Why believe in God in the 21st century?

10 Jul 2019

Surveys show that fewer people believe in God now than in the 20th century – this is particularly the case for those aged under 25; around 75% of this age group don’t believe in God.

‘No one has seen God at any time’

Most people need to see evidence of something before believing it exists. The Bible tells us that nobody has seen God (John 1:18 & John 5:37), but for many believers there is abundant evidence for His existence. As an analogy, we can’t see the wind, but we can see its effects on the leaves in a tree. Similarly, during the day we can’t see the stars in the sky but we know they are always there because they ‘come out at night’. 

Let’s look at some Bible passages about faith and belief in God:

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God.” [Hebrews 11:1-3]

…“The righteous shall live by faith.”… For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse…” [Romans 1:17, 19-20]

How can we ‘clearly perceive’ that God created everything?

An Expanding Universe, Exquisitely Tuned

The physical phenomenon known as ‘the Doppler effect’ is where there is an increase (or decrease) in the frequency of sound, light, or other waves as the source and observer move towards (or away from) each other. An example of this, which most people will have experienced, is the sudden change in pitch noticeable in a passing siren. The effect on light waves is called ‘red shift’ and ‘blue shift’, referring to the Doppler shift towards longer wavelengths (lower frequencies) and shorter wavelengths (higher frequencies) respectively.

In the 20th century, astronomers measuring red shifts discovered that most galaxies are increasing in distance from ours – i.e. the universe is expanding. Scientists therefore concluded that at some point the universe had a beginning (prior to this it was assumed that it had simply always existed).

So what or who caused it to come into existence?

The Bible says: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” [Genesis 1:1]

Stephen Hawking is quoted as saying “One can't prove that God doesn't exist, but science makes God unnecessary. The laws of physics can explain the universe without the need for a creator.”

Another scientist, Professor John Lennox (Mathematics and Philosophy of Science, Oxford University) retorted with “…contrary to what Hawking claims, physical laws can never provide a complete explanation of the universe. Laws themselves do not create anything, they are merely a description of what happens under certain conditions.”

The ‘fine-tuned Universe’ proposition is that the conditions that allow life can occur only when certain universal parameters and physical constants lie within a very narrow range of values; if any of these were only slightly different, life would not be sustained. If these exquisitely tuned conditions were not ‘designed’ by God as part of His creation, then surely the only alternative for the sceptic is to accept the ‘Multiverse’ theory, where “parallel universes” exist and, together, they cover all the possible values of these parameters and constants!

We would suggest that there is far more evidence that God exists and the Bible is true, than there is for the Multiverse theory!

The Lord Jesus – God’s Son

Sceptics should also consider the evidence for the life, death and resurrection of God’s son, Jesus, who perfectly reflected his Father’s character:

“No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared Him.” [John 1:18]

“Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” [John 14:8-9]

So those who met Jesus were able to see what God is like!

Let us now consider the “four E’s” of evidence for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus:

- Execution

- Empty Tomb

- Embarrassment Factor

- Eyewitness Experience

1. Execution

The Jewish Talmud (writings about Jewish times) records this:

“On (Sabbath eve and) the eve of Passover, Jesus the Nazarene was hanged and a herald went forth before him forty days heralding, "Jesus the Nazarene is going forth to be stoned because he practiced sorcery and instigated and seduced Israel to idolatry. Whoever knows anything in defence may come and state it." But since they did not find anything in his defence they hanged him on (Sabbath eve and) the eve of Passover.”

Note that the Jews writing this were enemies of Jesus, who would not want give any credence to the Christian belief that Jesus is their Messiah!

Other sources of evidence for the execution of Jesus can be found in the 1st century writings of Josephus, Tacitus and Mara Bar Serapian.

Gerd Ludemann, an atheist New Testament scholar is quoted as saying: “The fact of Jesus’ death as the consequence of crucifixion is indisputable.”

2. Empty Tomb

“While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.” [Matthew 28:11-15]

The enemies of Jesus knew where his body lay and guarded the tomb. If the disciples did steal his body away, why would they go on to suffer terribly because of their belief in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus?

3. ‘Embarrassment Factor’

The culture of the 1st century was that the testimony of women was not accepted, but the Bible tells us that the first people to see the risen Lord Jesus, and to tell the male disciples, were all women:

 “In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. …And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead… And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.” [Matthew 28:1, 5, 6, 9]

Initially, they were not believed…:

“Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils. And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept. And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not.” [Mark 16:9-11]

“And returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest. It was Mary Magdalene and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles. And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.” [Luke 24:9-11]

If the resurrection was a religious hoax invented by the disciples, surely they would have chosen individuals whose testimony was more likely to be accepted!  

4. Eyewitness Experience

“…And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas [Peter], then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me [Paul] also, as of one born out of due time.” [1 Corinthians 15:4-8]

Contemporary records from Josephus and Tacitus record that these eyewitnesses were prepared to be tortured and put to death. Tacitus’ Annals recorded that “Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace… Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination…”

Surely they wouldn’t have subjected themselves to such cruel treatment unless they really had seen the risen Lord Jesus? Hallucination can be ruled out because only one person can see a given hallucination at a time and isn’t something that can be seen by a group of people. 

Again, Gerd Ludemann, the atheist New Testament scholar has written: “”It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.”

Conclusion

There is good evidence for the existence of God and His son, the Lord Jesus:

- Expanding universe

- Exquisitely tuned

- The “four E’s” of Jesus’ resurrection

God’s plan is to establish His kingdom here on earth and this will be heralded by the return of the Lord Jesus as King of kings, who will reign with righteousness: “For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” [Habakkuk 2:14]

Jesus said: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” [Matthew 22:37-40]

And to ‘doubting’ Thomas he said: “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” [John 20:29]