Does God Exist? 10.04.2020

[1 Corinthians 2:1-11 and Psalm 8]

I went to seminary in Chicago. I got my first appointment as lead pastor of a church up in the UP. One of the things that changed when we moved up to the UP out of our small Chicago apartment was that we could finally get some dogs. We have two beagle pups, and with no fence we always had to put them on a line out back. And so most nights I’d put the dogs out on the line. They love to run around in the back, chase each other, but then at night it gets dark and they want to come inside. SO they start whining and barking and I would go out to get them. And one night, I remember, the night sky was particularly stunning. I walk into the backyard, just staring at the sky. I’m not sure how long I was just standing there, but it was long enough that the pups got bored. And so the little one, Raven, starts bumping my leg with her nose. “Com’on, bring me inside.” And I looked down at the pup, and I realized, she can’t understand why I’m staring at the sky. They can’t grasp this idea of beauty and awe. If they can’t chew on it, pee on it or bark at it – then what’s the point. Humanity has a unique preoccupation with a higher level of things. We pause where other species keep going. Now I can explain attraction to a man or a woman – that’s biology, it makes sense. But why do we find a sunrise beautiful? Why do we take pictures of a sunset?

            Today is the start of a brand new sermon series called “Argument with An Atheist.” Now, the truth is, I don’t want to argue with anyone. An atheist is simply a person who does not believe that God exists, and so this month what I want us to do is grapple with these questions, for our own understanding, but also to help us understand and reach out to the people around us who struggle with these questions. I think many of us have friends and family who claim to be atheist, and this series is designed to help us give us biblical answers for how we can best love and engage with our atheist brothers and sisters. There are three parts to this series, three questions to ask, three answers to seek, and today we start with the foundation: Does God Exist?

            Now before we get to the text, we’re gonna dive into 1 Corinthians in just a minute – but before that, let’s take a second to talk about why atheists are atheists. There are four major reasons an atheist becomes an atheist, and understanding that can help us better understand them. Number 1.) They are disappointed or angry with God. You see, when bad things happen in life – you can either turn to God, or turn from God. For some people who claim they don’t believe in God, it’s not really about belief. They don’t really think God doesn’t exist – but they are coming from a place of being hurt a place of pain or disappointment. Shouting proof and bible verses and arguments for God’s existence won’t help. Sometimes we have to find out why someone is mad at God. Number 2.) They are inconvenienced by God’s rules. There are people in the world who want to live a certain way. They want to lie, or cheat or steal , sleep with whoever, break promises, they want to be selfish or basically just choose their own rules. So rather than trying to follow the way that God has outlined, they just eliminate God – to get away from responsible living. Usually, with the people I’ve talked to, there’s like one thing they want to do, that God says is not okay. Disappointed with God, inconvenienced by God, and number 3.) Peer Pressure. While the label “Christian” is still pretty common in our country, actual Christians are no longer considered the cool kids. I mean, look at the way the media portrays us: we’re dumb, judgmental, close-minded, hateful people according to TV and the movies. The common perception is that if you’re smart, you don’t believe in God. The fourth and final reason people become atheists is the worst one. Reason number 4.) They have been hurt by God’s followers. Christians who are not acting like Christians, can smear God’s name, and people will walk away. The failures and hypocrisy of the church and the people inside the church has driven countless people away from believing in God. As a part of the church, we have to be better than that. WE are representatives of Jesus out there in the world. Now, obviously there are other reasons – but these are very common four: Angry with God, inconvenienced by God, Peer Pressure, and hurt by God’s followers. That’s the background of who we’re talking to throughout this sermon series.

            Now, you might notice that I did not mention that most people are atheist because they were convinced by a brilliant argument. Those people exist, to be sure, but what I have usually found is that beneath the clever arguments and catchy quips – most people’s reasons go deeper that than. 1 Corinthians tells us, [read v.1-2]. Paul came to the town of Corinth and established a church there. He convinced people that the Greek gods were false, and that they should turn their lives upside down to follow the God of Abraham and Isaac. He taught that they should worship God’s only son Jesus. But Paul was not a good speaker. Paul was not clever or impressive, instead he writes, [read v.3-5]. Clever arguments have a place, but ultimately they are not enough to rest your hope on.

            SO let’s pause for a second and take a quick look at some common arguments used by atheists, and see if we can’t figure out a way to respond to them as Christians. The first argument is the argument of evidence. Truth is, it’s very tricky to prove God’s existence with evidence. So an atheist might say – “If God really exists, he would strike me with lightning right now. Smite me mighty God” and when nothing happens, they say, “proof.” The Christian response is pretty simple. Suppose there’s a small dog. And I say, “if you’re really a small dog, then you will follow my orders right now.” And when the dog doesn’t obey, I say – “proof the dog doesn’t exist.” But any rational person would say, “No, the dog is there, the dog exists, but clearly I must not be the dog’s master. God doesn’t strike you with lightening. God is still there, but clearly you are not God’s master. To be honest, the argument of proof is a bit of a stalemate. We do not have concrete evidence that God is there. And atheist’s do not have concrete evidence that God is not there. So because of that stalemate, what we do as Christians is point to the effects of God. I am not God’s master, so I can’t demand God to do what I want, to show evidence on command like a trained dog. But, I can point you to the effects of God’s presence in the world. In the same way, I can’t see the wind, but I know it is there, because of its effects. Even though wind is invisible, I know if it’s windy outside, because I see the leaves moving. We can’t see God, but we know God is there because of the effects of God in our world – things like love, kindness, self-sacrifice. Things that don’t make rationale sense in a logical world. Things that don’t follow the rules. John chapter 3, verse 8 tells us, [read it].

            The second type of argument you see against God is one from logic. There are lots of very clever arguments crafted to make it seem like God’s existence is impossible. For example, if God can do anything, can God build a wall so high that he cannot jump over it. And we puzzle over it, but with the limits of our understanding we can’t figure out how it’s possible. Thankfully  Corinthians gives us a pretty easy response, [read v.6-7]. There is wisdom in Christianity, but it’s not the same as wisdom in the world. There is mystery at the core of our understanding of God. The truth is, we claim to believe in God, we never claimed to fully understand God. When we are faced with a challenging question about God, it’s okay to say “I don’t know!” Part of the reality that God is eternal, and we are finite is that we are always trying to describe a God we can never fully describe. We make up words like infinite and divine, trying to capture this thing that’s out there that is so different from us. The Christian response to some arguments is simply to point to God’s mystery. Can God do this? Can God do that? Truth is, I don’t know. The bible tells us nothing is impossible with God, but it doesn’t tell us how. I don’t have instructions for HOW God does the impossible, you know, like a “how to” guide for miracles. Simply put, Christians believe that there are things we don’t understand. That’s why we call it a mystery.

Corinthians finishes up with verse 10, [read v.10-11]. Sometimes I bump into people who believe that something is out there, but they’re not convinced it’s the Christian God. They use phrases like “higher power” – there’s a higher power. But most of the time, these folks are convinced that this higher power is completely separate from out lives. If there’s something out there, it is so impossibly greater than us that it would never care about us. And that makes total sense! But the story of the bible, the incredible story of the bible, is that the higher power, the thing that created us – wants to know us, wants to love us and guide us. God reveals himself to us, that’s what the bible is – the revelation of who God is. God showing himself to us.

            Actually we find this idea again in our scripture lesson. Psalm 8 tells us in verse 3, [read v.3-4] He starts by saying, “when I look at the night sky” – I love that phrase, the work of your fingers. I imagine God moving his fingers through space like a little kid with sand, crafting the heavens. I look at the sky and think, God is so incredible. Whatever is out there that made all this? Awesome. Then the Psalmist says, “what are mere mortals?” Who are we that you would care about us? But do you see? It’s the same question that the “higher power” people ask! We can agree with an atheist that yeah, the teaching that the creator of the universe cares about humans – it’s incredible, it’s hard to believe, it’s baffling. That’s one of the reasons that we as Christians are moved to worship. Right? I’m not going to give my worship to anything less than that. Nothing in this world is going to get me to bow down and worship, but looking at the night sky… finding out that the one who put all that together, loves me? That puts me in a place of worship, a place of awe. So the guy who wrote Psalm 8 gives us a response to the argument of an indifferent God – it does sound crazy, that’s why it moves us to worship.

            So let’s take a second before we move on and talk about why people think God exists. The first argument is called the argument of first cause. It goes like this: in the universe, everything has a cause. You are here because your parents got together, and they because of their parents, all the way back to the beginning of time. Even if you follow evolution, it all traces back to something – a FIRST cause. Atheists believe that something is nothing, before everything there was nothing. And that nothing exploded. Christians believe that before everything there was God. It seems to us that something coming from God makes more sense than something coming from nothing. Related to that, another argument for God is the argument of intelligent design. Even for evolution, in the beginning – where these micro-organisms just happened to connect in the perfect ways for life to thrive – the chances of that happening randomly are teeny tiny. Christians like to point to these astronomical statistics that say the chances of life beginning on accident, as a coincidence, is basically impossible. If you believe in the big bang theory, the likelihood that it just randomly happened, that the conditions came together as a coincidence – I saw one source that said the chances are not 1 in a billion, I don’t know how to say the number. The chances are 1 out of “1-with 23 zeros after it.” The Avengers had better odds beating Thanos. Atheists say it was chance that the world came together the way it did, Christians say it was by design. The fragile structure we live in, if it changed ever so slightly – everything would fail. What we find is that Atheists have a lot of faith in chance. Christians believe it was by design. We don’t believe in coincidence quite so much. More and more, scientists are realizing that a big bang, a starting event to the universe, the more we learn about it – the more it lines up with the biblical version. God spoke, and there was light.

            The good news this morning is that God reveals himself to us. The greatest argument for God that I’ve ever seen is simply that unshakeable feeling of something more. The elegance we find in the design of nature, the beauty of the night sky. Ideas like love, awe, wonder, self-sacrifice, things that don’t have a place in the world unless there is more to this world. When you look at the night sky – what do you see? When you see a family gathered, loving one another, despite all the pain and things they’ve been through – what do you see? When you see forgiveness, reconciliation, healing – what do you see? Do you see the fingerprint of God in the world? Do you see the wind in the trees? If you are an atheist this morning, listening to these words – I pray that you find God in this life, and experience the riches of his presence, the joy of his love. If you are asking questions – I pray you find your answers. And for the rest of you – I hope it lifts your spirit that God reveals himself. I hope you smile every time you uncover the fingerprints of God in this world.

            So our response to this good news is to rest your faith on God’s power, not man’s wisdom. This was the situation in the city of Corinth almost two thousand years ago. Paul started that church and left, and then these brilliant minds came in and started arguing with the people. So Paul wrote our scripture lesson for today to remind them of the truth, [read v.3-5]. Rest your faith on God’s power, not on some fancy argument. Paul strips away the fancy arguments. You can’t prove or disprove God. You can only prove or disprove a person. Think about this, if you write it down, give it time, someone else will come along and pick the argument and keep going. If arguments help you in your faith, great – but don’t let your love for God sit on a clever phrase. You wouldn’t do that with the love of anything else – right? Can you argue that you love someone? You can point to stuff as evidence, you can use logic, but at the end of the day – no words can prove or disprove your love of someone. So rest your faith on God’s power, not on man’s wisdom.

            Two quick application points and then we’re done. In this conversation we’re starting about how to engage with Atheists, the first thing I want you to walk away with is don’t be the reason a person is an atheist. Like we talked about, for most people it’s not about some clever argument – it goes deeper. The existence of God is usually a gut level decision, influenced by the people and arguments and evidence around us. We need to reflect the love of God to people consistently. When we fail we need to own it, repent and do better. Too many people are driven away from God by church folk who claim to love God. Don’t be the reason a person walks away from God. I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty – this is a call to action. We need people to look at the way Christians live their lives and want to learn more about our God. And sometimes that’s not what people are walking away with right now. So first, don’t be the reason a person walks away from God.

            Second, don’t limit your thoughts. We have crammed so much stuff into this sermon so far. If you’re like me, your head is probably buzzing trying to keep track of all the back and forth. But here’s the most important thing to understand about all the clever arguments back and forth about God. None of them really matter. Truth is, you will always find an argument to justify what you already believe. The moment you rest your faith on a clever argument, for or against God, you are limiting your knowledge. Think about it this way. Thousands of years ago, we assumed the sun went around the earth. The smartest people on the planet assumed that. Hundreds of years ago, they switched it, the earth revolved around the sun, but of course the world was flat. And if you got too close to the edge, you would fall off. The smartest human beings on the planet KNEW that the earth was flat. They had arguments, they had evidence, they had everything they needed. Until that was challenged too, and now we know that the earth is round. The moment you think your knowledge is complete is the moment you start missing out. Knowing the arguments can help you engage with atheists, but don’t ever rest your faith on the wisdom of man. It’s not good enough. Don’t limit your thought.

            Whew. Okay, that was a lot. To end, I wanted to touch on two other arguments that we’re not going to talk about today. First the argument from evil, which says, “how can God exist if there’s so much evil in the world?” That’s next week. The other argument is about the bible. People can’t prove or disprove God and so they start attacking the bible, “it has contradictions, it’s outdated, it’s old, useless, why would I believe that. If you believe in science, you can’t believe in the bible.” Again, it’s not that I don’t want to talk about it – but that’s two weeks from today. I’m not skipping it, or brushing it under the rug – I’m just waiting. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you ask questions and seek answers. May you rest your faith on God’s power and not man’s wisdom. May you be blessed in your efforts to reach out to the atheists around you, and try to tell a few more people about the love of Jesus. Amen.

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