What is Truth?
Answering the Atheist
by Martin Gehlen Johnson
"...for to possess Love is to be beyond the reach of sin."
(Polycarp of Smyrna, Martyred 155 A.D.)
All of our concepts and beliefs which we like to refer to as "knowledge" actually are based upon premises which can neither be completely proven nor disproven. At some point in our lives, we have come to accept these premises to be true even though we have no absolute proof!
Even in the natural sciences, all knowledge is based upon unproven premises often referred to as "laws" and "theories". For example, consider the following two "laws" of mathematics, the purest of the natural sciences:
These two laws seem simple enough and logically make sense, but they can not be empirically proven nor disproven. For this reason they are known as "laws". They are universally accepted as true but are incapable of being proven. These laws along with many other laws form the basic premises upon which all mathematical knowledge is built.
1) The Reflexive Law states,
2) The Transitive Law states,
"If a=b and b=c, then a=c."
A theory is a possible explanation for a natural event or series of events. Theories, unlike laws, are not universally accepted as true. Each theory has its proponents and opponents. Theories, like laws, can not be totally proven; but they may in time become disproven or modified by future events.
Sciences such as chemistry, physics, biology, geology, and numerous others are greatly influenced by the Atomic Theory. Many of the technological advances of this century have been based upon this theory. However, the Atomic Theory is constantly being modified to account for new scientific findings. Today, the theory once based upon neutrons, electrons, and protons has to expand to include such things as quarks and quasars!
All of us would probably agree with the statement that we live in a real world made up of material objects that we can perceive with our senses. We may all agree with this statement, but how do we prove it's true? We CAN'T!
But you say, "I can see, taste, feel, smell, and hear the world around me; therefore, I know the above statement is true." But there is another possible explanation to what you perceive. Maybe the material world doesn't actually exist. Maybe only your mind exists, and everything else is simply created in your imagination. Your family, your friends, your own body, even this booklet you are now reading could possible be dreamed up in your own mind!
Pretty scary stuff! This second explanation, like the first, can neither be proven nor disproven. Yet, we are more inclined to accept the first statement that we do live in a real world made up of material objects as being true even though we have no definite proof. Therefore, we accept this statement as a basic premise upon which we live our lives not on the basis of known provable fact, but rather on the basis of faith!
Faith can be defined as the belief in something that can neither be proven nor disproven. Since all our knowledge is founded upon basic premises which can not be proven nor disproven - premises accepted instead on the basis of faith, it stands to reason that ALL KNOWLEDGE IS ULTIMATELY BASED ON FAITH!
The Nature of God
The statement that a person's belief in God is based upon faith may not seem all that shocking. What is shocking is the fact that another person's belief that there is no God is also based upon faith! Each person has faith in his own premise even though the two premises are totally in opposition to one another.
What is amazing to me is that a person who doesn't believe in God usually bases his disbelief upon the assertion that the existence of God can not be totally proven. He neglects to realize the fallacy in his own reasoning for his premise of disbelief is also not totally provable. He can not prove that God does not exist. It is like a mathematician saying that because the fundamental laws upon which mathematics are based can not be proven, he will disregard them! Or worse yet, the mathematician decides that since these laws are not provable, he will reverse them. Therefore, in his mind if
Allow me to state the two major premises of this chapter. These premises, like all premises, are based on faith; but I will endeavor to give you concrete reasons to support my beliefs. These premises are that there is a God and that the Nature of God is perfect goodness - Love!
"a" equals "b", then "b" can not equal "a"!
The atheist will be quick to point out that he sees so little justice in this world. Suffering, pain, and sorrow seem to be the lot of so many people. There is so much hatred and so little love. Wars, famines, diseases, and pestilences are running rampant. The good people suffer along with the bad. Often it seems that those who have the least regard for their fellow man prosper the most. In a world where the good people often seem cursed and the evil appear blessed, the atheist will ask, "How can there be a God?"
Notice that the atheist uses the word "justice" and that he states there are "good" people and "bad" people. Justice is an abstract term. If he sees so little of it in this world, how does he know what it is? Also, he seems to imply that justice is something desirable. Why? And why is it that he puts such a high value on love and frowns upon hatred? As far as good people and bad (evil) people are concerned, upon what standards does he base his concepts of good and evil?
In an ironic sense, the atheist in our example is declaring the existence of God. He cries out for justice, for deep within his being he feels that he knows what Justice is! He has compassion for those who suffer, for deep within his being he feels that he knows what Compassion is! He innately knows the difference between good and evil. And he values love above all else because deep within his being he feels that he knows that Love is at the very heart of the greatest, most powerful Force in the universe!
As I mentioned before, no one can absolutely prove the existence of God. Acceptance of God's existence is based upon faith. However, I stated that the atheist, despite his intellectual denial of God, still knows of God deep within his being. How can this be? The best way to understand this phenomenon is to search the emotional depths of our own being (soul). God created us in His Own Image. That Image of God still exists within us. It is as if God gave us a photograph of Himself; but through neglect, we have lost it. Now we must find it! What we have to do is dig deep within our souls through the layers of muck and mire - the years of sin and denial - to rediscover God. Seek God out in your heart, and He will be there!
And when we discover God's Image within our souls, we too will begin to understand the Nature of God. God is Perfection. He is the Ideal of all virtues to the infinite degree. Therefore, God is Love to the infinite degree. There is no limit to God's love. Also, God is Justice, Righteousness, Mercy, Goodness, Faithfulness, Compassion, Constancy, Truth and so much more - all these virtues to the infinite degree. That is to say there is no limit to God's virtues.
As we search our souls, we realize that we have a limited, imperfect knowledge of these virtues. However, we realize that perfect love, perfect justice, perfect righteousness really do exist even though we may not understand the breadth of these virtues completely and see very little evidence of them in the world around us. We, therefore, have an imperfect idea of the Perfect Ideal which is God. If we have this perception deep within our beings, where could this perception have come from, but from God!
The State of the World
A loving God created all of us to live happily ever after!
"Wait one minute," demands the atheist. "That sounds too much like the last line of a fairy tale! After all, the world is full of sufferings and sorrows. Murders, rapes, robberies, lies, and physical and mental tortures of every form imaginable are occurring all over the world at this very instant! How can you claim that God is Love when the world is full of so much hatred!"
The atheist is really on a roll now! He bellows, "Recently a friend of mine buried his wife who had died after months of excruciating pain from bone cancer. At the funeral one of you 'religious' types approached him and his two children and muttered that this grieving family should console itself in the cliche that all things happen according to God's Will. Fine! What a relief! Their wife and mother died in such terrible pain because a loving God willed it! Get real!"
Well, I will get real! Perhaps the most direct way to approach the dilemma described above would be to expand upon our basic premise that God is good. If God is perfected in His Goodness, He will not do evil. If God is perfected in His Love, He will not be motivated by hatred. If God is perfected in His Justice, He will not be unjust. Therefore, a loving God would never be the direct cause of any unjustified suffering, pain, or death.
The fact that this world is so full of so much misery is not because of God's Will. Instead, the world exists in such a sorry state IN SPITE of God's Will - for pain and death are totally contrary to the type of existence that God, in His Love, really wants for us.
Why then does the world exist today in its miserable state if God really does not want it to be that way? After all, isn't God capable of rectifying the situation?
Before answering these questions, let's first look at what caused the world to get in the shape that it is in today. Following in our logic stated above, a good God would only create those things that are good. Goodness begets goodness! Therefore, all the creatures in the universe were created good in every respect just as God is good. As mentioned previously, we were all created with an inner "knowledge" of God, but all of God's creation is in some sense limited whereas God is unlimited in his Being.
One of the great gifts that God bestowed upon mankind is the gift of "free will". We are all free to make myriads of choices in our lives, all of which help to define us as individuals thus making each and every one of us unique. Without this gift of free will, we would be little more than robots following after some preset program. Thus, God, in His Love for us, gave us free will.
Possessing free will, we are free to follow in the ways of God such as goodness, mercy, love, truth, justice, and so forth if we so choose. But, we are also free to live in opposition to God by being cruel, mean, hateful, devious, and unjust. Evil, the opposition to God's Will - not God's Will itself - is the cause of ALL the pain and suffering in the world. Just as goodness begets goodness, evil begets evil! Thus, the misuse of a great gift from God, the gift of free will, brings all this misery down upon our own heads!
The atheist isn't finished yet. "What about my friend's wife who died of bone cancer? She always seemed to be a fine person. She was also very religious always praying that her God would take away her terrible pain and restore her to good health so she could live to see her children grow up. What did she do personally to deserve such a terrible fate? And why should it happen to her and not to someone like a serial killer who would seem to be more deserving of such a painful death?"
These questions contain some very important points. First of all, the woman's sickness and death came upon her in a quite arbitrary way since it doesn't appear that she did anything that would have made her more "deserving" of such a fate than anyone else. It also seems unjust because surely there are many evil people in the world who live long and healthy lives, watch their children grow to adulthood, and than die peacefully in their sleep at a ripe old age. These factors only go to show that it is not God's Will at work here; for God is not arbitrary in His actions, and He certainly is not unjust!
Mankind's choosing through free will to go against God's Will is only part of the explanation for the pain and suffering in the world today. There are other forces at work in the world. Forces that thrive in an atmosphere of alienation to God. Forces that are in direct opposition to God. While God is Love, these forces sow hatred. While God is just, these forces relish injustice. Whereas God is the Universal Good in every respect and to the infinite degree, these forces are totally evil unimaginable to us in their scope of viciousness. Whether or not one believes as I believe that these forces are demonic, one can not deny their existence. We only need to look at the world that we live in today in order to grasp that these forces are all around us permeating almost every aspect of reality!
If God created all things perfectly good, how then do such evil forces exist? As with us humans, the answer lies in the fact that these forces - demons, if you will - were also created with the gift of "free will". Through the misuse of free will, these forces choose to be in opposition to God.
Still, the question needs to be answered as to why a loving God allows this evil to continue without taking steps to eliminate it completely. God does have the power to eliminate evil completely and immediately by removing from His creations the gift of "free will". However, God, in His love, does not want to forcefully compel us to come to Him like mindless robots. The truth is that God has taken steps to end all evil and injustice forever. God has also taken steps to unite us with Him in eternal happiness, but God will not compel nor allow those of us who continue to choose to be evil to join Him - for only those whom God deems as being righteous will be with Him.
Paradoxes and Dilemmas
What does it mean to be deemed righteous by God? We have the free will to do both good and evil. Does righteousness in God's eyes mean simply that there is a weighing of good deeds versus bad deeds? In other words, if in our lives we do more good deeds than evil deeds, does that make us righteous? Conversely, will we be judged to be unrighteous if our evil deeds outnumber our good deeds, even if only by one? Or does righteousness mean something more?
Righteousness to God actually means perfection! It does not mean that we are more good than evil or that we do more nice things than nasty. Therefore, one evil deed, just one transgression in our lives, makes us unrighteous to God.
One of God's virtues that we have touched on before is that God is just. In the same respect that God is Love to the infinite degree, God is Justice to the infinite degree. But what do we mean by justice? There are two aspects of justice that we must consider here. First, justice means that everyone is treated equally. Second, justice means that everyone gets exactly what they deserve - no less and no more!
We also know that God is merciful. But here a paradox seems to exist because by definition mercy means the opposite of justice! Whereas justice means everyone gets exactly what they deserve, mercy means that certain people will receive better than they deserve. We also know that God is constant and not arbitrary. In other words, God is not merciful one minute and just the next, but He is always merciful and just at the same time. Therefore, there is justice in God's mercy and mercy in God's justice!
But, how is it possible for God to be always just and always merciful when justice and mercy mean exactly the opposite? Also, how can any of us be deemed righteous by God when we all have done evil - not once but many, many times - and justly do not deserve eternal happiness?
Those things which seem at first glance to be impossible for our limited intellect to comprehend are very possible for God. Through God's Love, He reconciles both justice and mercy, and supplies us with our one and only Hope!
A loving God created us to live happily with Him for eternity. However, justice demands a price to be paid for each and every evil action that we commit. Merely one sin and we no longer deserve this perfect state of eternal bliss because only those who are perfect deserve perfection! Each one of us with our multitudes of evil deeds justly deserve far less than what God intends for us. In fact, what we deserve is not eternal life at all - but total destruction!
"So," you may ask, "what's the problem? Couldn't a merciful God simply forgive us for all that we have done wrong and give us this eternity of happiness even though we don't deserve it?" However, God would not act in this manner because to do so would be unjust. God is always just, and justice demands a price to be paid. Simply forgiving us our transgressions does not pay that price!
Can't that price be paid by doing good instead of evil in the future? Well, to deserve perfection we must be perfect. A multitude of good deeds will not make us perfect since we have already done evil in the past. Also, it is unlikely that we could keep from doing wicked deeds in the future even though we don't want to do evil. Think of a mile of highway filled with potholes. A construction crew extends that highway another one hundred miles. This new stretch of highway is clear of potholes. However, the highway in its entirety is not perfect because those potholes still exist in that first mile. Our past sins exist just like those potholes! By going down "the highway of life" and doing good does not change the fact that these sins exist in our past, and we can't go back in time to "patch" them up. Therefore, we can never be made perfect by our own efforts since we are already in a state of imperfection.
By the way, some believe that through the process of reincarnation a person's soul can reach a state of perfection and thus be reunited with God. However, the idea of living many lives to reach perfection would be the equivalent of stretching our highway mentioned above many more miles. Even if we were capable of living perfect lives - which we are not - we still would not be able to remove the imperfection from our past. This shows the fallacy inherent in the belief in reincarnation.
Why are we incapable of living perfect lives? For one thing, we are constantly being tempted to sin by the evil forces in the world around us. Also, even though we possess free will, our free will does not operate in a vacuum. The choices that we make and the actions that we take are invariably influenced by our basic nature. Since our basic nature is in a state of imperfection, our outward deeds would be affected by such imperfection. In other words, our imperfect, sinful nature leads us to sin!
It seems as though we have reached a dead-end. We can't possibly through our own efforts reach a state of perfect righteousness. How can we possibly be made justly worthy to receive that wonderful eternal existence God has waiting for us? Where is our hope?
There is but one answer and that is that God would have to intervene on our behalf. Since we are incapable of reaching perfection by our own merit, God in His infinite Love for us would not abandon us. As mentioned before, it would be unjust for God to forgive us our transgressions without a price being paid - a price that we in our state of imperfection are incapable of paying. God has already paid that price! In paying that price for us, God establishes His Plan for our Salvation!
Almost two thousand years ago a small group of men huddled together in mortal fear for their lives. They had been followers and companions of a great religious teacher, a man who spoke of a loving God and the great prize of eternal life that God wants to give each and every one of us. He also explained how God, in His own time, will do away with all evil because God in His unlimited power can easily overcome the very limited power of the forces of evil arrayed against Him. This man radiated throughout his total being the Love of God toward all of us - His creation. If this amazing man had simply been a great teacher, he would have stood far above any of the great religious teachers in history. However, this man, whose name was Jesus, made astounding claims that none of these other religious men had ever made! He claimed that God was his Father and had sent him to earth to save men from the consequences of the evil that surrounded them and permeated their very beings. He would do this by paying the price for our transgressions against God. He not only claimed to be God's son, but he also claimed that he and God were one and the same!
Such claims did not sit well with the leaders of the established religion of his day. Even though Jesus was able through the Power of the Love that radiated within him to do many astoundingly miraculous deeds, these leaders saw in Jesus a threat to their own preset, faulty ideas of God and religion. Therefore, they conspired successfully to have Jesus put to death by the civil authorities. Before killing him, these authorities severely whipped Jesus and humiliated him. They embedded a crown of thorns into his scalp. Then, nailing his hands and feet to a cross, they put Jesus to death by crucifying him. Afterwards, just to make sure that he was dead, they stuck a spear into his side.
This is why the followers of Jesus were huddled together in such fear. They were in hiding. They felt that since their great teacher had been put to death it would not be long before they too would be rounded up by the authorities and suffer the same fate. Although Jesus had told them what was going to happen, they didn't totally believe him. All of those claims that Jesus had made seemed too astounding to be true. When Jesus died, all their hopes died with him. In their fear and despair, they had become cowards huddled together afraid of what might await them!
Then something happened that completely transformed this group of timid cowards. Suddenly into their midst appeared Jesus! Jesus had risen from the dead! From the depths of despair, these men's hearts leaped with joy. They were jubilant in the knowledge that they were once again in the presence of their friend, their teacher, and their Lord and Savior - yes indeed, their LORD and SAVIOR! For now the men realized that those astounding claims that Jesus had made were true. Jesus had conquered death! He had come back to them! In so doing, Jesus put the seal of truth upon His claims - for only through the Power of God could He have overcome the grave!
Thereafter, these men, knowing that they were witnesses to the greatest event in history, went forth into the world without fear or trepidation but with courage and boldness to declare to all that "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). For their testimony, they all willingly suffered many terrible hardships and persecutions. Eventually, all but one would die horrible deaths at the hands of their evil oppressors. But none of this mattered to them for they knew that through His death Jesus had paid the price for their sins. They were thus assured of an eternity of happiness in the company of their loving Savior!
Through Jesus, God reconciled both justice and mercy. Justice was served because a price was paid for our sins. God in His loving mercy paid that price - a price that if we were to pay would mean our total destruction! The end result of sin is death. Jesus died for our sins! If Jesus were merely another human being, it would have been unjust for God to have him pay for our transgressions. Furthermore, God can not die because God is eternal. But by being God Incarnate (by being both Divine and human simultaneously), Jesus was able to pay the price of death on our behalf while remaining both just and merciful!
By having Faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we too will be transformed. No longer will we live in mortal fear of the evils of this world. Instead, we can courageously face all challenges that may occur in our lives with the knowledge that we are not alone - a loving God is always with us! We will turn away from evil and turn toward the Good which is God. We will repent of any wrongs that we have done, and we will show love toward one another just as God has shown love toward us through Jesus!
Before sentencing Jesus to death, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate asked Jesus the following question:
"What is truth?"
What Pilate did not realize is that he was staring TRUTH in the face! (John 14:6)
Copyright ©1994 Martin Gehlen Johnson -
This page was created on 12 April 1998
Last updated on 12 April 1998