Essay: The Wise Man Seeks God by Brian Auten
The Wise Man Seeks God by Brian Auten
Let us imagine that there is no God. Perhaps everything that is came into being out of nothing and for no real reason. The processes of matter coalesced to form chance patterns in an endless collision of atoms and particles. After a certain amount of time, some matter and energy formed self-replicating molecules. By something that cannot even be called luck, what we call life came into existence at the end of a process of materialistic chance. Conscious, self-reflective, thinking beings arose to contemplate, communicate, and populate. So-called morality, society, and humanity came to be.
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This is an atheistic universe. No intention. No purpose. No direction. No design. It came to be in a flash of space-time and all will eventually burn out into cold nothingness — with no one watching, no one caring, and no one aware. All that was, is, and that will be — it is only a mindless construct. With no God, death is merely a re-shuffling of atoms; the loss of a certain type of molecular organization. Whatever was happening in one’s neurons has simply ceased. There will be no memories. No consequences, no rewards, no regrets. The one who is alive at this moment can pause to reflect: Why am I alive right now? Why am I not dead yet?
Yet the wise man will seek God.
The purpose of this essay is to show that, given the data that is before us, in the absence of certainty that God does not exist, it is the wise man that will seek God. Furthermore, this essay will argue that one should seek the Christian God, for, if the Christian God truly exists, He can be found by those who seek Him on His terms.
Before going further, let us define the terms within the title. By wise, we mean acting with good judgment. Wisdom is inherently tied to the implication of choices and actions to one’s life. Wisdom includes sound judgment, good sense,1 or making the best use of available knowledge.2 If one is to be wise with money, for instance, one should think not only of the needs of the moment, but look to retirement. Or consider the wise farmer; taking actions early in the year with a view to the harvest. The wise man uses the knowledge available presently (most times lacking certainty) and makes far-sighted choices for the future. So in the context of this essay, it can be emphasized that wisdom means choosing a prudent course of action with the longest possible time-horizon in view.
Can we define what we mean by God? Here we are talking about the Christian God revealed in the Bible. However, it should be noted: for the purposes of this essay we are not proposing to “construct a God” by an accumulation of only parts or attributes won through logical argumentation. The means by which we are approaching the God question here is not from the “bottom up” — instead we are approaching Christianity as a self-contained hypothesis, one with claims of built-in verifiability. With this approach it is completely acceptable to use the definition of God as the Christian God of the Bible without the need to prove it first.
That being said, we can look at how the Bible describes God and see certain clear and basic attributes to consider. For instance, the Christian God is the creator and giver of life. He is righteous and just. He is loving and merciful. He has revealed Himself, yet He has hidden Himself (Isaiah 45:15). He promises justice and offers salvation. He is perfect and worthy of worship. Of course, these are only some elements of the picture of God we see in the Bible. However, for the purposes of this essay it is sufficient to mention only a few. Again, these attributes need not be proven to be used as part of our definition of God.
Let us also define the word seek. The word seek can be defined as “to go in search of; look for; to try to discover; to ask for; request; to try to acquire or gain; aim at”3 Seeking implies action and intention. It also implies the possibility that the object one seeks may be found; that it actually may exist to be obtained. If a parent has lost a young child in the wilderness, he begins to search. All his energies focus on finding that precious child. Perhaps the parent calls for a search party; hundreds of people all actively looking to find the lost daughter. As long as there is even a possibility of finding that child, the parent continues to search.4 In this essay we will use the word seek to mean “an active, intentional quest to find.”
With these basic terms defined, how can we say that the wise man is the one who will seek God? There are a few steps in this line of reasoning.
First, it is not certain that God does not exist. For some, this point could be acknowledged as obvious and therefore dismissed as irrelevant. But regardless of how obvious the point may be, it is very relevant. For in the absence of certainty of atheism, the search for alternative views of the world is a live option. Indeed, if the atheistic picture of the future is “game over,” while a theistic view of the future is, “to be continued,” wisdom requires us to investigate the theistic option seriously and carefully.
Second, the prima facie evidence we find in the world is against naturalism (the view that the natural, physical world of matter and energy is all that exists). While not being able to prove that matter is all that exists, the naturalist also has the weight of countless personal spiritual experiences against him.5 Consider the spiritual experiences of millions who have claims to have encountered something transcendent. Regardless of which religion one ascribes to, these numerous experiences now and throughout history of “I’ve found something” count against the claim, “there’s nothing to be found.” Even if only one of the millions of experiences is true and the rest are delusions, this shows naturalism false. So it seems that the prima facie evidence for naturalism is weak, while evidence for some type of supernaturalism is strong.
As Geisler and Corduan point out:
…the denial of the reality of the Transcendent entails the assertion that not only some people have been deceived about the reality of God but that indeed all religious persons who have ever lived have been completely deceived into believing there is a God when really there is not. For if even one religious person is right about the reality of the Transcendent, then there really is a Transcendent.6
Third, there exist good reasons and arguments in favor of theism in general and Christianity specifically. These are not indisputable proofs that show that theism or Christianity is certain, of course. Instead, the overall evidential weight in favor of Christian theism in terms of philosophical, historical, scientific, and experiential arguments and reasons is substantial. These cumulative evidential arrows all count towards the truth of the Christian view of the world and against an atheistic view. The ultimate question in this essay is not “can we prove that God exists?” but the question is, “do we have sufficient reason to seek out this God?”
Of course there are many other worldviews out there. But wisdom suggests that we begin with the best “live options.” What qualifies as a live option? Although many criteria could be offered, it seems reasonable to start with at least two: 1) those that claim to have the greatest ultimate impact on one’s existence, both now and in eternity; and 2) those that have the most evidential support with the least evidential disconfirmation. Christianity fits these criteria. As John Bloom suggests:
Given that we have a limited amount of time in this life to study religions, we can dispense with those that offer us a second chance in the afterlife, or which will reincarnate us if we make a mistake in this life, or which promise us that all will be well eventually no matter how we live now. Prudence dictates that we first ought to consider the claims of those religions which say that everything depends upon the decisions made and lived in this life.7
Therefore, given the uncertainty of atheism and the prima facie evidence that naturalism is likely false, if one has fair reasons supporting the possibility of the theistic hypothesis, then theistic options should be explored in order to discover if they can be verified to be true. The theistic arguments, then, while not proving God exists, do prove that one has good reason to seek God, as we will explore now.
What if atheism is true? What are the implications for life? For the wise man, perhaps something like this line of thought would be appropriate: “Live your life for all it’s worth, because it will soon be gone.” On the atheistic view of the world, this is wisdom; for the longest possible time-horizon is the scope of this life – maybe 70 years, maybe 17 years. However, there is no life after this life. All illusions of meaning are only in the moment. There is no ultimate accountability. On atheism, one may assume that death entails nothingness. One’s personal experience of death means no conscious awareness of the life that was lived. For the dead man, it will be as if his existence never happened.
What if theism is true? What are the implications for life? For the wise man, perhaps something like this line of thought would be appropriate: “Live your life for all it’s worth, for it will soon be gone. And the actions and choices in this life matter (and have implications) for eternity.” On the theistic view of the world, this is wisdom; for the longest possible time-horizon is the scope of eternity. The actions and choices in this life are crucial for they have bearing on eternity. There is ultimate accountability. Meaning is no illusion. Meaning is objectively real. On theism, one may assume that death is an appointment with one’s Creator and just Judge. One’s personal experience of death means the threshold to a fuller knowledge of reality, lived out in the appropriate reward or punishment due him. For the dead man, it is as if this life was just a brief, albeit crucial, moment at the beginning of a life that does not cease.
But, one may argue that theism is also not certain, nor is Christianity for that matter. From an evidential perspective this may be true. Certainty is a rarity; enjoyed by the mathematician, not the metaphysician. To require indubitable proof (certainty) before believing something means rejecting the majority of beliefs — including atheism. Instead, one can be satisfied only with a degree of certainty or a high degree of confidence (from an evidential standpoint). But the crucial difference here is that of verification. Atheism lacks any means of verification, while Christian theism offers personal, existential verification in addition to its strong evidential support. Put simply, if Christianity is true, not only will the external evidence give support to it, but also one can encounter God personally.
What else does this lack of evidential certainty imply for both worldviews?8 This implies that the “wisdom” of the atheist (living only for this life) is really not wisdom, for, in a sense, he is being penny-wise but pound-foolish. Without certainty in the atheistic view, living with no eternal perspective is an eternal gamble. It should be noted that this is not an appeal to consequences to suggest that one should somehow “fake” belief in something just to be safe. The point here is that when lacking evidential certainty for two competing views, one should favor a view that provides verification over one that cannot be proven.
On the Christian worldview, the lack of evidential certainty is not a liability, for it also entails that one can find sufficient existential and personal verification. So Christianity has both substantial evidential support and promises personal, existential verification. (John 8:31-32, 2 Cor. 1:22, Gal. 4:6, 1 John 3:24, 1 John 4:13, Rom. 8:14-16) It should be noted that this existential verification is called personal because it cannot offer proof for others. However, it can provide sufficient proof for the individual, even when that person has not yet encountered substantial evidential support for the truth of Christianity. For, if God exists, He is well able to make Himself known apart from being arrived at through the processes of reason and the five senses.9 And if proof is so hard to come by, why should we be surprised if only God can furnish it?
Imagine you are told you have a long lost brother. Research and investigation provide a lot of evidence – but it is inconclusive. Your only sister is adamant that you have no good reasons to believe you have a brother. However, your mother insists that you do indeed have a long lost brother. Of course, if you did have a brother, she would be in a good position to know that to be true. You ask her for proof, but all she can provide is more inconclusive evidence. However, your mother does have an address that she claims belongs to your brother. In this case, you could decide to “just believe” one way or another, based upon whatever personal interests you may have in the issue. Or, if you want to find out if you actually have a brother, you can begin to search for him. Of course, if your brother knew that he is being sought, he could simply reveal himself to you at whatever time he sees fit. The bottom line is this: will you take steps to seek him out?
The point of the illustration is that even when evidence is inconclusive, it can still be sufficient to warrant a search. Moreover, one can go beyond a bare evaluation of the available evidence in order to find out if Christianity is true. And what is more: there is something to be found in Christianity beyond simply the truth or falsity of a metaphysical proposition. In Christianity there is a person to be found.
This may lead to the question: If God exists, why doesn’t He simply make Himself known? But this may be the wrong question to be asking right now. Instead, maybe we should ask, If God may exist, why are you not seeking Him? The reason this is the right question to be asking right now will become evident as we turn our attention to the claims of the Bible – for if Christianity is true, then the means by which one may seek and find God are also true. It could be that the unbeliever has simply not been seeking God on God’s terms.
From the Bible we can see that God desires us to seek Him out. In the book of Acts, Paul declared that God has created all people “and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:26-27 NIV) Jesus himself said that those who desire to find should first seek: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8 NIV) If what Jesus said is true, then a posture of intentional seeking is in order, for the scriptures also declare that “he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6 NIV)
In addition, Jesus indicated that the attitude of one’s will plays a part in his quest for God: “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.” (John 7:17 ESV) And the Bible records God’s attitude toward his people, whom He implored to seek Him: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13 NIV)
These scriptures suggest that there is more to the big question than simply the affirmation or denial of the metaphysical proposition that God exists. Instead, if the Christian view is true, man’s knowledge of this question is inseparable from the issue of his willingness to come under the ultimate authority of the Creator. For if the Christian God exists, finding him requires you to humble yourself. We may ask: If a loving God exists, would you submit to Him? If Christianity were true, would you embrace it?
Imagine you have awakened in a large forest. All around you is a wooded wilderness of trees. You don’t know where you are, how you got there, or what you should do. You manage to walk a long distance through the woodland, only to realize that without food and water you won’t last long. You must find your way to civilization. Even with no evidence of people anywhere near you, you decide to call out for help. Fortunately, it is this very call for help that saves you. Unbeknownst to you, a rescue team was close enough to hear your call.
Perhaps you are uncertain of the existence of God. Like the lost man above, even in uncertainty, calling out is wise if it is possible that someone may hear your call. According to the Bible, if God is real, He can be found – by those who seek Him. So if the Christian God did actually exist, would you be willing to surrender to Him? The point here is not that one should force oneself to believe something that one cannot presently believe. Instead, the point is to acknowledge that if it is possible that the Christian God exists, then why not ask God (who may exist) to reveal Himself? Why not pray, “God, I don’t know if you exist, but if you do, I am willing to be persuaded.” Praying “hypothetical” prayers seems completely legitimate when one lacks certainty, for they can only help in discovery.
“God, if you are real, I want to know it. I don’t feel willing, but I want to be in right relationship with you if you are real. Reveal yourself to me, if you are there, and make me willing. Change my heart and open my eyes.”
So what can the wise man do? In the absence of certainty, the wise man looks to the ultimate outcome of his life and must choose his path. He does not know what to believe yet about God, as the evidence seems inconclusive. However, there is sufficient evidence to warrant a search. He humbles himself, calls out to God, and is willing to surrender – for if God exists, He is both able to hear and ready to make Himself known to those who are willing. The wise man seeks God.
4 This story is adapted from illustrations used by Dr. Phil Fernandes.
5 As C. Stephen Evans explains , “experience provides prima-facie evidence which should normally be accepted unless we have stronger evidence that leads us to doubt or discount the experience.” – Philosophy of Religion: Thinking About Faith (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1982), p. 90.
6 Norman Geisler and Winfried Corduan, Philosophy of Religion (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), p. 76.
7 John A. Bloom, “Truth Via Prophecy,” in Evidence for Faith: Deciding the God Question, ed. John Warwick Montgomery; Cornell Symposium on Evidential Apologetics, 1986 (Dallas, TX: Probe Books, 1991), p. 175.
8 When using the term evidential certainty in this context, this includes physical and empirical evidences as well as philosophical arguments, reason, etc.
9 For more on the subject of Christian epistemology, see the essay Can the Christian Know?