Believing is a heart issue

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.

* All emphasis in quotes are added.

About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 40 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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24 Responses to Believing is a heart issue

  1. Well said,Mel. I empathize a bit with the science oriented ones, those who cannot believe without evidence,evidence that will be just dismissed as coincidence or not credible anyway. That is my nature too, I am a skeptic extraordinaire and my ability to reason things away is pretty sharp. Especially good things! God has chased my heart however, He has slipped in under the radar, and He often has bypassed all that resistance.

    There’s an urban legend, loosely based on a study that suggested when the ships came to the new world,the natives here couldn’t see them on the horizon because their brains had nothing to relate their vision too. The ships had to be reasoned away, rendered invisible because they wouldn’t compute. Kind of like if an alien landed in your yard and your brain just decided, “yep, that’s not real.” I think apologetics might help to ease the brain,to pave the path, so at the right time when the heart is ready, reason will be armed with a good argument in favor with what one is encountering and experiencing.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks IB. What’s funny about me is that I’m kind of a geek mystic! I’ve always loved the creative, crazy, and ethereal, and art and music were my favorite subjects in school, so “out there” made total sense to me, but yet I was really good at math and spend a decade in engineering before I went full-time into ministry. Both disciplines have helped me immensely. I can reverse-engineer and create a standard operating procedure for my own spiritual encounters now. 🙂

      That’s a really good point about our brain’s ability to negate what we don’t have a mental grid for. And I agree that apologetics can help to create the “grid” to see the “ship on the horizon” but, in the end, it will take a leap of faith.

  2. David Robertson says:

    Love that little CS Lewis quote at the end. I have to agree with you. To me some of the strongest reasons why I believe in God aren’t the big arguments like the fining tuning of the universe or the origin of life ones. But rather the more subtle, hidden ones we run into every day which makes me believe: love, the beauty of nature, the longing to be part of something bigger, or our continual questioning of our own existence.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks David. You pretty much hit the nail on the head in what the more important deciding factors are. For most people it’s not the big things that get argued about in debates. It’s the more subtle intangibles that are the more important reasons why people believe. As Spanish philosopher, Jose Ortega put it:

      “Scientific truth is characterized by its precision and the certainty of its predictions. But science achieves these admirable qualities at the cost of remaining secondary concerns, leaving ultimate and decisive questions untouched.”

  3. David Robertson says:

    I loved that quote, gave me those chills when I read something special and profound. Thanks Mel!

  4. You wrote…”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.”

    So true, my friend…so true!

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  7. KIA says:

    So if believing is a heart issue, and I will definitely grant you that brother Mel, are all beliefs equally valid because of the Heart of the one believing them?
    Can those who sincerely believe from the heart be sincerely wrong in what they believe to be True? If so to the second question, how would you determine what are true beliefs vs false?

    • Mel Wild says:

      Of course, the person can be totally wrong. The point is, we believe with the heart whether we’re right or totally deceived. Most things that we believe by scientific method aren’t the most important things that matter to us as human beings. The important things are matters of the heart.

      On your second question, you can determine whether some things true or not, but many things cannot be proven deductively, so you must go with the best explanation. You could use either inductive or abductive reasoning to differentiate between various beliefs. But, for most people, they will believe what they want to believe and justify it with whatever “facts” they can find to support what they already believe.

      • KIA says:

        People believe with the heart, but the reasons they believe what they do must be rooted in reality and verifiable evidence. That takes the mind. If its not actually true, then we have no good reason to believe anything just with the heart. You’ve set up a false dichotomy

        • Mel Wild says:

          I do agree that it shouldn’t be based on heart alone for our beliefs but you simply cannot base all beliefs on verifiable evidence. That’s just not possible. Not even in a court of law, oftentimes the best you can do is have reasonable evidence to support your case. If we had to have verifiable evidence for everything we would have a very myopic worldview and would have to throw out most of our history.

          But back to the point of my post, when it comes down to it, we decide what we will believe from the heart. And once our heart has changed toward something, we will mount evidence to support it and tend to ignore evidence that might contradict it. History and experience shows us that many, many people will make irrational choices when it comes down to it. For instance, they vote for a politician because they like his or her looks or mannerisms. And no amount of logic or evidence is going to change their mind. And even if the evidence is overwhelming, they still must be “open to it.” Again, it comes down to a heart issue. The heart is the gatekeeper to what we let ourselves believe.

        • Nan says:

          Curious … from your reply to KIA, you said: And once our heart has changed toward something, we will mount evidence to support it and tend to ignore evidence that might contradict it. .

          What about someone who’s “heart” was changed because they believed there was enough “evidence,” but later found the “evidence” lacking?

        • Mel Wild says:

          Yes, it can go either way based on evidence, or lack thereof, but the point is still valid. The heart is the gatekeeper, and the condition of our heart will determine whether we are open to changing our mind, and what made us go this other direction in the first place. We’re just not usually self-aware of how heart issues affected our decision to go in this direction.

          Either way, I don’t think you can make a strong case to say that people objectively decide based on evidence alone. Sales and marketing is built on the opposite premise. People buy for emotional reasons and justify the purchase with facts. This is just part of human nature. Likewise, something else is usually underlying the perceived evidentiary decision when you dig deep enough, and that’s a heart issue.

          Btw, I think this quirk of human nature is necessary (whether it was evolutionary or by design) because we cannot live our lives trying to justify everything we do with verifiable evidence. We would have no time to actually live our lives! 🙂 In the end, we just trust that most things we believe are true, even if they are unprovable. And that applies to whatever worldview we may embrace.

        • KIA says:

          I’m sorry Mel. But from your response to nan’s response to to your response to me… confusing, I know 😉 … the heart is not the best final measure. I think you forget what Jeremiah says, that heart is desperately wicked.
          My question is… do you still care if what you believe in your heart to be True, isn’t actually true in reality? Do you still care what is actually true over what you believe in your heart to be True, but can be demonstrated not to be true?
          Wouldn’t going with your heart as the final arbiter be one of the most dangerous and subjective things a person can do?

        • Mel Wild says:

          I think you forget what Jeremiah says, that heart is desperately wicked.

          But Jeremiah also says in that same passage that it’s God who knows our heart. He is the only one who can show us our real motives. So, that would convince me even more to let Him examine my heart. And He also said to guard the condition of our heart because it determines the course of our life. Paul said we believe with the heart, so it would follow that one does not believe from the heart, too.

          My point: the heart IS the final measure, whether it’s in our best interests or not. It is the gatekeeper that determines the direction of our life. And whether we think we have empirical data for our decision or not, we will justify our decision by the data to what we want to believe. As C.S. Lewis said, some will see God everywhere, others will see God nowhere. The difference is the heart, not reality.

          It’s naïve to think that we make purely disinterested and objective decisions. That is a fantasy, a fanciful delusion, in and of itself. It always comes down to the heart in the end. For instance, whether we choose to believe that God exists, or He doesn’t exist, cannot be proven or disproven with scientific evidence. At some point we will have to make some sort of leap of faith, whether to believe or not believe.

          Wouldn’t going with your heart as the final arbiter be one of the most dangerous and subjective things a person can do?

          I agree your statement, but that’s not what I’m saying. I have real evidence by my changed life and in many other tangible ways. But just like I cannot prove my love for my wife or kids with scientific evidence, it’s not going to be scientific evidence that proves or disproves God in my life. You have to look at the fruit of my life. That is another kind of tangible evidence. But also, even with evidence and reason, it’s a heart issue. If you decide you’ll only accept certain kinds of evidence, you will have deluded yourself into thinking you’re making a reasoned decision when, in reality, you’re using the evidence to justify what your heart already believes. It becomes circular.

          Let me say this about it. I’m quite happy with my decision. Even it is a delusion, it’s been the most fruitful, effective, transformational, and satisfying delusion I’ve ever experienced in my life! 🙂 And it’s also more real to me than anything else. While I can make an intellectual argument for why I believe, you wouldn’t win me with an intellectual argument because my relationship to Jesus not based on an intellectual argument. It’s much, much more.

        • KIA says:

          Short answer I think you are saying Mel is that you no longer care if what you believe in your heart to be True is actually true. You embrace the possibility that what you feel and what you believe may in fact be a delusion. I’m sorry brother, I just can’t go there with you. Not anymore. I still care if it’s true or not. You seemingly don’t.

        • Mel Wild says:

          No, that is not what I said at all. You just took my last sentence out of context. I do care about what is true, I just don’t believe you’ll find it the way you think.

          Let me ask you a question. Why is Francis Collins a devout Christian and Richard Dawkins an anti-Christian atheist? They’re both brilliant scientists in their field; they both have the same data available to them in genetics and biology. And Collins was not raised as a Christian, but in an agnostic home. So, why did they make opposite choices in light of these things?

        • KIA says:

          Have a wonderful day, brother Mel.

        • Mel Wild says:

          As I said, we will choose to believe whatever we want, as shown by your response to my question.
          You have a good day, too.

        • KIA says:

          Actually brother Mel, I didn’t respond to your questions. It’s rude to assume. Have a great day

        • Mel Wild says:

          Rude? You mean like dismissing my views by saying I don’t care about the truth?
          It was an honest question that was relevant to what I was trying to say, but fair enough.
          Talk to you later.

        • KIA says:

          Oh… And you do passive agressive too? How wonderful. Have a great spirit filled day

        • Mel Wild says:

          I wasn’t trying to be passive aggressive. I just find that atheists and deconverts love to make dismissive accusations but it’s practically impossible to get them to answer questions that actually probe their assertions.

          You certainly didn’t have to respond to my question, but you could’ve just answered it by now instead of continuing to demean what I believe with your parting comments. But if you choose not to, so be it. I will leave it at that.
          I do wish you the best.

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