In A Defense of Christian Defenses we established (beyond all reasonable doubt, if I may say so) that Christian apologetics is important and worthy of our time and effort. (For those harboring unreasonable doubts, I have no answers.) In this lesson we begin to think about how to do apologetics.
And we begin with a question: When we engage in reasoning about God. When we share our faith with someone who doesn't believe. Who are we talking to?
I don't mean, who specifically are we talking to---is it Fred or is it Ethel?
And I don't mean, who do Fred or Ethel believe themselves to be? If Fred is like many these days, he may have no clue: "Who am I? I'm a guy. I rise in the morning work all day and come home. I try to be a good husband and father. I'm in the third season of Breaking Bad. What are you talking about?" If my good friend Ethel is a thoughtful atheist she may respond, "Well, essentially I'm a product of nature. I'm a highly evolved biochemical machine, the result of impersonal physical laws operating over time in an impersonal material universe. If you like, I'm the forward edge of the sludge of evolution."
No. The question I'm asking here is: who do we as Christians believe Fred and Ethel to be?
When we sit down with a cup of coffee to discuss the truth of God's existence and the Christian worldview, what does Scripture teach us about the sort of being we're talking to?
1. We're talking to someone who is the image and likeness of God, a mirror of God's being.
Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness...'" (Genesis 1:26).
I believe a key to understanding the meaning of Genesis 1:26 can be found when only four chapters later in the book of Genesis we read of Adam becoming "the father of a son in his own likeness, after his image..." (Genesis 5:3). Interesting. Our children bear our image and likeness. They're like us. In their being and nature they are reflections of what we are in our being and nature. What can our creation in the image and likeness of God mean, then, but that we are by creation God's sons and daughters?
Jesus the eternal Son of God, Scripture tells us, is "the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his nature" (Hebrews 1:3). Here we have the image and likeness of God to perfection. This is what we're created to be. This is our destiny in Christ.
Now, hold your breath and compare this to the description of the human person given by atheist biologist Francis Crick in his book The Astonishing Hypothesis:
...you, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules…
We're not talking to biochemical machines.
2. We're talking to someone who lives in a world that in a million ways evidences God's existence and nature.
Again, this is the clear and consistent teaching of Scripture. We see this in Psalm 19:1-3:
The heavens declare the glory of God and the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour fourth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.
We'll get into this more deeply when we discuss the Argument for Design, what is called the Teleological argument. At this point my concern is simply to state what Scripture teaches and what Christians believe: that creation speaks of God's existence and nature ("The heavens declare the glory of God and the skies proclaim the work of his hands") that it speaks of this continually ("Day after day they pour fourth speech; night after night they display knowledge") and that the message of creation reaches every person ("There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world").
And whether or not one accepts this as true, everyone ought to agree that the idea is internally coherent. Even as it makes basic intuitive sense to think that a building would evidence the existence of its designer, a piece of music it's composer, a painting its painter, a book its author, so it makes basic intuitive sense to think that if God exists and created, as Nehemiah said, "the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them" (9:6) --- well, it makes basic sense that creation would evidence His existence.
And because God does exist and did create and creation does evidence this, when we share our faith in God with a friend---and this is profoundly important to understand...
3. We're talking to someone who in his or her heart of hearts already knows who we're talking about---someone who really cannot escape knowing God.
After all, your friend is God's image and likeness. If he looks in the mirror, he sees God's reflection. If he opens his eyes to look around, he again sees the face of God in the faces of others---his wife, his children, his friends, strangers. If he looks out at the created order, he's confronted with the awesome complexity and majesty and beauty of all that has been made.
Even if he's blind and can only look within, there he meets God.
Again, the atheist will dispute this. But I'm not interested at this point in describing what atheists believe. I'm interested in describing what we as Christians believe. And what we believe is that for the most part human beings really cannot escape knowing God. The knowledge of God is written on the human heart. It's something that is etched into our very being.
4. We're talking to someone who already desires relationship with God---someone who's been looking for God all of his or her life.
This is the very first truth elaborated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and I think one of the most important truths we can ever come to know about ourselves and about others:
The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for (Paragraph 27).
Lord, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.
If any one thirsts, let him come to me and drink.
If there is no God it would be "natural" to not believe in God and to not care a bit about the subject. But instead, it seems that believing in God is what is natural to us.
Imagine a fish, brought into begin in a universe of water, its entire existence lived within a universe of water and knowing no other environment, "evolving" the desire to fly. Imagine it "evolving" the desire to live in a different environment---maybe the desert, or the sky, or the Wilshire District of Los Angeles. You can't even get your mind around why or how such a thing would happen "naturally".
In the same way, if we human beings are as "one with nature" as an apple hanging on a tree, or a fish swimming through the sea, or a bird fluttering through the sky, why exactly would we evolve belief in God? Why would we evolve the desire for heaven? Why do we seem so entirely not one with nature?
No. It seems that belief in God is natural. It seems natural to believe that we've come from "somewhere". This seems like something that is written on our hearts.
Take a moment to watch this clip from the film Joe Versus the Volcano. It's the most moving illustration I've ever seen of precisely what I'm talking about here.
Click right here, not on the video below. The link doesn't work.
The thing that strikes me about this scene is it's naturalness.
No one watching is surprised by Joe's reaction to what he experiences. He sees God in and through the majesty of creation. He humbles himself and thanks God for his life, and no one watching the film is surprised in the least. Instead, they're moved by what they're watching. They relate to it. They understand his response. It's all so natural for him to think of God and speak to God.
What is unnatural is to believe that we've come (essentially) from nowhere and that there exists no one to express gratitude to for our lives.
"OK but I thought this was a course in Christian apologetics. How does all this apply to doing apologetics? And when are we going to start with the arguments?"
Soon enough. Here's how all this applies to doing apologetics:
When you sit down for a cup of coffee with your friend, or walk along the tracks talking about God's existence and your faith in God, you want to keep in mind who you're talking to.
Because you're not talking to a mere biological machine. No. You're talking to someone who in every aspect of his or her being is a living, breathing advertisement for God's existence and who already knows at some level the God you're talking about. You're talking to someone who was created for loving relationship with God and who is looking for that relationship, regardless of whether he or she is entirely conscious of the fact. As Chesterton is famously said to have said, "The man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God." On the deepest level, this is what your friend wants.
Your hope as an apologist is to see your friend experience what Joe experienced on his raft at sea and come to say from the heart, "Thank you for my life...thank you for my life."
There's a line from Bruce Cockburn's song The Charity of Night that reminds me of what evangelism is all about.
Wave on wave of life
Like the great wide ocean's roll
Haunting hands of memory
Pluck silver strands of soul