Summary: Faith is a decision, and a more reasonable decision than unbelief.
I have always been amazed that some astronomers gazing into the vast universe find it impossible to believe in God. After all, they more than anyone else understand the vastness of space and the intricate balance that keeps it all in place. Likewise, I never could understand why scientists gazing in the microcosm — staring into the world of the infinitesimal — can avoid seeing the hand of God. How could an ordinary scientist, who understands the complex laws which govern our world, and the delicate and well-maintained order of all things, not accept that these designs are created by a Designer of the cosmos? How could anyone who sees a newborn child, who comes equipped with sight, hearing, the sensation of touch, skeletal system, circulatory system, respiratory system, a brain and much more, all of which is completely integrated to work as a whole, not believe that this was a purposeful act of the Creator rather than an accident of chance — even over the course of billions of years? It would be like saying a group of monkeys pounding on computer keyboards could write the complete works of Shakespeare, given enough time. How could anyone take a simple walk in the woods, with all of the wonder and order of creation, and not lift their heart in praise to God? For me, this kind of unbelief takes much more faith than believing in God and what his Word says about him creating the world and all that is in it. But unbelief is a stubborn thing. It has to be, because it is a denial of the obvious.
Furthermore, how can you live through each day and not believe in the meaning and purpose of life? How can you believe that your body is simply a machine made by chance in an empty universe, so that there is no purpose for your life? How could you believe that there really is no love, only a combination of chemicals which affect the brain to make it seem like love? And, more than that, there are those who say that you are controlled by those chemicals which work on the brain, and therefore you are predetermined to act the way you do — for good or ill. And so, you are not responsible for your behavior. We are merely flesh machines living on a planet which is itself a vast machine, and that all there is, is the material universe. How different this is from the Christian faith that says that our ordered world was created, not just by an impersonal force — an unknown Designer at work in the universe, but a personal God who created the world in love — a God who can be known and experienced.
I talked again this week with my friend Kim who has inoperable pancreatic cancer. She talked about how difficult it was for her and her young family, but she said, “I don’t understand how people can go through something like this without the Lord.” We talked about how meaningless life would be, and how impossible it would be without God in your life in the face of suffering and death. We talked about how Jesus can redeem even our suffering. Without him there is only despair.
Woody Allen, a notorious atheist, once confessed in an interview, “It’s hard for me to enjoy anything because I’m aware how transient things are... Yes, there are times when you think, ‘My God, life is sweet, it’s nice,’ and thoughts of mortality are in abeyance. You know, watching the Marx Brothers or a Knicks game or listening to great jazz, you get a great feeling of ecstasy... But then it passes, and the dark reality of life starts to creep back in.” That’s the way life is for those who do not believe in a personal God who created the universe in love. It answers Kim’s question.
I say all this as a backdrop to our scripture today. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day are full of unbelief and in denial of the obvious. They steadfastly refused to believe in him no matter how much evidence there was. They ask Jesus: “By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this authority?” They denied that he was from God, much less that he was God. Jesus then said, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism — where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or from men?” It was a brilliant maneuver, because John had said that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, and that he was the Lamb of God who had come to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29-34). What more authority could you have? If they believed that John’s ministry and words were from heaven, there would be no question about his authority. But they did not.