In my last post, I described the wonderful providence of God displayed in our care for my mother-in-law and our move to South Carolina. God’s wonderful providence does not mean that the move was easy or that it is easy now. In fact, the adjustments after pastoring and teaching for forty years in the north, along with a dramatic increase in my wife’s chronic pain, has been surprisingly difficult for me. The purpose of this post, however, is not to list the difficulties or complain (as I begin this post, I am watching the Memorial Day Concert and feeling foolish for my difficulties in comparison to the sacrifice of the members of our armed forces), but to point us to another revelation of God, His day-by-day sustaining grace.
There has been, and will be, times in in my life and in the lives of all Christians when God seems far away (cf. Isaiah 50:10,11; Romans 8:36; Psalm 22:1, 2). Yet even in such times, we are assured that God is with us (Deuteronomy 31:6; Joshua 1:9; Romans 8:31-39; Hebrews 13:5). Indeed, God has strengthened me through family, friends, good Christian music and especially His word and a great local church along with times of emotional prayer even as I continue to struggle. As I exercise faith in His word and His revealed character, He endows me with His grace and gives me strength beyond my own moment-by-moment. I find in this graciously-given strength some of God’s revelation to me of His reality. Furthermore, my experience of God in this way is supported by the experience of millions of other Christians now and throughout history facing far worse trials (cf. Foxes Book of Martyrs and Darlene Deibler Rose’s Evidence of Things not Seen). When I was pastoring, I saw saints of God, including my own relatives, suffer tremendous pain and deprivation with a smile on their face, a prayer on their lips and a song in their hearts. They not only claimed to experience the presence of God in such times, they demonstrated that presence in their lives. The strength and testimony of suffering Christians over thousands of years reveal the existence of a God Who is there giving strength day-by-day.
I fully understand the subjective nature of this argument, but I would point out that subjectivity does not in and of itself negate validity especially when it is such a universal experience of believers. I would also point out that some of the most effective arguments of atheists are also subjective. Indeed, I would argue that most individuals who became atheists did so for subjective reasons and sought supporting arguments later. These reasons usually take the form of “if there were a God then X would (or would not) occur, since X did not (or did) occur, then there is no God. The “X” could be an unanswered prayer, a friend or family member dying, a great natural disaster taking place, the existence of war or even the witness of one animal violently killing and eating another or disappointment in a relationship, etc. If the argument of God’s not showing Himself in the way a particular individual thinks He should have revealed Himself (a subjective argument indeed: why does God have to act in a way conforming to the ideas of the atheist? On what basis does the atheist think God needs to act in a certain way?) is an effective and valid argument in the eyes of atheists, then surely the testimony of God’s sustaining grace in the lives of millions of Christians down through the ages in most difficult circumstances should also be accepted as effective and valid. The atheist cannot have it both ways.
Furthermore, the Bible explains the lack of experiencing God by committed atheists. It clearly states that sin cuts off our relationship with God (Psalm 66:18; Isaiah 59:1, 2). In fact, the Bible speaks of His enemies desperately seeking YHWH in their sin-caused distress and not finding Him (Psalm 18:41). God in His justice refuses to reveal Himself to those who refuse Him (Isaiah 6:9, 10; Matthew 13:34, 35; Isaiah 66:4). However, God does promise to reveal Himself to those who sincerely seek Him (Jeremiah 29:13; Hebrews 11:6). Hence, the Bible explains why the rebellious atheist does not experience God and why those who sincerely seek Him can, and why believers do experience Him.
If, then, an atheist can support his atheism by his lack of experience of God, then certainly Christians supporting the reality of God based in part on their experience of God is also valid. In fact, it is more valid for lack of experience of something is not evidence of the non-existence of something whereas the experience of something does constitute evidence. Something can exist and yet not be experienced by everyone, those who do not experience that something cannot deny its’ existence based on their own lack of experience, especially in light of the testimony of millions who have. I have, for instance, never experienced space-flight and have heard arguments by conspiracy theorists claiming that there actually has never been real space-flight. Am I thereby justified to deny the idea that humans have ventured into outer space? Atheists cannot deny God’s existence based on their lack of evidence without also having a logical explanation for the experience-claims of millions of honest individuals especially in light of the biblical explanation for their lack of experiencing God which I have given.
Indeed, I am currently experiencing even in my struggles the sustaining grace that is so well-expressed by John Newton in the third verse of “Amazing Grace”:
“Through many dangers, toils and snares
We have already come.
T’was grace that brought us safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.”
This sustaining grace of God is a real revelation of Himself to His own and has been witnessed by millions throughout history and by many today. This argument cannot be easily dismissed by atheists no matter how they try without undermining their own subjective arguments.