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10. Experiencing the Reality of God

– Chapter 10 –

Experiencing the Reality of God

God’s commitment to us is grace whereas our commit­ment to God is faith. But today the word “faith” has been so diluted as to mean creedal or intell­ectual assent, more or less, that we need to find another word that accurately conveys the biblical mean­ing of faith. Indeed, many New Testament authorities now explain faith as “commit­ment”.[1]

In the church over the centuries, faith has come to mean accept­ing certain doctrinal statements to be true. As a result, “I believe in Jesus” has come to mean, “I believe that there was a person called Jesus, that he died for me, that he rose again.” This is faith in the church today. While these creedal state­ments are import­ant, merely accepting them to be true is not the full meaning of faith in the New Testa­ment. Certainly it is crucial to believe that Jesus died for us and rose again, but this alone is not saving faith. The devil knows correct doctrine too (James 2:19) but that does not save him.

The word commitment conveys the fact that in the Bible, saving faith is not just believing something to be true, but is a response to God that involves the whole person, not just his intell­ect or emotions but everything in him. It is a response that holds nothing back from God. God has given us every­thing, so we give Him our everything. Saving faith is a response to God that is ex­pressed in total commit­ment and seen in works. James is not afraid to speak of works (a widely abused and misunder­stood term) when he says, “Faith with­out works is dead” (James 2:17,20,26). A dead faith saves no one.

The Reality of God

We come back to the crucial question of why we should commit to God in the first place. How do we know that God is real to the extent that we have the confidence to com­mit to Him without reserve? Whet­her we commit to God depends on whether we are convinced that He is worth committing to. That in turn depends on whether we are con­vinced that He is real. We wouldn’t commit to a fictitious person or ideology though some people are willing to do just that.

The question of God’s reality is so vast that it would be overly am­bit­ious of us to try to cover it in one chapter. But we will attempt just that, by looking at the evidence for God’s existence briefly but I hope not too superficially. I will give you some lines of evidence for God’s reality for you to think about, without laboring on the indiv­idual points.

1. God is revealed through the creation

What is the basis of our belief that God is real? What are the lines of evi­dence for establishing our case? The evidence before us is vast if we would open our minds and examine the facts. The Bible, right from Genesis 1:1, starts with the creation. Paul says that God has revealed Himself in His creation, and that we only need to look at it:

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eter­nal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being under­stood through what has been made, so that they are with­out excuse. (Romans 1:20, NASB)

When I first arrived in Montreal, I was deeply impressed by the pastor of a Russian church in Montreal. I asked him if he had become a Christ­ian in the West but he said no, he started to know God in Soviet Russia. I said, “So you were brought up in the teaching that God does not exist?” He said, “Yes, but no matter what they told us about God’s exist­ence, the more I looked at creation, the more I was convinced that there has to be a God.”

I asked him how that came about and he said, “I would be sitting in my astrophysics class listening to lectures on the universe and the stars. I pondered on the vastness and the orderliness of the universe, the way things move with precision and perfect timing, the enor­mous ener­gies of the things in the universe, and the vast distances. In astro­nomy we talked about infinity, which is eternity, and eternity is about God.” That left a deep impression on him.

When you look up at space, you are looking at infinity and eter­nity. Its limitlessness boggles the mind. Every time this Russian pondered about it, he would say to himself, “There has to be a God!” He also knew it was for political reasons that his teachers were saying there is no God. It was politics, not science.

So I asked him, “What’s the rest of your story? You didn’t become a Christian just by sitting in your astronomy class, did you?” He said no, he didn’t. Although he knew that there has to be a God, he didn’t know enough about Christianity.

He was also patriotic. When Germany invaded Russia in the Second World War, he was a young fighter pilot in the Soviet air force. The first thing the Germans did was to send wave after wave of bombers to destroy the planes on the airfields. They indeed des­troyed most of the Soviet air force on the ground. As a result, the Germans had air control in the first phase of the war against the Soviet Union.

This Russian was grounded because he had no plane to fly, but that was also true of most other Soviet pilots. He would sit next to the air­field, reading the newspapers.

The Germans were advancing in their blitzkrieg or lightning war­fare, pushing rapidly across Russia. Before long they were be­sieg­ing Leningrad on one front and advancing on Stalingrad on anot­her.

While reading the papers, this young Russian became more and more agitated. So he said to his com­manding officer, “Why am I sitting here? The Germans are invading our country and we are sitting here with no planes to fly. We have to get into the war effort.”

The officer looked at the young man all heated up and ready to do combat, and said, “Are you willing to fight in infantry?” He said “yes” and was soon sent to the front.

Soon he found himself really at the front, eyeball to eyeball with German soldiers. For the first time he knew what fear was. The advan­tage of flying a plane is that you don’t see your enemy’s face or stare into his eyes. You fire at him from a distance. So it was a shock to him when he stood up in his trench and saw a German soldier in another trench. He thought to himself, “I have no quarrels with him, yet he’s supposed to shoot me and I’m supposed to shoot him! Is this what life is all about?”

One day as he was standing in a trench, he pulled his cap over his eyes and began to pray. This was the first step he took to knowing God. He slowly pushed up his cap, hoping that no one had seen him pray­ing. A fel­low soldier looked at him and smiled, so he was embar­rassed and looked the other way. But the other said to him, “You were pray­ing, weren’t you?”

“Me praying?”

“Yes, you were praying! Admit it!”

“Yes, I was praying.”

“So was I! That makes the two of us!”

How interesting! All their lives they had been taught there is no God. But this Russian said to me, “You would be surprised at how many soldiers in the Soviet army prayed!”

And what happened next? He was captured when the German forces breached the Soviet lines. As was often the case, the Soviet sold­iers didn’t have enough ammun­ition to defend them­selves. They were surrounded, iso­lated, and taken prisoner. He himself was taken to a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany. Towards the end of the war, he was transferred to a camp located in Nazi-occupied Austria. This part of Austria was subse­quently taken by the Allied forces. This whole group of Soviet prisoners, hundreds of thousands of them, were then trans­ferred from German hands into the custody of the western Allies. The Americans opened the camps for relief supplies and even organ­ized gospel out­reach activities. Some preachers came into the camp to reach out to the Soviet prisoners. This Russian received some tracts, and com­mitted his life to God.

There were three stages in all this. First he saw God’s glory in creat­ion. Second, he began to pray. Third, he heard the gospel which he had never heard before, though he had known something about Christ.

This Russian came to realize that the only way for you to reach out to the Creator of the universe is for Him to reach out to you. We may want to know God but God is far more deter­mined to know us! As soon as this Russian heard the gospel, he recognized the truth. He not only believed and committed his life to God, he became the pastor of a Russian church.

Jesus Christ and the creation

Yahweh God is the only creator (Isa.44:24) whereas Jesus Christ is the “first­born of all creation” (Col.1:15). It was “in” Christ and “through him and for him” that all things were created by God (v.16). When we medit­ate on the universe and its eternal design, we are drawn to its Creator — the one and only God — through His Son Jesus Christ, who is the only way to God our Father (John 14:6).

In Scotland I was debating with a young man from India who be­lieved in many gods. Indeed I was told that in India, there are more gods than people. With over a billion people in India, there must be many Hindu gods! This young man told me that there are many roads to God, a famil­iar idea in Indian philosophy. I said to him, “Please tell me which road leads you directly to God. What is the point of saying there are theoretic­ally many roads to God unless you can point me to one specific road that will take me directly to God? I already know that Jesus is the way to God. If you don’t come to God through Jesus, you won’t come to Him at all. I chall­enge you to find another way to God, and when you have found it, come and tell me that you have met with God.”

He replied, “There are many holy men in India.” I said, “I won’t argue with that but whether these holy men have come to God or not is another matter. I have already told you I have come to God through Jesus Christ, and I assure you that you too will come to know God if you take this road. If you believe there are theoretically a hundred ways to God, go and find one specific way.” He thought about it and eventually became a Christian him­self. That was partly a result of the powerful wit­ness in the lives of other Christians, something which we will look at later.

The first point is that God is revealed in His creation. Look at a living flower and its beautiful design. If a craftsman had made you an artificial flower of gold, pearls and diamonds, it would not com­pare with the splendor of a living flower. When you place the two side by side, there is no competition in color, shape, vibrancy and fragrance. The other day I picked a flower on the island of Cheung Chau in Hong Kong, and I stood there admiring it. It was incredibly beautiful with a white trumpet shape, golden streaks, subtle shades of yellow, and even fragrance!

When you look at an artificial flower made of gold and dia­monds, doesn’t it tell you something about the craftsman’s talent, intelli­gence and creativeness? Some people admire works of crafts­man­ship and are will­ing to pay thousands of dollars for one. The commercial value of its constituent parts in terms of gold and dia­monds may not be very high, so what you are paying for is its artistic beauty.

Is it because we can pick a flower for free that we don’t give it a second glance? If an artificial flower tells you something about its design­er, how much more a living flower about its Creator?

If a flower is so impressive, what about a bird or a fish? There was a time when I didn’t know much about the splendor of the under­water world. But when you go scuba diving, what you see below the surface will really open your eyes. You put on your mask and oxygen tanks, and dive down 20 feet, 30 feet, maybe 100 feet. I once took my wife snorkeling in the Caribbean, and although snorkeling doesn’t give you the same view as scuba diving, she was already dazzled by what she saw in the coral reefs.

When you go scuba diving, you can get close to the corals and see the fish swarming around you and staring into your goggles. They are as curious about me as I am about them. The colors, the shapes and the div­ersity of the fish are amazing. If you take a sheet of paper and draw on it a sea creature out of your imagination, adding a bit of yellow here and a bit of green there, with a hint of blue, there is a good chance you will draw some­thing similar to what already exists underwater. Flip through a book on marine biology and you will see all kinds of inter­esting creat­ures. One of them might be what you have drawn on that sheet of paper.

With some fish, you cannot easily tell which end is head and which is tail. Sometimes it is hard to distinguish the eyes or know how many eyes there are. There are fish that catch other fish with some­thing that looks like a fishing rod which extends from its head with what looks like a bait dangling at the end. Fish that fish for fish?

There are fish that shoot jets of water from below the surface to knock down overflying insects. Anyone who has studied trigonometry, project­ile motion and fluid mechanics would know just how complex it is. Who taught the fish trigono­metry and how did it acquire its skill? Accord­ing to the theory of evolution, the species of fish evolved in that direction due to sur­vival and selection. But wouldn’t the species starve to death long before it evolves to the point of being able to shoot down insects?

If anyone could go through life looking at creation, yet not see the glory of the Creator, he or she must be suffering from a spirit­ual ail­ment. How can anyone look at all this and not see anything?

Many of us have been brought up in the theory of evolution. In China I had the privilege of being “liberated” for seven years. Part of that liber­ated life was to be ingrained with evolution and dialectical material­ism. In one of my classes, a red guard asked the teacher how life originated: “You’re teaching us evolution, so I would like to go back to the time prior to evolution and ask where did life come from?” His point was that if life comes from life according to the nat­ural law as posited by Pascal, where did the first life form come from? That question was more than the teacher could handle, so he said, “That’s easy. Life comes from non-life.”

The student replied, “But we learned from Pascal that life comes from life, so how can it come from non-life?”

The teacher said, “There was a moment in which various gases got toget­her in proper formation, in the right combin­ation, and in perfect timing. A flash of light­ning struck, and life came into exist­ence!”

“This is amazing! Are you saying there are situations in which all the right elements come together by chance, and then lightning strikes at the right moment? Are we talking about earth or outer space? Is there light­ning in outer space? More­over, light­ning norm­al­ly kills life, not create life!” The class discussion got more and more ridi­culous.

Yet evol­ution has affected us to one degree or another, at the very least by planting a question mark into our minds. So whenever we think of creation, evol­ution would insert a quest­ion mark into our minds. Even if we don’t believe in evolution, it has created a certain spiritual blindness that hinders us from seeing God’s glory in creation. That is why we need to ask God to open our eyes.

2. God is revealed through the life and teaching of Christ

We come to the second line of evidence for God’s reality. Jesus Christ is par excellence the one who reveals God’s glory and nature. You may say, “That’s fine, but I wasn’t around when Jesus walked on earth. I’m not as privileged as the disciples who saw Jesus.”

God came into the world by dwelling in the man Jesus, but God was at the same time veiled by the flesh because the body of Jesus both re­vealed and concealed God. If God had revealed Himself to us directly, we would die instantly because no one can see His face and live (Ex.33:20). When God revealed Him­self on Mount Sinai, the Israelites were so terrified that they begged that no further revelation of God be given them because they could not endure His awesome presence. Yet at Sinai, God hadn’t even revealed His full divine glory.

It is not only the person of Jesus but also his teaching that reveals and conceals at the same time. In Mark’s gospel we find what is called the “Messianic secret,” a term used by New Testa­ment scholars to refer to the fact that Jesus, in his public teach­ing, does not explicitly reveal himself to be the Messiah, the Savior King. There is no utterance in his public teach­ing that explicitly says, “I am the Messiah”. In Mark’s gospel, only once does Jesus specifically say that he is the Christ, but that is only because the High Priest had com­manded him to say under oath, during the judicial hearings in the Sanhedrin, whether he is the Christ, the One appointed by God to be the Savior of the world (this is the meaning of “Christ”). In Mark 14:61-62 and its parallel in Matthew 26:63-64, it is only in this spec­ial situat­ion, and only under oath, that Jesus specifically says, “I am [the Messiah].”

We are to commit to Yahweh, who is God, and to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. But in the gospels, Jesus doesn’t explicitly state who he is. If he doesn’t even tell his disciples who he is, how can he expect us to know who he is? Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Mt. 16:13) The disciples tell him that some say he is John the Bap­tist, some say Elijah, some say Jeremiah or some other prophet. Jesus doesn’t tell his dis­ciples who he is, yet he expects them to answer his question. Then Peter says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus says to him, “Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not re­vealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Mt.16:17). Flesh and blood includes Jesus himself.

This brings us to the heart of commitment. Even if I could, I would not talk you into commitment, for then your faith would be based on human wisdom and the power of persuasion, and not on God’s wisdom. Jesus never tries to persuade his disciples that he is the Christ, but leaves it to God to open their eyes. Commitment cannot be based on persuas­ion by “flesh and blood,” a term that in Scripture refers to a human being.

Every committed person is a miracle of God’s revelation. I marvel at God’s work in every true Christian. You become a Christian only after God has revealed Himself to you, through Christ, in a way that no one else can. What I am doing in this discussion is to lay the ground­work for God to reveal Himself to you. Ultimately all commit­ment is of God’s work, not man’s. It also depends on how open you are to Him.

3. God is revealed through the cross

The third way in which God is revealed to us is through the cross of His Son Jesus Christ. God is revealed through His Son but nowhere more power­fully than at the cross. Anyone who looks at the cross of Christ and not see God’s love and saving power will not be persuaded by any amount of talk. Good over­comes evil, and there is no greater example of this than at the cross of Jesus Christ.

Every Christian who is committed to God is a living testi­mony of God’s good overcoming evil. As we saw in Colossians, all this is made possible by the cross. We need to meditate on the cross and ask God to show us what truly happened there, for no human eloquence can ever explain it to us.

One day when we see Jesus Christ the Son of God face to face, we will see him not merely as one with a crown that radiates His Father’s glory, but as one with deep scars on his head etched by the crown of thorns. When he lifts his hands or when we fall at his feet, we will see the nail wounds. When he exposes his heart, we will be reminded that a Rom­an soldier used a lance to pierce through his side and into his heart such that blood and water came out. His scars will be there for all eternity.

Revelation repeatedly speaks of Jesus as the Lamb that was slain. This Lamb of God will forever bear the scars of its violent death. God’s glory is forever revealed in Jesus Christ, not merely as one who did mira­cles and other impressive feats on earth by God’s power (Acts 2:22), but as one who died for us.

Paul says, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1Cor.2:2). He also says, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal.6:14). Paul could have gloried in many things such as his Damascus Road encounter with Jesus or the many miracles he had done by God’s power, yet he doesn’t want to talk about them, for he only wants to talk about the cross of Jesus Christ.

Do you see God’s glory in the cross of His Son Jesus Christ? Probably not, for the cross reveals and conceals. The glory of the cross is hidden by the shame of the cross, for Jesus died a criminal’s death. Until we are willing to see the shame, we won’t see God’s glory and reality at the cross of His Son Jesus Christ.

4. God is revealed through the resurrection

The fourth way in which God is revealed to us is the resurrection of His Son. Ponder on the empty tomb and what happened to the body of Jesus. His dead body was in the hands of the Roman soldiers who were under the super­vision of a Roman officer and under the author­ity of Pilate, the Roman governor. So where did the body go? The Romans only had to produce the body to disprove any claim of the resurrection of Jesus. It was the Romans, not the dis­ciples, who were in possession of Jesus’ body.

The enemies of Jesus were fully aware that while he was alive, he spoke publicly and repeatedly of his resurrection from the dead. Hence it would have been stupid of his enemies if they had allowed his body to leave their sight for even one minute. And did they make that element­ary mistake? Not ac­cord­ing to the records that we have. It was in the vested inter­ests of the Jewish leaders and the Romans to avoid making that mis­take. We are told that Jesus’ tomb was formally sealed by the Roman officials and guarded by Roman soldiers. Yet they could not pro­duce his body when the disci­ples went about proclaiming the risen Christ. All that the author­ities had to do was to display the body of Jesus in public.

Jesus was a public figure in Jerusalem, Judea, Galilee, and even in the temple. He stood before Pilate, before Herod, before the high priest, and before the multitudes. Everyone recognized his face, so the auth­or­ities only had to produce his dead body to disprove the claim of his resurrect­ion. At the same time, because Jesus was widely recog­nized, it was impos­s­ible for his enemies to present another person’s body as his body.

Moreover, the disciples didn’t immediately run off to distant cities to proclaim the resurrected Jesus to people who wouldn’t be able to confirm the claim. Instead the disciples remained in Jerusalem. At Pentecost, Peter spoke about “the resurrection of the Christ” to the same people who had crucified him (Acts 2:24,31,36).

All in all, when we look at the facts of Jesus’ resurrection, we see the clear evidence that God is real.

5. God is revealed in the witness of the apostles

The fifth line of evidence of God’s reality is the wit­ness of the apostles who had seen the resurrected Jesus. In the New Test­ament, the word “apostle” is not limited to the Twelve but is a broad term that includes those who had witnessed Jesus’s life, ministry, and resur­rect­ion. The apostolic witness includes the apostle Paul himself:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accord­ance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (1Cor.15:3-9, ESV)

Witnesses are crucial to the legal proceedings of a court of law. Con­sider how many witnesses had seen Jesus after his resur­rection: not only the 12 apostles but 500 men all at once. Under Jewish law, two or three witnesses are enough to estab­lish a case, yet Paul speaks of 500 witnesses. He wrote his letter to the Corinthians some thirty years after Jesus’ resur­rection. Most of the 500 witnesses were still alive and avail­able for cross examination, though some had “fallen asleep” (died).

Finally Paul says, “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” His testim­ony of Jesus is convincing because of his former violent persecution of the church (Gal.1:13,23). Paul’s test­im­ony is that of a form­er enemy of Jesus and the church. The support­ive testim­ony of a former enemy is more convincing than that of a longtime friend. When an enemy publicly declares, “I used to imprison and kill Christ­ians, but now I am a follower of Jesus Christ who has re­vealed himself to me,” that testimony is most powerful.

6. God is revealed in the living witnesses today

The sixth line of evidence of God’s reality is the living witnesses today. You might say, “Paul knew of 500 wit­nesses of the resurrection, many of whom could be cross examined, but they are no longer around in our time.” But have you considered the many living wit­nesses of God today who have experienced God’s reality, and who far outnumber the 500 witnesses in Paul’s time? There are many people living today who can testify of God’s reality in their lives. Every true Christian is a testimo­ny to God, and there are many such people in this generation. Bookstores are full of autobiographies and testim­onies of people who have written of their experiences of God. God is at work today, not just 2,000 years ago.

I count myself as a witness. My testimony, published as How I Have Come to Know the Living God, is a witness to God’s reality, yet it includes only a small fraction of what I have experienced. Do I have any rea­son to tell you false stories? Is there any reason to doubt the accuracy of my wit­ness? Is some­one paying me to fabri­cate these stories? No, I am a living wit­ness to God’s reality. It would take me hours and hours to share what God has done in my life. The testim­ony of every Christian who has experienced God’s reality ought to be taken seriously.

7. God is revealed in your life

The seventh line of witness is you yourself. Have you experienced God at all? When you look back at some of the events in your life, even those which you are not 100% sure that God was involved in, you can probably see that it was God who played a crucial role in your exper­iences.

H.D. Lewis, an eminent philosopher in England and one of the pro­fessors I sat under in London, once wrote a book, Our Belief in God, which was taken seriously because he was a res­pected philosoph­er. If the book had been written by someone else, perhaps no one would have taken serious notice of it. But because of Lewis’s stature as a philosopher, peo­ple took notice of it and had to reckon with it.

In his book he reasons that there is a sense in which every­one, at one time or another, has had an experience of God, and this is the case whether you are a Christian or not. He gives an example from his own life as a non-Christian when he looked at the beauty of a sunset. He couldn’t explain why, but he was sure that he was experiencing God in the sunset.

Some people have told me that they survived an accident that should have killed them. They couldn’t understand why they were still alive. Did they experience an invisible protecting hand in the incid­ent? And why are you reading this book about commitment to God? Is it because God has been guiding you in a way that is hidden and revealed at the same time?

This final line of evidence is ultimately you yourself. Ultimately the most convin­cing evidence of God’s reality is what you yourself have ex­perienced. This can be divided into two categories: what you exper­ienced in the past, and what you can experience in the future.

Your past experiences

Some of the things you experienced in the past may be hazy in your memory yet are real all the same. My mother told me that when I was a baby, she came home one day and found me almost dead in my crib. A blanket had somehow wrapped tightly around me, suffoc­at­ing me, and I was turning blue. She hadn’t been attend­ing to me for some time, and if she had delayed a minute or two, I would have died. Was it a coinci­dence that she came home at the right mo­ment? When she saw me, she had such a fright that she nearly fainted on the spot, which would have fin­ished me off before she could re­gain con­sciousness. She had just enough presence of mind to unwrap the blanket, and so I am here alive today.

These are the sort of experiences that my professor was talk­ing about. In one way or another, everyone has had a personal experience of God regarding which one could say, “I can’t prove it, but God was involved.” Look back at your own life and ponder on the things that may have been genuine experiences of God, even if you weren’t aware of it at the time.

Jacob experienced this sort of thing when he wrestled with a person all night without knowing that he was wrestling with God (Gen.32:24-32). In another incident, in a dream Jacob saw a ladder extend­ing from earth to heaven (28:11-22). He didn’t know that God was present in the place where he was sleeping. He realized this only after waking up, and it gave him a fright. He had exper­ienced God without knowing it until later.

Many of us have experienced God’s kindness, mercy and protect­ion with­out knowing it at the time. Maybe you thought it was pure luck or coincid­ence that a car hit the guy standing next to you and not you. Why did it happen that way? You might not have an answer, but you somehow know that God has an eternal plan for you.

Your future experiences

The second part of this line of evidence is what we can experience of God in the future. The whole point of this book is to inspire you with the hope of experiencing God’s reality. You must experience God for yourself, for there is no way for me to prove God to you.

Jesus said to Martha, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe you would see God’s glory?” (Jn.11:40) He said this to her after Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary, had died. Before Lazarus died, his sisters pleaded with Jesus to come save him but Jesus purposefully delayed his arrival until after Lazarus had died. It is import­ant for us to realize that the Lord may allow some­thing to happen that may look like a complete disaster, yet is meant to bring about some­thing wonderful and glor­ious. Jesus waited until Lazar­us had been dead four days. The mourn­ers were cry­ing their eyes out. They, especially Mary and Martha, were grieved that Jesus did not come in time to save Lazarus.

Jesus ordered the stone removed but Martha reminded him that Laz­arus had been dead four days. His body would be decomposing and there would be a stench (v.39). Yet Jesus said to the dead man, “Lazarus, come out”. He didn’t say, “People, go in and carry him out.” No one would have dared anyway. Instead he commanded Lazarus to come out by him­self. The people were probably looking at each other and thinking that this was preposterous. Then Lazarus, all bandaged up, walked out of the tomb! It just boggles the mind.

Many want to see God’s glory before they believe in Him, but the Bible reverses the order: First you believe and commit to God, then you will see His glory. But we like to reverse the order, asking God to reveal His glory first. This won’t work because if you are unwilling to act on the evidence that is already before you, you won’t receive any more.

The seven lines of evidence

Here are the seven lines of evidence we have looked at:

1. God’s creation

2. The life and teaching of Jesus Christ

3. The cross

4. The resurrection

5. The witness of the apostles

6. The living witnesses today

7. Your own experience of God

If you reject these seven lines of evidence, you won’t get any more, for it is on the basis of these that you are going to make your initial com­mit­ment. If these are not good enough for you, what is? God has given us enough evidence for us to make our commitment. He is not asking us to believe blindly. When you believe on the basis of the evid­ence before you, you will see God’s glory. If the evidence is not good enough for you, no evidence will be enough.

In Montreal I once asked some people if they will believe that God is real if I should by God’s power raise a dead person in front of their eyes as Jesus raised Lazarus. They said yes, they will believe and be committed. I said, “Then you haven’t learned from his­tory. Do you know how many people witnessed the raising of Lazarus? Do you think all of them committed their lives to God? If I raise a dead man right now, I guarantee you that many of you will not believe.”

They asked why and I said, “Because we are skeptical by nature. Even if two or three doctors check a man’s pulse and certify that he is dead, and if he is later raised from the dead, would you believe he was really dead in the first place? You normally don’t doubt a death certifi­cate but if some­one raises a man who has been certified dead, you are going to doubt the competence of the doctors.”

There are modern-day cases of people who have been raised from the dead, but does the world believe? No. What about the doctors who certif­ied their deaths? Do they believe? If anyone should be­lieve, surely it would be the doctors. But it is in hu­man nature to find an argument to deny the reality of miracles even when it is nearly imposs­ible to dis­miss the evid­ence, either because the person has been dead for a time or because his skull is fractured. There are such cases today but do we believe them? Maybe with a question mark.

It is human nature to remain unconvinced by any evidence if one doesn’t want to believe. But there is also the opposite dan­ger of accept­ing any evidence, even weak evidence, at face value simply because we want to be­lieve it. It is a problem with human nat­ure that some are gullible enough to believe any­thing whereas others won’t believe even the strong­est evidence.

I hope you won’t blindly believe everything that comes along your way. You need to be careful about miracles because they can be faked, so you are right to be skeptical of many of them. I have been to Lourdes in France where many have reportedly been healed of various dis­eases. At Lourdes there are memo­rials and offerings of gratitude set up by those who claim to have been healed. Are you skeptical? I believe that some of the healings are gen­uine and some are not. I will have to investi­gate the indiv­idual cases before determining to my satisfact­ion which are genuine and which are not. We have to be careful in this world. But we can also swing to the other extreme of being overly caut­ious such that no evidence speaks to us at all.

What evidence is convincing to you? God knows that I am a hard man to convince. I will examine and cross examine the evidence before I am satisfied that I have not overlooked anything. God knows that I am this kind of person. And do you know what? God wel­comes that, provided you are willing to go to all lengths to examine the evidence. If you say, “I want to know the truth,” God will be pleased to accept your challenge. But if you don’t want to examine the evidence, God won’t force you to.

What evidence of God’s reality will convince me? I accept as evid­ence the fact that I didn’t suffocate in the crib. But the evidence is both hidden and revealed. It is valuable to me only because God’s reality is supported by other evidence. On its own, this incident would not con­vince me. I see God’s hand in that incident only in retrospect, having exper­ienced God in many other ways. Because I know that God is real for these other reasons, I can see that He did intervene to save my life. But without the additional supporting evidence, this inci­dent alone would not convince me. I would dismiss as pure coincid­ence the fact that I didn’t die. But because I know that God is real for other reasons, I don’t see the incident as mere coincidence.

What other past experiences are convincing to me? For one thing, my own transform­ation. What God can do with a man like me is convin­cing evidence to me. God’s power that comes into my life and makes me a new person is something that no one, not even I myself, can achieve. We can change ourselves in terms of moral reform but we cannot trans­form our­selves into new people. We can quit smoking by sheer will power but it is beyond human ability to transform someone into a Christ-like person.

I used to have an explosive temper but God took it away. As I said, when you exper­ience God’s power in your life, you will know that He is real. When I was in school, I was known for being a person you couldn’t fool around with. When my temper flared, it was a disaster for those around me. I was a sportsman in those days, strong and fit, and trained in the martial arts, and anyone who tangled with me was making a first-class mistake. Nowa­days I am more of a push­over, as defenseless as a lamb. This transformation was not something I could do for myself, for I didn’t even seek it. But God dealt with me in such a powerful way that He took away my temper. This experience is very convincing to me. You like­wise have to exper­ience God’s trans­form­ing power to see how effect­ive it is. This victor­ious trans­forming power is something I had ex­per­ienced in the past but also con­tinue to exper­ience in the present. You have to exper­ience God’s power for yourself because it is not something I can convince you of.

If we open our hearts to the seven lines of evidence, we will begin to experience God’s power. When we believe and com­mit to God on the ba­sis of the evidence before us, we will be trans­formed. Is there any risk in allowing God to transform you? To my mind, the risk is zero. Medical doctors make mistakes because they are only human, but God makes no mistakes. If you go to Him as a patient with your problems and sicknesses, He will heal you. With God there is no risk for you, so what is your excuse for not going to Him? I am wary of getting hospital treat­ment because medical doctors are only human. They do their best but if they make one mistake, I might not come out alive. But there is no such risk with God. My question to all who are contem­plating com­mitment: Are you willing to let God make you a new and good person?

When Christians don’t live a committed life, what great blessings are denied them! They will spend the rest of their lives wondering if God is real. If you don’t commit to God, you can never be sure of His real­ity, and God will keep it that way. I myself have no need to guess if God is real or not, for He grants His daily leading to those who are committed to Him. I hope that you will experience for your­self that God is real.

[1] The understanding of faith as total commitment is well known to New Testament scholarship. Zondervan Bible Dictionary, art­icle “Faith”: “Faith is not to be confused with a mere intellectual assent to the doctrinal teachings of Christianity, though that is obviously necessary. It includes a radical and total commitment to Christ as the Lord of one’s life”. Dictionary of the Bible (John McKenzie, S.J.), article “Faith” (p.268): “The scope of the faith demanded by Isaiah shows that faith was a total commitment to Yahweh, a renunciation of secular and material re­sources, a seeking of security in the saving will of God alone.” Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary begins the article “Faith” as follows: “Faith — a belief in or con­fident attitude toward God, involving com­mitment to His will for one’s life.” See also The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, article “Faith, Faithfulness,” sub­article “Faith as assent and commitment” (vol.2, pp.416-417).


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