Atheists claim that there is no proof of God’s existence. What they mean is that we cannot see God in the way that biologists can see microbes in the laboratory, or in the way that astronomers can see galaxies in outer space. God cannot be seen, either with a microscope or with a telescope.
Christians would agree that the existence of God cannot be demonstrated with the use of the scientific method. His existence, as “Spirit” (John 4:24), is beyond the scope of empirical observation. But Christians would respond to the atheists in two ways: 1) While physical evidence for the existence of God cannot be found in the realm of scientific observation, evidence of God’s existence can be found in the realm of historical testimony; and 2) The evidence of God’s existence that is accessible within history is always accompanied by the evidence of God’s purposes. In sacred history, God does not simply reveal that He is, but He also reveals what He does and why He does it.
As matters of history and not science, I know that the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth in 1620 and that Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address in 1863, not because I was there to see these events with my own eyes, but because trustworthy people who were there have passed on to me their testimony of what they saw. This is also the way a court of law works. The prosecution seeks to prove to a jury—by means of eyewitness testimony and other pertinent evidence—that the defendant committed a certain crime at a particular time in the past.
Also, as matters of history and not science, I know that Jesus of Nazareth identified Himself as the Son of God and that He died and rose from the dead, not because I was there to hear Him say and do these things, but because of the reliable testimony that comes to me in the pages of the New Testament. The apostle John is one of the chief witnesses to these truths. He bears witness in his Gospel to what he saw and heard.
After describing the details of Jesus’ death, John states: He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe (John 19:35). And in reference to what the risen Christ said and did in his presence, John also states: This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true (John 21:24). These are solemn and serious declarations, similar to the sworn testimony that would be offered in court. John knows that what he is saying is important and that Christians of all times and places will stake their faith on what he has written!
The basic message of the apostolic Gospel is not only that Jesus died and rose again, but also that Jesus died, rose again, and was seen alive by real historical people (1 Corinthians 15:4–8). This locates the truth of Christ—and of God in Christ—very definitely in the realm of historical knowledge, where we are accustomed to believing in the truth of one-time events that we have not physically seen ourselves, and not in the realm of scientific knowledge, with its standards of experimentation and repeatability.
These apostolic testimonies do not merely demonstrate the existence of God. They also demonstrate that God, in Christ, was reconciling the sinful world to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19). They show that God, through the sacrifice of Jesus, was taking away the sin of the world (John 1:29). And they prove that God, in His raising of Christ from the dead, thereby declared His acceptance of this sacrifice as a sufficient ransom for the salvation of us all (Romans 4:25).
Ultimately, however, we are not persuaded by the absolute truth of what John and the other apostles tell us about God and Christ merely on the basis of a rational evaluation of their testimony—as would be done by the members of a trial jury in their deliberations. We are persuaded in a supernatural way, by the Holy Spirit, that these events really happened—and that they happened for the sake of our salvation from sin and death. St. John quotes the Lord to say: “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me” (John 15:26).
Reverend David Jay Webber
Redeemer Lutheran Church