In part one of this article I looked very briefly at the nature of proof, evidence, and the case for God’s existence. In this second part I wish to explore somewhat more personal and Scriptural concerns. I especially want to look at the issue of openness to follow the evidence wherever it may lead.
I have told many atheists on many occasions that you can have all the evidence in the world, but if you don’t want to believe, you won’t. It is that simple. Many people simply do not want to believe in God. To do so would require too radical of a transformation.
It would mean putting God back in the driver’s seat and putting yourself back in the passenger’s seat. But too many people prefer being the boss, calling the shots, and being accountable to no one or nothing. And it was exactly the same in Jesus’ day.
Jesus said this clearly in John 3:19-21: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”
In this passage it is not the evidence that is keeping people from coming to God; it is their selfishness and sin. They simply do not want to turn to God, and proofs for God’s existence are hardly the stumbling block here. Moral roadblocks, not intellectual roadblocks, are the real reason for unbelief for many people.
And Jesus also had to deal with those demanding evidence. For example, in Luke 16:19-31 Jesus tells the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Both have died and gone on to the next world, with the rich man in hell and Lazarus with Abraham in heaven.
The rich man wants Lazarus to be sent to his brothers back on earth to warn them, so they won’t share in his fate. But Abraham replies, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them”. The rich man answers, “No, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent”. To which Abraham responds, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead”.
So hardcore evidence is not in itself necessarily enough to change a person’s mind. If a person is bent on rejecting God, no amount of evidence or supernatural signs will make any impact. Indeed, God will not waste his time on such people.
Indeed, many times in the Gospels we find that the display of miracles does not always lead to faith. People saw Jesus doing all sorts of mighty deeds, but still many chose to not believe. As but one example, consider John 12:37: “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him”.
Of course Jesus at times could offer basic empirical proof when it was requested. In John 20:24-30 we have the story of the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus and Thomas. When the disciples report that Jesus is alive, doubting Thomas blurts out, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it”.
A week later Jesus appears to him and says, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe”. Thomas answers, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus goes on to say, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”.
Or consider what we find in Luke 7:18-22. Disciples of John the Baptist ask Jesus, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” Then we read these words: “At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, ‘Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor’.”
Here is solid empirical proof presented by Jesus: what they have “seen and heard”. So there is a place for such evidence, but God seldom relies on it. That is because there is also an important place for faith. God is not in the business of flashing his powers around to convince people of his existence. As Paul writes in Romans 1, there is enough evidence of God’s existence simply in the created order around us to convince people if they are open.
God of course will not force anyone to believe, and those who have their minds made up will never be convinced of anything to the contrary. Jesus could well stand before atheists today with his nail-pierced hands extended and many would still not believe. That is because they do not want to believe, and no amount of evidence will move them.
So when atheists demand evidence, one has to be suspicious. One can rightly ask: Just what sort of evidence are you looking for? And why do you want such evidence? If you had the evidence you are seeking, would you then bow the knee? Or is this merely a smokescreen for your unbelief?
At the end of the day, we know from Scripture that God rewards the diligent seeker, but not the casual inquirer. And we know that he resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. So those who come to God with a list of demands about what sort of “proof” they expect are likely to leave empty handed.
God will always reveal himself to the honest seeker who is willing to let God be God. But he will never bow to the arrogant demands of haughty unbelievers who simply want to play their intellectual mind-games. As God says in Proverbs 8:1, “I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me”. Or as we read in Hebrews 11:6, God “rewards those who earnestly seek him”.
Part One of this article is found here: billmuehlenberg.com/2010/03/23/evidence-proof-and-belief-part-one/