Help for the Helpless

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

Objection: Religious faith is just a crutch for weak and helpless people. Those smart enough to see and strong enough to face reality know there is no God.

A Spiritual Crutch?

One of the most persistent criticisms of Christianity during the last one hundred and fifty years has been that Christian faith, or for that matter, religious belief in general, is a fantasy for the support of weak people. It is a sort of emotional crutch that ignorant folk use to help them face life with all its fears and problems. But modern, rational men and women will recognize that belief in God is a primitive superstition that has finally been recognized as such, and outgrown.

This view, developed by the most influential secular thinkers of the last century, has come to be called “secular humanism.” For example, Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychiatry, believed that religion was a form of wishful thinking which the human race developed because people needed to believe in some sort of higher power to give meaning and hope to their lives. And Karl Marx’s famous statement was that “religion is the opiate of the people.” By this he meant both that the oppressed classes used religion as a sort of drug to escape from the miseries of a harsh existence, and that society’s authorities supported it to divert the attention of the poor from the injustice of their own lives.

Accompanying the criticism that religious faith is a fantasy fueled by the need to believe is the assumption that those in the know will discard it. One of the harshest critics of religious faith was the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who was convinced that religion, especially Christianity with its insistence on sin and humility, was the most harmful influence in human history. He thought that it, more than anything else, held the human race back from realizing its full potential. He summed up the need to discard religion once and for all with the stark assertion, “God is dead!”

Recently, I saw a T-shirt that comes closer to what I think is the truth. It had two quotations printed one above the other. The first said, “God is dead. – [signed] Nietzsche.” The second said, “Nietzsche is dead. – [signed] God.” God always has the last word.

Nevertheless, the common attitude of western society, especially in the media and the universities, seems to be that modern and intelligent people will recognize the truth that there is no God and that religious faith in general and Christianity in particular is a symptom of weakness, ignorance, and backwardness. Those who are truly smart and up to date will identify themselves as secular humanists who believe only in humanity and its potential and who live entirely for this life here on earth, because it’s the only life there is.

A Matter of Faith

Obviously this disagreement between secularists and Christians is a basic one. We cannot both be right. Either there is a God or there is not. If there is a God who has made himself known in Jesus Christ, then Christian belief, Christian commitment and Christian behavior all make sense. They are neither a crutch nor an invention. They are reality and truth. In fact, these things represent the only sensible way to live. But if there is not a God, then we Christians do appear to be pretty foolish. So who is right and who is wrong?

Before I try to answer that question, I want to make a very important point. One of the favorite tricks of modern skeptics is to say that Christians form their beliefs on the basis of faith (by which they mean a blind acceptance of things for which there is no proof), while they themselves are guided only by reason and evidence. This is simply untrue.

Everyone has to start with certain assumptions or presuppositions about life, things that cannot be proved by pure reason alone. Everyone believes in things that they cannot see, things they accept on faith. Everyone accepts the truth of things that they do not fully understand. Non-Christians are no different from Christians in this regard. It is as much a statement of faith to say that “the Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be” (the opening line of Cosmos, written by the agnostic astronomer Carl Sagan) as it is to confess “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.” You cannot finally and conclusively prove by reason that God does exist, but neither can you finally and conclusively prove that he does not. In the end, you have to weigh the evidence, think it through as carefully as you can and then believe – one way or the other.

Reasons for Believing

So why do I believe in God? Why do I believe he is more than just a projection of my own wishes or an invention made up to meet my needs? I believe in God in part because of the evidence for his existence that I see in the world around me. It just does not make sense to me that all of this complex world could have come into existence without a Creator. Especially when I consider human nature – our capacity for reason and thought, our sense of right and wrong, our creativity, our ability to love – it seems impossible to me that we are the result of nothing more than a random, chance process of evolution.

Whoever heard of order developing spontaneously out of disorder without any directing and controlling intelligence behind it? Ours is a world, noted G.K. Chesterton, where if you leave it alone, a white post will soon turn into a black post. It is our universal experience that things just left alone do not become more ordered and complex, but lapse into disorder. Does a symphony write itself out of randomly generated sounds? Does a house build itself when a pile of wood and stone is left alone for a long time? If several million letters were thrown together by chance, would the likely result be the Encyclopedia Britannica? If everything we make takes thought and energy and planning and work, how could we imagine that we ourselves, the makers, are the product of a mindless accident? It seems to me, as it does to the majority of people, that both reason and the evidence of our senses point to the existence of God.

How to Believe in God

But most of all, I believe in God because I have come to know him through Jesus Christ. You know, there is an even more important question than why to believe in God. The question is how to believe in him.

When the apostle Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians, he was addressing people very much like our modern-day secular humanists. The ancient Greeks were interested in and impressed by human wisdom. After all, they invented philosophy. Luke, the New Testament historian, was describing people like the Corinthians when he said they spent their time “doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas” (Acts 17:21). They loved language and debate, logic and rhetoric. They were particularly interested in the relationship between wisdom and power. Great orators and philosophers were the superstars of the Greek world, gathering fans and followers like some ancient version of pop musicians. The Greeks especially valued those who combined brilliant thought with powerful speaking and could excite and sway public opinion.

So Paul’s words to them in the opening chapters of 1 Corinthians come as a bombshell. “Where is the wise man?” he asks. “Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Cor. 1:20). His point is this: When it comes to the most important question of all, the question of how to know God, wisdom does not work. No one will ever come to know him through the pure exercise of reason. Research, study, philosophy, science: these things may uncover many secrets about the world, but by themselves they will never lead to God. In fact, they are dead ends, or even worse, they are paths that take us away from God, because if we rely only on them, they will produce a pride that engenders the skepticism that is so abundant in our world today.

Then how does one come to know God? God’s wisdom is very different from ours; so different, in fact, that to the proud and worldly it seems like foolishness, just as his power looks like weakness. God’s wisdom and power are both found in Jesus Christ: Christ is “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24). The way to come to know God is not through the cleverness of our thinking but by listening to a simple message – the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our preaching, to save those who believe.

(1 Corinthians 1:21)

I must admit, it does look a bit foolish. Here are all these philosophers and religious teachers trying to find God through their study and speculations, their research and their rituals, and yet God remains a mystery to them. But then millions of people, ranging from ignorant to brilliant, come to know God as a result of hearing the news about a man named Jesus who was crucified in the first century.

Christians are certainly not irrational or against reason. We value the mind. We respect good science and honest scholarship. Christians can be found among the intellectual leaders in every field of human inquiry. We make use of reason – indeed, I have been appealing to your reason all along. But the Bible says that human wisdom – the power of the unaided human intellect – is not able to discover God on its own. God has passed judgment on our wisdom. He has turned things upside down, making what seems wise foolish, and what appears to be foolish wise, “so that no one may boast before him” (1 Cor. 1:29).

You can understand why God would do this, can’t you? It would be intolerable if we had to find God on our own, because then knowing him would depend on how strong and smart we were. The geniuses of the world might discover him, and they would grow arrogant as a result, but where would that leave the rest of us? So God does not permit it. When it comes to knowing him, all of us – intelligent or backward, strong or weak, quick or slow – are in the same boat. None of us has any advantage; we must all come to God through faith in the message of the cross, by believing in Jesus Christ and his death for us.

So in a sense the critics are right, though not in the way they think. Christian faith really is a crutch for weak and helpless people. I am glad to admit I am one of them. I cannot find God on my own. I cannot save myself. I cannot make it by myself. I need him, his wisdom and power. I need Jesus Christ.

“Christianity has always been the religion of slaves,” said the French intellectual Simone Weil, “myself among them.” Are you too proud to say that? Maybe you are one of the critics I have been talking about. Perhaps you have all sorts of questions about God, or you doubt whether he is even real. I must tell you, you will not find the answers to your questions on your own. You can speculate all you want, you can spend a lifetime studying philosophy and world religions, but you will never come to know the true God until you meet him in the Crucified One, Jesus Christ. But if you will turn to Christ and honestly ask him to make God known to you, he will. The only thing you have to lose is your pride.