How Do I Know God Exists?

Engaging in a debate over the question, “Does God exist?”, will not likely result in one of the debating persons changing their conclusion. I have a number of friends who profess atheism, and most of them are entrenched in their position—just as I am entrenched in my conviction that God exists.

If I engage an atheist friend in dialogue, I harbour no expectation of “winning them over” to my position. What I would want to communicate is “the math”, which led to my conclusion. It is a common charge of atheists that “faith is not evidence based” and therefore references to faith should not be included in the discussion. This, in my opinion, is an unfair categorization of faith. In a debate between Oxford scholars, John Lennox (Christian) and Richard Dawkins (Atheist), Lennox asked Dawkins if he had any faith that his wife loved him. Dawkins immediately responded in the affirmative, to which Lennox countered, “Do you have any evidence to support your belief that your wife loves you?” Dawkins again responded in the affirmative.

Lennox: “So your faith is evidence based then?”

Dawkins: “Leave my wife out of this!”

I gather that Lennox and Dawkins regularly debate on this issue, and yet there is no indication that either has adjusted their conclusions even slightly.

I regard there to be some value in sharing with others the influences upon our worldview and our theology, but I agree with D.A. Carson who suggests in the video below that we typically approach the topic of God’s existence in an unhelpful and presumptuous way.

Carson certainly doesn’t settle the matter for us, but he does provide (in my opinion) a  much more helpful trajectory to deal with the subject of how we discover God’s existence.

What do you think?

God Is Speaking

The more I read the Bible the more I trust it. The more I read the Bible the more I am impressed by its internal consistency. The more I read the Bible the more I sense my acute need for this Book. Like spiritual food for my soul, this Book nourishes me.

Over the years I have noticed that my proximity to God, the health of my relationship with Christ, tends to correspond with the amount of attention I am giving to the Scriptures. For this reason, I regard the study of Scripture to be vital to the health and progress of every follower of Jesus.

I think the apostle Paul agrees. In his last known correspondence to Timothy, there is a distinct emphasis on the Word of God. First, Paul challenges Timothy,

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)

And then, speaking about the nature of this word, Paul writes:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16, 17)

On May 24, at St. Giles Kingsway and The Well, I spoke on this text, discerning therein 3 key exhortations:

  1. Know the Word
  2. Trust the Word
  3. Apply the Word

Additionally, I note some of the things that threaten to keep us from doing these things. I note the practical value of knowing, trusting, and applying the Word, but I also offer a personal incentive for studying the Bible. The illustration I use to present this latter incentive is deeply personal, but I hope you’ll find it both appropriate and compelling. Have a listen and let me know what you think.

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God still speaks through His Word. His Word remains relevant, authoritative, and sufficient. That’s speaking generally.

Allow me to be more specific: I’m confident that, as you prayerfully study the Scriptures, you’ll find that God has something meaningful to say to you.

Watering Down The Word?

As I circulate within various Christian communities, and as I share a vision of what The Well might look like, I field a lot of questions. One question I hear frequently is, ‘What will the sermon be like?’ Sometimes, before answering, I will probe the questioner to see if I can determine what is prompting their question. Almost always, the question is born out of a concern that ministries like The Well sometimes water down the Word of God in order to connect with the ‘unchurched’.

I’m not in a position to speak for other ministries, although it wouldn’t surprise me if there were indeed ministries where the ‘sermon’ was largely stripped of biblical content. I suspect this after recently hearing of a ‘Seeker-sensitive’ ministry that actually did away with the sermon. That’s right, no sermon at all!

It is my firm conviction that the message isn’t the problem. The decline of church attendance in Canada in the 21st Century is not the result of some failure of the Scriptures. The decline might have something to do with some failings within the pulpit. That is to say, the decline might have something to do with the approach and manner of the preacher. I am convinced, however, that an ably delivered message saturated with biblical content is NOT the problem.

So when I’m asked the question, ‘What will the sermon be like?’, I eventually answer, ‘It will be a lot like what you normally hear from me.’ That is to say that the message will have its roots in the Scripture. The emphasis of the message will centre around Jesus Christ.

What will be different?

Informality. I won’t be wearing a preaching robe. I won’t be standing behind a pulpit. The tone of the message will be more conversational.

Vocabulary. The Well anticipates engaging folks with little or no church background. The Well anticipates engaging folks with little or no exposure to the Scriptures. Accordingly, I’ll need to tweak my vocabulary when I speak. For example, rather than throw around terms like ‘sanctification’, I’ll describe instead the process of becoming like Jesus.

I am confident that communicators of the Gospel can accommodate their language without compromising the message. Part of my thinking here relates to the principle of relevance. I regard the Bible to be hugely relevant (2 Timothy 3:16), and I cringe when I hear Christians say that they want the preacher to ‘make the Bible relevant.’ The Bible doesn’t need me to ‘make it relevant’, it already is relevant! My task is to demonstrate the relevance of the Bible and, to do this, I need to be sensible with my vocabulary. I need to take steps to ensure that my hearers understand what I am saying.

The approach of The Well may appear innovative on many fronts, but we will not innovate with God’s Word. We are working from the premise that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16), and we are clinging to the notion that the Word of God is living and active (Hebrews 4:12). We absolutely will not water down the Word.

The message isn’t the problem. The message is Good News. The message is the best kind of news. The message explains how we can fill the God-shaped void in each of us. I’m so eager to get that message out. We’re taking down some traditional layers to be sure, but for The Well, the layer of God’s Word remains central.

The Big Picture

It’s official: my wife thinks I’m crazy. Well, she didn’t exactly use those words, but her amateur diagnosis is that I suffer from O.C.D. (obsessive compulsive disorder). I simply like to think of myself as thorough. At any rate, this personality trait was engaged when I set out to complete a 1,000 piece puzzle on Monday afternoon while relaxing at our cottage in Arden, Ontario.

The puzzle is a compilation of scenes from the popular television show, LOST. I assumed that being familiar with the characters and symbols from the show would put me in good stead to complete the puzzle in a reasonable amount of time. I was wrong. No, I was hugely mistaken (You’ll have to ask Allie how long I spent working on the puzzle as I wasn’t keeping track of time). To make a long story short, I left the cottage on Tuesday afternoon with the puzzle largely incomplete (I estimate it was 60% finished). Those who know me well can appreciate how hard it was for me to pry myself away from an incomplete puzzle.

So, what was my problem? My problem was that the puzzle didn’t come with a picture. Perhaps, I’m too accustomed to doing children’s puzzles with my five year-old daughter, but I thought that all puzzles come with pictures……don’t they? The only picture I had to work with was a very partial one that was on the box cover. The partial picture was of some help, but I needed a more detailed revelation–I needed the complete picture. I needed to see the full view of what I was attempting to assemble. Without that, putting this puzzle together felt a lot like a walk in the dark…a lot of guesswork was involved. Subsequently, at the end of the day (more precisely, at the end of two days!), my puzzle remained incomplete.

Now imagine this: Imagine how you would get on if finding your purpose in life was like assembling a puzzle with a partial picture.

There may be some who would readily admit that finding purpose in life is like trying to solve a difficult puzzle. I once thought that. There was a day when I relied on my instincts, my intellect, my experience, and my education for answers to life’s difficult questions. There was a day when I relied on the majesty of creation to help me understand something about my Creator. However, creation, as beautiful and as glorious as it is, provides only a partial picture.

Creation points to the existence of God and it reveals something about His power and wisdom, but creation is insufficient to convey the holiness of God. Creation does not sufficiently reveal the mercy and kindness of God. Nor does creation make clear whether I personally matter to God. To learn this I need to see the big picture.

I’m so glad God didn’t give me a partial view. I’m so grateful that, in the Scripture, I have everything I need to find my purpose in the cosmos (2 Timothy 3:17). I was made by God, for God–to be in relationship with Him (Isaiah 43:7).

The Scriptures detail how my sin had alienated me from this original design……but God pursued me. There was a time when I was far away from God, but now I have been brought near by a Mediator (Ephesians 2:1-10, 13).

If I show any measure of confidence, it is not because of anything to do with Bryn MacPhail. My joy comes from the fact that I have read the Book, I have seen the picture, and I have embraced the message that God is for me in His Son, Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).

Finding purpose ought not to be like trying to solve a difficult puzzle. The big picture is readily available, and I am utterly convinced of its beauty.

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In the days following my post, ‘The Big Picture’, I’ve had lots of people ask about this puzzle. It turns out my wife and her friend completed the puzzle in my absence……I feel a post on lowliness, or humility coming on. Congratulations ladies—I proudly display your work.

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