What If There Were No God?

What If There Were No God?

The other day in that moment between waking and sleeping I thought, “What if there were no God? What if this is all there is?”

I lay there wondering what that would do to my most cherished values and beliefs. I got up and let Molly out. Soon the coffee was done and I carried a steaming cup to the recliner to watch the sun rise. Molly jumped up into my lap and was soon asleep.

“No God”? I couldn’t get my mind around it.

“No God” means a meaningless universe. It would mean that we are here by accident and that every fantastic, living, beautiful, inexplicable thing we witness every day of our lives appeared out of nowhere and will disappear in the same way.

creation“No God” means that human life immediately loses immense value. It would mean none of has a soul and that each of us is no more important than the individual lives of 950,000 species of insects or the billions of protozoa swimming in the farm pond. “No God” makes it possible to commit genocide and feel no pang of guilt. In a godless world those who have things are more important than those who don’t have things. You may as well kill the sick because they are only using up valuable resources.

“No God” means no Bible. No scriptures would guide us, teach us to love our neighbor, or say how important it is to forgive each other. No great men and women of God would have lived to leave us our priceless legacy. We would never read of the way God revealed Himself through prophets, angels, or his son, Jesus Christ. No artists would have been inspired by the Annunciation, the crucifixion, or the resurrection. Michelangelo never would have carved the divine Pieta or the majestic David. St. Peter’s Basilica would never amaze us with its sublime architecture nor any of the world’s other incomparable cathedrals.

A world without God would not have produced those Christians who left Europe to establish what is now the United States of America. Harvard, Yale, and Princeton Universities would never have been founded for they were established by Christians, as were University of Edinburgh, St. Andrews, and Cambridge University in the U.K.[1]

“No God” means no Jesus Christ.

No Jesus Christ means no redemption.

No redemption means no salvation.

No salvation means no heaven.

No heaven means annihilation at death. A godless world makes it a laughable exercise to even imagine being reunited with our dead parents or friends.

“No God” means no worship. No hymns would have been written. No glorious oratorios would be composed to proclaim, “He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords!” Our hearts would never be lifted up in worship. We would never be moved to tears with the love of God for us. Neither Christmas nor Easter would remind us of the greatest story ever told. There would be no such story.

“No God” means no missions or missionaries. The lives of millions would continue to exist in darkness and their bodies would remain ravaged by sickness for no one would have traveled to the far corners of the earth to proclaim the gospel. There would be no gospel. Billy Graham would not have preached on six continents and millions would never have accepted Christ but would still be lost. Countless hospitals would have never been built, clinics would never have been established, and orphans would be left by the hundreds of thousands in the  world’s bleak cities.

“No God” means no prayer. I have thought more times than I can count how utterly awful it would be to manange life without prayer. When human help is unavailable, when the help you need is beyond what any human could possibly do, or when no one cares what you’re going through: how would you survive without prayer? A Godless world surely would be a pitiless and pitiful place of unimaginable loneliness and desperation.mother-hugging-child-olympics

“No God” means no personal friend who sticks closer than a brother. Without God we would never hear of the Holy Spirit and never experience His warmest comfort, wisest counsel, or blessed peace in the midst of trouble. There would be no ministering angels sent by God to protect, bless, and carry out His will on earth as it is in heaven. No one would need to explain miracles, for there would be none. No need to talk about divine guidance. It would be massively absent. The human heart that longs for enlightenment would always be dark. Those who mourn would not be comforted. Those who suffer for righteousness sake would perish. The brokenhearted would remain broken. The unborn child would be discarded as carelessly as a rotten cabbage.

“No God” means no judgment. Can you imagine how awful it would be were we to have no hope that people will reap what they sow? What despair would pour into our lives if we thought that the criminal and murderer would never be judged or that the cruelest torturer would never pay for his crimes. How useless it would be to “hope for the better” because there would be no better—ever. Some claim that everyone will be saved. This blasphemy can only be believed if there is no God. And, in reality, everyone would not be saved, but lost.

Many people pose difficult questions about God, such as “If God is good, how do you explain evil?” and “If God is loving, why do good people suffer?” Some keen minds have found the proof of God too difficult or beyond human capability to understand. Some claim to be atheists. Others agnostics. Some even ridicule those of us with faith in God. Everyone must choose what to believe.

No God? For me, there are a thousand things easier to believe than this.

I believe that God does exist. I believe He does love the world. I believe He did send Jesus Christ and His Spirit. I believe His angels are at this moment winging in glorious ministry to the four corners of the earth.

I choose to believe in God. I choose to believe His Word. I choose to believe in Heaven and Hell and am happy to leave their population up to God the Father. Faith in God gives hope and meaning to the universe. It gives me hope. Faith in God gives warmth to life. Faith in God gives dignity to the human race. With a Creator God every life has meaning. Every life is precious. Good is rewarded. Bad is punished. Each person has value. I have value.

Man-Praying-with-Outstretched-arms-676x451I believe these things because I know God. I talk with Him each day. I read His Word that answers many questions if we will but look for those answers. What I know of God, of course, is itsy-bitsy, a mere speck of His vastness. But Jesus Christ said, “Because I live, you, too, shall live.”[2] And I plan on spending an eternity getting to know Him a lot better.

Even were I to discover upon death that my faith was ill-founded, it would be worth it to have lived as though He loves me, to have believed he helps me, and to begin each day with new hope for tomorrow.

[1] https://answersingenesis.org/christianity/harvard-yale-princeton-oxford-once-christian

[2] John 14:19

Green Thumbs and Parenting

I love plants. I always have. From infancy our homes in the tropics were surrounded by glossy, split-leaf philodendrons winding up the trees in whose shade Anthurium lilies grew. My mother often had hanging baskets of orchids on the verandah where their exotic colors and shapes swayed in the warm breezes. Our neighbor’s house was hung with gigantic, lush ferns that she watered every morning. Riotous hibiscus plants bloomed outside our dentist’s windows. Whenever I catch the heavy, moist fragrance of growing things I get homesick for those idyllic days.

2014-06-16 12.29.34Perhaps my love of plants stems from wanting to recreate this green environment. In any case, everywhere we have lived I have planted, fertilized, landscaped, mowed, pruned, and potted. And nature has richly rewarded me with bright nodding flowers bordering our houses, brilliant daffodils heralding the arrival of spring, and fragrant crab apple trees along the driveways.

People have told me I have a green thumb. They mean it as a compliment and it makes me happy to think I may have some special ability to help plants flourish. But, if truth be told, I don’t really have any unique gift. What I do have is a love of plants that motivates me to learn what they need to flourish and work hard to provide it. We have lived in many climates and I am always rewarded with a beautiful yard because I study up on climates, rainfall, hardiness zones, and the individual needs of various plants and flowers. Then I try to meet those requirements.

I remember reading in a gardening magazine that the difference between a nice yard and a beautiful yard is whether or not the gardener will get up off the couch and water the clematis when it’s dry. And perhaps people who shrug as they smile, saying they have a “brown thumb” are describing someone who has other priorities than not overwatering or underwatering a plant and making sure it is getting the proper amount of light.

Parenting is a lot like gardening

Sometimes we look at families who love each other, support each other, and in which everyone flourishes and we think “they must have a special gift.” We see well-disciplined children and young adults who readily pitch in around the house and wonder how it happens. It’s not rocket science. Good parents work hard to understand their children. They study psychology and understand how important it is for Mom and Dad to always present a united front. They read the Bible and have incorporated the dignity and worth of the marriage relationship into the home. They are committed to discipline even when they’re tired and it’s late. They set good examples for their children in their devotional lives. They plan family times together. They attend their kids’ events and programs. In other words, like a gardener studies plants, good parents learn what makes children flourish and then work consistently to ensure that their family’s needs will be met.2014-03-25 06.42.38

My wife, Karon, has helped me learn this lesson. The girls were in high school and middle school and Jon was in elementary school when my job required a lot of travel. I was gone almost more than I was home, sometimes for three or more weeks at a time. One time after a weekend trip, I drove home from the airport, walked into the house, and saw Karon and the kids playing Monopoly on the floor. The dishes were still on the counter and my obsessive-compulsive nature surfaced. I said something like, “When are you going to do these dishes?” Karon never moved from the floor and sweetly said as she locked her gaze onto me. “Somebody has to raise these children.” It hit me like a bombshell. The lesson was doubly powerful because I deeply loved my children and was working hard to provide for them. Yet I was failing the family because of my absence. I was out of touch with what they were doing and with whom. Worse, distance was growing between us all. Not too long after that we had a family council. It was unanimous. I should return to pastoral ministry so that I would be home with the family.

Several years later I was again consumed. This time it wasn’t traveling, but a building program. They girls were older and pretty much on their own. This left Jon with lots of time alone after school and I was in meetings almost every night. We were blindsided when a good friend of ours from church confided that Jon was planning to run away and stay at their house. We cleared our calendar, took him out to dinner, and tried to understand what was going on. The upshot of his thinking was that he was not needed in our house. We both had our careers and were too busy for him. I get choked up just reading about this, and I am deeply grateful that Jon was open with us and gave us a second chance. It can happen so innocently. But it’s a lot like gardening: if somebody doesn’t get up off the couch and water the clematis, don’t be surprised when it’s dead the next time you look for it.

Assault

Never before have our families been under such assault by a hyper-busy culture further intensified by electronic communication on every side. If they are to survive, parents will have to break the cycle and value their children. Now, don’t get me wrong. Many parents who deeply love their children are practically slaving to provide for them. But are they giving them what they really need? They do not need entertainment, gaming, or the latest cell phone. They need family time around the table when everyone sits down and electronics are banned until the next morning. Parents are often the worst offenders, always available to the office but never available to their kids. Children and teenagers need consistent discipline and loving role models. They will survive without designer jeans, but they will not survive your absence. They are very forgiving when they know you love them. Sometimes that love must be tough.

A-family-pray-before-bedtimeOne exemplary family I know did not allow their kids—even in high school—to own a cell phone. There are many reasons for kids to have phones, but here’s the point: the good influence of their family was being destroyed by the constant effluence of disrespect and godlessness pouring into their minds, and so they removed the source of the garbage. Another powerful habit that was nonnegotiable was church attendance. They always sat together every service; Mom, Dad, and the kids. One might expect those children would be rebellious and eager to get away from home as soon as possible. Just the opposite. They are wonderful young adults.

Don’t feel guilty

As I write this I am keenly aware that many parents—and many of them are raising their children by themselves– are fighting to keep their heads above water. The pressures of society are staggering. Peer pressure in the teen world can be suffocatingly powerful. If you are one of these parents, my heart goes out to you. Please don’t feel guilty about anything that I have said. Pour out your heart before God and He will help you. Even a few moments each day in His Word and in prayer will keep you steady and provide emotional energy. Bring your kids before him constantly. Ask Him to send his angels to guard them. Pray for your kids. Pray with them. Do the right thing. Seek support if you need it. Be consistent.

At the end of the day

There are times our kids make poor choices and we can’t do a thing about it. We can love them, pray for them, and do our best, but they will leave us, embrace sin, or make a mess of their lives. Just as the best gardener loses plants, flowers, and even trees, the best parent may lose children. I can’t think of anything more painful than this. For such parents I say, do not play the “If only” game. Do not keep asking, “Where did I go wrong?” Think about this. Even Jesus was singularly unsuccessful with some people. Judas was his trusted confidante but turned against him. Many Pharisees never understood Jesus and until his death they were convinced His miracles were empowered by the devil. And, like the Father, we keep praying, waiting, and hoping that someday the prodigals will come home.

Why Silence Will Heal Your Soul

I had a few hours between flights and the airport was almost deserted. A quiet spot and comfortable chair beckoned me. There was even a bonus: a plug-in to charge my cell phone! Dropping my backpack into the adjoining chair, I unzipped it and pulled out my yellow pad and pen, preparing to write a bit.

As I started to gather my thoughts, music from overhead speakers butted in. Voices, drums, and guitars assaulted the quiet, making thinking impossible. “Till your world burns and crashes, Till you’re at the end, the end of your rope, Till you’re standing in my shoes, I don’t wanna hear nothing from you From you, from you, cause you don’t know.” One singer after the next wailed on and on about lost love and unfaithfulness. “I put your picture away ‘cause I’m lying next to him.” “I can’t go on.” “You just have to wait.” The depressing lyrics pumped into my brain. The relentless strumming was an angry child throwing a tantrum between my ears. Ironically, every other song was interspersed with a recording reminding the listener that this was the blessing of ad-free music! (The repetitive announcement was worse than the ads.) I remembered sitting in the Las Vegas airport some years ago with a ruckus that made this music positively saintly. The halls and waiting rooms of that Nevada airport were crammed with slot machines and other gambling games, creating a cacophony of beeping and chiming that occasionally was interrupted by sultry female voices inviting anyone within listening distance to a sure-to-win gaming experience. In that airport—as well as another—I wished for ear plugs.

It’s one thing to be held hostage to unwelcome music in a public place. It’s another to willingly submit to constant noise and music day after day and month after month. The TV is always on. Music is always playing. Newscasts drone their unremitting opinions. Computers chirp. Cell phones ding. IPad games talk and beep. Have we grown so used to constant audio and visual stimulation that we no longer remember how to or want to carry on a conversation in a quiet room? It’s as though real people—or even God—are boring and so we prefer digital companionship. I think that some people never experience silence. It seems that silence scares us with its unwelcome invitation to think or experience nature without musical accompaniment.

It takes silence to learn who you are.

When you are silent you can get in touch with your inner self. If you are always listening to other people’s ideas, how will you know what you believe? Lyrics of songs are life philosophies and outlooks. Play them often and long enough and they become your philosophy and outlook. Consistent reading of newsbytes and listening to info-bits suspends your own thought processes with predigested information. (But that’s another tempting subject I will not pursue at the moment.)

It can be intimidating to unplug, turn off, and think. However, unless we have silence, we often do not ask the big, important questions which, left unanswered, keep us from personal peace and emotional homeostasis. Who are you? What kind of personality do you have? What do you believe and why? How does God figure into your life? How connected are you to your family and why? Do you like your work? Why do you choose the things you choose? What thoughts run through your mind? What attitudes color your choices? Which experiences hold you hostage and still poison your hope?

It takes silence to get in tune with our world.

Contemplating the natural world opens our minds and hearts to incredible insight and discovery. Quiet observation and reflection reveal God’s genius and the innumerable patterns of the sky and sea. Those who discovered gravity—and a thousand other things–spent long hours quietly paying attention to nature. But even those of us with no scientific intention can benefit from learning the gentle come and go of the seasons and the ways of the butterfly and dolphin.

The sounds of nature will enchant you. Ocean waves sweep up the shore scattering pebbles and foaming upon the sand. A dancing campfire crackles and hisses as it casts flickering orange light across your face. Great trees bend before the wind, their leaves whispering of autumn. A mockingbird’s silver song echoes through the clear morning air.

The beauty of our world will mesmerize you. Warm turquoise waters shelter brilliant tropical fish among the undulating sea fans. Sunflower seeds grow in intricate precision and design even if no one sees them. The tiny feathers of hummingbirds and the minute scales of butterfly wings glitter neon colors in the sunlight. The moon pulls vast oceans as they ebb and flow in ageless rhythms. From the fireflies twinkling over the soybean fields of Indiana to the aurora borealis swirling fantastic colors over Alaska and Finland, our world spills over with exquisiteness and wonder.

Can’t you feel the frantic pace of life disappear just thinking about it? Only those who commit themselves to observe without interruption will learn the calming serenities of nature.

It takes silence to hear God’s voice.

Meditation and contemplation are time-honored ways to still your soul and discern God’s voice. We pay an enormous price for the never-ending, frenetic lifestyles we lead. Today’s social media are hypnotizing and addicting. Just try to find a crowd in which at least 90% are not glued to their cell phones. Everywhere you go, in every household, school, and event, cell phones rule. Now I choose to have a cell phone and I truly love the way I can connect with my children and grandchildren who never use e-mail anymore and don’t even know what a letter is. Minutes after it’s happened I can see my grandson, Caleb, hit a line drive, courtesy of the wizardry of cyberspace. I played computer games for a while until, thankfully, dry eyes put a stop to watching a screen for more than a few minutes. Only then did I realize how much time of every day had been consumed by trivia. Suddenly I had time for for reading, observing, writing, and contemplation. When we choose to be in touch with everything and everyone we choose to abandon God. We might deny it, even be shocked by the idea of it, but the truth is that you cannot be in touch with God without silence.

I’m thankful that there are an increasing number of people demanding that their kids not use cell phones at home, period. Family survival depends on real conversation, not texting that dinner is ready.

How much more must be unplug ourselves and spend time with God.

If anyone needed to hear God, it was the prophet Elijah. Jezebel was intent on killing him and he was emotionally distraught and running for his life. In fact, he was begging to die when a huge storm swept in. “…but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper….‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’”[1] It was God.

Put down your cell phone or tablet. Walk outside and look up, not down at your screen. Begin looking and listening for the divine. If this is new to you, be prepared to wait. We will have to train ourselves to recognize His voice. It is not surprising that heartbreak often sharpens our receptiveness to the divine. Cancer, job loss, divorce, and the death of those nearest to us stop the clock of routine. We are suddenly all ears and eyes, wondering what will happen, who will take care of us, or what course of action we should take. Calamity abruptly jerks us awake and we see life’s true priorities in high relief. The good news is that we don’t have to wait for tragedy to do this. We can learn to lay aside the superficial and become conversant with the eternal. This quest is quite possibly the most important you will ever take.

[1] 1 Kings 19 (NLT)