Belief in God is becoming more and more difficult for people today. People are becoming more and more sophisticated in their absence of belief in God. If honest, many of us struggle to believe in the God we were raised on.
I have been listening to “This I Believe” on National Public Radio. This weekly segment picks up a series started in the 1950s. Famous people are asked to share their credo. These are not necessarily religious, but they are personal. Two weeks ago, I listened to this segment with magician Penn Jillette.
Jillette makes his belief the absence of belief. God does not exist. Other than the blatant non-belief, several things were striking as I listened and then read his essay. Jillette believes someone can be a good person without believing in God. He does not believe that only Christians are good. In fact, he indicates that Christians refuse to enter honest dialogue about their beliefs because they hide in their faith. A believer’s claim that “I believe it and you cannot change me” is a cop-out in Jillette’s view. I agree.
One of the big fallacies with his essay is that Jillette blames suffering on a God who does not exist. He says that since God does not exist then there is the possibility of eliminating suffering. How is this possible? Many people say they cannot believe in God because of suffering or God’s lack of involvement. The problem is that if God doesn’t exist, then we are still left to explain suffering and evil. Eliminating God does not make the problem of suffering go away.
Another interesting belief of Jillette is his elimination of sin and the need for forgiveness. He says that if you get rid of forgiveness then it makes people better. They have to try harder to be nicer the first time. Rather than just beg for forgiveness. So, his answer to mistakes (or sin) is to try harder to be nice. This is his weakest point. And like suffering, Jillette leaves sin unexplained and unresolved. Trying harder will not make suffering going away. Trying harder will not make sin go away. Only a forgiving God who creates a forgiving person can reduce the power of sin and suffering.
Let’s leave Jillette behind for a bit. For now, let’s read how a man named Peter responds to a similar question. People living after Jesus’ death began to wonder if what Jesus taught was really going to come true. They wanted Jesus to come back – like he promised. “What happened to the promise of Jesus coming back?” they ask (2 Peter 3:4). Our ancestors have died and the world continues to spin pretty much the same as it always has. Really we could ask this question similar to Jillette’s. If God really cared about us and our suffering, then he would do something about it. However, God does nothing. Therefore, God does not exist. Every thinking and feeling person at some time wonders about the tardiness of God and is angered at God’s absence. Come back. Do something. Make a difference in this situation of my life now; yesterday would have been better but now works.
God seems slow and God seems absent. Peter gives a response about God. There have been times when God has stepped in and judged people (like the flood). God has been involved. But the primary answer Peter gives is one of time. God is not slow about his promise – God is patient because God wants repentance (2 Peter 3:9, 16). God is not bringing the world to an end because he is hopeful that more people will turn to him. Time is irrelevant to God. One day is the same as a thousand and a thousand can feel like just a day to God. God is outside of time.
The truth is God will eliminate suffering and evil – it is as good as done. It is in the future, but it is as if it had already happened. Picture God as he really is – outside history calling us to him. We cannot escape the future he has planed for us. His future is an eternity with him an eternity of service and work in the kingdom of God. Time is not the issue. Repentance is the issue. The longer God waits the more opportunity he has to draw people to him. Not force them to see how wonderful and loving he is, but time for them to come to see it on their own. Picture God standing in front of the universe. Imagine him waving us towards him like a Father calling his daughter to walk toward him. There will be suffering and a stumble and a fall. Sometimes even a bonk on the head, but God calls us to him. Our future, the future of the universe, is certain in the hands of God.
Do you remember the original question? Why doesn’t God intervene and return and set things straight. The answer is that he is patiently awaiting more and more people to repent. Repentance is the reason. Repentance is where you recognize that you make mistakes. You cannot make them right. Repentance is a turning from your own ability to make things right and trust the God who is waiting in the future to give you life eternal. The delay is not a sign that it will not occur. The delay is for the purpose of repentance and turning to God. God is patient so that the Penn Jillettes of the world can choose to embrace the God who created them. God’s patience equals our salvation (16). The identical twin Psalms 14 and 53 express that only fools say that there is no God. The end result of such non-belief is death eternal. God in his graciousness gives to Penn Jillette exactly what he believes – that this life is the best life he will ever have. Tragedy of tragedies.
John Fountain also has belief. He relates his belief in God in NPR's This I Believe series. He shares his belief in God by talking about his personal pursuit of his father. Listen to the story of this black man and his father and how it brought him in contact with another Father.
The God who created you does not lie in a casket somewhere. God is in front of you calling you to himself. He is waving you towards him. He is encouraging you to be holy and Godly. He wants you to anticipate his coming and to allow him to come into your life more today than you allowed yesterday.
I pray that the world will one day realize that God dealt evil a death blow through Jesus Christ. Jesus did not escape suffering – he entered suffering. As God entered into a suffering existence with his creation sin was destroyed. Will you love the God who loves you?