This is another guest post written by a new friend of mine, Tom Darrow. This is in response to the question: “If faith in God and reason go hand in hand, what is your reason to believe?” I really appreciated Tom’s insights and shared many of them. I hope you will too!
WHAT IS YOUR REASON TO BELIEVE?
It’s not a single reason; it’s the culmination of several different factors that, when taken together, lead to that conclusion. There’s supernatural experiences I’ve had, and that my friends have had, and the church throughout history has experienced, which all fit the same pattern. There’s the content of the Bible and the behavior of the church’s founders. Moving another step outward, there’s philosophy relating to the existence of God. Any of these factors would be worthy of a book-length discussion, and if you’re curious about one in particular we can definitely follow up on it, but for now I’ll just give an overview.
Christian supernatural experience takes three forms: (i) transformed life, (ii) the day-to-day experience of God’s presence or acute awareness of His absence, and (iii) gaining information or illumination or special instruction during prayer. I’ve experienced all three of these. I was involved in certain dangerous and aggressive behavior in my teens which stopped after I gave control to God; it wasn’t a process or a working through, but an immediate transformation. At one point I decided I no longer needed Jesus but only a generic form of God; I descended into miserable loneliness and nearly destroyed several friendships within a few hours. God’s absence was profoundly apparent and devastating. I was quickly convinced that God would not connect me unless I took Him as a whole — Father, Son, and Spirit — and His presence returned at that time. At one point I was in an argument with someone who was saying some nasty things about me and telling me how much she hated me, and I was ready to cut ties entirely. God told me to stay and comfort her (which I would not have done without His instruction); we’ve now been married for over ten years.
Friends of mine have similar or more impressive stories about transformation, God’s presence, and illumination. I know several people who credit Jesus with bringing them out of gangs, getting them off of drugs, curing mental illness, or ending their abusive behavior. When I hear friends talk about the presence of God they use different terminology than I do but describe something very familiar. Friends of mine have received surprising information during prayer. Two friends were given turn-by-turn directions to locations they’d never been. Several were instructed to give specific odd-sounding gifts to seemingly random people and found that those people had need for those particular gifts. Friends have been on the receiving end of those gifts too; one guy who was in financial dire straits had been praying for a way to afford a particular small set of Warhammer figurines for his son, as a way to show his son that they’d get through it, and somebody showed up at our church with a huge collection of those figurines from the right collection, hand-painted in the right color, saying “I was praying and God told me to give these to a church”. I have friends-of-friends who’ve been able to speak or understand foreign languages (Korean and Navajo), specifically to communicate key parts of the gospel.
When I look through Christian history, I see these same phenomena of transformation, presence, and illumination described over and over again. In the Bible, the Apostle Paul wrote about former thieves, drunks, idolaters, and sexual sinners who were transformed by the Lord Jesus Christ, and he counts himself among them as a “blasphemer and a persecutor, and an arrogant man” who was transformed. Christians have written fantastic treatises on the presence of God, such as the aptly-named “The Practice of the Presence of God” by Brother Lawrence and “the Pursuit of God” by A.W. Tozer; for a look at the absence of God’s direct presence, there’s “the Dark Night of the Soul” by St. John of the Cross. Some of the authors of scripture claim to have been instructed directly by the Holy Spirit on specific topics, and there are abundant stories of those who were guided to go to a certain place, speak to a certain person, etc., particularly among missionaries.
These experiences transcend boundaries like culture, language, economic status, and education. There’s something about the gospel that *works* to transform people of all sorts, and there’s something about the way the Holy Spirit instructs people that *works* in surprisingly effective ways. I often share my experiences and my friends’ experiences with skeptics, and they usually propose alternative explanations, but the alternatives *don’t work* — hallucination, self-deception, and dumb luck all follow particular patterns, but these experiences follow an entirely different pattern. The God of the Bible is clearly active and clearly effective.
Then there’s the Bible itself. It’s a book that was written over the course of perhaps fifteen centuries, by authors on three different continents who wrote in three different languages, in geopolitical situations ranging from prosperity to exile. Yet it tells a coherent story with a timeless, transformative message at its core. My wife has said of the gospel “It is accessible to everyone, yet no one is overqualified. It is comprehensible to everyone, yet no one finds it trite or obvious.” The same message — that Christ died for sins, was buried and raised, and that through Him we can die to sin and be raised into new life reconciled with God — resonates with first-century shepherds and twentieth-century Oxford scholars. The Bible is filled with deep insights; other ancient literature often comes across as shallow or blatantly stupid. And of course Jesus himself is such a compelling character, so clearly divine and deserving of worship, that many other religions try to adopt him as their own (even some atheists say they are “fans of Jesus”.)
What of the authors of the New Testament and the other founders of the church? These were men who were dejected and demoralized over the death of their Rabbi, and then suddenly began boldly proclaiming the resurrection of the dead and transformation in Christ. There are no clear ulterior motives like money, power, or women; the apostles remained poor and persecuted and preaching Christ until their deaths. That transformative power I talked about above goes all the way back to the foundations of Christianity, and specifically to founders who acted as though that key event — the death and resurrection of Christ — really happened and really brought about new life.
I’m also convinced of the existence of a transcendent-yet-personal God on a philosophical level (I’ve talked about some of this elsewhere in the group.) The beginning of the universe or multiverse requires an uncaused cause, and the conditions of the universe suggest that cause posessed high intelligence. Universal ethics require a transcendent, intelligent source that cares about people. Reason and logic themselves are more than mere accidents of the way our brains happen to be structured; for “logic” to be valid, it must be a real thing with real rules rather than an accident of the natural formation of our brains (modern incarnations of this argument are common to “presuppositional apologetics”, but these are unimpressive; the argument goes back at least to Plato’s Forms, and IMO the older versions are better.)
So I believe that God, existing eternally in three persons of Father-Son-Spirit, created all things and provides the source of ethics and reason. I also believe that God has acted in specific ways throughout history, including the things recorded in the Bible and in my own life, and that God *always* comes through on His promises. Thus, when I have faith it means I take actions based on the expectation that God will fulfill His promises, both from the Bible and given directly. And when I am faithless, I ignore those promises and act only based on the obstacles and emotions immediately in front of me.