Wednesday, June 4, 2008


Lately, not particularly by looking for them, I have come across several arguments for the existence of God aimed at atheists. They’re all interesting, but each of them just leaves me cold.

For me, and I think I can say for the Orthodox, it comes down to this: whether one has or has not encountered (either “historically” or “mystically”) the Risen Jesus. For the person who has not, I’ve yet to see any logical argument or set of syllogisms that would compel him to believe (or even come very close). For those who have, though, belief is no longer optional; it is the only sane response.

The risen Lord, St. Paul writes, “showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3)

Forty whole days. Of group hallucinations? But the thing about it is, very often the people who saw Him did not at first recognize Him. And that pretty well rules out hallucinations, because if your mind makes it up, it makes you see the person as you would expect him to look. Come to think of it, that may be why Christ, in His wisdom, did not allow His followers to recognize Him immediately.

St. Paul reminds the Corinthians of the foundation of the Gospel:

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. (I Corinthians 15:3-8)

Thomas, the disciple who wasn’t present the first time the risen Jesus appeared to the others, saw Him the next time, and actually put his finger in the nail holes, and his hand in the wound in Jesus’ side. (John 20:24-31)

How could any of these people have doubted this Man who had died was alive again? Would not such doubt have been totally irrational? Or should they deny their own experience?

So once you experience Jesus as alive, you conclude He is the best One from whom to learn spiritual things. So you believe in God. In fact, you believe He is God, as He claims to be.

Now the chief treasure of the Holy Orthodox Church, the precious mystery jealously guarded, hedged about by her creed and dogma, hidden and waiting to be found in her practice, and handed down from generation to generation, from the Apostles to us, is nothing less than a participation in their very own, on-going relationship with the risen Lord Jesus. As St. John says,

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life -- the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us -- that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have communion with us; and truly our communion is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full. (I John 1:1-4, emphasis mine)

In the bosom of Holy Mother Church, we ourselves meet the living Christ no less than His first followers did. And in the context of our lived relationship with this living Person, for us disbelief would simply be madness.



Dixie said...

One of the reasons I think these kinds of "proofs" are so popular is the whole protestant approach to "missions". Mission is more about telling and less or not at all about showing.

I have written before about my sister-in-law who ran into a neighbor at the grocery store. They both exchanged the news that they had been on a mission trip recently. My sister-in-law (a Roman Catholic) told her neighbor how she worked at an orphanage in Jamaica with severely disabled children and adults...the rejects of society. No electricity, no hot running water. They all participated together in the prayer and worship life of the community. Her neighbor (a Baptist) told her about her trip through Europe on an air conditioned bus with a DVD player. Each night they would hold tent revivals and she "saved" over 300 people.

It's a whole different mindset...the intellectualized argument verses an ontological reality and experience.

But...don't get me wrong. I don't want to discredit the protestants for working so hard at the way they know to work. We have a lovely young Russian mother in our parish who got her first Bible in Russia from protestants. The point is, as in everything Orthodox, there is more than just intellect involved.

So...the coldness you feel is like light without heat.

Anonymous said...

Agreed, but remember that the living encounter may not even be sought after or entertained as a possibility for many unless the intellectual arguments against it have been at least somewhat dispelled. As in Chris' remark the other day about C.S. Lewis and his writing, if that's what it takes to get someone to pause in their wrong thinking long enough to see the POSSIBILITY of something else, and perhaps even the LOGIC of something else exisiting, then it is a seed planted for God to water. That's how it happened for me. I was not met on the road to Damascus and did not encountere a burning bush, and few of us are that lucky. It's when someone or something is able to turn down the other noises in our heads that we might hear Jesus knocking and start thinking about opening the door and meeting Him there.

Dixie said...

Good point. There is no one size fits all approach to the way the Holy Spirit grabs our attention. The intellectual approach certainly played no small role in my journey to Orthodoxy.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...


And then there's this important point from Bishop Kallistos, in The Orthodox Way:

A distinction, however, needs here to be made between ‘experience’ and ‘experiences’. Direct experience can exist without necessarily being accompanied by specific experiences. There are indeed many who have come to believe in God because of some voice or vision, such as St. Paul received on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9). There are many others, however, who have never undergone particular experi¬ences of this type, but why can yet affirm that, present throughout their life as a whole, there is a total experience of the living God, a conviction existing on a level more fundamental than all their doubts. Even though they cannot point to a precise place or moment in the way that St. Augustine, Pascal or Wesley could, they can claim with confidence: I know God personally.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anastasia!

Regarding your comment (copied and pasted below this message):

I've often thought about the distinction in 2-D paintings between figure and ground. It seems to me that some people tend to know the Lord more as figure, and others know Him more as ground. Not that it's cut-and-dried. What do you think?


Your comment:
There are indeed many who have come to believe in God because of some voice or vision, such as St. Paul received on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9). There are many others, however, who have never undergone particular experi¬ences of this type, but why can yet affirm that, present throughout their life as a whole, there is a total experience of the living God, a conviction existing on a level more fundamental than all their doubts. Even though they cannot point to a precise place or moment

Anonymous said...

Samuel Skinner
Personally I view as a case of where the author didn't think out what they where writing. Why? Because if you look at the world today, people swarm around self described prophets and holy men. Our sources about classical times show they exhibited the same behavior.

Given that, any actual miracle worker would have been inundated with people all across the empire. The people of Roman times may have been a little less... humane, but they were no less human. I mean, if you have a man who brings back the dead... you could get your kids back. You husband, your wife, your parents... it would be worth it to travel across the empire just for that chance.

You don't see that. People don't react the way they would if Jesus performed the miracles he is supposed to.

Yeah, logical incongruity is one of the reasons I am an atheist.

Anonymous said...

Logical incongruity, anonymous atheist? The fact is that people DID swarm from everywhere to see Jesus and experience his miracles first hand. This is recounted numerous times in the Gospels. And this was not "the world today". It isn't as if there was internet or television to spread the stories quickly, and His ministry only lasted three years. It took months, if not years, for news to travel very far. Yet he fed 5000 MEN (they weren't counting women and children) in one miracle, and in another story he had to get in a boat out in the water to escape the huge throngs of people there to see Him. I find nothing incongruous about this.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Thank you, Samuel, for your comment. I wonder if you'd kindly gratify my curiosity by also posting a response to my earlier post, "Try This on for Size" found at .

Also, another blogger earlier this week wrote in her blog that the atheists with whom she has spoken say one of their main complaints against "God" as they understand that word, is that He is so MEAN! Do you agree with that?

Anonymous said...

Samuel Skinner
And yet noone bothered to write down what happen except his disciples...

Seriously- you think, I don't know... raising the dead in Jerusalem wouldn't have attracted attention?

According to the Gospel of Matthew, after Jesus's resurrection, many of the dead saints came out of their tombs and entered Jerusalem, where they appeared to many.

Nothing was ever heard from them again. No mention, no record, nothing. Seriously- makes no sense unless it is false.

I don't care if God is evil or mean- only if he exists.

If he exists and is mean you get this