If there’s anything my recent foray into Christian apologetics has confirmed it’s that no amount of “facts” will ever persuade or dissuade someone from believing or disbelieving in God. It’s a heart issue.
Every good salesman knows that people make “buying” decisions emotionally and justify their decision with the facts afterward. Likewise, people will believe what they want to believe first and justify it with an argument afterward.
This has to be frustrating for those who believe in the notion that science will eventually destroy religious faith, or for those who believe their perfect apologetic argument will convince an atheist to convert. Both are fanciful myths. Paul pretty much located the real issue for us:
10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified…. (Rom.10:10 NIV *)
As Proverbs says, it’s the heart that determines the course our life will take:
23 Guard your heart above all else,
for it determines the course of your life. (Prov.4:23 NIV *)
When the Bible uses “heart” in this way it’s referring to what moves you and motivates you to do (or not do) what you do. The condition of your heart will either enrich or impoverish your relationships and expand or limit your perspective on what it means to be alive:
11-13 Dear, dear Corinthians, I can’t tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life. We didn’t fence you in. The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living them in a small way. I’m speaking as plainly as I can and with great affection. Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively! (2 Cor.6:11-13 MSG *)
The reality is, science cannot prove or disprove the existence of God. As Eugenie Scott said while Director of the National Center for Science Education:
“Science neither denies nor opposes the supernatural, but ignores the supernatural for methodological reasons.”
In other words, science is indifferent to the question because it cannot test something outside the natural world. As Nobel Prize winning biologist Sir Peter Medawar said, these are “questions that science cannot answer and that no conceivable advance of science would empower it to answer.” (“The Limits of Science,” p.66)
But those who want to attack theists try to do this very thing with science; and theists try to do the same with atheists. It’s an exercise in futility.
It’s not that facts and science aren’t important. Science has methodology to help us understand the regularities of nature and it has benefited us enormously. I also believe apologetics (from the Greek word, apologia, meaning “to answer”) is beneficial to show that we theists have plausible reasons for our faith, that it’s not just an emotional decision that has no relevance to reality.
And Jesus was not against showing tangible proof for who He said He was. He said to those He ministered to that if they didn’t believe Him to believe the miraculous works He did (John 10:38). After His resurrection, Jesus’ interaction with Thomas, who said he would not believe unless he saw the nail marks and could put his hand in Jesus’ side, was profound:
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:26-29 NIV *)
You might say, Thomas was given evidence to believe. Yes, but it was his willing heart that led to faith. Many others saw Jesus’ miracles and still did not believe. Jesus said something rather startling about this to the Pharisees in His parable about Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31). The rich man wanted Father Abraham to send Lazarus to his five brothers so they would not end up like him. Here’s how this Abraham answers his request:
31 But Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone were to rise from death.’” (Luke 16:31 GNT)
Do you understand what Jesus is saying here? He’s talking about the nature of faith. No amount of proof, even seeing someone be raised from the dead, will cause someone to believe unless they are willing to believe.
It all comes down to a matter of faith in the end. And faith is a heart issue.
Quick story. We had an atheist come to our church a few years back (a relative of someone who regularly attends our church). During ministry time, we prayed for people to be healed. He had responded (don’t know why!) to have his injured arm prayed for. He reported to his family afterward that his arm had no more pain and appeared to be completely restored. But did this cause him to believe? No. He just shrugged it off, saying he had no explanation for it. I’ve seen this happen time and time again.
As C.S. Lewis said in his article, “The Seeing Eye,” to some God is discoverable everywhere, to others nowhere. And that’s because believing is a matter of the heart.