Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Knowing God: If it's so important why isn't it more obvious?

Tom Price's straw-poll of questions that scare Christians turned up this one: If Jesus is truth, then why do so few find this truth and so many doomed to hell? Which is a re-phrase of one of Shelley's 12th question in his 1811 The Necessity of Atheism, a pamphlet that got him kicked out of Oxford University - how times have changed! He asked: If the knowledge of God is most necessary, why is it not the most evident and clearest? The Christian wants to accept the premise of this question - Jesus is truth and the knowledge of God is most necessary. How then is it that "so few find this truth and so many are doomed to hell..." why isn't it "most evident and clearest".Facing this question three years ago I noted: 
It is simply not the case that God has left us a lack of evidence. We simply find God's words distastful. Polly Toynbee and Richard Dawkins have both spoken out on this in the media in recent months. Notable atheists by confession. They have grasped the basic content of the Christian gospel. They see that the crucifixion of Jesus is central. However they look at it and call it "repugnant" and "barking mad". They are offended by such a message from God. As are countless others throughout time. Do not be fooled into thinking the gospel is unavailable or inaccessible, neither vague nor mysterious.
The problem is not in God's revelation but rather in the human heart. A heart that looks at the grace of God and refuses it.  It is human pride that blinds Toynbee to the truth. It is the sheer simplicity that so befuddles Dawkins. The Christian gospel is good news and bad news for us. It is our only hope of rescue, and simultaneously the defeat of our self-assertion and proudness of heart. Everything necessary has been done.

Shelley was evidently incensed by the gospel. Venomous and determined to refute it. He was not unaware of it. Like so many others he was offended. The Cross is not a message we wanted to hear. It did not fit the mould of a god he wanted to believe. Perhaps he never really saw the true gospel. Perhaps he never saw it truly lived out in the Christian community. His questions were good and honest. My answers are too late for him, hopefully not for others.
I think however that faced with this question now instead of giving a quick answer I'd want to pose more questions:

1. If God isn't obvious, what is obvious when you look at the world?
I guess this might lead to some comment about the apparent futility of the world - in suffering etc in which we'd find CS Lewis a good friend to introduce into the conversation.... A genuine sense of the wrongness of wrong is already a substantial step towards theology.

2. Why do you think Christians think it so necessary to know God?
What is it that Christians you've met seem to think is so good and beneficial and worth having about Jesus? This might lead us to talk about how he simply doesn't seem worth getting to know, or that he's just a ticket out of hell... but it might also allow us to talk about some of the differences in the lives of Christians, the importance they place on Christ, the way they treasure him not because he can get them out of hell but as an end in himself.


  1. My first question might be:

    What do you mean?

    Why are you asking that?

    Are you asking about how good the evidence for God is, or are you asking about whether God is good if he judges people that haven't heard the gospel?

    I guess at its root, this is a question about those who have not heard the gospel and what the basis of God's judgement is...

    My basic answer would be similar to the Good Book company's "I'm glad you asked that leaflet"

    -We can trust God to be just; he will judge people according to their response to what they know
    -Everyone has received some revelation, even if only from the created order (Romans 1:18)
    -Those who have had more revealed to them will be held responsible (Matt 11:20-24)
    -You have heard - so do something about it and leave the others to God's fair and good care