This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.
Hi Dr. Craig.
I'll try and make this brief. In my own search for truth, I find that the evidence for God and Christianity that you (and other apologists) present seems very cogent, well-structured, and intelligent. After many months of watching your debates and videos on youtube, and reading your various works, (comparing them with many others of many worldviews) – to me, I have come to conclude the evidence that Christianity is true makes the most sense of any other world view, scientifically, historically, and morally. That being the case, I figured I would take your advice and try reading a copy of the New Testament for myself; to put it to the test and to see if I could find God in there for myself, but after a long time of looking and praying, I have run into a speed bump.
You have mentioned numerous times in your own personal testimony that you at one point after reading the stories of Jesus as a teenager, cried out to God and then came to know him, and you claim that God can be experienced and you experience him. The thing that keeps me in the most doubt of the truth of Christianity is that I am not sure that I have ever experienced God, despite myself crying out to him to ask him if he is there, or that the scriptures are true. I still find myself rather unsure that I can put my complete trust in a Jesus that is so silent to me, and hasn't granted me such an experience as you and many other Christians claim to have had. It says John 14:13 "Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son." Does this not include asking him for faith, or for some kind of proof or assurance that he is truly there? (and I don't mean a sign like a burning chariot in the sky, because my senses could deceive me anyway)
If Jesus is for real, I would love to give my life to him and serve and please him. He seems awesome, and the messages he preached ring so true to what I think about right and wrong, but if I am gonna dedicate my life to something, I better be ABSOLUTELY sure that it is the truth.
Please, if you can, tell me how can I experience God in my life the way you and so many Christians claim to have done. I suppose the simplest way I can put my problem is this: that I trust gravity to work because I experience it personally, daily in my life. I trust my family because I experience their love personally, every day in my life. How though, can I place my trust and hope for life beyond death and ultimate purpose and meaning, with someone I have never experienced? Your major arguments are great, and the bible is great, but I feel like I need that same kind of personal experience to ultimately believe. Since God (if he is there) has been so silent despite my seeking, am I missing something? I confessed my sins to him. I have tried to walk in his way. What do you think I should do? Thank you.
Dr. William Lane Craig's Response
I greatly admire your resoluteness in seeking God, Joe. Although your question really requires a face-to-face conversation in order to understand all that you’re going through, I’ll try to be as helpful as I can in this response.
I gather that you know something of my own personal struggle to find God. I sympathize very much with your struggle to bridge the gap between the head and the heart, to find experientially what you believe intellectually to be true. One verse of Scripture that was a comfort to me during that time of my own life was: “We must through much tribulation enter into the Kingdom of God” (Acts 14.22). As a sincere seeker after God, you should claim and cling to Jesus’ promise, “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Luke 11.9-10).
One mistake you seem to be making is demanding an experience of God prior to making a commitment to Him. Jesus’ promise that you quote in John 14.13 is, unlike his promise to seekers, given to disciples, not to outsiders. He never promises to give “some kind of proof or assurance that he is truly there.” Think of doubting Thomas. When Jesus appeared to him, Jesus said, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (John 20.29). Thomas should have believed on the basis of the apostolic testimony to Jesus’ resurrection. Similarly, we have that same testimony (not to mention the testimony of the Holy Spirit) and should believe on that basis.
Moreover, you’re really setting yourself up for a fall when you demand that that experience be indubitable: “if I am gonna dedicate my life to something, I better be ABSOLUTELY sure that it is the truth.” I should say quite to the contrary! If you find yourself lost in the mountains and see that a terrible snowstorm is brewing, you will not demand absolute certainty if you meet a hiker who points you to the path which he claims will lead you to safety. Given your desperate situation, you’re not in a position to demand absolute certainty that he has pointed you to the true path. When I was searching for God, it occurred to me that even if the odds of Christianity’s being true were one in a million, it was worth believing because of the great reward that was at stake.
There seems to be a confusion in your demand for an experience of God, Joe. Are you asking for an experience as a way of knowing that Christianity is true, so that you can make a commitment? Then, as I’ve explained, that’s inappropriate and unnecessary. Ask yourself: Do I, or do I not, believe that Christianity is true? If you think that Christianity is true, then no further experience is needed to attest to its truth. You can make a commitment to Christ on the basis of what you know to be true (even if not with absolute certainty).
Or is it that you are frustrated because, having come to believe intellectually, you want it to be real in your experience as well? That’s a very different kettle of fish! Here is where we really need to have a personal conversation, Joe, to find out exactly what steps you have taken in order to find God. You’ve obviously read the New Testament. Excellent! How have you followed up on what you discovered there? You say, “I confessed my sins to him. I have tried to walk in his way.” Confessing your sins is a good first step. But it sounds as if you’re then trying to live out the Christian life. That’s putting the cart before the horse, Joe. Before we can live the Christian life, we need to be, as Jesus put it, “born again” (John 3.1-15). In our sinful state of alienation from God, we are spiritually dead. We’re like a cell phone with a dead battery. God’s signals are all around us, but we can’t receive them because we’re dead, spiritually speaking. We need to be recharged, or better, given a brand new battery. How does that happen? By receiving the Holy Spirit, who indwells us and regenerates us, bringing new spiritual life and restoring our relationship with God. Because the Holy Spirit acts in Christ’s place, we often speak of this as “receiving Christ.”
So the question, then, Joe, is: have you been born again? You might say, how can I know? Well, let me put it this way: have you, in addition to confessing your sins, committed your life to Christ as your Savior and Lord? To commit your life to him as your Savior means that you are not trusting in your own goodness or efforts to save you but trusting entirely in his substitutionary sacrifice for you on the cross as the basis for your pardon. To commit your life to him as Lord means to acknowledge him to be God and the Master of your life and destiny. If you haven’t made such a commitment, then that’s what you need to do before you can have an experience of Christ.
To help you to take that step, I’ll offer a sample prayer that I’ve often used in helping a seeker make such a commitment of his life. The words have no special magic; it’s the attitude of your heart which counts.
God, I really need you. I recognize that I’ve made a mess of my life and that I’ve sinned against you in thought, word, and deed. I believe that you sent Christ into the world to take away my sin through his death on the cross and that you raised him from the dead. So now, in the best way I know how, I commit my life to him as my Savior and Lord. Come into my life, forgive my sin, transform my life, and make me into the kind of person you want me to be. Thank you for hearing this prayer.
Now you might pray this prayer, Joe, and feel no differently afterwards. So where’s the experience of God? Be patient. We’re all different emotionally and psychologically. Our faith in Christ is based on the facts, not on our feelings. Some people have an experience when they make their commitment. For others I’ve known, that experience didn’t come until their baptism in obedience to Christ’s command. For others it may come in worship or prayer. Focus on God and leave the feelings to him. Indeed, to focus on having an experience instead of on God is a subtle form of idolatry, putting our experience of God ahead of God Himself. The genuineness of our commitment is shown most clearly when we persevere despite our lack of experience of God.
Still there are spiritual disciplines in which you should engage as a disciple of Christ which will help to foster your walk with Christ:
- Regular times of prayer
- Regular Bible reading
- Immediate confession of known sin
- Church attendance and meaningful corporate worship
- Service within such a church body
- Sharing your faith with non-believers
Again, I want to emphasize, Joe, that these disciplines are primarily for a person who has already made a commitment to Christ, not as a means becoming a Christian.
I pray that my words may be of some help to you, Joe, and that you may come to know Christ personally as Savior and Lord.
This Q&A and other resources are available on Dr. William Lane Craig's website.