Unbelief is not Mainly an Intellectual Problem

A few weeks ago, I got a late night call from an old friend wanting to have an honest chat about God, truth, and faith—my favorite kind of chat. Throughout her college years, my friend was heavily involved in a local church and passionate about the things of the Lord. But in her late twenties, something in her soul went awry and she made a speedy exit out of the church, leaving Jesus and any certainty that there is absolute truth in her wake. Over the last few years, she’s developed into what many conservatives would call a staunch liberal. My friend is pro-choice and pro-gay marriage, and she expresses her opinions without hesitation. And let me tell ya, she expresses them well. This is one sharp and articulate young lady.

But despite the evolution that’s taken place on the surface of her life, she shared with me that her inner life has been a nightmare lately. Though she wants in no shape or form to live her life for Christ, she cannot escape him. He stays on her mind. She can’t shake the feeling that he may actually be the Way, the Truth, and the Life, as the Bible claims. And boy, does she hate it. She wishes she could live her life unhindered by these “nagging” whispers about Jesus that so frequently and annoyingly interrupt her rebellion.

As we continued to chat, she kept saying, “If I just had proof that this was real and that Jesus was legit, it would be so much easier to give myself over to him.” Proof is a tricky concept. People are quick to say they want undeniable proof that this God of the Bible is real—they want to physically see him, tangibly touch him, and speak with him face to face. But they don’t realize there isn’t any system of belief (or disbelief) about God and truth that offers that kind of “proof.” Christians can’t prove beyond the shadow of a doubt to our peers in 2016 that Jesus really performed miracles, resurrected from the dead, and ascended to heaven—the best we can do is offer up reliable testimonies of those who claimed to have been eye witnesses. However, those who believe God isn’t real don’t have physical, tangible proof that he’s not. Those who think there are many avenues to God don’t have physical, tangible proof that there are. Those who think absolute truth doesn’t exist don’t have physical, tangible proof that it doesn’t (and in saying truth doesn’t exist, they are making an absolute truth claim, #inconsistent). When it comes down to it, we can’t prove with absolute certainty that we weren’t born yesterday and that all the memories we have weren’t implanted into our brains by aliens. I know that sounds silly, but my point is that no system of belief about who put us here, why we are here, and where we are going can be absolutely proven in the way many people want it to be.

However, we can use the reasoning powers God has given us and follow evidence to a logical conclusion. I asked my friend the other night: “If Jesus really wasn’t healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, and raising the dead in order to validate the claims he was making about himself (that he was the Son of God), then why did masses of people flock to him? If Jesus was some powerless fraud, then why was he viewed to be such a religious and political threat—so much so that they murdered him? If Jesus didn’t really resurrect from the dead, linger around for 40 days, and appear to over 500 people, why did his post-crucifixion following increase exponentially? If the apostles were lying through their teeth about Christ’s resurrection and Lordship, why did they, for the rest of their lives, endure all kinds of suffering for their claims? Why did almost all of them embrace martyrdom for his sake? If the Holy Spirit—whom Jesus promised would come—isn’t really working in the world to produce worshippers of the true God, why have millions upon millions of people chosen to give their lives to this Jesus they’ve never seen with their physical eyes? The logical conclusion, based on the indisputable evidence we do have, is that Jesus is God.”

My friend agreed: “Yeah, I mean, I think there is enough evidence to confidently say that this stuff about Jesus probably happened. It makes more sense that the biblical accounts would true than false. But I just feel so antagonistic against it. I don’t want it to be true. I don’t want to accept it.

And that, right there, is the root of my friend’s unbelief.

Unbelief is not mainly an intellectual problem; it is a heart problem. Romans Chapter 1 says that God has made his existence plain to every person and that we are all without excuse (v. 19-20). “God didn’t prove his existence to me!” will not be a valid claim at the Judgment throne. He has made his existence and power clear to every human soul. The issue is that we have foolish and darkened hearts that are unwilling to worship him. Though hard heartedness can and does lead to faulty thinking (v. 21), the primary problem isn’t with our intellect; the primary problem is our heart’s unwillingness to submit to God’s will.

Jesus demonstrates this when he says, “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God.” – John 7:17. In other words, if our will is truly to serve and worship God, our mind will be able to rightly discern what teaching is from God. And just two chapters earlier, he says, “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” – John 5:44. Again, Jesus connects unbelief with the heart’s desire. Because these people preferred some other glory to the glory of God, they could not believe.

Christians, as you love your unbelieving friends and seek to share the gospel with them, don’t forget what really is their main issue: a hardened and unwilling heart. By all means, provide them with evidence. Show them the writings of 1st and 2nd century secular historians who wrote of Jesus, his miracles, his death, and his “alleged” resurrection. Point them to all the manuscript evidence we have which assures us that the biblical writings we have today were the same writings they had in the early church. Read with them through the Scriptures, and help them see how it all connects into one big and beautiful redemptive story. Walk with them down the paths of logic and reason. But more than all these things, pray for God to heal their wayward hearts (Jeremiah 3:22). Pray he would remove their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).

And let’s not be so deceived that we think we shouldn’t pray for our own hearts, too. John Calvin once said something like, “no Christian has perfect faith; we are all part unbeliever.” God has started a work in us, but it is far from finished! Brother or sister, if you and I were honest we would admit that we still find ourselves riddled with doubt, fear, and skepticism at times. We need the Holy Spirit to continue to soften our hearts, and to help us believe in Christ more fully than we already do. We need to ceaselessly cry out with the man in Mark 9, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

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