If you think back to childhood, you can likely still hear those taunting words on the playground. You made a challenging statement. Perhaps you said you could beat someone in a race. Or maybe you said something that just seemed unbelievable. And the indignant reply from the other child was the ever-popular phrase “prove it!” Some things from childhood follow us into adulthood. Proof is something for which we long. The desire for assurance is deep within us. In our scientific world, we are wired to demand proof before we will believe anything. No proof = no dice. Don’t bother telling me something if you can’t back it up with evidence. This is the overwhelming sentiment of the world in which we live. And I want to address how it is damaging our witness.
Modern Christianity has often relied heavily on apologetics – “reasoned arguments or writings in justification of something.” In our increasingly scientific world we have taken a largely defensive stance against science. We tremble at the thought that a piece of scientific evidence may undermine what we think we know about the Bible. Now, the intentions are often pure. We want to protect the Bible from corruption. We want everyone in the world to believe in and follow God. But our ways of going about this are sometimes flawed. When we assume a defensive posture against the rest of the world, we set ourselves up for failure in reaching them for Christ. The more I learn and study about the Bible and the mysteries within it, the more I realize the arrogance in our insistence that we can explain the Bible. Now let me be clear. I believe in the Bible. I believe in its power to change and shape lives. I believe that God speaks to us today through his word. I believe that through the stories and writings we get a beautiful picture of who God is and what our role is in his mission. What I do not believe is that it is our job to prove that every word of every story happened exactly as written.
I no longer believe that the burden is on my shoulders to prove scientifically or otherwise that God exists. Rather, I believe it is my burden (and joy) to show that God exists by the way I live my life. As a Christian my life should speak to who God is and how Christ lived. People should be able to look at me and see that God must be real, because my life is saturated with him. They should see me standing up for the oppressed, caring for the needy, having hope even in sorrow. They should see that I value every life as much as my own, regardless of age or race or social class. They should see that my strength comes from a source much greater than my own resources. They should see me showing extravagant love to everyone who is placed in my path. They should see love that transforms, heals, and redeems. The gospel message should come alive in my daily choices.
You see, we can give people facts and figures about God and the Bible. We can go to great lengths to defend and protect our framework. A person can have great apologetics, but be too proud to ever apologize. A person can fight tooth and nail to convince someone that creation was completed in seven 24-hour days, yet not spend seven days out of the year serving the least of these. We can cry out for “our principles” to be held up in society. But a person can defend the right to life of the unborn while ignoring the value of the lives of the people living in the nearby projects. In our quest to prove our God and the validity of our long-held beliefs we can become increasingly distant from the heart of the mission. And at our worst we can live lives not only distant, but contradictory to the ways of Jesus Christ.
God doesn’t need for us to “prove” him to the world. He has already proven himself mighty. Look at the sunset, the mountains, the birth of each new child. God is present. And he is powerful enough to make himself known. What this world needs from us isn’t one more archeological find that proves our point. What this world needs from Christians is a radical, world changing love that emulates the life and walk of Jesus Christ. We need to get back to following our Teacher instead of “teaching” our followers. If we are following a doctrine or a denomination instead of following in the footsteps of the risen Savior, we are missing the point. We will never have all the answers about the historical accuracy of creation or the flood. We will never have perfect proof of the assigned authorship of every word of the Bible. We will never be able to sit down and say “There. We proved it all. We have the Bible figured out completely.” There will never be a day when all the scholars stand up together and say, “We have all the answers!” But maybe we can still prove the love of a great and mighty God to a world that is in anguish. Maybe we can walk out each day loving God and loving our neighbor. Maybe we can stop fighting about those things on which we disagree and start uniting as God’s children to love and bless and connect with one another. Maybe if we all truly follow the two greatest commands, we can put down our defenses. Because only then will our God be undeniable to a watching world.
“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)
Tara Petty is a children’s minister at Pegram Church of Christ near Nashville, TN. She is currently pursuing her M.Div. at Lipscomb University. She is a mother to four young children and enjoys reading, writing, loving and laughing. She is passionate about discipling a generation of youth who love Jesus and live fully in the freedom of knowing him.