Think Again: Catching the Light
If apologetics is to be done effectively, we must connect with the person at the level of the personal and understand where the individual faces their personal struggle.
Skeptics often attack Christians for living just by this thing we call “faith.” The attack redefines what faith actually is and then tears it apart. Skeptics say faith is the seduction of our emotions and something we attribute to that which cannot stand the test of reason. We must take that challenge seriously.
In fact, the Bible does not see faith as a totally blind leap without any justification. “Faith” in the biblical sense is substantive; it is based on reason and the knowledge that the One in whom that faith is placed has proven that He is worthy of that trust. Time and again, we see how God provides sufficient basis for that belief while calling upon us to trust Him even when things don’t go the way we wish. That kind of faith trusts not only in God’s power but also in God’s wisdom. God calls us to the proper blend of faith and reason, which everyone lives by—both believer and unbeliever. Therefore, the attack is self-defeating.
Yes, the barriers to belief may be many, yet the bridges to every heart ought never to be lost. God provides enough reason to have that faith. At the same time, we know we don’t live by sheer reason alone. The very fact that I trust my reason is a step of faith.
If apologetics is to be done effectively, we must connect with the person at the level of the personal and understand where the individual faces their personal struggle. It is never a “one size fits all” approach. Jesus consistently drove this home. His one-on-one conversations were remarkably personal and left others looking into their hearts and considering their spiritual condition. He opened people up within their own assumptions and then built a bridge from that starting point. With Nicodemus, he drew him to the assumptions of a teacher. With the woman at the well, he reached her from her broken heart.
Consider the conversation between Jesus and Pilate recorded in the Gospel of John, chapter 18. The conversation began with Pilate asking Jesus if indeed he was a king. The very surprising answer of Jesus was, “Are you asking this of your own, or has someone else set you up for this?”
Here we see the first and most important step to understanding the nature of truth. Jesus asked Pilate, in effect, if his question was genuine or purely academic. He was not merely checking on Pilate’s sincerity. He was opening up Pilate’s heart to himself, to reveal to Pilate his unwillingness to deal with the implications of Jesus’s answer. Pilate wanted a shortcut to the end game he had in mind. Jesus challenged him about his real intent. In the pursuit of truth, intent is prior to content, or to the availability of it. The love of truth and the willingness to submit to its demands is the first step. If one doesn’t desire the truth, no evidence will suffice. When we predetermine what we want, more argument ensues to justify the desire for a lie.
Jesus then added something even more extraordinary. After claiming his lordship was rooted in a kingdom that was not of this world, he said, “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
Jesus was not merely establishing the existence of truth; he was affirming his total embodiment of it. He was and is identical with the truth. This means that everything he said and did, and the life he lived in the flesh, represented that which was in keeping with ultimate reality. Life and living were defined by his being. And therefore, to reject him is to choose to govern one’s self with a lie and to redefine life. That was a staggering claim to give to Pilate, who was seduced by power and driven by self-preservation. Jesus told Pilate that how one responded to him revealed the true condition of that person’s heart. What an enormous claim just before he went to the cross to sacrifice his own power for the sake of our need.
God’s answers to life’s questions are not just proven by the process of abstract reasoning. They are also sustained by the rigors of experience and our greatest needs. In the reality of history, God has demonstrated empirically the living out of truth in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of his Son. Loving Jesus is a total way of living. Not just an argument on one matter or another. Jesus challenges our hearts and our intents and the need of our very souls.
As I have said, this is precisely what makes Jesus so unique. The whole range of both his life and his teaching can be subjected to the test of truth. Each aspect of his teaching is a link in the greater whole. Each facet is like the face of a diamond, catching the light as it is gently turned. Our response, in turn, shows who we really are: seekers of truth or pursuers of autonomy. Either we allow God to speak to us, or we use God to speak to ourselves.
In short, the intimations of truth come in a multi-directional way. God as the guardian of reason leads us to check the correspondence of his word to see that it is true in individual claims. Yet truth goes beyond one or two assertions. In all of his claims, we see the coherence of the assertions. Our experience in life proves those truths in concrete reality. Our grand privilege is to know God, to bring our lives into conformity with truth, which leads us to that coherence within. Life, to be coherent, cannot just have one “knock out” argument. It must speak meaning in totality.
Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). In a world increasingly enslaved by error and falsehood, and further seduced by ideas and images to believe a lie, how wonderful to be freed by the truth of Christ’s peace and to live in the light of his presence. God speaks to every area of our lives. The Scriptures tell us that the enemy of our souls is the father of all lies. He will do anything to keep us from coming to the truth because it is the most valuable thing in the world and leads us to the source of all truth, to God alone. That is why we must stay in his Word and be guided by his purpose for us.
To all of this the skeptic might say that such conclusions may be drawn only if the God of the Bible exists. To that, I heartily answer, Absolutely! And on numerous campuses around the world it has been our thrilling privilege to present a defense for the existence of God, the reality of the resurrection, and the authority of the Scriptures unique in their splendor and convincing in the truth they proclaim.
But let us not miss what the skeptic unwittingly surrenders by saying that all this could be true only if God exists. For implicit in that concession is the Law of Non-contradiction and the Law of Rational Inference, both of which are only deductions based on the assumption that truth exists and can be tested, the assumption that truth must be coherent and that life must make sense. Truth, in turn, can exist only if there is an objective standard by which to measure it. That objective, unchanging absolute is God, further revealed to us in the person of Christ. So, the blend of objective truth and subjective meaning makes for the bridge from argument to experience. Life is based on truth claims and is coherent because of God’s answers and God’s presence. Truth and faith come from knowledge and commitment.
Growing up in India, I heard a story of a little boy who had many pretty marbles—but he was constantly eyeing his sister’s bag full of candy. One day he said to her, “If you give me all your candy, I’ll give you all of my marbles.” She gave it much thought and agreed to the trade. He took all her candy and went back to his room to get his marbles. But the more he admired them, the more reluctant he became to give them all up. So, he hid the best of them under his pillow and took the rest to her. That night, she slept soundly, while he tossed and turned restlessly, unable to sleep and thinking, “I wonder if she gave me all the candy?”
I have often wondered when I see our culture claiming that God has not given us enough evidence if it is not the veiled restlessness of lives that live in doubt because of our own duplicity. We refuse to give up our selfish pursuits and then wonder if God really exists. The battle in our time is posed as one of the intellect, in the assertion that truth is unknowable. However, that may be only a veneer for the real battle: the battle of the heart, which Christ alone, the Light of the World, is able to transform. The just shall live by faith and faithfulness. That combination comes to trust and delight in God’s call and promise to draw near to us when we draw near to Him.
Knowledge and trust are inseparable handmaidens. That which God has joined together, let no one put asunder.
This article is a part of Just Thinking magazine issue 28.2. Click here to download the PDF.
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