Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: unbelief

Life takes some unexpected turns

Alcohol had once enabled me to admit my interest in some day becoming a Mennonite, but the three other people who heard that statement didn’t take it seriously and never again mentioned it. My two trips into Regina to attend a Mennonite church had gone completely unnoticed by those who knew me. I was quite content to leave it that way as I still at a stage where I had no desire to be identified as someone with any interest in Christianity.

Nevertheless, I wanted to have a Bible when I left for Manitoba. There was no way I was going to openly show that desire by going out and buying one. There was another way. My parents had a stack of worn out Bibles in a cupboard; they never threw one out. They would have gladly given me one if I had asked, but that would have been too embarrassing. Before I left, I went to that cupboard, found one that hadn’t quite fallen apart yet, and stashed it in my luggage.

The elevator at Sperling was much bigger and much busier than the one at Belle Plaine. The office was much bigger too. To start with I was provided with a roll away bed in the office for night and got my meals in the home of the former manager.

I settled into a routine, started to get to know the farmers and the people in town. The people in the community were of English, French, Danish, German and other backgrounds. Among the farmers there were members of four different Mennonite denominations. One was a group I had never heard of before, the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. The men of this group wore beards.

I made monthly trips back to Saskatchewan to see my parents and Chris. Chris and I would often visit until midnight Sunday and then I would drive the 400 miles back to Sperling, open the elevator at eight o’clock in the morning. In the summer of 1969 Chris’s Uncle moved to Kelliher, Saskatchewan to run his sister’s café and Chris went with him. Her aunt stayed in Belle Plaine to run the café there. My once a month trips became more complicated.

After several months the former manager retired for health reasons. I was given the job and UGG rented a house in town and paid to move my belongings. The former manager and his family were given time to find a new home and then the UGG carpenter crew went to work on the house.

I had left all my drinking buddies behind in Saskatchewan and didn’t make any new ones in Manitoba. I often had beer in the refrigerator but no incentive for serious drinking by myself.

There was lots of time to read the Bible and I started randomly reading here and there. I began with the belief that the Bible was a man-made book that might contain parts that were inspired by a God that I didn’t know and hardly knew if I believed in. But I was convinced that most of the book was not to be believed or trusted. As I read, a different picture began to impress itself on me. This appeared to be one book, with every part of it connected to every other part. Many things that I didn’t want to believe were quoted by Jesus. It began to sink in to me that I could not choose to believe some parts and reject the rest; it was either all true, or all false.

Now that I was officially the elevator manager, I began looking through the records and found that a number of farmers had bills outstanding for farm supplies, so I sent out reminders. I soon had irate farmers showing up in my office with receipts showing that they had paid those bills. I accepted that, but UGG had never seen those payments. Those farmers seemed to suspect me of trying to pull a fast one and get paid twice, but the people in town understood the situation. The former manage had always seemed to be in need of more money for his family and different episodes were told me of how he had gotten into a bind and money had disappeared. No doubt he had intentions of making it all right, perhaps the stress of it all led to his heart attack.

Some of my farming customers were members of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, from the congregation at Rosenort, about 15 minutes away. They were friendly and often stayed to visit. One day, one of them came into my office to apologize for something he had said a few days earlier. He was afraid I might have misunderstood his remarks and taken offence at them. I was completely caught off guard. There had been no misunderstanding, no offence taken, but now I was almost offended at him for making a special effort to come and clear up such an insignificant thing. They way I looked at my life, I was leading as decent and upright a life as was possible under the circumstances and this guy had come along and kicked that support out from under me.

Early in 1970 Chris told me that she was getting cold feet and wasn’t sure that she wanted to get married. Life looked bleak, many of the farmers were looking at me with suspicion, I hadn’t made any close friends in this community and now my fiancée wanted to back out of our marriage plans.

By the spring of 1970 I had moved into the renovated house. The wall between the kitchen and dining room had been replaced by a counter and new cabinets installed. Flooding was happening around Carman to the west of us, with the threat of it coming our way. One Saturday I took a drive around to look at the situation, but my mind was churning with troubled thoughts. I wanted to just give up and disappear, but I had tried that once and it hadn’t turned out well.

I returned home and opened my Bible at random. My eyes fell on Revelation 3:16: “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” The picture was vivid and shocking – could it be that my life was so distasteful to God that He just had to get that taste out of His mouth? I had never thought of myself as a sinner, but now the weight of sin bore down on me.

I knelt down and admitted to God: “All this trouble I’m in, I did it all by myself, nobody helped me get into this mess.” I asked Him to forgive me and promised that if He would help me now I would serve Him the rest of my life. When I got up from that prayer I had a determination to do whatever I could to work my way through my problems.

Advertisements

In defence of doubt

As Christians, we tend to have this utopian belief that a true believer will never have any doubts about matters of faith. Thus, when a brother or sister has the courage to admit to doubt, we react with something akin to panic.

Why do we react like this? Isn’t it because deep down we ourselves doubt whether there is a satisfactory answer for the doubt expressed by our brother or sister. So we label the doubt as unbelief and tell the doubting person to repent of that unbelief.

In most cases doubt is simply a feeling of uncertainty, a longing for answers and not a refusal to believe. We all have doubts at times and it is not healthy to suppress them. If we go on for too long simply stifling our doubts, they are apt to erupt one day into a major crisis of faith.

We need to look for answers to our doubts, and to the doubts of others. Right here we often encounter the biggest doubt of all: are there really answers to our doubts? How can we even know that God exists?

We should be wary of answers that assume that faith and reason are mutually exclusive realms and that we just need to have faith. Sometimes Christians use a variant of this type of answer by coming up with stories that supposedly prove Creation, the existence of heaven or hell, or some other tenet of the faith and say we have a different kind of knowledge than the world has. Most of these stories do not stand up under close scrutiny and have the effect of confirming the world’s perception that Christian’s aren’t very bright.

Blaise Pascal said “The heart has its reasons, which reason cannot know.” Yet he went on to develop arguments to show the reasonableness of Christian faith. There is no contradiction here — Christian faith does provide the best explanation for things as they really are. Those who rely on reason alone and deny the very possibility of God have created well thought out explanations for the existence of the world and all natural phenomena, including the workings of the human mind. The problem is that new evidence keeps cropping up that does not fit these explanations, so new explanations need to be developed.

There is no absolute proof for any aspect of Christian faith; on the other hand, there is no evidence that contradicts the faith. When looked at objectively, without the blinders created by a refusal to admit any possibility of the existence of God, it becomes clear that God is the explanation that best fits all the available evidence.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith then is really all we need, faith in God and faith in what He has revealed to us in His Word. But questions and doubts will arise, and we need not fear them.

The world has developed supposedly scientific ideas about what is best for the mental and emotional well-being of mankind. Here too, an unblinkered look at the evidence shows that they don’t really work. Having confidence that there really is a God who created the world and everything in it, including us, should give us confidence to trust that His plan for the church and the home are exactly designed to meet our real needs. Let’s not panic when someone expresses doubts. Consider that an opportunity to examine the evidence and have our faith renewed.

No evidence for this hypothesis

The hypothesis that the Apostles were knaves is quite absurd. Follow it out to the end and imagine those twelve men meeting after Jesus’s death and conspiring to say that he had risen from the dead. This means attacking all the powers that be. The human heart is singularly susceptible to fickleness, to change, to promises, to bribery. One of them had only to deny his story under these inducements, or still more because of possible imprisonment, tortures and death, and they would all have been lost.

-Blaise Pascal, Les Pensées

JOY

Joy is the second quality listed as part of the fruit of the Spirit.  If I am a Christian, yet find that joy is lacking in my life, it cannot be the fault of the giver.  God’s gifts to His children are given liberally.  Therefore, if there is a lack of joy in my life, I must search for the cause within myself.

If we seek to be happy, to have joy in our lives, we will not find it through positive thinking or an enhancement of our self-esteem.  The apostle Peter gives some pretty basic instructions.  “For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it” (1 Peter 3:10).  In other words, our happiness (or joy) will not come from pointing out the faults and weaknesses in others, or by disguising our true nature, but by doing all that is in our power to honestly be at peace with everyone.

“Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep” (Romans 12:15).  “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy” (Psalm 126:5).  “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).  Why do the Scriptures speak of a connection between tears and joy?  Isn’t it for the simple reason that if we harden ourselves to painful emotions we grow a shield around our heart and the joy that God wishes to give us cannot penetrate that shield?

Worry has a very insidious way of robbing us of joy.  I am very concerned about brother so and so, or sister so and so, their attitudes, the things they are doing.  I am concerned about the political situation, about health care, about the rise of false religion and occult practices, about the decline of spiritual life in the church.  There is so much to be concerned about that it just wouldn’t be right to put on a happy face and say that I am living in the blessings of God, would it?

Let’s look at it this way, worry and concern are close kin to unbelief.  The reason that things are so bad around me is that so few people truly know the joy that God gives.  If I let their unbelief hinder me from experiencing the joy of the Lord, I am part of that problem.  A BIG part.

“Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.  Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee” Psalm 51:12-13).

Belief and unbelief, according to Blaise Pascal

I marvel at the audacity with which some people presume to speak of God.  In giving their evidence to unbelievers, usually their first chapter is to prove the existence of God from the works of nature.  I would not be surprised about this project if they were addressing their arguments to believers, for those with living faith in their hearts can clearly see at once that everything that exists is entirely the work of God whom they worship.  But for those in whom this light has been extinguished and in whom we are trying to rekindle it, persons devoid of faith and grace, searching with all their light that which they see in nature that could lead them to this knowledge and finding only obscurity and darkness, shall I  say to them that they have only to look around, and they will see in the least of these things God plainly revealed?   To give them no other evidence of this great and important matter than the course of the moon and the planets and claim this as infallible proof is to give them reason to believe that the proofs of our religion are feeble indeed.   Reason and experience tell me that nothing is more likely to bring it into contempt in their sight.

But this is not how the Scripture speaks, with its better knowledge of the things of God.  On the contrary, it speaks of God as a hidden God, and because nature has been corrupted, he has left men to their blindness.  They can only escape from this through Jesus Christ, for without him all communication with God is severed.  “Neither knows any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whosoever the Son will reveal him” (Matthew 11:27).

This is what the Scriptures tell us when they say in so many places that those who seek God shall find him.  This is not the natural light of the noonday sun.  We do not argue that those who are looking for the sun at noonday or water in the sea will find it and that in the same way the evidence of God in nature is likewise.  It is not.  Rather it says, “Truly thou art a God that hidest thyself” (Isaiah 45:15).

If it is an evidence of weakness to prove God from nature, do not despise Scripture.  If it is an evidence of strength to recognize these contradictions, then respect Scripture for this.

It is a remarkable fact that no writer in the canon has ever used nature to prove the existence of God.  They all try to help people believe in him.  Neither David, nor Solomon, nor others ever said: “There is no such thing as a vacuum, therefore God exists.”  They must have been smarter than the smartest of their successors, all of whom have used proofs from nature.  This is most significant.

People despise Christian faith.  They hate it and are afraid that it may be true.

There is always enough light to illuminate the elect and enough obscurity to humble them.  There is enough obscurity to blind the reprobate and enough light to condemn them and deprive them of any excuse.

One of the things that will confuse the damned will be the recognition that they are condemned by their own reason, by that which they claimed to condemn the Christian faith.

To know God without knowing our own wretchedness only makes for pride.  Knowing our own wretchedness without knowing God makes only for despair.   Knowing Jesus Christ provides the balance, because he shows us both God and our own wretchedness.

-selected from les pensées  of Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)

%d bloggers like this: