Thursday, May 3, 2012


Last week I received an e-mail from Chris, a reader.  In it were various comments and questions.  One of them was “Why do you believe?”  A later e-mail assured me that the question was directed specifically at me and not some generic “you.”  So Chris, here’s my story.

I cannot remember a time in my life when I did not believe in God.  He just always was there, like all other truths I came to believe, though I can’t recall when I first heard His Name.  I did not receive “years of childhood indoctrination” (Richard Dawkins’ words).  My father was, to my knowledge, not a believer.  He never spoke of God.  My mother was a Christmas and Easter Roman Catholic, but to my recollection, I never set foot in a church until I was 10 years old and attended my maternal grandfather’s funeral.  All I can recall was a priest talking in a language I couldn’t understand, some boys about my age waving smoking incense censers around, and my grandmother wailing in grief and fear that she didn’t know where Grampa was going to end up – pretty scary.  Three years later a similar story of Gramma’s funeral.

I first heard Bible stories from a rural school missionary when I was about 7 years old.  He told us second graders that Jesus died for our sins and all that was required of us was to believe in Him.  What he said made sense to me though (or because) I already believed in God.  It was not till 10 years later that I attended a Protestant church where I heard a similar message – the message usually referred to as the Gospel.

So why do/did I believe in God?  I suppose at first I simply assumed He existed in the same way that I assumed other matters:  that the world was round, that there were people on the other side, etc.

I had never heard of the philosophical arguments for God’s existence, though I believe that I would have agreed with some of them at a very early age.
·        The cosmological argument – the argument that there must be a first cause.
·        The teleological argument – the argument from purpose.  There must be a purpose for all this.

I didn’t need to read Aristotle or Aquinas to understand these matters.  To me, even at an early age, they were obvious.  I suspect they are obvious to most members of the human race, though where they lead to may vary.

So I can honestly say that though I’ve had many doubts about many things in my life, I have never doubted God’s existence.  To deny His existence would raise more questions than it could satisfactorily answer.

As far as my personal Christian faith, it’s been a longer journey.  The Gospel that I first heard as a second grader did not fit easily with the Catholicism of my mother’s family as well as that of many of my neighborhood friends who attended Catholic schools.  The one message seemed too simple, the other too complicated.  The Christian input in my thinking was diverse and sometimes contradictory – gospel music on the country stations, references to God and Christ in literature, God-talk in magazines.  I read a lot, prayed a lot and asked for direction.

Then at the age of 16 I began dating the love of my life.  Uni was a beautiful Christian girl who shouldn’t have been dating the likes of me.  After some months she persuaded me to come to church with her at a little Baptist church.  I was astounded to hear from the pulpit the same message I had heard in second grade.  I began to understand the simplicity of what it means to have faith in Christ.  I continued to pray, though I never told Uni.  I continued to attend church.  One problem I had was that the message I heard seemed contradictory.  I was told that Jesus died for my sins and rose from the dead, and that all I had to do was believe.  At the same time I was being told that I needed to “come forward” during the closing hymn of invitation.  This seemed to be another “sacrament,” similar to the ones in my mother’s church.

Finally after over a year of this, I went forward during an evangelistic service.  Most of the church folks counted this as my conversion.  But looking back I realize that I had put my faith in Christ much earlier.  I’m not even sure when.

So I’ve rambled on about the “how” of my faith, but haven’t really answered the question “why.”  A few thoughts.

As I said, I have always believed in God’s existence.  To a certain extent, the person of Christ and His death on the cross were an element of that same belief.  But somewhere in those early years, I found I had to place my trust completely in Him.

Faith begins with intellectual assent to truth claims.  While these truth claims that I first heard seemed apparent to me, I did seek to ascertain whether they were actually true.  I heard many claims about Jesus in those years.  Yet the certainty of the eyewitness accounts in the Gospels and the evidences of the empty tomb convinced me.

However, faith is more than simply intellectual assent.  It involves an act of the will.  We must not only acknowledge the factuality of the Gospel, we must commit our trust to these facts and the One with Whom they are concerned.

And of course, my faith in Christ is even more than all this – it is first of all a work of God.  As Jesus said:

“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me, I will in no way cast out” (John 6:37).

“No one is able to come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him …” (John 6:44).

The word translated “draws” is elsewhere translated “drag,” as of a fishing net (John 21:11).  C. S. Lewis said somewhere that he was “dragged kicking and screaming into the Kingdom of God.”  I guess I was too!

I’ve rambled on and on and I’m not sure whether or not I’ve answered the question.  If not, let me know.  Why do you believe?


Canadian Atheist said...

Interesting post, Bill. I have one question.

We must not only acknowledge the factuality of the Gospel, we must commit our trust to these facts and the One with Whom they are concerned.----->Does this mean that you take everything in the Bible to be factual, literal truth?

Canadian Atheist said...

Oh, I also wanted to add that I believe you when you say you weren't indoctrinated. However, you are probably predisposed to belief and the arguments you use in your post show that. Most humans are. You were also surrounded by a culture that publicly endorses such belief. If you were living in the Middle East instead of America, you'd probably be saying Allah is great instead.

Just sayin'.

Bill Ball said...


Answer to the 1st question. Yes. I'd have thought you'd figured that out by now. :^) Of course, when I use the term literal, I mean that I attempt to interpret the meaning of the text. I recognize that the Bible, like most literature, is full of figures of speech -- similes, metaphors, hyperboles, etc. I do not interpret them in a wooden literalistic fashion as some hyper-fundamentalists and some of its critics do.

I totally agree that I was "probably predisposed to belief" as "most humans are." As I said, I suspect that the evidence for God's existence "are obvious to the human race, though where they lead to may vary." And I agree that if I were born elsewhere my beliefs about God would have been much different. Would yours be different had you been born elsewhere?

By the way, have you heard "The Atheist Hymn" by Steve Martin. You can find it easily on YouTube. I think it would crack you up as it did me!

Anonymous said...

There is a glaring omission when I compare your reasons to those pahmplets that always seem to be handed to me at the start of a marathon (do they really expect me to carry it for 26 miles?). You did not include the fear of eternal torture in Hell. I didn't think this would appear in your response.

Thanks for sharing these thoughts. I will read through them again.


Bill Ball said...

Yes,Chris I believe in Hell. But I guess it wasn't the fear of punishment that led me to believe, it rather was the fear of separation from God. See my post: THROWING OUT THE BABY (3/30/2011).