Day 44: February 13, 2013

Today's Reading(s)

John 4:46-54 Read Online

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Today's Reflection

Key Verse(s)

Jesus told him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe.”

—John 4:48

What Evidence is Good Enough?
by Paul Wilkinson, Member of Brentwood Baptist Campus

How frustrating it must have been for Jesus then, and how frustrated He must be with me now, to have to deal with a stubborn creation that’s always seeking to appease the immediate external experience instead of cleansing the rebellious heart?

The Son of God, the second person of the eternal and holy Trinity, became incarnated in flesh for the sake of the Godhead’s holy name and for the sake of a sinful creation. He walked among the people offering salvation, performing miracles, speaking truth, and he was rejected.

Instead of focusing on what they (and we) knew to be true (Romans 1), they willfully suppressed the truth of the Living God and worshiped what they could see, touch, smell, hear, and taste. Jesus said people wouldn’t believe without “signs and wonders.” Oftentimes we refuse to believe until some major life event changes us. Must it be that way?

A battle in epistemology has ensued throughout the history of philosophy—and particularly through the previous 50 years. Epistemology is the study of knowledge: what is knowledge, what is belief, which beliefs are justified, etc.

Something changed on the recent side of the European Enlightenment and has unfortunately persisted through the modern era. That something is technically known as Classical Foundationalism, which we’ll call the “show me belief.”

It claims that one has a duty to provide reasons why one believes particular truths. If you say you believe in God, then show me God. Give me evidence. The problem with this view is this: Who determines the evidence? We must somehow, arbitrarily, already know who decides what good evidence is!

Christians have plenty of evidence don’t we? Scripture, Jesus, the history of the church, science, and our own testimonies. However, skeptics consider such evidence to be invalid—not because it’s poor, but rather because our evidence won’t be taken into consideration from the start.

What then should Christians do? What should we to believe? John Calvin taught that God has created humanity with a sense of the divine, or sensus divinitatis  (see Psalm 14:1; Romans 1). Through the conviction of the Holy Spirit, we’re granted justified belief. In other words, we don’t need reasons why we believe.

Philosopher Alvin Plantinga has continued that tradition, claiming that belief in God is analogous to believing that: other minds exist; the universe was not created five minutes ago with all of our memories implanted; there’s a real universe; our memories are true; etc. We can’t prove any of those beliefs. Nevertheless, we’re rational for believing them.

Plantinga calls such beliefs “properly basic” and groups theism into that category. I tend to agree. We don’t need signs to believe in God and shouldn’t demand signs from God (that isn’t to say the Lord won’t bless us with signs—only that we shouldn’t demand them). We need only to trust the testimony of the Holy Spirit within our hearts and minds.

All of that sounds great, but a skeptic will never buy it! You’re right. But the skeptic isn’t some noble seeker of truth, completely objective and honest. Romans 1 clearly states that all conscious individuals have evidence of God through creation and their own existence. Therefore, the skeptic willfully suppresses the truth that God designed them with.

Our job isn’t to convince them. We’re called to convict them. They resist belief—not from a lack of evidence—but from a sinful heart. We expose their faulty assumptions by pointing out their epistemology is arbitrary and incoherent. If they believe so many propositions without tangible evidence, then why not believe in God?

As a chemical engineer, I was taught to always find empirical justification for a theory. I had to find a reliable mechanism for the formulation of a particular product so the experiment would be repeatable and make proper predictions about the amount of product, byproducts, and the like.

Such thinking is fruitful in industry, but no one ever challenged me on why I believe in the very molecules I sought to combine. I was never asked why I thought the conservation of energy was true or why I believe in physical particles. How did I not know that some invisible fairy inhabited my reactor and facilitated the reaction? I just took it all for granted.

We must not let society determine the terms of engagement for the Christian. We take our cue from Scripture.

Perhaps a devotional isn’t the place for an epistemology lesson. However, God has placed on my heart the importance of clear thinking about what belief is and what beliefs are valid. We must not follow those in Scripture who believed only because we’re fulfilled or we’ve experienced a miracle. Those things are good, and we can rest on them as a kind of assurance, but we should believe in God because of His glorious creation and our own consciousness to scream His name.

The Spirit pleads with us to simply trust in Him. We’re justified in trusting the testimony of Scripture. And like the nobleman and his son, through our belief we too may live.

Reflection Questions

  1. Peter says we must always be prepared to give an account of the hope that’s within us (1 Peter 3:15). What are your reasons for believing? Are they valid?
  2. Do you demand signs from God to maintain your faith? What do such actions say about God’s character? About your character?
  3. How can you become more attune to the conviction of the Holy Spirit?
  4. Is epistemology (knowing various theories of knowledge, questioning the validity of beliefs, etc.) important for the church or is it a detriment to faith?
  5. What steps could you take to become bolder in your evangelism so that you aren’t taken off guard by difficult questions?

About the Author

Paul Wilkinson

Since March 2012, Paul has been a member of Brentwood Baptist. He’s currently enrolled as a PhD student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, majoring in Philosophy of Religion and minoring in Ethics, and serves as an intern with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention. Ultimately, he’d like to minister within the local church, as well as teach and write on the collegiate level.

Paul is married to Shelly. In their free time, they enjoy spending time with their two dogs, watching movies, cooking, and traveling.