Brent emails a very simple question but a direct one: “Pastor John, do ever doubt the existence of God?”
The thought that God doesn’t exist enters my mind periodically. And when you are reading atheistic literature it is kind of put there. But what I would say is it doesn't get traction in my mind. It lands there. It sort of rumbles around. I ask it, ponder it, look at it. But by God’s merciful grace, it doesn’t hook.
It is not like a hook in a fish’s mouth. The hook floats in your mouth, but you just keep your mouth open and it goes out of your mouth instead of you biting down on it and it hooking you right in the jaw. It never has hooked me, and therefore, it never has destroyed me or undone my ministry.
Ultimate Truth in Tree Sap
Let me just describe my experience a little bit so that maybe the reader or listener will be able to handle his own doubts. I was walking to church one day having meditated on Romans 1 where it says, “what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them . . . in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:19-20). Paul says in Romans 1 that people do know God. They know God from the things that have been made. But they repress the knowledge.
"Doubts of God’s existence may flutter like a fish hook, but God’s world and his word call out to us not to bite."
So I was pondering, “Ok, if that is true, then John Piper knows God by the things that have been made.” And I looked at this tree right across the street from our church, right between the two big tall towers there. It is just an incredible, big, tall tree. And I just looked at it and I thought, sap has to get to the top of those branches, and there is no pump in that tree. There is no motor. How does that happen?
And then I thought about those limbs right now in March look as dead as a doornail. And in two months they are going to be waving and pulsating with green, beautifully-shaped, leafy life. How in the world does that happen? And I went on pondering this, and I thought: I cannot not believe in God. That is what I felt. I just felt I cannot not do it. I can’t do it. I can’t deny God. It is not as though I am trying hard to affirm God — I am just not able to deny him.
Lewis: Liar, Lunatic, or Lord
And then another reason I think I’m not hooked by thoughts of God’s non-existence is that when I look at Jesus, when I read the Gospels, and when I find Jesus talking and acting, I recognize C.S. Lewis’ observation: this guy is an absolute deceiver and liar, or this guy is a lunatic, or this guy is the Son of God. And God worked in my heart such that, when I look at Jesus as he is presented in the gospels, I am just emotionally not able to call him a liar. I am not able to call him a lunatic. I have to bow and say, “You are God. You know God and you represent God and you embody God.”
And though I have never heard anyone unpack this the way I feel it, I feel the same way about the apostle Paul. I have never heard anybody say, “Liar, lunatic, or faithful representative.” But that is the way I feel. I read Paul, all 13 letters, and I love the man. I trust the man. I admire the man. I reverence the man.
And I cannot bring myself to say he is a knucklehead, “He was swept away by some kind of experience that was unreal.” He is just too rational. He is too reasonable. He is too loving. He is too caring. He is too authentic. The man can’t be the kind of idiot he would have to be if he was putting forth a mythological system of salvation that had no bearing or roots in reality.
So God has used trees and galaxies and Jesus and Paul, and I haven’t by grace had to take those things and say, “Oh, oh, please cause God to be real in my life.” I simply have not been able to escape his reality.