5 Reasons I Believe in God – part 1

1900419_10152080848888227_34617775_oThere is a problem with my bathroom. Regardless of how many times I scrub it clean, I always come back in a week and find it has once more become a crusty, smelly mess. So I clean it again. Whatever this problem is, it seems to have extended to my kitchen, bedroom, and even my truck. The issue of course is that everything in life tends towards chaos. The law of entropy dictates this. Left on its own, nature reverts to disorder, disrepair, and eventually ruin. For this reason, any appearance to the contrary is evidence of an intelligent force acting against nature’s steady march towards madness. We see this reversal of entropy any time we encounter order, design, or creativity, which lead us to conclude in an orderer, a designer, and a creator. The more complex the system – that is, the further removed it is from chaos – the greater the evidence that an intelligent being had a hand in it’s existence. Likewise, the greater the complexity, the greater the intelligence of the designer must prove to be.

In my college days I would frequently steal away from classes to hike the endless acres of national forest that lay nestled in the lowlands of the Ohio wilderness. During one outing, I scaled a cliff of Dolomite using a makeshift grappling hook, to find a curious sight at the summit. Over one-hundred pinecones had been arranged in a circular pyramid. They were positioned with the bases downward, the peaked cones pointing out, as if a landmine had petrified mid-explosion. I have found strange things in the woods before, but this was among the strangest. Yet even miles from any civilized dwellings, I recognized that this perfect pinecone pyramid must have been left here by a fellow human being. The order was too precise to have happened by chance. Even though the surrounding forest contained literally thousands of pinecones scattered all over the forest floor, this was anything but happenstance.

A few days later I found an old, worn out wristwatch, and beyond that, scratched into the rock face beside a stream, the words “Kevin + Amanda” encircled by a crude heart. Now these were certainly a step up from before. The pinecones demonstrated order; the watch, design, structure, and complexity. The message was perhaps the greatest evidence, for it introduced language, communication, and emotion.

Now each of these things might have been the product of random chance. Pinecones are plentiful and naturally occurring in the outdoors. While the chance is 1-in-a-million, they may have been tumbled and tossed by the wind to form an apparent structure. Yet every last thread of human experience says otherwise. Patterns not naturally occurring in nature are the evidence of forces beyond nature inflicting their will upon it. This is order. If you came upon a row of tin cans standing in a straight line, would you not assume at least a child had placed them there? Not even bird’s nests build themselves.

To look at the Order present in the universe and conclude that anything other than an Intelligent Designer is responsible for its being so ordered, quite frankly, is ridiculous. The evidence for God in this world is so immense that it takes more faith not to believe in his existence! From the laws of gravity and thermodynamics to electromagnetism, planetary motion, and conservation of mass and energy, all natural scientific laws are evidence of such order. They are the reason this whole mess of life hangs together and keeps on spinning. The dictionary defines Natural Laws as “statements that describe, predict, and perhaps explain why, a range of phenomena behave as they appear to in nature.” These are found in all realms of science: astronomy, biology, chemistry, geology physics, and the rest. Science can tell us how these laws work, and make predictions and advancements based upon them. They are the foundation for our understanding of all science. But science cannot tell us why these laws are the way they are. Einstein himself once said, “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.” By this he meant that science could not explain adequately why life exists, or order, or that we should be here to wonder at and study the universe at all. Unsurprisingly, this genius of a man believed in God, also stating “Every one who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe – a spirit vastly superior to that of man.”

The wristwatch presents a greater problem. It demonstrated a much greater level of intervention with the process of chaos – and being thus further removed, a greater level of intelligence. Atheists may say that given an infinite amount of time, anything could happen. I disagree. Even if you disassembled a watch, threw all the pieces in a box, and shook the box for a hundred thousand years, they would never manage to reform into a working mechanism, much less tell the correct time if they did. In fact, you know what would happen? The pieces would be beaten to dust within the first few decades! Even with all the materials necessary to create a watch randomly crashing into each other for endless ages (ignoring the fact that such materials would require a craftsman to assemble in the first place), the assembly of a functioning device would be impossible.

Atheists want to say that everything we observe in the world is no more than the result of random ingredients banging around in a box the size of the universe. And from that incessant cacophony I am to conclude that we derived life, intelligence, plants and animals, and most incredibly, a creature known as Man. Yet any surgeon, scientist, or psychologist will just as readily admit – in awestruck admiration – that the human brain itself is far beyond even the most complex computers we can create. It is a mystery. An enigma. If a wristwatch, which is infinitely more simple by comparison, can only be the result of an intelligent being, I simply cannot escape the conclusion that the world and everything in it is the result of an even greater mind.

Finally we have the declaration of love scratched into the cliff face in the middle of an Ohioan national park. More simple than a wristwatch, perhaps, but no less significant. While there is intelligence involved in the whirring of gears and winding springs, these can be the product of a cold, calculating force. The message I found demonstrated something personal. “Kevin + Amanda” it said. Who was Kevin? I wondered. Had he hiked this trail alone, as I had done, to etch in stone a testimony of his undying love? Or had he carved it right there in the girl’s presence, while she looked on with a shy smile as the leaf-scattered sunlight dappled her upturned face? What was the story behind the person behind the creation?

That is, of course, the very question that all religions of the world seek to answer. As a Christian, the question that most interests me is not whether God exists but what sort of a Person he is. When gazing at the world, what is the message there? Ancient peoples, observing the frightening and often cruel forces of nature thought that the gods must be equally harsh. Thus they imagined primordial deities of uncertain and explosive natures, in accordance with the elements of nature itself. Yet mixed in with all the chaos of life, there is also beauty. I have seen, or fancy I have seen, something like a declaration of love written wide across the world, etched deep into the bedrock of the planet. In the open vaults of endless blue skies, in the heady, exotic scent of windswept wildflowers, in the joyful gurgle of a baby’s laugh, I have found echoes of love underlying life itself, wrapped around it like a heart.


Meditations on the Shore: Truth as Observational Reality

I suspect there is more saltwater than blood in my veins.  Many of my happiest days of childhood were spent on the waterfront. Whether fishing, boating, or laying with a mystery novel on the sand, few things please me more than a day by the shore. My family has a long history of love affairs with the lakes and rivers crisscrossing the North East United States, not to mention an occasional fling with the Atlantic. For that reason my thoughts are never far from the sea, however far my body is.

The objects and places which surround our growing-up years become the means and metaphors by which we understand the world around us. This may be why one of the most formative questions that has defined my life – What is truth? – finds as its answer an illustration in the waves. I have never put this idea into words before now, but I will try, if it might help others gain a new perspective for themselves. My thoughts currently are as rough as unpolished stones bouncing in a stream, and I am sure what I try to express will be equally crude, but this image is as natural to my understanding of reality as your native tongue is to your understanding of language.

I was young, maybe 13 or 14, walking along the edge of a lake where my family was renting a cabin for a week’s holiday. As I went I picked up smooth stones to skip along the water, scratched pictures into the soft mud with a stick, and did whatever else it occurs to a boy to do who finds himself alone and unsupervised in the middle of God’s playpen. Eventually I came upon a wooden bench so worn and cracked it may have been constructed with scraps scavenged from the Mayflower.

Sitting down, I found the bench was rather poorly positioned, placed several yards back from the shoreline, and behind a screen of furs so that you could not see much of the lake at all. While the tree cover blocked my view of the larger body of water, a small pool near my seat remained visible. And there in the water I saw a curious thing. A sailboat, docked at the end of the pier, casting its reflection on the summer waves. The mast swirled and danced on the liquid currents, one moment appearing tall and solid as the water calmed, before immediately breaking apart into a thousand pieces like a cloud of fireflies. I sat there for a long time, mesmerized by the display. Unable to see the boat itself, I could only guess at its form and appearance based on the turgid brush strokes of a thousand wind tossed ripples.

This is in many ways a picture of my own experience with seeking to understand the nature of reality. And I suspect that this is true not just for myself, but for all of mankind.

As John Adams eloquently put it, “Facts are stubborn things, and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” Either the earth is a sphere or it isn’t. Either the Roman Empire ruled most of the known world 2,000 years ago, or it didn’t. It is no great logical jump to conclude that just as there are rigid truths about science and history, so too there are facts about religion and morality which are either unequivocally true, or else rubbish altogether.

Essential to the core of my being, I believe there exist spiritual truths which give structure and meaning to the universe. Contrary to the popular thought of our day, these can no more be ignored or cast off than the passage of time or the effects of gravity. We are all bound by them just as we are the natural laws which govern our physical world. It is for this reason that my life has been haunted, hounded by three small words: What is truth? And the question which follows immediately: Can it be known?

Unfortunately, God cannot be observed in a petri dish, or morality distilled in a beaker. If there is an absolute truth behind our existence it can only be discovered through the chemist’s lab of our own lives and experiences. Faith is the science of the soul.

To return to our image of the sailboat, truth is much like the mast of a ship. It is a firm, solid thing, resting at anchor beyond the veil of life. Yet our position is like a traveler gazing at its reflection on the water, who having never seen a ship before, must piece together what he observes in order to form some understanding of it.

Take three such individuals, seat them side by side, and their conclusions will be as different as their fingerprints. One believes the object he sees to lie beneath the waves, while another thinks it is a substance coating the water itself. Yet the third claims the ship not to exist at all, believing the image to be a trick of light and vapor. None of them might guess that what they see is an imperfect reflection of a vessel meant for traveling over the ocean, and that the sea itself is only a dark mirror. And that is the other problem. For not only would they be unable to agree on the shape of the sailing boat, they would be even more unable to understand the purpose of the thing.

They might none of them be right, but one way in which they would certainly all be wrong would be to conclude that each man’s definition was true as far as it concerned him. Truth is inflexible; it cannot be bent, only broken. A boat is a boat. We might wish it were a car, but that belief won’t take us very far when we try backing it out of the driveway.

Now suppose someone came along with real nautical knowledge, say a sailor, or better yet a shipwright. He sits down and patiently explains the working of the sails and rigging. He tells tales of his voyages over the deep.  Any man would be considered by most to be insane, or at least incredibly arrogant. To possess absolute knowledge of such a thing one would have to have come from beyond the stand of pines. That is to say he would need experiences which it seems this world, with its limited view, just does not offer. Yet perhaps some of the travelers on the bench would believe him, hearing a measure of truth in his words, seeing in the clearest of moments – when the waters are still – a picture of the truth he describes.

Of course, over time the bench would get pretty crowded. Others would arrive claiming to be sailors as well, each with his own explanations for the ghostly image on the waves. They build their own benches and as souls are won to the various sides we see the birth of all the religions of the world. One would expect them to have many things in common, drawing from the same inspiration, and so we find it. And some would naturally be nearer to the truth than others, though they could not all be equally true.

Eventually a town settles on the banks of the sea, growing in time to a thriving metropolis. Generations pass. Many forget entirely about the liquid legend which once formed the foundation of their whole society. Those who watch the water become little more than a laughing stock, wasting away their lives in pursuit of truths which can never be found.

The world moves on and the noise of the city grows, hiding from them all the final piece of evidence. Beyond the screen of trees, invisible from shore, the Captain paces the deck of his ship, calling out to those who will listen. Asking them to join him. Singing songs of the wind and sun, and an endless blue horizon.

A Spectacle of Love

It is never a good thing when septic tanks clog.

They are smelly, gross, unhygienic, and smelly. They are concentrated petri dishes of all diseases known to man (and probably a few we don’t). Thus, it was not happy news when my family received a distress call from friends down the road experiencing brown-box-backup-blowout.

Unfortunately, they were struggling financially and unable to pay for a plumber’s services. That’s why they called my dad.

In matters of wood, metal, and electricity, my father has always fit squarely into Home Depot’s target do-it-yourself audience, but even this was beyond his experience. So making no promises, he headed over to their house to have a look.

It was a long, ugly affair that involved more than an hour of digging to uncover the tank and determine the source of the blockage. To put it gently, the trouble was a large mass of the stuff usually responsible for clogging toilets. With his limited equipment Dad was not able to solve the problem from where he stood.

I will never forget what happened next, because in those moments I saw one of the greatest examples of the gospel I have ever known.

My father looked from the reeking mess in the pit to the family standing on the lawn; poor, helpless, and unable to do a thing about their dilemma.

He set his shovel aside, sat down, and slowly began to unlace his boots. Then he took off his shirt. I watched dumbstruck, as he swung his legs over the side and dropped down into the stinking morass. Up to his torso in scum, he reached bare handed into the drainage pipe and began digging, pulling out handful after handful of sticky, wet sewage.

Everyone else had to stand back, eyes watering and nostrils stinging with rancid fumes. Yet the tears in our neighbor’s eyes flowed for a different reason, standing mute at this spectacle of love.

After the ordeal was over, we burned Dad’s clothes, and he didn’t come out of the shower for about a week. While the stench has since washed away, the lesson that he taught me will remain forever.

I was reminded that day of another Man, long ago, whose love was so great that He stripped himself of glory and sank down, deep into the refuse and ruin of our lives. Who reached with bleeding hands into our hearts to pull out the death and decay there, that He might raise us up out of the pits of hell, and wash us clean.