Choosing Not to Believe
This BreakPoint commentary was published March 30, 2001.
Theologian Lynn Anderson remembers the time a brilliant novelist came to the small Canadian town where he lived as a boy. One day, as he visited with Anderson's family, the writer asked Lynn, "Do you really believe the Bible's true? Babies born from virgins, dead people coming out of the cemetery?"
"Yes," Lynn answered, "that's what I believe."
The writer responded, "I'd give anything to believe that because...the only people who really seem to be [happy] are the people who say they believe what you believe. But I just can't believe because my head keeps getting in the way!"
It's an argument I've heard myself many times. But as Anderson told former journalist Lee Strobel, quite often, it's not that people can't believe in God; it's that they won't.
In his new book, The Case for Faith, Strobel asks Anderson to explain what he means. "I started thinking about what [the novelist] would lose if he followed Jesus," Anderson says. For instance, "he was part of a guild of brilliant writers who all think religion is a total crock. I really believe his professional pride and the rejection of his peers would have been too high a price for him to pay."
Unfortunately, the writer isn't alone. Anderson says he once counseled a wealthy man who slept with every woman in town; yet, he was miserable. "You've got to help me," the man told Anderson, "but don't give me any of that God talk because I can't believe that stuff."
Anderson told the man his problem was not that he could not believe, but rather that he was afraid to give up all the money -- some of it made dishonestly -- and all the women. The man reluctantly agreed.
Another acquaintance threw all kinds of intellectual arguments at him, Anderson recalls. But, Anderson says, "It turned out he didn't want to believe in God because he didn't want to sell his topless bar. The money was too good and he was having too much fun making it."
"When you scratch below the surface," Anderson concludes, "there's either a will to believe or there's a will not to believe." Scripture backs up this idea. Abraham is called the "father of faith," not because he never doubted, but because he never gave up on God. Joshua said, "Choose this day whom you will serve" [Joshua 24:15].
"Faith, at its taproot," Anderson adds, "is a decision of the will." It is, indeed.
Mortimer Adler, one of the great intellectuals of the twentieth century, said he would like to become a Christian, but it would mean changes in his life that were too great to make. He later overcame those reservations, however, and became a committed believer.
Journalist Malcolm Muggeridge, who came to faith late in life, might be called the patron saint of doubters. As a young man, he once predicted his epitaph would read: "Here lieth one whose soul sometimes burned with great longings. To whom sometimes the curtain of the Infinite was opened just a little, but who lacked the guts to make any use of it." Well, Muggeridge went on to become a devout Christian.
If you have a friend who says he just can't get beyond the "intellectual objections" to faith in God, dig a little deeper. Try to find out what's really stopping him. Then, lovingly show him it's not the mind that's holding faith hostage, but the heart.
And then, pray that, like Malcolm Muggeridge, he'll finally have the guts to act on it.
If you have not ordered your copy of The Faith, now would be a good time to do so. Read it with some friends so that, together, you can gain a fuller understanding of what it means to follow Jesus in every area of life, including finances and politics. You can order your copy by clicking here for our online store.