Reasons for belief

Since Kate linked to my blog today, I guess I’d better post something here!

I have big plans for the blog in the future, but I am not ready to launch them yet, so I’ve been dormant this semester. Let me just post something brief about something I’ve been mulling over lately.

When I got saved, one of the most important things about the whole experience was the nearly palpable presence of the Holy Spirit during the process. I didn’t hear any audible voice, but I sure felt as though God were carrying on a conversation with me in my head. I asked questions and seemed to hear answers. I asked for help with the fear that had so often prevented me from coming to Christ, and the Holy Spirit sent waves of spine-tingling, overwhelming peace to combat it. At a key moment, I suddenly switched from thinking of Jesus as “out there somewhere” for me to believe in or not, to thinking of Him as face to face with me, by means of the Holy Spirit. Suddenly I wasn’t listening to myself asking “Do I believe in Jesus?” I was listening to Jesus ask me directly, “Do you believe in Me?”

Without all this supernatural stuff, I probably wouldn’t have believed.

So, in a sense, the foundation of my belief in God is the personal experience I had of his supernatural communication with me at the key moment.

Later, I was taught that if I was going to persuade others to believe, I wasn’t supposed to rely on my subjective experience with God, but on various measurable, objective evidences and arguments for the existence of God. That made sense: I couldn’t really share my own experience with others, but I could point them to the reasons they should believe based on logic or nature.

At the same time, and somewhat in contradiction to the first idea, I was encouraged to use Scripture when I talked to unbelievers, because the Scripture alone would convict them of its truth. In other words, if I used Scripture, I had hope that God would bring to them the same kind of supernatural conviction of the truth of the gospel that I had experienced. That seems pretty Biblical to me. The New Testament, in particular, seems to trace people’s faith back to a foundational experience of hearing the spoken word of the gospel and realizing, by God’s grace, that it must be true. For those who heard the gospel and were moved to believe it, the word was self-authenticating.

Then I went through a 20-year drought in terms of the subjective experience of God. Recently, with that drought apparently over, I have been rediscovering my original sense of the supernatural presence of God, and remembering how much of my early faith was always based on that kind of thing.

But is it right that my faith should be based on my own experience? It seems like that puts me at the center of everything instead of God. Yet putting my faith in measurable evidences isn’t really better. I don’t believe in Christ because I am scientifically or logically convinced: my faith in science and logic just isn’t that strong. Putting objective human knowledge at the center of everything doesn’t seem any more Christ-centered than putting subjective human experience there.

Some apologists argue for a “presuppositional approach”. According to them, we start by simply acknowledging our presuppositions — belief in the Bible, for example, is the typical one. Then, we believe other things on that basis. That makes sense to me, but still leaves the question of how I came to be sure of the presuppositions to start with.

The most recent insight that I’ve had is the value of thinking of my experience of God at salvation as a sign pointing to the God behind it. In fact, I can think of every human experience, everything that I can come to know as a human, as a sign to the God who is bigger than my ability to know.

The point is this: if God reaches me through a subjective experience, and through that experience points me to Himself, then I can transfer my trust from the sign itself to what it points to. There is a difference between what led me to faith, chronologically, and that upon which I rest my faith, ultimately. I came to Christ through certain human experiences, but I chose to interpret those experiences as signs of a God standing behind them. Then I put my faith in that God, not in the signs by which I came to believe in Him. Others have come to Christ by means of objective evidences in nature or logical arguments about a first cause or the fine-tuning of the universe. Hopefully, they too have transferred their trust from these specific evidences to the God to whom the evidences pointed.

Is this saying anything new? Or am I just putting the words in a different order? Just finding a new way to talk about presuppositional apologetics? I think this is new, and important, but I’m not sure. It’s all pretty complicated stuff.

Anyway, I think part of my calling when I talk to other people, both believers and unbelievers, is to help them notice the signs of Himself that God has put in their own lives, and help them interpret them properly, so that they can see to whom the signs are pointing.

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