Summary: Three reasons to believe God is real, presented to people investigating the Christian faith.
One of the more creative movies to come out in the last few years was the Peter Wier film The Truman Show. The Truman Show is about a man named Truman Burbank--played by Jim Carey--who was adopted as a newborn by the OmniCam Corporation. The OmniCam corporation then created an entire city on a movie set and placed Truman in this artificial city called Seahaven without Truman knowing any of it was fake. The enormous studio of Seahaven is filled with 5,000 hidden cameras, as people across the world watch every step of Truman’s life live on television. Of course Truman goes through life in Seahaven thinking that everything and everyone around him are real.
The creator and director of the Truman Show is a messianic figure named Christof, played by Ed Harris. For 30 years Truman is perfectly happy and content in Seahaven, with its perfect sky, computer monitored climate control, a wife and best friend who are really actors, and so forth. Truman’s reality is has been meticulously manufactured and manipulated by Christof, yet it’s the only reality Truman knows. At least until a series of accidents start Truman questioning this reality, until finally he figures it out and walks off the set into the real world.
Some people think that belief in God is like Truman in The Truman Show. People believe in God, these critics claim, because that’s the only reality that they’ve been presented with. Like the movie set of Seahaven, organized religion has meticulously manufactured and manipulated circumstances to cause people to live in the illusion of God. These critics point out that there’s no denying that people who believe in God are real are happy and content, even as Truman was happy and content in his world. However behind the set, critics claim, doesn’t lie God, but merely human directors like Christof, who pull the right strings and orchestrate the right circumstances to make belief in God appear real.
You see, even though Truman was happy in Seahaven, he was also tragic because his happiness is based on something that’s not real. And critics of religion claim that people who believe in God are in the same boat; we’re tragic, pathetic figures, because our sense of happiness and meaning in life is no more real than the movie set of Seahaven. True liberation comes for us the way it came for Truman, to turn out back on our make-believe world and courageously venture into the real world, a world without organized religion pulling the strings, a world where God is rejected as a relic from the unenlightened past.
It was the 19th century German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach who in the first claimed that belief in God was a kind of wish fulfillment (McGrath 131-35). According to Feuerbach, we project all our hopes and desires onto an ideal person thereby creating God in our image. Feuerbach originated this idea, but Sigmund Freud popularized the idea to the rest of the world. So influential was Freud in disseminating this idea, that by the 1960s Time magazine was proclaiming the death of God. To use the language of The Truman Show, people in the 1960s proclaimed that soon everyone would realize Seahaven was only a set, and in mass we’d walk into the real world.
Yet God’s obituary in Time magazine was a bit premature, because it seems that God has outlived his critics. Despite all the work of Freud and others, 95% of the American population still believe that God exists (Gallup and Lindsay 25). According to George Gallup’s 1999 poll, interest in God and spirituality is on the rise, not declining (10).
Yet as we begin to ask what kind of God is it that exists, suddenly people are less sure. Some people envision God as impersonal, like the force in Star Wars. Others view God as a kind of benevolent Santa Claus, a God who has no higher goal than our happiness and success. Still others think God bears some resemblance to George Burns, or more recently to pop singer Alanis Morriset.
Today we begin a new series. We’re calling this series SIMPLY GOD, as we try to get to the bottom line of what kind of God it is that the Bible reveals. For the next several weeks we’re going to explore different aspects of God character. We’re going to try to do this with a minimum of jargon, mumbo jumbo, and fifty cent theological words. Just straight talk that presents the Bible’s teaching about God.
Today we’re going to look at the reality of God. How can we know that God is for real? What assurance do we have that this isn’t just collective wish fulfillment like Feurbach and Freud claimed? How do we know that the Christian faith isn’t just an elaborate set like Seahaven, with pastors like me pulling the strings and orchestrating circumstances to make it seem like God is for real? Today we’re going to find three reasons we can know that God is for real, that he’s not our wish fulfillment or an elaborate scheme being propagated by devious people like myself.