Towards a Jesus-Centered Apologetic (Part Three)
A lot of people think even if God did exist, there would be no way to know him. If there is a God, it clearly seems he is far removed from us, they might think. Some go as far as to say that it is impossible to know if God exists or not, a view known as agnosticism.
I remember a song from my childhood that said God is watching us from a distance. In a lot of ways that would make sense of human suffering, if God were far removed from us so as to not be bothered by our pain. As a matter of fact, this was a pretty popular way of thinking about God held by many of the founding fathers of America. It is a worldview known as Deism. Deism equates God to a clockmaker who winds up a clock, places it in a room he never visits, locks the door, and leaves the clock to wind down on its own unsupervised.
Though not many use the label Deism today, it is still around and influences many modern day misconceptions of God. For example, one of the largest studies of youth religious beliefs and practices in North America concluded the view held by teenagers in America professing to be Christians was that God was distant and not involved. Sociologist Christian Smith labeled this “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” This is essentially a belief that God wants his followers to be good, to be happy, and that he won’t be too involved with their lives. It’s no wonder that many feel God is distant and detached, if he exists at all.
God Came Near
The first thing we see in most of the gospel accounts is a genealogical account of Jesus. The authors make it clear that Jesus is a real person with a family tree. The claim of Christianity is not of a distant and obscure god, but of one who had a birthday and a hometown. The Gospels are about real events surrounding a real person. If the Gospels are true, as I believe they are, then God came near.
The Incarnation is crucial to Christianity, as it claims God took on human flesh. This is the focal point of the beginning of Johns gospel, “In the beginning was the Word . . . and the Word became flesh.” Unlike other religious traditions where miracles are not essential to their basic beliefs, Christianity is entirely dependent upon the Incarnation. If this claim is false, the whole religion folds like a house of cards.
The claim that God took on human flesh and visited his creation, puts Christianity in an entirely different category than other religions. It is a historical claim that can be investigated like any other event of antiquity. If Christmas is true, then far from being a detached god watching us from a distance, the Creator stepped into the time, space, matter, and energy universe he himself made.
How do the birth stories of Jesus show us what God is like? They show us that God loved us so much that he gave his son (John 3:16). God could have watched us from afar, but he chose to come close, close enough to be crucified. The Incarnation shows us the depth to which God will go to have a relationship with his creation. The claim of Christmas challenges the notion that God is distant and unknowable.
God Cares About Our Suffering
As you read about the life of Jesus, it is clear he cared deeply for people. He had compassion on the city of Jerusalem. He was brokenhearted that people were in despair, as those without a shepherd. Jesus was moved to action by the cry of a father about to lose a child. Jesus cried at graveside of his friend Lazarus.
When people push back against the idea of God, it could very well be because of deep, personal, losses they have experienced where they feel as though God stood idly by ignoring their cries for help. Though pointing them to the life of Jesus in Scripture might not be a quick fix, it is a way to show them from stories of Jesus that God does indeed care about their pain. And if the Bible is as powerful as it claims to be, then the long-term effect of sharing Scripture with them could be greater than we imagine.
Not only does the life of Christ show us that God cares about our pain, it makes clear Jesus experienced a whole lot of his own pain. John tells us Jesus’s own people, the nation of Israel, rejected him. In fact, his own brother James, didn’t believe his message until after Jesus rose from the dead. Such examples only point to the psychological pain of rejection Jesus experienced. The crucifixion accounts demonstrate the excruciating physical pain Jesus endured on our behalf.
This touches on what is called “the philosophical problem of evil.” Such arguments allege an all-loving and all-powerful God cannot exist due to wide-spread human suffering. Human pain and suffering are undeniable and, sadly, unavoidable. But does suffering demonstrate that God cannot exist?
If the Gospels are true, then we have a very different picture of God. The Bible explains evil, both natural and moral evil, as the result of human rebellion. But God in his mercy, came down to us, to live in this painful world, to die under false accusations, all to offer us forgiveness. By looking to Jesus, we see the very heart of God who is unwilling that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
Is God distant and unknowable? Not if we consider Jesus. Jesus shows us that Deism is false, God came near. Jesus shows us that agnosticism is false, as God in Christ, made himself both known and knowable. These are just two arguments against the existence of God that are countered by looking at the life of Jesus. As you study the Gospels yourself with an eye towards apologetics, I’m sure you will find many more.