Monday, November 02, 2020

Anonymous Asks (117)

“Why should someone start believing in God?”

Not so long ago, I watched a highly educated agnostic on YouTube argue the case that pretty lies are sometimes beneficial. His point was basically that if what people believe causes them to do more good things than bad, then their beliefs are a net positive for the world despite the fact that they are out of touch with reality. He went on to say the Christian faith is one of these things, and that it is a net positive for societies and the individuals in them, even if it turns out to be a pretty lie. He says Western Civilization could use more people who believe pretty lies.

There might be something to that, but it’s not an argument a Christian is likely to make.

Healthy, Wealthy and Wise

Others, including some folks who call themselves Christian, promote belief in God because it produces wealth, health and long life, fixes marriages, makes you a better parent, gives you a sense of inner tranquility, helps you conquer addictions of various sorts and become a better all-around human being ... or at least so they say. Observation tells us some of these things prove true in the lives of people who claim to believe in God, while others don’t ... at least not consistently. Either way, if you come to God only because you want to get something out of him to make your life better in the short term, you are likely to end up disappointed. For example, wealth brings limited satisfaction and many complications, and you can’t take it with you when you die, as even the healthiest and most long-lived people will eventually.

So let’s leave aside any idea that we might decide to believe in God in order to produce a better quality of life for ourselves or society. In fact, if we turn to the pages of the Bible, we find that the people who believed in God most fervently often ended up in pretty bad shape. The book of Hebrews describes people of faith this way:
“Some were tortured, refusing to accept release ... others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated ... wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”
Say what?

Strangers and Exiles

Why would anybody want to live and die like that? Nobody would, unless they were absolutely certain that by living and dying that way, they stood to gain something far more precious than their own comfort, health or even their own lives. These people could not be satisfied with the things this world offered them because they were looking for something true, lasting and in absolute harmony with reality. They assessed what the world had to offer them and saw nothing in it that could satisfy the longing in their hearts. Again, Hebrews says that these people “acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland ... a better country, that is, a heavenly one.”

The book of Ecclesiastes says God has “put eternity into man’s heart”. I think that is a beautifully apt way to describe a longing I have always felt deep down and that many others identify in their own experience. The Bible’s explanation of this phenomenon is that human beings were originally designed to live forever, but foolishly chose mortality over eternity and have suffered the consequences of that choice ever since. As a result of original sin, we are born into this world out of harmony with our own Creator. All our sorrows, disappointments and dashed hopes in this life are in some way a product of that dislocation. And because our real problem is spiritual rather than material, no amount of health, wealth, wisdom, friends, family, success, fame, power or prestige can ever fill that hole in the core of our beings. All these things can ever do is distract us from our real problem and delay us from dealing with it.

God and Tony Robbins

So why should someone start believing in God? That very much depends. If you are convinced that an influx of cash, some good luck and a change in circumstances will fix all your problems, you don’t need God; you need Tony Robbins. But if you are past all that — if you have come to the end of yourself and have recognized that nothing this world offers can truly satisfy the longing God placed in your heart for a relationship with your Creator, then you need something better and more real than a motivational speaker’s latest program for success.

Belief in God is a good place to start. It won’t get you all the way there, of course. You will need to believe in God not as you might like him to be, but as he has revealed himself to be in his written word, the Bible. And, as the book of Hebrews shows, there is no guarantee that even the most devout faith in God will produce great results for us in this life. It may or may not.

What is certain is that coming into a relationship with our heavenly Father fills the hole in the human heart, makes the loss of anything and everything else seem trivial by comparison (as the men and women of faith listed in Hebrews 11 so well demonstrate), and makes us once again creatures of eternity rather than creatures of time.

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