4 Reasons Why I Believe in God: #3
Is faith in God blind? Vince Vitale takes us through four reasons why he believes in the existence of God, and contrasts them against counter-arguments for a robust discussion on this topic.
When I was young, I thought faith had to be blind. I thought you couldn’t give reasons for God. I thought belief was something you simply had or you didn’t. I didn’t become a Christian until university and that was partly because, for the first time in my life, friends were able to show me that their faith was not blind–that they had strong reasons for believing in God.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I’m laying out four reasons why I believe in God, and then I’ll place those reasons side-by-side with alternative beliefs so that we can judge what is most reasonable. We’ve looked back to the beginning of the universe; we’ve looked up at the design of the universe. Now, let’s look down.
Today, what I want you to see is an empty tomb–a tomb that’s empty because Jesus miraculously rose from the dead. Before I was a Christian, I just assumed that there was no way there could be evidence for such a thing, but when I finally looked into it, I couldn’t believe how strong the evidence was.
Richard Swinburne, one of my colleagues at Oxford University, is widely considered the best British philosopher of religion of the last generation. In his book, The Resurrection of the God Incarnate, he concludes that, on the historical evidence, it is 97 percent probable that Jesus truly and miraculously rose from the dead. Why can Swinburne claim that, and have it published by Oxford University Press?
There are a number of reasons, but let me focus on just one of them. Here is a passage written by the Apostle Paul in the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8:
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time (most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep). Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also….”
Experts have come to agree that this passage is the first known summary of Christian beliefs. Many scholars date the creed to within a couple of years of Jesus’ crucifixion, meaning that the beliefs contained within the creed must go back even further than this. Thus, almost immediately after Jesus’ execution, there were many people who were utterly convinced that they had spent time with Jesus after his death.
Even the threat of torture and murder could not make them change their minds. Pliny the Younger was a Roman Governor in the first century who was persecuting Christians, and he wrote this:
“I ask them if they are Christians, and if they admit it, I repeat the question a second and a third time, with a warning of the punishment awaiting them. If they persist, I order them to be led away for execution.”
Those who walked this earth with Jesus went from mourning that their leader had been defeated and being too scared to even be present at his crucifixion, to accepting their own deaths by torture and execution rather than deny that Jesus is God. What can account for this? How could every one of them be so utterly convinced that this dead man on a cross (Jesus) was worth dying for? The Christian response is that there was a miraculous resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It takes three generations for any significant legendary development to make its way into a text.
If someone doesn’t want to accept that explanation, what are the alternatives? Could Jesus’ resurrection have developed as a legend over time? No one takes this theory seriously anymore. Studies show that it takes about three generations for any significant legendary development to make its way into a text, but the passage from 1 Corinthians 15 shows that almost immediately after Jesus’ death his followers believed that he had risen from the dead and spent time with them.
Could it have been a hallucination? No. Multiple people don’t see the same hallucination (let alone 500 people), and there were far too many appearances of Jesus in far too many places for this to be at all plausible.
Could it have been a big conspiracy, an elaborate lie? Not a chance. People lie when they are getting something out of it. People don’t lie when they are being tortured and killed for it. The disciples saw something and it transformed their lives. What did they see? My answer is this: “God has provided confirmation for all by raising Jesus from the dead” (Acts 17:11).
Next week, we’ll examine the fourth and final reason for why I believe in the existence of God. Just like the three before, we’ll place the fourth reasons side-by-side with alternative beliefs so that we can judge what is most reasonable.