Many teachings of Christianity offer solutions to the problems we face in the 21st century. Skeptics claim that the Bible is an ancient book of myths with no relevance to life in the modern era. That is not true! The practical value of Christ’s teaching on forgiveness speaks to divine inspiration and validates the Christian life.
One area that relates to depression and mental illness is how we forgive people who have wronged us. The evolutionary explanation tells us to live by the survival of the fittest, and getting even is a key to survival. In reality, that doesn’t work, but Christ’s teaching on forgiveness does.
Trying to demonstrate your superiority by getting even contaminates all human relationships. I have seen unbelieving friends and family members spend much of their lives trying to get even with someone who wronged them. People are often estranged from siblings, parents, or children because they follow an unchristian approach to perceived wrongs.
Christ taught a different approach. In Matthew 6:14-15, Jesus told his followers, “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will forgive you, but if you do not forgive those who sin against you, neither will your Father forgive you your trespasses.” This is in such contrast to human nature that in Matthew 18:21-22, Peter asked Christ how many times he must forgive a brother. Peter thought he was generous by suggesting a limit of seven times. Jesus responded by saying seventy times seven. He didn’t mean 490 times. He was saying that forgiveness of a brother, friend, or even an enemy is unlimited.
The practical value of Christ’s teaching on forgiveness is proven by the fact that failing to forgive will eat you alive, mentally and emotionally. Most of us have no problem forgiving the mistakes of a small child an unlimited number of times. We need to have that same spirit in dealing with family members and others. If you are a Christian and someone has wronged you, don’t carry a grudge and build a wall between you and that person.
Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Our capacity to forgive is one of the most critical demonstrators of that love. If you are not a Christian, I suggest that there is help from God in feeling forgiveness, leading to better mental health and freedom from depression. The practical value of Christ’s teaching on forgiveness demonstrates that it is not based on human wisdom.
One thing that impacts an apologetic program like ours is the attitude that evidence doesn’t count. We have seen that with COVID-19 during the past year. Some people are selective in whether they will accept the evidence or if they will ignore the evidence.
Nearly everybody in this country has, for many years, trusted the medical establishment. When we break a bone or have cancer, we go to a doctor or hospital. Most of us go to the medical establishment for problems such as arthritis, gastrointestinal issues, tetanus shots, and any number of pain issues. When the coronavirus pandemic began, many people chose to ignore the evidence presented by the medical establishment. As people started to die from the virus and hospitals were overrun, some people believed the whole pandemic was a hoax. Now that there are vaccines, people choose not to trust them.
This attitude of choosing to ignore the evidence if it inconveniences us has caused many people to reject God. I remember vividly when a young man came up to me after a lectureship at Purdue University. He said, “I can’t argue with anything you presented in your lecture, and I know the evidence for the existence of God is huge, but I’m not about to quit sleeping with my girlfriend.” That attitude has produced a society that promotes “survival of the fittest” and refuses to consider any possibility they should follow the Christian lifestyle.
The sad thing is the result of all this. I have friends who have lost a child, a parent, or a close friend and who stand there weeping as they say, “Why did this have to happen?” It didn’t have to happen!! How many of us are going to say as we stand in judgment before God and say, “Why do I have to spend eternity separated from God and everything good?” It doesn’t have to happen!! In Matthew 25:41-46, Jesus paints a picture of that very situation, and He simply reminds those who are lost that they refused to accept the evidence for God in the things they saw around them during their life.
In the past two days, we have looked at a basic understanding of what faith is and how faith works in our lives. We saw that the Bible defines faith as the foundation on which we build our lives. We pointed out that faith is involved in science. I have been very personal in discussing my family and the destructive faith that has destructively influenced all of us. My faith is very different, and it came about differently.
One facet of faith is that we frequently share it within families. When a family member rejects the faith of the rest of the family, that creates conflict. My parents strongly emphasized education as the foundation on which to build your life. They viewed religion as irrational nonsense that enslaved and restricted humans. At every opportunity, my parents ridiculed religious faith. Hypocrisy, racism, violence, war, and waste provided a constant barrage of good reasons for them to reject faith in God. By the time I was eight years old, I regurgitated my parent’s faith and took a lead role in atheism. That is how faith works in our lives.
In junior high, I had a science teacher named Wayne Gross, who made it clear that he believed that there was academic evidence that God exists, and the Bible is true. In high school, I had a great interest and some aptitude in science. In addition to that, I became infatuated with an attractive young lady who was one of the top students in my high school class.
I did not have any moral values because my parents taught me that educated people realize that life is “survival of the fittest.” The moral guidance I received was to make sure you come out number one. I found that this attractive young lady was morally uncompromising, and she based her morality on the Bible. To get her to compromise her morality, I wanted to show her that faith in God and the Bible was educationally absurd.
I set out to prove to this girl, and to Mr. Gross, that educated people who read the Bible would not believe anything in it. Mr. Gross encouraged me to start with Genesis 1. I had stolen a Bible from a motel (there were no Bibles in my parent’s library), and I started reading it and researching the words in the original manuscripts to prove it wrong.
As I read the Bible and understood its message, looking at the scientific evidence, I started rejecting everything my parents, my peers, and the religious experts of the day told me. In doing that, I began to understand that everything I had ever been told about God and the Bible was wrong. Education was leading me to a new faith, and my parents did not handle my efforts well. They denigrated the faith of Mr. Gross, my girlfriend, and myself.
How faith works in our lives determines the direction we take. Several years later, I was faced with what to do with a child who was born blind, mentally challenged, and with both cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy. This polarized my faith and my parent’s faith. My father used a parallel example of buying a car and finding it was defective. “What do you do?” he asked. “You take it back and demand a refund.”
How we handle evidence, and what we do with it becomes the foundation that impacts our lives. Tomorrow we’ll look at that a little deeper.
If there is one phrase that needs to shout to everyone on the planet in 2020, it is “Look at the evidence!!” From the president of this country to the teenagers across this land, there has been a huge failure to look at the scientific evidence. Despite all the evidence for how the Covid-19 virus spreads, we still have young people who party without masks, even in a closed interior environment. In spite of the fires on the west coast, the significant increase in hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, the melting of the polar ice caps, and the rise in temperature of the oceans, we still have people denying climate change. Even within the Church, we have a disdain for scientific evidence.
Those who follow Jesus Christ should be the most likely to respond to evidence. Jesus appealed to people to look at the evidence. He told people to see for themselves that things are true. When Thomas was unable to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead, how did Jesus convince him? Did He engage Thomas in a philosophical/theological discussion about how the resurrection was logically reasonable? Did He demand that Thomas believe as a test of faith? Read John 20:27-29 and see what He did.
The fact is that the resurrection, all of Jesus’ appearances after the resurrection, and most of the miracles before He died were to provide evidence so that people could believe. Just like today, some people refused to look at the evidence. They suggested that the miracles were fake, but the kind of miracles Jesus performed could not be faked.
It wasn’t just the miracles that Jesus used to validate His existence as the Son of God. His teachings did that as well. The parables of Jesus were not unbelievable fantasy stories. They were practical, true-to-life, easy to understand evidences for the truths He was teaching. When Jesus talked about relying on God, did He use theological and philosophical models to convince His listeners? Read passages like Matthew 6:25-34. You will find Jesus talking about examples that everyone knew about–fowls of the air, changing one’s height, and the flowers of the field.
Using the things that God has created to teach and make doctrinal points is not denigrating God. Read Romans 1:19-32 and notice what Paul uses to convict the Romans of the destructive path they are following.
Today, we see vast numbers of people refusing to look at the evidence. We don’t need to engage them in philosophical discussions. We need to show them the evidence that God does exist, that He is the God of the Bible, and that Jesus is His Son.
The existence of God is not a question that market research can answer. Most people believe there is a God, but unbelievers have become more vocal in recent years. Nobody can say with absolute certainty that there is no God unless they know everything there is to be known. Of course, nobody knows everything. The most brilliant genius who ever lived does not know everything. Science is discovering new things every day, but the more answers scientific research uncovers, the more questions it creates.
One of the major arguments against the existence of God says that a good God would not allow pain and suffering. If you use that argument, you are saying that you know that there is no possible reason for God to allow pain and suffering in this world. But a good, all-powerful, and all-knowing God could have a good reason for allowing bad things to happen in this temporary existence. Unless you know everything, you can’t say that there is no possible reason. (If you carefully examine the Bible, you will find that there is a reason.)
Finding evidence for or against the existence of God requires observing the universe, the solar system, planet Earth, and the complexities of life in all its forms. After looking at that evidence, you have to make a decision. Is it more probable that everything could have come into being out of nothing by pure, random accident? Or is it more probable that everything we see and even our own bodies, gives evidence of the wisdom of an intelligent designer?
All of the polls and surveys tell us that 40% of the American public when asked what their religious beliefs are, answer by saying “none.” Within the Church, we see the same issue. A large percentage of our congregations see their membership becoming older in average age and smaller in number. The evidence for God is there for those who are willing to look.
The difficulty is that many of our young people have an inherited faith or an emotional faith. An inherited faith is one where the person comes to worship and/or is baptized because that is the way they were raised. As one young man told me, “It’s a small price to pay for peace at home.” An emotional faith is one where the person is stampeded into “coming forward” because of a guilt trip or because their best friend responded to an invitation for baptism at camp or in a Vacation Bible School.
Jesus called people to a faith based on evidence. Thomas is the classic example of that. (See John 20:24-29.) Paul reasoned with the people of his day. (See Acts 17:18-34.) Romans 1:20, Psalms 19:1 and numerous other passages tell us we can know why we believe what we believe through the creation around us. I am one who came to believe in God through the scientific evidence for God that is available to all of us.
God has given us the tools to reach people with evidential faith in the twenty-first century. For 50 years now I have been blessed to reach out to college and university students, and to people who have left the Church because they doubted that the God of the Bible is real and that His Word is God-breathed. We offer a free course on evidences for the existence of God on doesgodexist.org. Anyone can watch our video course for free on doesgodexist.tv.