January 12, 2013
Coming to Love God
Here is my problem, Dr. Craig: I am as atheist as one can be. Never believed even for 1 minute in my life. However, when I think about it, as a philosopher, I have to admit that I have no good argument to disprove the existence of God. And what's more, watching online debates and reading papers, I find theistic arguments very compelling. The arguments you present, with which I am very acquainted, are sound arguments. Yet, and here is my problem, I am still not convinced. Moreover, I think this: what if I met God today? Surely I will believe in his existence. But why worship? Even if arguments convince me that God exists, why should I care? Either I worship because if I fail to do so God will torture me for ever, or I accept his friendship voluntarily. But what if I don't want to be his friend?
Wow, what an interesting question, Carl! I really appreciate your honesty. Your question underlines the difference between merely believing that God exists and believing in God. One could give a sort of disinterested, even apathetic, acknowledgment of the fact that God exists without really loving and trusting God.
Jesus taught that he who has been forgiven much loves much, whereas he who has been forgiven little loves little (Luke 7:40-50). I suspect that therein lies the key to your question. Worship of God is kindled by a deep gratitude to God for His forgiveness of one’s wrongdoing. People who do not have a deep sense of their own sinfulness will probably not feel much of a need to come to God. But to know that, unworthy as you are, you have been forgiven of even your worst sins and cleansed of your guilt forever issues spontaneously in thanksgiving and praise to God for such unmerited favor.
I was forcefully struck when, at the end of our debate on the existence of God, Louise Anthony confessed that one of the drawbacks of the atheism she had come to embrace is that under atheism there is no redemption. Think of that! One’s sin and guilt are truly indelible. Nothing can undo what has been done and restore your innocence. But the Christian message is a message of redemption. That’s why the hymnist exclaims, “Redeemed! How I love to proclaim it!”
So in order to come to God, I think you probably need to reflect upon your own sinfulness. C. S. Lewis once remarked, “No one knows how bad he is until he has truly tried to be good.” The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard made the same point. Kierkegaard thought of life as lived on three levels. The most basic level is the aesthetic stage, in which life is lived selfishly for the pleasure it affords. Life so lived ultimately issues in boredom and ennui. The next higher plane is the ethical stage, in which one lives according to strict moral standards. But this life results ultimately in despair because one cannot live up to the standard of the moral good. Only on the highest plane, the religious stage, is authentic existence truly to be found. Kierkegaard rightly saw that it is the failure of the ethical life that propels one to the religious plane.
I recall that when I was a non-Christian and first heard the Gospel message, even though I was living an externally moral life, I was acutely aware of the darkness and twistedness within. Until you come to have an awareness of your own fallenness, selfishness, and need of forgiveness, you probably won’t be inclined to worship and love God. But I’d encourage you to read a little Kierkegaard or perhaps Pascal’s Pensées and to try to live faithfully according to the Golden Rule. That may help to arouse in you an acute sense of how truly needy you are.