When unexpected tragedy happens in your life, what do you do? When in the words of Fantine in Les Miserables, “Life kills the dream you dreamed,” where do you turn? What can happen to many people is that great uncertainties, doubts and suspicions towards God suddenly arise in their hearts. Suddenly, all the Sunday school stories you learned as a kid can seem so fake. What can happen is not a direct move into atheism — denying the existence of God, but a slow and subtle move into a silent agnosticism — denying that truth about God can be known, denying that certainties about God exist, thinking that no one can be confident about spiritual or religious truth.
This is what happened to 19th century biologist Thomas Huxley who actually coined the term agnostic (meaning without knowledge). An agnostic does not deny that God exists; he or she denies that knowledge and certainties about God and the spiritual life are possible. Unfortunately, it seems like a form of this agnosticism has crept into many Christian circles where a confident Christianity has been replaced by an agnostic Christianity. So, someone might say, “Yes, I still hold to the teachings of Jesus and what he did. That is what seems to help me in life; that’s what I gravitate towards, but at the end of the day, who really knows?” The motto of this agnosticism is, “I don’t know; who can say for sure?”
Thankfully, in his first letter the Apostle John wrote to the church, he addressed Christians who were living with uncertainties and taught them how to live with confidence in their walk with God no matter what was happening in their lives. For example, John wrote: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). What this means is that a person may in fact be a genuine Christian, but this does not guarantee that he or she is living with the type of confidence and assurance that is possible. For example, two people may be sitting on the same plane together and experiencing the same turbulence. Yet, one of them could be sipping their drink in confidence while the other one is gripping the armrests in fear. Both people are on the plane, but their internal experience of that flight is completely different. So, you could say that John wrote his letter so that Christians would let go of the armrests and pick up their drink. He wrote the letter so that, instead of an agnostic Christianity, believers would experience a confident Christianity.
Alright, but how does John do it? Where does this confidence and knowledge come from?
If John said, “I write these things… that you may know,” then you need to ask, “What things?” And if you go back to the beginning of his letter, John began by recounting his very scientific credible eye-witness experience of Jesus. Now, here’s why that is very important: Often times, faith and Science are seen to be at odds with one another. Science deals with things that you can touch, things you can see. Yet, people tend to think that faith in Jesus Christ deals with the unseen; it deals with things that are totally unverifiable. Yet, what did John say? “We saw him; we looked upon him; we touched him.” John was pointing out the scientific evidence of seeing Jesus before his death and after his death. John was trying to get his readers to see that the Apostle’s testimony was verifiable. In other words, John was helping people to see that Christian faith is not based on wishful thinking; it’s based on the historical credible eye witness reports of the Apostles.
The root of many uncertainties about God is a misunderstanding of how knowledge and faith work. It seems like when you talk with people about faith, they speak of it almost like a form of wishful thinking, sort of like the Disney movie type of faith — if you believe with all your heart, your dreams will come true. That is not biblical faith. Faith is receiving the credible testimony of God that he’s given to you in the Bible. Faith is taking God at his word. That’s why the Apostle Paul said, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing through the word of God” (Romans 10:17). Think of it like this — why do people believe that George Washington was America’s first President? It’s not because they were there and saw him; it’s because they are trusting the reports of others who did. Or if people are in the market for a used car, they don’t typically inspect under the car and check under the hood before they buy it. What do they do? They trust the Carfax report. See, what people do in so many other areas of life, they just need to do the same thing when it comes to the Bible and Jesus. If people trust the testimony of others all the time (and we know that people are prone to lie or exaggerate), why not trust the testimony of God who never lies? The Bible was written so that people could know God and trust his word no matter what is happening all around them.
Jeremy McKeen is the lead pastor of Truth Point Church. Jeremy received his B.A. in communications and philosophy from Florida Southern College and his MDiv from Know theological Seminary.