Episode 123 - "I Can't Believe in a God Who Would..."

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Have you ever heard someone say, "I can't believe in a God who is like this...,” or "I can't believe in a God who would do that"? We're going to talk about how to respond to that type of claim today on Unapologetic.

I keep a list of topics for this podcast, and depending on how I'm feeling or what's in the news, or things like that, I pick from them each week. This topic today has been in the queue for quite a while. I say that just simply to point out, if there's a topic you would like me to cover, if there's something that would be helpful to you as you talk with people about Christianity and your convictions, please send that to me. Use the contact form, shoot me an email, send me a message on Facebook. I'd love to cover things that are helpful to you and not just things I find interesting.

I think today's topic is something that we all need to be prepared to discuss and to address when it comes up. Because I often hear people say, "I can't believe in a God who would order Israel to kill all of the Canaanites," or perhaps more simply, "I can't believe in a God who would allow evil or suffering," or "I can't believe in a God who would kill an innocent person, his own son, for the crimes of other people. I can't believe in a God like that," or "I can't believe in a God who would create people just for the purpose of watching them suffer." Of course the list could go on. I'm sure if you think about it, and probably don't have to think hard, you have heard these types of claims.

The question is, how do we respond? I think there are a few steps that we could walk through in order that would be helpful in order to address this type of concern that the person is making. Now it's worth pointing out that some of these sample questions like the Canaanites, evil, punishing an innocent for the crimes of another, those types of things we've actually addressed on this podcast before in some form or flavor (see links above).

Get the Details

But today I want to address the tactical response to the claim, "I can't believe in a God who would..., or who is like..., or did this type of thing or that type of thing." Step one: get the details. What are they actually talking about? For the person who says, "I can't believe in a God who would order Israel to kill the Canaanites," Why? What is your objection to that? There are a few possible responses. “That's genocide. Or that's xenophobic (which is the fear of strangers.” We can address those claims; those are factual types of claims. But we need to understand what the person is saying first off. Why do they object to a God who would do this type of thing or that type of thing?

In some cases what we're going to find is we don't actually believe in the type of God they're rejecting either. I think that's incredibly important. For the person who says, "I can't believe in a God who would create people just for the purpose of watching them suffer," well hey, me either. (Well, I don't exactly want to say “me either” because I don't like how they start this claim with "I can't believe in ... “.) The fact of the matter, though, is "I don't believe in a God who created people just to watch them suffer." We'll talk about the "I can't" part in a minute, but I do want to make a distinction there.

But what we'll often find is that people are rejecting a caricature of our religion, of Christianity. Or they're rejecting a caricature of God. Some people will say, "I can't believe in the doctrine of the Trinity." Why not? "Well, this whole idea that it's three beings and one being. That's just ridiculous." Hey, you know what? I agree with you. That is a ridiculous idea. It just so happens that's not what I believe. I don't believe the Trinity's three beings in one being. The doctrine of the Trinity is that there's one being, there is one God who exists in three co-equal, co-eternal persons. This idea you're rejecting, I don't hold that either.

All too often people will reject a caricature, a misunderstanding of our beliefs. Now sometimes I think this is malicious, where they're actually intentionally making a straw man, a version of our belief that's easy to knock down, and they're criticizing that. But all too often I think it's just that people don't understand what we believe and they reject it.

For what it's worth, this also occurs in the church, in our internal discussions. When it comes to issues of salvation and maybe Calvinism or Arminianism, there are people who reject what is a misunderstanding of each side. I think we need to always strive to understand the view we're critiquing before we accept it or reject it.

The first step in our tactical plan today is to get the details. What is it they think they are rejecting? Why can't they believe in a god who would do fill in the blank. What's the objection? We might find that we don't actually believe what they're rejecting either.

What Do You Mean By “Believe?”

The next question, though, is: what do you mean by believe? Because, on the face of it, isn't it somewhat of an odd type of statement to say, "I can't believe in something like this"? I find that to be odd. Or, "I can't believe in someone who would do this." What do they mean by believe? Do they mean trust? I can't trust if you do this sort of thing? I can't trust a God who would kill innocent people, if that were in fact the case (there is no one innocent). Is that what they're saying? Or are they saying, "I can't follow a God who would do this type of thing"? Or are they saying, "I can't believe that this type of God exists"?

Our preferences don't determine truth

I'll be honest with you. When I hear this objection, "I can't believe in a God who would do....” it sounds to me like they're saying, "I don't believe this type of God exists," or "I can't make myself believe this type of God exists." If that's the claim, that's a pretty poor way to think about reality, honestly. Our preferences don't determine truth. That's a point we can make. My preferences—what I like, what I don't, what I find acceptable, and what I find unacceptable—those don't determine the truth of the world.

The world exists whether I have a preference about it or not. God exists or doesn't, but he doesn't exist or not exist based on my preference. He exists whether anyone thinks about him or not. Because God's existence is an objective sort of thing. How we feel about God, or our siblings, or food, or Hitler, or North Korea, or... doesn't change whether those things exist or not. They exist independently of us and our thoughts about them.

If the person is using “believe” as in "This type of God can't exist because I just can't believe he would do that sort of thing," that's a very poor way to think. I think we can make that clear to them by saying, "What if someone didn't like gravity? What if gravity was hideous to someone, does that mean it doesn't exist? Would it be fair to say, 'I can't believe in gravity because it pulls things down'? Well, no."

Now they probably find the actions of God to be reprehensible, and I think we can defend God in that way, but what about Hitler? Is it fair to say, "I can't believe in a Nazi dictator who would do fill in the blank"? No, that's not a fair way to think. That's not an accurate way to approach reality. Because, remember, reality exists regardless of how we feel about it or what we think about it, or even if we think about it.

Now if they mean "I can't trust or follow a God who would do...,” and they've actually established that they have an accurate understanding of what God has done or is like, I think we can take a different trajectory here.

Now there's a very pragmatic consideration, and I just bring this up partly for food for thought. I don't know how well this would work in conversation. But, it may be worth pointing out, “if you believe God actually wiped everyone out because they bothered him or broke his law, wouldn't it be kind of dumb not to follow that God? Seriously, if he's going to destroy a whole group of people like the Canaanites because they broke his law, why do you think he'd be okay with you rejecting his law?: I think that's very fair. That is the ultimate problem man has—a rejection of God's authority in his life. That's what sin is. That's why we need to place our trust in Jesus and repent.

Look at All of the Bible’s Revelation

Often, though, what we're going to see with a person who says, "I can't believe in a God who would do fill in the blank," is that they're only looking at part of the Bible's revelation about God. That leads us to our third step here. We can ask the person, "Why do you choose only the parts you don't like to believe? Why is your view of God based on these things and not the full teaching of scripture?" That's incredibly fair to ask.

Because, in order for them to reject God, they're having to read part of the Bible, believe (or accept for the time) it's true, and then say, "I can't believe or follow or trust a God like that." What they're not doing is looking at the part where God says everyone is guilty of sin, not just the Canaanites, and that the ultimate punishment is actually hell. Now some people will say, "I can't believe in a God who would punish people in hell," but that's not all the Bible says. The Bible also says that God is our creator and he's holy, and we're accountable to him. We're not the same type of being. They're not counting that type of data in their evaluation here.

They're also not looking at the place where God sent his son, who voluntary went to the cross to die and take on the curse of our sin for us so that everyone who places their trust in him will be saved. They're not looking at that part either. They're picking out just a part of it.

Now they wouldn't like it if someone based their whole opinion of them on just a part of their character or one thing they did and not their entire person and their entire thoughts about things, but yet they'll do that with God. I think we can point that out. Let's judge God and Christianity based on everything, not a little slice that's taken out of context of the whole context of redemptive history in scripture. We need to look at all of the evidence and come to a conclusion.

So, we’ve started with this idea that we need to get the details on what they believe. That's step one. What do you mean by whatever this thing is they're rejecting? What do you mean by believe? That's our second question. We can point out the fact that preferences don't determine truth. How I feel has no impact on if something exists or not or if I should follow it.

I don't like parts of how the government acts but I have to follow them. We could also ask the person, "Do you like that Donald Trump is president?" (I’m not making a statement on that here. I'm just simply saying this person very well may say they do not.) You can say, "Does that mean you don't have to follow what he says or that he doesn't rule this country in the office of president," (obviously as part of the other two branches.)

Well no, the honest answer is no. This whole idea that Donald Trump is “not my president,” which people have said, is just ridiculous. Because he is their president. They might not like him but that doesn't change the fact that he's the President of the United States. That's actually a pretty good parallel for what I think is being said in our topic today. "I can't believe in a God who would do...” is similar to people's claims today, "Donald Trump is not my president." Now maybe they're just expressing the fact that they don't like it, but when it comes down to it, he very much is their president if they are a United States citizen.

What he says is binding for them just like it is for everyone else who likes Trump or doesn't like Trump. I think it's noteworthy at the least that this type of poor thinking is not just exhibited when it comes to Christianity and religion, but we're seeing it on a mass scale in culture today after the election that took place in 2017.

This brings us to our last point.

Ignoring Reality has Consequences

We need to make the point that ignoring reality has consequences. This goes back to the idea that the world exists as it is regardless of how we think about it, regardless of how we feel about it. My preferences don't determine reality. As Ben Shapiro has said, “facts don't care about your feelings.” I think that's a fair point to make. I don't know that I'd say it like that, but not liking something doesn't make it not true. That's incredibly important for people to understand today. I can't determine what is true based on my feelings.

Now from a Christian worldview, scripture speaks to this. The heart is deceptive above all things. Why would we think we could trust our heart when it's fallen, when it needs to be sanctified too? We shouldn't. But more than that, if you're an evolutionist, if you're an atheist in that type of way, why would you trust your thoughts and your feelings? Evolution has coded us for survival, not for truth. If evolution is true and your feelings and your thoughts are actually just predetermined, they're not telling you what's true, necessarily. You can't have confidence in them.

All you can say is evolution has selected for things that help us survive. But surviving and understanding truth are two very different things. There's kind of self-refuting nature to the evolutionary argument for where we came from when it comes to how we understand the world around us.

But, all of that to say, ignoring reality has consequences. Greg Koukl has this phrase "bumping into reality." I can pretend that certain things aren't true, but they're still going to affect me. I can pretend when I'm walking along the mountain that there's not a cliff there, but if I walk where the cliff is, I'm going to fall off regardless of if I believed it existed or not. We need to tell people that even if you decide that you can't believe in this God for X, Y, and Z reasons, that God is still going to hold you accountable. The wages of sin for everyone is death. Only the people found in Christ, as Paul says in Romans 5, will ultimately not pay for their sins because Jesus has paid for them.

This person needs to understand that. That is the Gospel, or at least part of it. We need to bring in this part which maybe they haven't considered, maybe they don't understand, but that they very well need to be confronted with. God does not take rebellion lightly. The irony here is this person is not just living their own life in spite of God says. They're actually critiquing him and rejecting him actively, which is a very dangerous place to be, especially for the type of God that people often think God is. If he's the God who wiped out people who did evil in the Old Testament, why do you think he would do any differently today? He's the same God. I think that's a fair point to make.

We need to help people understand that ignoring reality has consequences. It's kind of like men who won't go to the doctor. They just pretend they're going to be okay. It doesn't work out that way most of the time. If you're sick, pretending you're not isn't going to make it better. It's the same way for us. As sinners, pretending we're not is actually an affront to who God is, it's a further rejection of his revelation and he will ultimately punish that. Out of compassion for people and out of allegiance to God, we need to be clear with people that their sin has consequences, and ultimately, we can't reject God because we don't like who he is. That is just further rebellion.

I'll talk with you next week on Unapologetic.