Belief and the Burden of Proof

From Max,

Why should I even bother with this expedition? Most people seem to get by OK  without adding God into the equation, and having to work out the ancient ways, connect with a church, pray and discern stuff.


Dear Max, investigator extraordinaire,

Yes, it is difficult. Notice your assumption, though, that the burden of proof is upon those who must show that God is there.  First a story.

Two flyers have crashed in the Amazon, and stagger to find their way to safety. One is atheist and one is Christian – they fight, cry, try and work together for several days. When it rains they get to drink, Christian thanks God, but Atheists says: ’it is just rain.’ The Christian prays for help in the noisy jungle nights, but the atheist mocks him :’ There is no designer at work here. We are in a real mess.’ Suddenly on day four they burst from the jungle onto a road, well, more like two wheel ruts, with a water bottle in the dust beside it, would you believe. The atheist shouts: ‘We are saved. We just follow the road’. The Christian answers: ‘No. The road shows me that someone has been here. I have faith that it leads to somewhere. To you this little track is a chance event. It means nothing and leads nowhere. The water bottle means someone knew we were coming. Only I am saved. You are still lost. See ya later.’ It wasn’t the Christian’s finest inter-personal moment.

This paper is about that road.

When bad stuff happens, you find out what you’ve really made of. That’s when doubt is good. Illusions need to be reconstructed. Questions take you somewhere better. I know it can be bitterly disappointing to have to abandon some naïve claims, but it is not long before the benefits overcome the rage.

My own story is that despite a nonchristian background, I have a steady sense of close connection with the Great Spirit. I couldn’t have made it up. The Presence of God (not the idea of God) is my life-frame. I see answers to prayers, some say ‘co-incidences’, that follow from our prayers in Jesus’ name. Small coincidences at just the right time, like the ‘chance meeting’ just last Wednesday, guide me to some large changes of direction.

Christian faith holds together consistently and coherently as a set of external convictions. In practise, good doctrines allow more and more meanings to crystallize as my time goes on. Faith is congruent with how reality actually works. So, I believe that this faith is not just my wishful thoughts for a comforting religion or the prospect of an afterlife, but is deeply in sync with the way everything is wired on this side of life. This is right, not by external control but by inner conviction, or conscience.

I don’t hold this faith in a steady-state, like a rock. It is more like a giant tree, spinning, growing, burnt in the times of trials and then marvellously regrown, towering tall, reaching out, shading my family, and always always challenging me.

In many conversations, the atheists and agnostics throw the burden of proof on to those who assert the existence of God. They claim Christians are the ones who add the God dimension and that it is not necessary. It is a claim to intellectual superiority. They may throw this burden because of cultural blindness, narrow education, false images of what Christians believe, or it may even be simple polemical. That trick needs to be resisted.

It is often followed, as in Dawkins and Hitchens, by a catalogue of nightmares, stories against the Christians, and this may actually be the more genuine issue, not the intellectual rationale. Or something other. For instance, both the agnostic Australian former Prime Minister Bob Hawke and the former atheist philosopher Anthony Flew identify an experience where they were confronted as young men with the problem of human suffering. What sort of God would allow this? Mahatma Ghandi said that if he ever met someone who actually followed Jesus he would become a Christian. Yes there are other issues that are not actually about evidences, as I have already stated above.

BUT Max Doubt can investigate four zones of evidence (each with multiple lines of enquiry) for a ‘pregnant’ world. I am asking with respect for an explanation for the human history that is pregnant with the God man Jesus Christ, to explain the existence and consistency of the cosmos, to explain the form of human consciousness, and to explain the shared experience of those who pray and act in Jesus’ name. Patronising dismissals are not respectful of me nor of what is at stake.

In the historical documents, what could have conjured such a public humility, in the variable and diverse witnesses of the God- Man Jesus Christ? How could this have exploded into so many language groups so fast, leaving an audit trail five thousand times better than comparable histories from greater civilisations of the period. What’s your view?

In the cosmos, why is there something rather than nothing ? What caused this particular something? Why is it sustained by merely four forces and ten universal constants which fell out of nothing into constancy within nanoseconds. Why do we humans wonder in our position in the universe ? How many dimensions are there and which ones are NOT filled with God’s presence? What’s your explanation?

In the study of human consciousness, how come we can reflect: “I see I am alive”, “right or wrong”, and “wow” when we see beauty. What’s your explanation?

In common spiritual experience, how is it that we pursue at great cost our Freedom, our Potential or Purpose, and experience guidance along the way? Who fills us with Spirit to serve altruistically and in unique ways, yet in patterns that echo with the most beautiful clichés? What’s your explanation?

Pardon me if my choice of words is not yours. Please, I encourage you always to learn to speak in your own voice, to make many mistakes as I do, and embark on this permanently open enquiry.

I could and do wish that God would show up and tap apathetic unbelievers on the shoulder a bit more often. At a dinner party with agnostics or the apathetic, I would want him to come to my table and turn water into wine. ‘Just do something really convincing, will you?’ But that is childish and desperate. God does not get pushy.

I accept better, these days, that God actually expects you and I to take responsibility for each other globally, to grow the love in our life , to discover the faith we need and to live it to the full – a life of sacrifice, service and joy. There are great risks in this; courage is needed and persistence in the face of a long uphill battle and perpetual frustration. If God were to push us into it, we will not get to where we need to be, if we are going to make the difference that needs to be made.

So thank you for the courtesy of hearing my meagre descriptions. Please also consider all this evidence, and talk with someone more personally about the hard issues as well as about the potential in your life. Open yourself to a conversation with Jesus who says to any who seek, ask or knock that he will respond in a way of his choosing that is most right for you.

If you are lost in the Amazon, we have found the road. We are saved.


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