A 2017 Pew research study found “Highly educated Americans…are less inclined than others to say they believe in God with absolute certainty”[i] So that got me thinking; does believing in God make me dumb? Or, more accurately, do I only believe in God because I’m dumb? As a writer for (insert a little bias) the best apologetics site on the net, I’ve seen a few Christian nay-sayers assert their opinions to the affirmative — “Yes”, they’d say, “all Christians are dumb.”
Rarely do these type of insults provoke me. I’m writing this with a Bachelor’s in Biblical and Theological Studies. Statistically, this places me in the top 33% of U.S. education. Hardly a stat worth boasting, but a point of reference to be sure. Before I speak more on education, let me first share a story about my son.
When my son was born he couldn’t do anything except breath and defecate himself. His mom and I had to clean, feed, and protect him. As he grew, he began to crawl, then walk, run, and even climb. But even as he championed one task, the next was fraught with failures he had to overcome. Stairs were the scariest as a parent. As he began conquering stairs, he always had an adult near him. I remember his confidence as he grew. He would walk up the stairs and never turn around. His eyes were fixed on the prize of climbing to the top unassisted.
Every once in a while he would stop and check his progress. He would turn and realize that we were right there with him. “I can do it on my own!” he’d shout angrily in childish gibberish. When he did we would take a few steps back. To my son, getting some personal space was the equivalent of complete separation. To us, it was nothing more than an acceptable compromise. The risk from too much space had to be weighed against the inevitable temper-tantrum over too little space.
We all do that.
My son wasn’t the only one. All my kids went through that phase. And not just them, this is a rite of passage everyone goes through at some point. I share it here because it wasn’t until I had children that I realized all the ways my parents were there for me—even when I thought I was doing things by myself. As a matter of fact, I didn’t realize how smart my parents were and how dumb I was until my thirties. In fact, the more I parented, the dumber I got.
At the beginning I mentioned my degree in Biblical & Theological Studies. I earned it while raising three kids and working two jobs.[ii] The more classes I took, the harder the subjects got, it seemed to me. But something else was happening too. The first time I had to write an eight page paper it took me the better part of two weeks. By my senior year, I was cranking out 15 pages twice a week. I was being conditioned, building on the skills I had developed in prior tasks.
And then what happened?
Just like my three year-old on the steps, eventually I was able to look at college and say, “I can do this on my own!”
As a result I made a huge blunder. I virtually dropped out of church, stopped reading my Bible, and gave up praying. Not out of rebellion, but out of confidence. I gave up learning about God to serve God (or so I thought). What I mean is, I still talked about Jesus to anyone who would listen. I knew that Jesus said, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”[iii]. I still volunteered at missions groups, helped inner-city kids, offered my tithes—I even did it with a cheerful heart, not reluctantly or out of compulsion (2 Cor 9:7). All because I knew the Scripture and I knew my marching orders.
If you had asked me during that period of time, I would have said I was doing God’s work. But deep down I knew that God was silent in my life. I shrugged it off believing that being an ambassador[iv] means living in a world apart from the one we live in, and that being apart or separated cuts both ways. In other words, I assumed that silence from God was to be expected.
But I soon found out that I was missing something critical.
Last month I shared some of the hardest times we’ve had as a family and explained the peace that surpassed the trouble. (You can read about it here). What I was missing is that God never left me to fend for myself. He had been there the whole time.
In the same way that my three year-old felt like he alone was the conquering the stairs, I thought I alone was conquering life. Seeing how God worked through and in the midst of my struggles enlightened me to the foolishness of my actions. And the more I realized this, the dumber I got.
Let me share one more story with you.
A while back someone challenged me to read 1 John every day for 30 days. This short book is only five chapters, a measly few hundred verses. Every day I learned something new… for about a week or so. Then the boredom set in. I began thinking—I’ve read this already. In the first four verses the author is tremendously concerned with reinforcing the eyewitness nature of his testimony. He really wants the reader to know that he has seen and heard and touched the manifestation of the Word of Life. I remember thinking–Okay, okay, you heard it and saw it and heard it and saw it and heard it and saw it; I get it, you were witnesses. Days 15 – 24 were hard. Boring. Redundant. Dare I say, unproductive.
But then, on day 25, something happened. I read a verse that struck me in a way I had never noticed. I had been reinvigorated! The last five days I read through the book with new energy, zeal, and excitement. What made all the difference for me? The moment I realized the purpose of the letter.
Where Atheism Misses the Mark
In that 30 day challenge, I continued the same pattern of my life. I spent the first few days learning, the next few days thinking I understood it, and the rest of my life thinking: How could I have been so dumb to miss it the first time? And that, my friends, is where atheism misses the mark. Atheism is built on the idea that everything has built itself up to this point. We’ve evolved ourselves into the thinking, rational beings we are today and have more than enough ability to do all of it on our own. But, in so doing, they fail to recognize the spiritual reality guiding and moving the world all around them.
Where Science Misses the Mark
That’s what happened with my 30 day study. I found myself focusing on each verse, trying to find a snippet that would change everything. This is how science misses the mark, in my opinion. Climatologists are singularly focused on climate, biologists are singularly focused on biology, historians are singularly focused on history. All are moving and weaving around and among each other, but none of them are concerned with the over-aching story; nor should they be.
The more I study Christianity, the more I see how intricate, how involved, how controlled, how tuned, how designed, how purposeful, how magnificent, how wonderful the world really is. The more I study Christianity, the more I realize how dumb I really am, especially in comparison to the Lord and His infinite knowledge. I only wish those who believe differently could see the splendor and beauty behind the narrow intelligence that has so singularly captured their focus.
The pattern I’ve characterized in this post is not at all unique! Reading through the Old Testament will reveal hundreds of years of the same pattern: Worship God, rebel, repent, repeat. Perhaps you find yourself in one of these phases of the pattern. If you know God, please be encouraged that our past does not define us. The sins that have cursed us to die have been paid for in full and you are adopted as sons and daughters.
If, however, you find yourself in the rebellious phase, understand the truth: You are loved, as a parent loves her child; as an artist loves his prized creation. If you seek only the world with all your human ability, you will still fall eternally short of the answers you seek. Will you let me share the answers with you?
[ii] There is no way I could’ve done it without the support of my wife. Rose, you are awesome!