Penetrating the Darkness

Talk to someone opposed to the existence of God, perhaps an agnostic or an atheist.  What do you encounter?  Questions.  Many, many questions.  But not merely questions, as if they’re sentences simply ending with question marks.  They are questions ruled by doubt.

So there stands doubt before you, riding atop the horse of inquiry, tugging on the reins, steering the conversation ever and persistently away from your answers.  It can feel like the polarity of opposing magnets.  It’s as if there’s an invisible barrier at play, an unseen resistance that continually presses back.  No matter how eloquent or sophisticated the argument, no matter how simple or plain, doubt finds a way of escape; it finds refuge in some kind of retort.

So what next?  Does not the Christian roll up his sleeves and dig deeper into his drawer of answers?

But where does it stop, this task of proving the existence of God?  Is the issue archeological?  Is it a matter of science?  Is it of a philosophical flavor?  Perhaps the person likes polls.

That’s often how such conversations go.  The Christian apologist seeks to mount an argument- a pile of arguments- establishing and proving beyond all reasonable doubt that God does in fact exist.  But who among us can really bear the weight of such a task, ultimately?  Shall we visit all the archeological dig sites?  Shall we converse with the bearded philosophers of this age?  Shall we comb all the books in the library?  Think of all those books.  Just imagine such a person sitting in his own private nook, book open, glasses sliding down his nose, one page turning into the next, digestion after digestion, world without end.

In order for the Christian to answer all the questions, he would need to be an expert in all the different fields.

But then there’s another problem.  Who among the doubters can weigh all the evidence?  Shall they sit with their noses glued to the books and explore all the corners of the universe?  And what of those who aren’t able to comprehend such things, the unlearned or simple?  How can they be expected to understand all the philosophical arguments?  Just imagine talking with the people at Walmart or the grocery.  There you are, walking around with the ontological argument tucked nicely under your arm.  Or maybe you’ve got a calculator handy and want to talk about how finely tuned the universe is.  What kinds of looks will you receive from those pushing carts?  You’ll sound like a madman.  They’ll squint and pull their kids closer.

So what are we left with?  Are sophisticated arguments intrinsically bad?  Well, no, of course not.  But they are what they are.

It seems to me that if there’s actually truth out there, that if God is to be known, then this truth is going to have be able to break through two profound barriers.  And what are they?

1)      The barrier of man’s ignorance.

2)      The barrier of man’s spiritual obstinacy.

If truth cannot break through the first, then men cannot hope to know, or perhaps only the elite.  And if this truth can be known, it must be able to break through our confused and deceived hearts.

Interestingly, Christianity overcomes both.  For if Christianity is true, then it would mean that the knowledge of God isn’t discursive.  It would be properly basic, part of the very warp and woof of our knowledge.  One might even say that it would be an inescapable knowledge.

Consider here Psalm 19 and Romans 1:18ff.

“To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. 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...” (Psa 19:1-4a)

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 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.”  (Rom 1:18-20)

But of course, even as Romans 1:18ff speaks of the objectivity of the knowledge of God, it quickly mentions our spiritual torpor.  As sinners our default posture is one of truth suppression.  We press it down and close our eyes.  So there’s an internal problem.

It doesn’t stop there though.  Paul tells us that the god of this age (Satan) has blinded the minds of unbelievers (2 Cor 4:4).  It’s hard to know how this plays out in each individual’s life, but this much can be sure: Satan has spawned confusion, a confusion that manifests itself in false belief systems.

Now in order to decipher which religion or “ism” is correct, one would need to be that elite thinker again.  Shall each person first have to wade through all the religious texts, wrestle with every argument and counter-argument, delve into the ancient corridors of history, explore the textual transmission, and investigate about a dozen or so other areas of expertise that could constitute a PHD program before they believe the Bible?

Interestingly, God has provided a solution here.  Not only has He objectified the knowledge of Himself, thereby reaching even the most simplistic among us, but He has given us a Word that is self-attesting.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, even the hardest of hearts can be transformed and made to see.  The obstacle of obstinacy can be overcome through effectual calling.  And as Reformed Christians, we believe the bible teaches this, and that it teaches this plainly.

So what shall we say to these things?

Praise God that He has not left us alone, that He has made it possible for man to know.

Praise God that He is able and willing to break the chains of sin.

Praise God that He is able to give us new hearts.

Praise God that the Spirit gives an internal witness to the Word.

Praise God that the task of apologetics isn’t hopeless.

Praise God that both the learned and unlearned are in the same boat.

Praise God that all of this is itself evidence that He is Truth.