Monday, April 07, 2014

A Letter to an Unbelieving Loved One

This is the text of the letter I read on Sunday morning, 4/6/14.  I wrote it but I'd like to give credit to Dallas Willard and Ravi Zacharias, whose writings heavily influenced the tone, structure, and my choice of illustrations and scriptures.  Please forgive the grammar also, it was written to be read aloud to an audience thus some "normal" grammar went out the window.

Finally, this wasn't targeted at one specific individual.  Since childhood, I've known and loved a number of intellectual non-believers who would not or could not see anything good in Jesus Christ.  I pray their hearts will change so that their sharp minds can receive God's truth.



Dear Loved One,

I realize that you don’t want to talk to me and DON’T want to talk about GOD.  You seem to get very upset whenever I try to talk to you.  But because I love you, I want you to know the things that I think are crucially important.  If I thought these things were unimportant or just a matter of opinion, I wouldn’t bother you with them.  If I didn’t care about you personally, I wouldn’t bother to waste my time.

But I pray… and I believe… that someday your heart will be turned to read this letter and in it you will find new answers to your questions and perhaps a rebuke of the convenient teachings that have been in your mind all these years.

First of all, you’ve been so quick to decry the supposed evils of Christianity — wars and bigotry and slavery and such.  Specifically, you claimed that slavery was a Christian evil, that the Bible never condemns it.  But you knew that was not true.  From the one of the oldest books of the Bible (Job 31), we read:

“If I have denied justice to any of my servants,
     whether male or female,
when they had a grievance against me,
     what will I do when God confronts me?
What will I answer when called to account?
     Did not he who made me in the womb make them?
     Did not the same one form us both within our mothers? (Job 31:13-15)

From this we go to some of the last books of the Bible, 1Timothy, which lists slave-traders among other heinous sinners such as murderers, liars, and perverts, and Philemon, which argues with a slave-owner to receive back his slave “as a brother” and not punish him.  Combine this testimony with the historical fact that the abolition of slavery in England and the United States was led by Christians, based on the Christian principle that all people are equal before God, and inspired by the Exodus-story of God delivering the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.

No, slavery was not caused by Christianity or even endorsed by Christianity, rather Christianity set the slaves free.

Wars?  Has religion been the cause of most war in human history?  Contrary to popular belief most wars were not fought for religious reasons.  Land, power, money, and ego have been and always will be the primary causes of most wars.  A survey of over 1,700 wars in human history shows that less than 7% of wars have religious causes and half of those were Muslim wars.  Remove the Muslims and the rest of the world’s religions account for only a little over 3% of the wars in history.

Compare this to the death toll of atheism and secular governments in just the last 100 years.  Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Adolf Hitler, Chiang Kai-shek, Vladimir Lenin, Hideki Tojo, Pol Pot, and the list of non-religious dictators goes on and on… they shot, starved, gassed, hung, bombed, and burned well over 100 million people in just the 20th Century.  Some claim the number is closer to 300 million people.

There should be a moral outcry, but not against Christianity.  Instead, it is the absence or suppression of Christianity which makes the world a dangerous place, where life is cheap and undervalued.  Without God, man’s evil heart leads to all kinds of evil actions.  Jesus said,

“What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”  (Mark 7:21-23)

Still you might object and say that God does NOT exist.  So even if Christians are “good” people, that good behavior is tainted by the delusion in which they are trapped.  And it is not “good” to be fooled by a lie.  Christians, you have said, need to admit the truth, that God is not real.  He’s a figment of their twisted imagination, an emotional crutch from which the enlightened can be freed.

To begin with, you are more intelligent than that.  How can anyone say with certainty that something doesn’t exist?  You would have to know what you can’t possibly know.  As one philosopher asked, do green crows exist?  Showing me one, five, ten, or a thousand black crows doesn’t prove that a green one might not exist somewhere.  Only if you can gather all the crows that exist and have ever existed in one place and time and check them all can you be certain, and that assumes there is not another planet in a another galaxy that might have green crows.

To say that there is no God, is to presume that you can know that in every corner of the universe, at all points in time, there is not and has not ever been a God somewhere.  To have that kind of unlimited knowledge, ironically, would make you God and your own omniscient existence would refute your claim.

Psalm 14 said it best, “The fool says in his heart there is no God."

So you can’t really be an atheist and claim there is NO God.  Rather you could claim to be an agnostic and not know if God exists or not.  But I believe you want to know.  And that you CAN know.

First, look at the material things around you.  Which of them caused themselves to come into existence?  The chair, the couch, the television, the carpet — they all came from a factory or a craftsman.  Each had component parts which were made or grown and then assembled. Those parts came from raw materials which were deposited or grown somewhere by some process, perhaps repeated ad infinitum

In fact everything in the physical world came from something else.  And no matter how you slice it up, you never find the ultimate origin in the thing itself.  It’s the law of cause and effect, and every effect has it’s cause going back and back and back to the beginning.

But then what?  How did the beginning begin?  Is that even answerable?  If there is an answer, it is that the great "uncaused first cause" could not have been a physical part of this universe.  It had to be “other” …because every physical thing in this universe is caused by something outside of itself.   Whatever came first had it’s cause within itself and thus is completely unlike anything here.

Is that God yet?  Not yet.

Second, take another look around you.  In this world you might spy beauty in a sunset, a person, or a work of art and then argue that the beautiful object occurred naturally.  You can even attempt that difficult argument that not just subjective beauty but also objective order emerges naturally from the chaos.  But what about intelligibility, when something makes sense and communicates information?  You can try to convince me that a wooden chair naturally grew into that chair-like shape, that’s its beauty is only subjective and it’s function is only coincidental.  But the sticker underneath that says “Made in USA” is impossible to refute.  You could never convince the most ardent skeptic that the letters in that simple three-word sentence came together naturally and don’t actually mean anything.  The sticker is very clearly communicated information.

You have believed that the shape of our bodies evolved over millions of years from simpler forms to more complex forms.  But even in the simplest form, how can you explain the lengthy and complex information encoded in a single strand of DNA?  Where did this complex, productive, and intelligent information come from?  Like the sticker under the chair, though a million times more sophisticated, it is the label that the Maker proudly affixed to His work.  The code had an encoder.  The design had a designer.  The art had an artist.  In contrast to gibberish, intelligibility, in any message, assumes an intelligence.

So now we have non-physical, "uncaused first cause" which is intelligent.  Is it the God of the Bible yet?  Almost.

Finally, look at history and see if anyone or anything matches this concept we’re building as God.  Different religious leaders and philosophers have appeared in history but Buddha, Confucius, Mohammad, and others don’t even claim to be this God we’re looking for.  Others, like Zeus, Thor, or Brahma don’t show any sign they ever occurred in real history.

But what about Jesus Christ?  Jesus actually existed, attested to both in the Bible and by historians of that period.  There’s no real doubt that he lived.  What makes him unique and controversial is that he claimed to be God, the one God of creation who pre-dated the universe.

John 10:30  “The Father and I are one.”
John 14:9  “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”
John 8:58  “Before Abraham was born, I AM”

In case that last one was vague, when he said it the people who heard him understood that he was claiming to be God and picked up stones to execute him for blasphemy.  Jesus made this claim to divinity and made it exclusively.  In John 14:6 he said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the father except through me.”

Ultimately, he was killed for these claims but he verified them through the uncanny fulfillment of prophecies, which predated him by centuries, and by miracles, witnessed by both friends and enemies and noted both in the Bible and in secular history.  Most notably, after he was executed his tomb was found empty and crowds of witnesses saw him, talked with him, ate with him, and verified that he was alive again.

No one else in History is like this.

Now we have a non-physical, "uncaused first cause" with intelligence who entered into real history in the man Jesus Christ and revealed his will to humanity.

This much is reasonably verifiable for anyone who wants to know it.  But it’s the issue of what he said regarding humanity that might be offensive.  He said that we have all sinned, that we must all turn away from that sin, and that, if we follow him, his sacrifice on the cross will count as payment for our wrongdoing.

Now there’s the rub.  Our own guilty consciences verify Jesus Christ.  In the back of our minds we know he is real and it makes us angry.  People don’t get angry over the Tooth Fairy or Easter Bunny.  Jesus makes people angry.

I know that you have not wanted to hear that there is a judge who knows your darkest secrets.  Of course, your awareness of Him doesn’t affect his existence any more than your knowledge of the planet Neptune places it in its orbit or causes it to disappear.  But he knows you and knows your destructive behavior and the thought of His knowing terrifies you.  It’s the feeling of being watched; a light shined into dark places which you’d rather keep obscured.  It feels like an invasion to you and you resent it.  I understand. 

But that does not stop him from knowing you.  And His knowing you eats at the edges of your conscience, hardening your heart and frustrating your thinking.  The worse you act toward yourself and others, in other words the worse you sin, the worse you feel, the more you want to escape into fantasies and self-indulgence.  You long to return to the freer days of childhood and not be responsible anymore.

But it’s not the weight of responsibility you are actually running from, it’s guilt.  At times you hate yourself for what you’ve done and wish you could forget.  At times you hate everyone else.  And then you feel it again.  God is watching you.  And you hate Him for it!  He’s always there to hate, on the lips of do-gooders and busy-bodies.  Obnoxious fools invoke His name for their every petty need but to you He is just watching you, judging you.  Making you feel bad.

But you don’t feel bad because Christianity has done evil to you and caused you to hate it.  No, you have been made uncomfortable by goodness.  The light of God's goodness makes your selfish behavior look ugly and shameful.  Before you thought little of it, but now you may feel guilty.

My prayer is that you would understand our lives without God in this light.  Because if you knew that your own ways led nowhere good you would see that God is not the enemy but is offering you a peace treaty through Jesus Christ.  By exposing our shameful deeds, he actually demonstrates his LOVE for us.

He wants us to be reconciled to him.  No matter what we’ve done.  No matter what we’ve said.  The creator of this universe, who wrote your DNA, who revealed himself in Jesus Christ has paid the penalty for you to be purchased back from the other side.  He loves you.  He can forgive everything.  It’s available to you now for free if you would only believe and surrender to Him.

I pray that you do.

In sincere love,

Jared Altic

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