Evidence to consider:
1) The existence of selfless love
2) The universe coming into existence from nothing
3) How we know what is right and wrong
4) The excellent historical records about Jesus, dated to very early after he was working and speaking to people as one of us
5) The resurrection as the most rational explanation for agreed-upon facts.
1) How can we explain where love comes from? What is the basis of it? Is self-interest an adequate basis for love, as some argue? In Christianity, love has a basis in a triune God, who loves eternally. There we find a God who is a being of profound love, and brought us into being out of his love for his Son Jesus and his love for us. A being who makes possible our loving relationships because he is in an eternal loving relationship: Father, Son and Spirit. Can love really be explained any other way, in a way that gives real value to it?
2) The universe did have a beginning – scientists are now much clearer on this point than they used to be, and so have now come into closer harmony with the Bible’s idea that once there was nothing and then the universe and time itself began.
But how? Apart from the temporary appearance of quantum particles (as I understand it) the law of physics says: Out of nothing, nothing comes. We all know this in our experience. Generally, matter does not just appear. So how did all matter come from nothing?
We hope we have rational intellectual beliefs. Well, is it more rational to say everything comes from nothing by nothing or that it came from nothing by God’s creative action?
As a side note, many have “faith” that one day science will explain this. They say Christians believe only in a “God of the gaps” to fill in what we can’t yet understand and one day the gap will be plugged by science. For instance, scientist McGrath said he was “waiting grimly” for the ideas of religion to fall. Later however he himself became a Christian partly by looking closely at the world, the creation around him. Romans 1:19-20 and Psalm 19 both argue that creation speaks of God’s God-ness, his amazing glory and power. So McGrath came to see it is possible to see a rational basis for the beauty and goodness of the world we see around us in the existence of a good and glorious God, who gave birth to this beautiful and good world, a God whose power is evident in mountains and canyons and rolling seas, whose love is evident in the way humans have life and breath and the way plants and animals work.
3) Morals. CS Lewis and many other thinkers have found that our creation by God gives us a good basis for why we have morals.
We can see we have morals as we know the difference between bad laws and what is right. There’s something in us that helps us judge whether something is right, no matter if it is legal or not. For example: At Nuremberg in the trials of the Nazi SS for killing the Jews, it was argued they could not be convicted according to the laws of the land. They were only following the government and the perverse laws that were passed and enforced. So the argument was taken higher – the court had to appeal to a higher sense of what was right and wrong, to reflect the profoundly immoral nature of what had been done, and to convict some of the war criminals. This higher moral standard was used to condemn what they had done as evil.
There must be an objective moral standard. And Christianity provides an answer for why there is – that we live in a God-made moral universe, with real right and wrong. We often have an inner sense of what is right because we are made in many ways to resemble God, we are made after his likeness to live rightly in his world.
Christianity not only provides excellent moral information to live by which has been hugely influential in all kinds of nations’ law-making, but also says that there is morality and accountability because God made us moral beings, able to choose good things which please him and bad things which are a form of rebellion against him. This is part of what God wants us to understand about ourselves, and so we find the Bible explaining this clearly in many different passages written by many different writers.
4) And as we continue to build an argument by bringing together all different kinds of data, we find we do not only have to consider the way the world around us is. There is also historical evidence to consider, particularly the widely circulated documents about Jesus’ life found in the latter part of the Bible, the New Testament. Consider these points about these compelling records of Jesus’ life and death:
- In the Jewish culture of the time, memorisation of sacred traditions and teachings was a highly prized and a highly developed skill, taught from childhood – the disciples would have exercised this kind of care with the teachings of Jesus.
- The gospels are nothing like folk tales or contemporary urban legends – they are written in the style of a historical report, referencing historically verifiable places, people, rulers and practices.
- There is insufficient time between the events of Jesus’ life and the written accounts being recorded of what happened for it to become made-up legend. Legends require time for made-up details to be added, eg for the legends about Alexander the Great, a typical example: it took an estimated 2 centuries before the first legends developed. This is considered a short time for legends to be invented and become successful. With the New Testament, there is a tiny time lag between the events and the written record of the events being circulated – the kind of time-lag practically unheard of with other ancient texts, like well-regarded Roman histories of the times.
- Embellishments of the truth about Jesus would have been prevented by the fact that eyewitnesses of the events of Jesus’ life were still alive when the message about him was spreading and during the time the New Testament of the Bible was written, eg the gospels and letters of Paul (for instance 1 Corinthians, where he passes on to the Corinthian Christians information about the appearances of Jesus alive after his death.) Accuracy was important and records were made clearly detailing those disciples present at the events, for example. Lies would have been challenged rigorously.
- The gospel writers have a proven track record of historical reliability. For instance Luke, who wrote both the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts (or “the Acts of the Apostles”) in the New Testament. The opening to the gospel of Luke, where he explains he intends to write an accurate history based on eyewitness accounts, is written in Greek, which was the language used by learned historians of the time. By doing this Luke is straight-away pinning his reputation on the work as a work of history. But was Luke reliable in getting his facts straight? Looking closely at the book of Acts, which overlaps significantly with the history of the ancient world, classical scholar Colin Hemer has found a wealth of historical detail, from political to local knowledge, that all matches up with what we know eg about trade routes in particular years and areas and the peculiar titles of local officials. Professor Sherwin-White says “For Acts the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming… even in matters of detail”. According to world-famous archaeologist Sir William Ramsey “Luke is a historian of the first-rank … This author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.”
5) Finally one particular event in history can be considered as exceptional evidence of God’s existence (and evidence of what kind of God he is as well): The bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
Although incredible, it is the most rational explanation of agreed upon facts, one of which being that the tomb where Jesus’ body had been placed was empty three days later, and no-one had an explanation for this - until the disciples claimed he has risen from the dead. The local Roman and Jewish leaders all wanted to crush this story of Jesus being a significant leader and the movement that had started around him. But neither group could do anything to shut up these early disciples, partly as no-one could produce the body to prove he was dead. No other burial tradition about Jesus exists; it was acknowledged openly that the tomb was empty, despite Jesus’ public death and embalming with perfume and burial.
Also the message that was spread included the news of Jesus’ reappearance as a living, breathing physical human being in front of many different groups of ordinary people. The accounts show how some followers remained sceptics of this until they saw him themselves. And these weren’t fleeting appearances, witnessed by only a few. One time, after his death, he appeared to the disciples together by a lake, staying to eat and speak with them to continue their preparation for when he would leave the earth to go back to his Father in his resurrected body. And Paul’s letter of 1 Corinthians says that on one occasion 500 people saw him alive after his death.
There is much more to discuss and discover. This is just some of the evidence available to persuade us that there is an ultimate supernatural being working in the world, a God, who is interested in us, a being who is able to do the impossible and create matter from nothing, give birth (somehow) to humanity, and go beyond what we might consider “rationally acceptable” by coming to earth in human form, displaying true authority and rising from death to live for ever. This is the Lord who is far above us in wisdom and power and defies our expectations. This is the one we are called to believe in as we understand about him from the Bible and from Christians’ testimony of us work in their lives.
Adapted from material passed to me by Amy Orr-Ewing at New Word Alive 2010 and from listening to her final talk there.