What Stands in the Way of Belief?
We are often asked, “If Christianity has so much evidence behind it, then why don’t more people believe it?” Our answer: although we believe the evidence we’re about to present shows that the Bible is true beyond reasonable doubt, no amount of evidence can compel anyone to believe it. Belief requires assent not only of the mind, but also of the will. While many non-Christians have honest intellectual questions, we have found that many more seem to have a volitional resistance to Christianity. In other words, it’s not that they don’t have evidence to believe, it’s that they don’t want to believe. The great atheist, Friedrich Nietzsche, exemplified this type of person. He wrote, “If one were to prove this God of the Christians to us, we should be even less able to believe in him”1and “It is our preference that decides against Christianity, not arguments.”2 Obviously, Nietzsche’s disbelief was based on his will, not just his intellect.
At this point a skeptic might reverse the argument by claiming that it’s the Christian who simply wants to believe. True, many Christians believe only because they want to and cannot justify their belief with evidence. They simply have faith that the Bible is true. And merely wanting something to be true doesn’t make it so. However, what we are saying is that many non-Christians do the same thing: they take a “blind leap of faith” that their non-Christian beliefs are true simply because they want them to be true.
The skeptic might then ask, “But why would anyone want Christianity to be false? Why would anyone not want the free gift of forgiveness?” Good question, but we think the answer lies in the volitional factors we touched on earlier. Namely, many believe that accepting the truth of Christianity would require them to change their thinking, friends, priorities, lifestyle, or morals, so they are not quite willing to give up control over their lives in order to make those changes. They believe that life would be easier and more fun without such changes. Perhaps they realize that while Christianity is all about forgiveness, it’s also about denying yourself and carrying your cross. Indeed, Christianity is free, but it can cost you your life.
Love, by definition, must be freely given. It cannot be coerced.
There’s a difference between proving a proposition and accepting a proposition. We might be able to prove Christianity is true beyond reasonable doubt, but only you can choose to accept it. Please consider this question to see if you are open to acceptance: if someone could provide reasonable answers to the most significant questions and objections you have about Christianity—reasonable to the point that Christianity seems true beyond a reasonable doubt—would you then become a Christian? Think about that for a moment. If your honest answer is no, then your resistance to Christianity is emotional or volitional, not merely intellectual. No amount of evidence will convince you because evidence is not what’s in your way—you are. In the end, only you know if you are truly open to the evidence for Christianity.
Love Must Be Freely Given
One beauty of God’s creation is this: if you’re not willing to accept Christianity, then you’re free to reject it. This freedom to make choices—even the freedom to reject truth—is what makes us moral creatures and enables each of us to choose our ultimate destiny. This really hits at the heart of why we exist at all, and why God might not be as overt in revealing himself to us as some would like. For if the Bible is true, then God has provided each of us with the opportunity to make an eternal choice to either accept him or reject him. And in order to ensure that our choice is truly free, he puts us in an environment that is filled with evidence of his existence, but without his direct presence—a presence so powerful that it could overwhelm our freedom and thus negate our ability to reject him. In other words, God has provided enough evidence in this life to convince anyone willing to believe, yet he has also left some ambiguity so as not to compel the unwilling.
In this way, God gives us the opportunity either to love him or to reject him without violating our freedom. In fact, the purpose of this life is to make that choice freely and without coercion. For love, by definition, must be freely given. It cannot be coerced. That’s why C. S. Lewis wrote, “The Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of [God’s] scheme forbids him to use. Merely to override a human will (as his felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo.”3
- From Friedrich Nietzsche, The AntiChrist, section 47, quoted in Walter Kaufmann, The Portable Nietzsche (New York: Viking, 1968), 627.
- Quoted in Os Guinness, Time for Truth (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2000), 114.
- C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (Westwood, N.J.: Barbour, 1961), 46..
This article is adapted from I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek.
We should admit up front that there are some decent reasons a person might have for being an atheist.
When I began earnestly addressing my questions about the plausibility of Christianity, I often found myself disappointed when I found answers.
In the midst of storms in your life, have you forgotten who Jesus is?
When it looks like we’re facing defeat or failure, we’re often tempted to take things into our own hands.