Dallas Willard once said, “If there were a better way to live than being a disciple of Jesus Christ, Jesus would have been the first to tell us about it.” Let that sink in a second. Can you imagine Jesus knowing a way to live that would bring us the greatest possible good and keeping it secret? Even among those who doubt the divinity of Christ, and the miracles and all that, few believe He had the ill-will to hide or withhold something good.
Following that line of thinking here are five questions. How we answer them shapes us deeply.
- Is there a God?
- If so, does He know what is best for us?
- If so, does He want what is best for us?
- If so, has He revealed what is best for us in a way that we can understand it, act upon it, and begin to experience it in my own life here and now?
- If so, where can we find this revelation, and why should we trust it?
I wonder what it would be like to raise these questions with someone in a non-church situation. Could you visualize using these five questions as an evangelistic conversation starter?
The first question is not as simple as it used to be. Do we believe that there is a God who actually exists, who is not a projection of our imaginations and not altered by our preferences? Is there a God whose unique existence is at least as solid as ours? We exist as we are, not as others imagine we are, nor wish we might be, nor try to make us be. Does God exist like that? If not, then there really isn’t much need to go to question number two. Only if there is a God who exists outside of our heads do those questions make sense.
If such a being exists, but He doesn’t really understand human beings in general and me as an individual and doesn’t know what is best for us all and for me in particular, then His views are at best a curiosity and have no real significance to me.
Moving to question three, notice I did not ask, “Does God love me?” That’s an important question, but with the word “love” so damaged and confused these days, I thought it might be clearer to phrase it differently. Wanting someone’s best is actually a pretty good definition of love. If someone says they love me, and they don’t want my best more than their own advantage, well, I don’t need that kind of love, do I?
Think of the guy who professes to “love” a girl but is eager to express that “love” in ways that are anything but the best for the girl. Or say a parent, who professes love for a child, but raises the child in a way that does not contribute to the child’s strength and well-being and maturity. Or say a wife who year-by-year grows weaker or more fearful under her husband’s “loving” care. That’s why I kept it simple: “Does God want what is best for us?”
I admit, it would be easy to feel a kind of Socratic “cornering” to this line of questioning, like a good trial lawyer playing the jury. If you answer affirmatively the first three questions, there is no logical reason not to obey anything that this kind of God says. The only logical reason to disobey God is to believe He doesn’t know or want what is best for me, or both. But I’m not trying to corner anyone into obedience. That takes care of itself under the right conditions.
Logically you can’t respond to the first three questions in the affirmative and the fourth in the negative. Consider, given the universal human penchant to hurt and harm ourselves and others, to abuse power and to seek our own pleasure at the expense of other people, animals, and this beautiful world — if God knows and wants what is best for us, He must reveal the way to a better life, and He must do it in a way that we can understand and act upon. Right?
(Some would say God must do more than “reveal”. It’s time to shut the whole program down, as in the days of Noah. But I won’t follow that rabbit for now.)
In the last century there were a number of intellectuals who said we need no revelation from “above”. What with Darwin, steam power, electricity, the telegraph and the League of Nations we were figuring it out just fine without the revelation of a good and wise God. All we needed was time to let reason and science flourish without the inhibitive forces of superstition.
World War One put a damper on that optimism. Then came the Holocaust and Hiroshima. Stalin. Mao. Pol Pot. The last 80 years of futile little wars, trillions spent on destruction, the fouling of the oceans, burning the Amazon, rampant drug addiction, moral degradation, sexual confusion, AIDS, human trafficking, cruelty, neglect, corruption, an epidemic of distrust and bitterness, social media insanity and hatred, lab-enhanced viruses, and a 30 trillion-dollar national debt. I’m pretty sure we aren’t figuring it out very well on our own; we need help. Maybe the aliens will show us the way. Maybe AI.
If we answer question number four negatively, then we must not believe that a wise God wants what is best for us. If He knows but does not want our good, then He is simply evil. If He wants it but does not know what it is, then really, what use is He to us? If He knows it but reveals it in ways we can’t grasp or act upon, ways that only confuse and frustrate us, turn us against each other, and ultimately do not work, then He is a particularly cruel kind of evil.
Question five requires a choice, a decision. There are lots of revelations on offer these days in the great religious marketplace of our pluralistic society. There are numerous scriptures and ways of interpreting those scriptures. Which will we choose to believe is the authentic revelation of the God who knows and wants our best, and why? Will it be the one we were raised to believe in? (Or anything but the one we were raised in?!) The one that our friends believe in, if we have any religious friends? The one that seems to produce good results in the people who believe and follow it? Will it be the one that affirms our current life-style and values? We make our choice for some set of reasons, and many of them might be subconscious.
How can followers of Christ hope to encourage others to become His disciples too? Why should they care what the Bible says? Do we have a part in helping others to accept the proposition that the revelation contained in the Bible, rightly understood, is the expression of a God who knows us, loves us, knows what is best for us, and wants us to know it and experience it?
Today many people are confused. Many are suffering. Their lives are far from any conception of the “best” or even the tolerable. The Bible makes no sense to them. The Christian life they have seen in others makes no sense to them. It is hard to blame them for rejecting much of the Christianity they have seen. What is the answer?
What if the credibility of the Christ-following life is in our hands? What if it is on us to be the reason people should choose the Bible as the written revelation of God’s best for humanity and all creation, and Jesus Christ the best living example?