one’s own new hungers and longings is a convincing witness both to God and God’s grace within.
Ravi Zacharias is founder and chairman of the board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.
(1) Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation (New York: Knopf, 2006), 48.
(2) Sam Harris, “God’s Dupes,” The Los Angeles Times (March 15, 2007). Article available at http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/gods-dupes1/
(3) Richard Dawkins, “Viruses of the Mind,” 1992 Voltaire Lecture (London: British Humanist Association, 1993), 9.