Objective Evidence For Subjective Experience
What objective evidence is there for my subjective experience of God? Does that evidence support and validate my experience? This is not about winning an argument, but rather to demonstrate that what I call my Christian experience has objective evidence to support and validate it. If this is so, then my experience should be taken seriously by other people. As Kenneson has said, “If what Christians believe is not objectively true, then on what basis could they possibly commend it to others?”
In an age when there are apparently absolutely no absolutes, one could be forgiven for being confused by the plethora of differing Christian opinions with regard to truth and reality. For example, Kenneson tells us: “I don’t believe in objective truth or relativism. Moreover, I don’t want you to believe in objective truth or relativism either, because the first concept is corrupting the church and its witness to the world, while tilting at the second is wasting the precious time and energy of a lot of Christians.”
Is there something absolute that we can believe in, or is experience all there is? Every human being has their own personal experiences of truth and reality, which are real to them; but the important question is whether those experiences are valid, and validated by other witnesses. If, as Lewis contends, “experience by itself proves nothing”, then experience which is supported and validated by objective evidence is of great value, and is worthy of serious investigation and consideration.
Little says “For me to speak of my own faith in Jesus Christ is one thing, but to present the evidence which underpins my faith is quite another; since faith is only as valid as the object in which it is placed.” Likewise, faith in a person is only as valid as the person in which it is placed. He says too, “Testing the reliability of objects of faith is rational and certainly advisable.”
Testing the objective evidence for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is therefore advisable, if I am to assert my faith in the risen Christ. I believe that an honest and open-minded investigation of the authenticity of Jesus Christ will surprise and transform the serious enquirer, as Morrison demonstrated in his book “Who Moved The Stone”.
Little asserts that his faith is real and is solidly based on objective evidence which supports and validates his faith. “I now offer the objective evidence that validates and supports my experience, since religious assertions incapable of being tested objectively are meaningless.” One such religious assertion is the resurrection from the dead of Jesus Christ.
The laws of nature may well appear to preclude the possibility of someone rising from the dead, and that is why there are so many alternative explanations of Jesus’ resurrection, such as the swooning theory, the stolen body theory, and so on. Yet the very existence of the laws of nature themselves is a demonstration of the fact that a higher authority has put those laws in place. The existence of the laws requires the existence of a source which brought the laws into being.
As Lewis has argued: “In the whole history of the universe the laws of nature have never produced a single event. They are the pattern to which every event must conform, provided only that it can be induced to happen. The laws are the pattern to which events conform: the source of events must be sought elsewhere.”
If the resurrection is not true, then grave questions need to be asked! The Christian faith rests and relies on the person of Jesus, his life and death, and on one supreme fact of God’s work in Jesus – the resurrection from the dead. These are at the heart of Christianity for me, and also for Sire: “I believe that the best reason for believing that Christianity is true is Jesus, and the best reason for Jesus is Jesus himself. The Gospels – the narrative of Jesus’ life, teaching, crucifixion and resurrection – are the best proof for the truth of the Christian faith.”
The resurrection life of Jesus, and the new life experienced by those who become Christians and thereby enter into relationship with God, is a new quality of life – it is not merely life after death. The resurrection narratives are not a picture of survival after death; they record how a totally new mode of being has arisen in the universe as Lewis describes in “God in The Dock”.
We need to distinguish between the resurrection itself and theologies of the resurrection. The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this are another matter. The objective evidence for the resurrection is concerned with the fact that it actually did happen, and not so much with what it achieved and how. According to Lewis, theories about Christ’s death are not Christianity: they are explanations about how Christianity works.
The overwhelming objective evidence for the resurrection of Jesus provides the foundation upon which the new life of the Christian is based. The old life is coming to an end, and the new life has already begun. The Creator has re-created.
If God is the Re-Creator and I am his new creation, then characteristics of the Re-Creator should be evident in the new creation. Christianity is about making things new. New relationships with our Creator and Re-Creator, and new relationships with other people who are similarly re-created.
A Christian is one who has God for his Father. But cannot this be said of every human being, Christian or not? Emphatically no! The idea that all people are children of God is not found in the Bible anywhere. According to Packer, “Sonship to God is a supernatural gift which one receives through receiving Jesus.”
If I am truly adopted into the family of my Father in heaven, then the characteristics of my Father in heaven should be found in me. This is not about mere observed behavioural patterns, but the actual character of the person of God growing up in the life of another person. In this case, me.
Here, then, is a unique aspect of the Christian faith which no religion on earth can claim: Anyone in any place and at any time who becomes a Christian since the resurrection of Jesus, comes into direct relationship with the founder of the faith – even Jesus Christ himself. The characteristics of the Father in heaven that were displayed in his Son Jesus will now be increasingly displayed in those human beings who become related to Jesus by new birth.
In this context, McDowell has written in “Evidence That Demands A Verdict” of ‘If … then’ statements, and I would like to develop them a little further. If God became man in his Son, then we would expect to see the family likeness in his Son. Further, if the life of Christ is growing up in the life of Christians, then we would expect to see the family likeness in those Christians.
God’s creativity working in the re-creation of people should produce creativity in them, which is expressed through them. Human creativity is a reflection of divine creativity and, according to Warner, to express our creativity is itself a form of worship before our creative God. Therefore, would the real church please stand up
Winners have stickability, losers are soon forgotten. Jesus of Nazareth is still a world figure two thousand years on. The Bible is still a world best seller two thousand years on. The Christian church is still going strong two thousand years on. If we do not recognise this reality, perhaps our definition of winners is inadequate.
If the Christian were a rarity in the world, one could legitimately question the reality of Christianity. There are, however, very many millions of Christians in our world today, and they are collectively known as Christ’s Church. Whatever else may be said about the Church, it contains a great variety of people!
But the Church is no mere institution, even though it may be seen as that; it is the visible representation of Jesus Christ on earth. The church is the plausibility structure of the Christian life world. As Hollinger declares, “What it means to be a Christian is inseparable from what it means to be the church.”
In truth, blood is thicker than water. The blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross has brought all who trust him into an eternal family relationship with their Father in heaven and therefore with one another. This family of Christians is here on earth for a reason, and McDowell says that Christianity fails if it is not applicable to life on this earth.
Christ’s church is God’s way of manifesting on earth what the world wants, but can never get without God: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control, which are the fruit of a relationship with God through Jesus. Such fruit characterised Jesus, and should characterise the Christian. This is about Christians being the body of Christ together, and not being in competition with one another. This is not about status, but relationship to God and to one another.
Jesus’ lack of the kind of human status that was looked for in a Messiah, and his total lack of need or desire for human status allowed him to be completely honest about who and what he was. He did not put himself down, nor did he claim for himself a high position of status. This lack of claimed status and presence of open honesty should likewise characterise the Christian.
There was no pride in Jesus, there ought to be no pride in the Christian. Pride is essentially competitive – is competitive by its very nature as Lewis points out – but the body of Christ is just that: A body which cannot fully function if its members are competitive.
Just as the human body grows and develops, so should the process of growth and development be evident in the life of a Christian, and it should be manifestly evident in the combined life of a Christian Community, the body of Christ. The church of Jesus Christ should be growing stronger.
The observer of human anatomy may marvel at the design of the human body, but the doctor and the surgeon who have intimate knowledge of the body know something that is plain to every honest enquirer: There is remarkable design complexity in the human body. Remarkable design demands a remarkable designer. There is no way round that.
Human DNA is certain evidence of remarkable design that demands the existence of a remarkable designer. Those who cannot remember what DNA stands for would do well to remember my explanation: Design Not Accident. It seems not inappropriate that, the more the scientist discovers about the human body and human life, the more he gasps with astonishment at the design. That which is created is amazed by its own creation. The fingerprints of the Creator are everywhere to be seen.
It is quite understandable, then, that in my own life the fingerprints of the Creator are seen in re-creation. Only the Creator God can change the heart of a person – and change it from the inside out. All human attempts to change one’s own self are from the outside in, but God changes from within.
This dramatic process of change in my own life was attested to by one person who once said to me, “I used to stay away from you because I couldn’t stand you; now I stay away from you because I know God is in you.”
Such change from within is the experience of all those who have come into a real relationship with Jesus Christ, and the quantity and the quality of the evidence is overwhelming. To look into the lives of those who have been transformed by the power of Jesus Christ is to see the DNA of a Creator God who is at work in the lives of his people.
The Creator’s DNA in the lives of Christians can be authenticated by the presence of something that, at first glance, seems to be a contradiction in terms: Selfless self-love. My own personal experience of selfless self-love is similar to that of C S Lewis: “I remember Christian teachers telling me long ago that I must hate a bad man’s actions, but not hate the bad man; or, as they would say, hate the sin but not the sinner. For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: How could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life – namely myself.”
As selfless self-love characterised Jesus Christ, so it is at the heart of those who belong to him. All sorts of external coverings may obscure that truth, but the DNA is there for those who look carefully.
Is my subjective human experience of God authenticated by the objective evidence at the heart of the Christian faith? I believe it is. The characteristics of Father God are found in me as his child. His DNA is at the heart of me. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead has produced new life in me. As a part of his body, the Church, I am essentially a part of all those who belong to the Father through Jesus.
The verdict? There is a Creator God, and his existence and nature are the clear explanation for the visible evidence of his handiwork in our world. To come to this conclusion after weighing the evidence is certainly reasonable, but it is also very challenging. The Creator would continue his re-creation in all who come to him. Come.
(Various Contributors), Editors: Timothy R Phillips & Dennis L Okholm, Christian Apologetics in the Postmodern World, Illinois, Inter-Varsity Press, 1995
J I Packer, Knowing God, London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1973
C S Lewis, God in the Dock, Glasgow, William Collins Sons & Co Ltd., 1979
C S Lewis, Collected Books, London, HarperCollinsReligious, 1999
Paul E Little, Know Why You Believe, (Updated Edition), Illinois, Inter-Varsity Press, 2000
Frank Morrison, Who Moved The Stone?, Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1987
Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands A Verdict, San Bernadino, Campus Crusade for Christ, 1972
Rob Warner, 21st-Century Church, (Revised & Expanded Edition), Eastbourne, Kingsway Publications, 1999