Is what I believe true? I cannot think of anything more tragic than to live my life with a false view of reality. A false view of the existence of God.
But if God does exist, does He have a name? If the evidence points to the existence of a transcendent infinite spiritual force in the universe, this force will remain unknown to us unless it appears and reveals its identity. The human search for God will always be an effort in futility, unless God chooses to reveal Himself in a convincing manner.
CP Reporter Leah MarieAnn Klett reported in her recent article, that “...43% of millennials stated they either don’t know, don’t care or don’t believe God exists compared to 28% of boomers, and 44% of millennials believe Satan is a real and influential, compared to 64% of boomers.” Then Klett goes on to say that, “On spiritual matters, Americans younger than 55 are far more likely to distrust the Bible and to believe God is uninvolved in people’s lives.”
For those who are searching if God exists, I am convinced there is only one place to start and that is with the historical figure Jesus Christ.
Jesus is the only credible figure in history who made the claim to be God. In his bookThe Everlasting Man, G.K. Chesterton pointed out that no great moral teacher ever claimed to be God—not Mohammed, not Micah, not Malachi, or Confucius or Plato or Moses or Buddha:
“Not one of them ever made that claim…and the greater the man is, the less likely he is to make the very greatest claim.”
C.S. Lewis made this insightful observation:
“If you had gone to Buddha and asked him, ‘Are you the son of Brahman?’ he would have said, ‘My son, you are still in the vale of illusion.’ If you had gone to Socrates and asked, ‘Are you Zeus?’ he would have laughed at you. If you had gone to Mohammed and asked, ‘Are you Allah?’ he would first have rent his clothes and then cut your head off…The idea of a great moral teacher saying what Christ said is out of the question.”
For many years, the brilliant British scholar Malcolm Muggeridge was an outspoken atheist. One of the reasons he eventually changed his mind was because of the man Jesus. In his book, Conversion: The Spiritual Journey of a Twentieth Century Pilgrim, Muggeridge said that plenty of great teachers, mystics, martyrs, and saints have made their appearance at different times in the world, having lived lives and spoken words full of grace and truth for which we have reason to be grateful. Nevertheless, Muggeridge continues, man needs God’s special revelation on which he can build a religious belief and from which he can find wisdom and understanding. Muggeridge goes on to say that the only solution is for God to become man, which He did through the Incarnation in the person of Jesus Christ. God thereby:
“...set a window in the dark dungeons of our soul, that He might let in a light which would provide a view, and offer a way to be released from the misery of our self-centeredness and pride.In Jesus, “eternity steps into time, and time loses itself in eternity.”
So, Jesus must be the place to start in a search for God, because of His incredible claim to be God. It seems only logical to seek to determine if His claims were true. The articles in this three-part series will provide compelling evidence that Jesus is Who He claims to be.
However, I need to mention a second reason that Jesus and Christianity are where a person should start in their search for spiritual truth. Christianity is the only falsifiable religion in the world. The reason I say this is because Christianity depends on certain historical facts to be true. (This, of course, would include Christ’s Resurrection.) Prove they never happened and Christianity is fraudulent.
Probably one of the most respected books on man’s diverse spiritual longings is The World’s Religions by Huston Smith. Written in 1958, it is still used regularly in many college curriculums. Commentator Bill Moyers suggests it is one of the best books on comparative religion because of its objectivity and its sensitivity to all religious beliefs and practices. Smith, who was very well educated, didn’t have any particular religious leaning. He was unbiased. And in the book, in the section on Christianity, Smith begins with these words:
“Christianity is basically a historical religion. That is to say, it is founded not on abstract principles but on concrete events, actual historical happenings.”
Out of all the religions that Smith covers, he doesn’t say this about any of the other world religions. The Bible, he suggests, unlike most of the world’s great religious literature and traditions, is not centered on a series of moral, spiritual, and liturgical teachings but rather on what God did in history and what He revealed in history.
The historical record does not seem to be of as much importance in other world religions. For instance, a number of years ago, theologian Paul Tillich hosted a conference in Asia with various Buddhist thinkers. During the conference he asked a simple question: What if by some fluke Siddhārtha Gautama, the Buddha, had never lived and turned out to be some sort of fabrication? What would be the implications for Buddhism? The scholars all agreed that if Buddha had not existed, it would not matter. The reason, they concluded, is because Buddhism should be judged as an abstract philosophy, a system for living. They said it did not matter where the teaching originated.
Christianity, on the other hand, requires an origination, a set of hard facts on which to stand. To make the point more explicitly, Peter Moore, the founder of Trinity School for Ministry, emphasizes that Christianity is the only world religion to make spiritual truth depend on historical events. And English historian and author Paul Johnson bolsters this truth by stating the following:
“Christianity is essentially a historical religion. It bases its claims on the historical facts it asserts. If these are demolished it is nothing.”
Therefore, Christians clearly believe that as wonderful as Jesus’ life and teachings were, they are meaningless if they are not historically true.
One of my favorite stories is of a man who believed he could debunk the Christian story by diligent study of the historical and archeological record.
Sir William Mitchell Ramsay is considered to be one of the greatest archeologists in history. He performed most of his work across Asia Minor and the Middle East. An Englishman, he was raised an atheist, the son of atheists of great wealth. Receiving his doctorate in archeology from Oxford, he committed his entire life to archeology and set out for the Holy Land with the intention of undermining the validity of the Bible. His hope was completely to discredit the book of Acts. He was confident he could do so because there was simply so much historical information he believed he could draw upon. He shares:
“I began with a mind unfavorable to it [Acts]…It did not lie then in my line of life to investigate the subject matter minutely; but more recently I found myself often brought into contact with the book of Acts as an authority for the topography, antiquities, and society of Asia Minor.”
Over time, Ramsay was forced to completely reverse his beliefs as a result of the overwhelming evidence uncovered in his research. After thirty years of vigorous and comprehensive study and analysis, this is what he had to say about Luke’s ability as a historian:
“Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements as facts trustworthy…this author should be placed along with the greatest of historians…Luke’s history is unsurpassed in respect to its trustworthiness.”
These are strong words and are of vital importance. Remember the foundational principle we started with at the beginning of this chapter? Christianity is the only world religion where spiritual truth depends on the veracity of clearly defined and discoverable historical events.
Eventually, after uncovering many hundreds of artifacts confirming the historicity of the New Testament record, Sir William Mitchell Ramsay would shock the archaeological community when he revealed to the world that he had become a Christian.
This article is an essay from my newest book Reflections on the Existence of God. The book lays out, in short essays, much of the evidence for the existence of God that is available. We should seek to take the evidence offered and use it to make reasonable conclusions. What you will find is, as the evidence accumulates, it enables us to come to confident conclusions about God. Who He is. And, that He truly is.
Richard E. Simmons III is a Christian author, speaker, and the Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership, a non-profit, faith-based ministry in Birmingham, Alabama. His best-selling titles include The True Measure of a Man, The Power of a Humble Life, Wisdom: Life's Great Treasure, and his newest book, Reflections on the Existence of God. Follow Richard on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn @thecenterbham. Tune in to Richard's Reliable Truth Podcast on your favorite podcast app.