Today I bring you a selection from Tim Keller's best-selling book "The Reason For God - Belief in an Age of Skepticism." If you have not read it, you have missed out on some very wise and convincing arguments for the Christian faith. Many people have what we could call their "pat objections" for why they reject the Christian faith. "There can't be just one true religion." "How could a good God allow suffering." "Science has disproved Christianity." "How could a loving God send people to hell?"
Keller takes on such objections and offers many well-reasoned responses to them. In an age where people often tend to do little more choose a view that fits with their personal preferences (whether they've thought it through or not), Keller offers us some very logical and well-thought-through alternative perspectives, which challenge such pat objections to the core. If you really want to be challenged to reconsider many issues from a fresh perspective, you will want to pick up a copy. For to miss out on this book is to miss out on an apologetic treat similar to that of reading C. S. Lewis, Os Guinness, Ravi Zacharias, and others.
Our particular "thought" for today addresses the objection voiced by people who say, "I can't believe in Christianity because I believe in a God of love." Enjoy.
I believe in a God of Love
"During my college years and my early twenties, I, like so many others, questioned the Christian faith I was raised in. There were subjective reasons for my doubts. Christianity just didn't seem real to me experientially. I had not developed a prayer life and had never experienced God personally. There were also intellectual problems I was having with Christianity, all of which I address elsewhere in this book. There was one, however, I will talk about here. I was troubled by those Christians who stressed hellfire and damnation. Like so many of my generation I believed that if there was a core to all religions, it was a loving God. I wanted to believe in a God of love who accepted people regardless of their beliefs and practices. So I began to take courses in the other major religions of the world -- Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Confucianism, and Judaism. I have profited to this day from those studies. However, my explorations in other faiths proved me wrong on this particular point about the centrality of a loving God.
I found no other religious text outside the Bible that said God created the world out of love and delight. Most ancient pagan religions believed the world was created through struggles and violent battles between opposing gods and supernatural forces. I turned to look more closely at Buddhism, the religion I liked the best at the time. However, despite its great emphasis on selflessness and detached service to others, Buddhism did not believe in a personal God at all, and love is the action of a person.
Later on, after I become a minister, I was a speaker and panelist for several years in a monthly discussion program in Philadelphia between a Christian church and a mosque. Each month a speaker from the church and a speaker from the mosque would give a Biblical and Qu'ranic perspective on the topic. When we covered the topic of God's love, it was striking how different our conceptions were. I was told repeatedly by Muslim speakers that God was indeed loving in the sense of being merciful and kind to us. But when Christians spoke of the Lord as our Spouse, of knowing God intimately and personally, and of having powerful effusions of his love poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, our Muslim friends balked. They told us that it was disrespectful, in their view, to speak of anyone knowing God personally.
Today many of the skeptics I talk to say, as I once did, they can't believe in the God of the Bible who punishes and judges people, because they "believe in a God of Love." I now ask, what makes them think God is love? Can they look at life in the world today and say, "This proves that the God of the world is a God of love?" Can they look at history and say, "This all shows that the God of history is a God of love?" Can they look at the religious texts of the world and conclude that God is a God of love? By no means is that the dominant, ruling attribute of God as understood in any of the major faiths. I must conclude that the source of the idea that God is Love is the Bible itself. And the Bible tells us that the God of love is also a God of judgment who will put all things in the world right in the end.
The belief in a God of pure love -- who accepts and judges no one -- is a powerful act of faith. Not only is there no evidence for it in the natural order, but there is almost no historical, religious textual support for it outside of Christianity. The more one looks at it, the less justified [this objection] appears."
Though many today will say, "all religions basically teach the same thing," all it takes is actually reading their religious texts to see that this is not so, as Keller, who has read them testifies. In fact, when it comes to the issue of love, the Bible separates itself even further from the others by not only speaking of the love of God frequently, but even going as far as to declare that "God IS love" (I John 4:16). God is not just loving, He is love. In this regard as well, no other religion comes close.
What many in western society today fail to see (disconnected as we are becoming from our past) is that our culture was influenced for two millennia by Christian thought and practice. And, therefore, scores of the virtues that have come to be the rallying cry of our secular society, are not virtues our secular culture developed on it's own, but virtues our culture borrowed (or stole) from Christianity, washed of their rooting in Christianity, and tried to claim as their own.
It's what could (or should) be called, cultural plagiarism -- with no credit given to the original author of those virtues. Or as one friend put it, our culture has borrowed "lumber" it removed from the structural framework of the house called Christianity, but washed of all it's Christian moorings and meaning, and then made to fit a secularized ideal. Other cultures stress honor and shame, compliance and conformity, obedience and punishment. But in a culture influenced for many centuries by the teachings of Jesus Christ, and the redemption that came to us through the sacrifice of Himself for those who didn't deserve it; a culture influenced by the truth that love is the greatest of all gifts (I Corinthians 13), and that God himself is love (as His disciples alone declared), it is quite impossible for love not to be seen the queen of virtues.
In the Bonds of Christian Affection, Pastor Jeff