Apologetics is an invaluable tool for Christians. We must know what we believe and why we believe in it to give a defense of our hope to others and to our own unbelieving hearts. Apologetics shows us that Christianity is not fantasies for wishful-thinking fools; our faith is historically credible, philosophically sound, and firmly rooted in reality; able to stand against every argument and the closest scrutiny. A few days ago I had a chance to read through a debate on the existence of God. After reading and examining both sides, I think the Christian debater won handily. He made use of arguments that I feel are impossible for atheists to overcome. Now, it would be easy to stop here, but unfortunately it’s not that simple. The problem with debates is that the opponents of our faith aren’t stupid. It’s not as if the debate was on whether tomatoes are red or rainbow-colored; an issue where you would have to be completely illogical to support one side. Atheists make challenging and compelling arguments just like Christians do and we would be naive to think otherwise. Many men though out history smarter than I have earnestly sought answers to questions of faith and arrived at different conclusions. Herein lies the shortcoming of apologetics: you can never prove outright the Christian world view.
Say if after the debate, I rated each side out of 100 on my certainty for each side’s arguments. Lets say I think Christianity won by a score of 90%-10%, meaning that the arguments for Christianity seem far more likely that those of atheism. Even then, the small fragment of uncertainty would always be there as I become a Christian and seek to follow God. As I pray and study the bible, as I reorient my relationships and the use of my time to obey God, there would always be that shred of doubt to haunt me and remind me that a 10% chance could nullify everything I’m striving for.This is why faith is an essential component of Christianity. We cannot rely exclusively on our intellects and reasoning to resolve the debates in our hearts; we must seek to grow in the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
I have always struggled with these tiny shreds of uncertainty. Even now, they continue to plague my heart and hinder my growth. I can identify deeply with the conflict expressed in the plea of the man in Mark 9:24: “I believe; help my unbelief!” Oh how I want to follow without doubt! How I want to give everything to him with complete confidence that I will not at all be ashamed! Sadly, I am a man of little faith. Doubt hinders me from passionately giving my all and living freely in the strength of the Gospel. It affects the quality of my time with God in the Word and in prayer. It makes me cynical at what God can do in my life, the lives of others, and in the life of the church. It is that small voice of Satan telling me to relax and to not pursue God with the zeal and fervor that I know I need to. 3%, 0.1%, 0.0005%, I don’t know what the number is in my life and it matters not exactly what it is, for the smallest remnant of doubt can have devastating effects if I allow it free-reign to grow
I have two great fears. The first is that unbelief will harden my heart and mind and cause me to fall away. Though this is a real fear, the second is a more present danger in my life: I fear I’ll never have enough faith to chase after God with all my heart. I’ll never really pursue God out of fear he might not be there and then my zeal would leave me with nothing. Instead of risking this, I become one who knows a great deal about God and godliness yet very little of God himself; a pharisee who lives a picture-perfect life without the genuine faith that pleases the Lord. Unbelief will turn God for me into an academic venture and godliness into a game, and trap me on the middle road; too scared to follow completely, but too afraid to let go. And at my life’s end, I will be a weak-hearted boy who stayed close to what he’d always known; playing in a safe make-believe religion because he was too afraid of what he might find if he really followed. And in the end, my lack of faith will prevent me from deeply knowing and loving the living God.
These are fears and questions I must settle before those inevitable storms of doubt come. Do I really believe? Am I really following? Am I prepared to fend off the attacks of Satan? It is so very easy to settle into a type of Christianity that requires very little faith at all. Yes, I may say I believe God can do everything; anyone can do that. Anyone can go to church and learn the Christian jargon and bring himself to read and pray. The real question is: is there true genuine faith behind my actions? Do I seek and depend on God in such a way that is beyond merely disciplining and controlling my life to perform tasks, through the guise of a love for the Gospel?
The scary thing is that I know I am not above falling away and making shipwreck of my faith. I am not above becoming a Pharisee or an apostate. Worldly skepticism and cynicism are relentlessly attacking. The mundane cares of everyday life weigh heavy on me, pressuring me to forget and marginalize the ability of God to work in ordinary life. At the same time, my pride tells me to play Christianity like a game; to do the right things and earn the praise of man, while never pursuing genuine religious affections. My faith being besieged from both sides by the enemy of my soul. I know that alone I cannot stand up against his onslaughts; if God does not protect and sustain my faith then I will die like the seeds not sown on the good soil (Matthew 13). In this war, I must go on the offensive and daily seek to depend on him for faith. This means abandoning the safety of mindless detached Christianity. It means getting out of the boat, so I can walk on water with Christ. Let’s pursue God recklessly, holding nothing back, so that we might know Him deeply! Let’s grab hold of the promises of Christ, and live boldly in light of the power promised by the Gospel. If we’re wrong so be it; if this is foolishness then we will be ashamed above all men; but let us never be scared to wholeheartedly seek the truth.
Oh, how I desire for faith like the saints of old who, in the face of overwhelming doubt, chose to trust God! I want be like Abraham who trusted God enough to leave behind his homeland and was even willing to sacrifice his only child. I want to stand courageously like David did against Goliath when faith in God’s power was his only weapon. I want to be like the sick and broken of the New Testament who humbly approached Christ through faith to be healed; the blind men, who in response to Christ’s question: “Do you believe I can do this?”, confidently replied: “Yes, Lord” (Matthew 9:28); and the Caananite woman, who knowing her unworthiness, humbly says: “Yes Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table” (Matthew 15:27). I want faith like the saints described in Hebrews 11:
“[Those] who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouth of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 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 — of whom the world was not worthy…” (Hebrew 11:33-38)
The faith of these men and women extended beyond concepts and abstractions; they trusted in the power of God to work mightily to change this broken world and their broken lives. They answered Christ’s question: do you believe I can do this?” with a resounding yes.
The same question is posed to you and me: do we believe Christ can do great things in our world and in our lives? We must continually strive to grow in faith in our belief that he can. The moment we release our grasp on the power and promises of God our faith and our lives are rendered useless. The truth is doubt isn’t going anywhere. It will be an ever-present reality here on earth that we, as Christians, must struggle with. Yet, our faith does not exist apart from doubt; rather our faith exists and is exercised in the presence of doubt. So here I stand. The enemy is calling from the other side: who are you and where is your God? Where is his power? By the world’s standards he’s right. I have nothing: I am weak, frail, and wretched, but I have faith in the power of Christ and that’s all I need. I’m all in. Bring it.
I’ve always appreciated the honesty of this song. It encapsulates many of the issues explored in this post so I thought I’d include it.
“Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)
I realize that this post is very scattered and incomplete in many ways, but this was sitting in my drafts folder for the longest time, and I wanted to publish I lost my train of thought.