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Sermon illustrations

God’s Existence

An Attempted Refutation of the Gospel

[In the middle of the twentieth century a] young Russian communist went to a meeting one night where he heard a Christian expounding his faith. The communist was angry. How could anyone still believe such nonsensical superstition in these days? He went home, determined to write a refutation of Christianity that would settle the issue once and for all. In order to get the quarry properly into his sights, he found an old Bible and looked into it.

He didn’t want to waste more time than was necessary, so he decided to read the shortest of the four Gospels, that of St Mark. It was only much later, as he said, that he realized that God has a sense of humour. St Mark’s Gospel is exactly the book written for someone in that frame of mind: pulling no punches, getting directly to the point, portraying Jesus the Messiah bringing through his death and resurrection a kingdom that outshines all the political dreams of the world.

He read Mark again, then the other Gospels; then, sitting up through the night, the rest of the New Testament. By morning he was a believing, praying Christian. That man is Anthony Bloom, who went on to become one of the great Russian Orthodox bishops of our generation, leading his flock through intense suffering but always seeing reflecting the glory of God in the face of Jesus.

N.T. Wright, The Way of the Lord: Christian Pilgrimage Today, Eerdmans, 1999.

The Aseity of God

Aseity refers to God’s self-existence (a—from, se—oneself). God exists ‘from himself.’ God owes his existence and completeness as God to nothing outside himself. . . .

God’s act of creation was not constrained by anything outside him, nor was the inner impulse to create owing to deficiency or defect. . . . God does not need us or anything else outside himself to be God or to be happy. Creation does not complete God.

John Piper, “I Believe in God’s Self-Sufficiency,” Trinity Journal, n.s., 29 (2008): 227–28.

At the End of the Rope

Elie Wiesel was a survivor of the dreaded Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz. He wrote of his experiences in the book The Night. In that book he relates the harrowing story of two Jewish men and a Jewish boy hanged alongside one another. Having mounted the stairs the two adults cried, “long live liberty”, but the boy was silent.

Behind Wiesel someone desperately asked “Where is God” Where is He?” The chairs the victims were standing on were kicked out from under them and the three hung there. The adults died quickly, but the boy’s weight wasn’t great enough to snap his neck immediately. For more than half an hour he hung there, dying in slow agony before their eyes. Again Wiesel heard the question “Where is God now?” And standing there Wiesel heard a voice within himself answer: “Where is he? Here he is. He is hanging here on this gallows.”

When Wiesel said it was God hanging on the gallows he indicated the death of his faith. Faith in God died with that hanging child. But there is another interpretation, that God suffers with those who suffer, seen most visibly in the death of Christ hanging on his own gallows, the cross.

Source: Elie Wiesel, Night, 1969.

Beyond the Behavior of Flawed Humans

So, while the long history of religious oppression and hypocrisy is profoundly sobering, the earnest seeker must look beyond the behavior of flawed humans in order to find the truth. Would you condemn an oak tree because its timbers had been used to build battering rams? Would you blame the air for allowing lies to be transmitted through it?

Would you judge Mozart’s The Magic Flute on the basis of a poorly rehearsed performance by fifth-graders? If you had never seen a real sunset over the Pacific, would you allow a tourist brochure as a substitute? Would you evaluate the power of romantic love solely in the light of an abusive marriage next door?

Francis S. Collins, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, Free Press.

Christ Came Down

In 1938…I was suffering from splitting headaches; each sound hurt me like a blow…. I discovered the poem…called “Love” [by George Herbert] which I learnt by heart. Often, at the culminating point of a violent headache, I made myself say it over, concentrating all my attention upon it and clinging with all my soul to the tenderness it enshrines.

I used to think I was merely reciting it as a beautiful poem, but without my knowing it the recitation had the virtue of a prayer. It was during one of these recitations that Christ himself came down and took possession of me. In my arguments about the insolubility of the problem of God I had never foreseen the possibility of that, of a real contact, person to person, here below, between a human being and God.

Simone Weil, Waiting for God.

Christian Faith Proved by it’s Fruit

The current context of cultural and religious pluralism magnifies this development. After the disintegration of Christendom-a historical apparatus that gave cultural pride of place to Christianity-Christian Christian truth claims cannot be taken for granted or simply asserted using logical apologetics.

Rather, the truth of the faith appears to stand or fall based on its goodness, as shown in the lives of those who claim it. This means that Christianity has something to prove, and this in turn has generated a faith that is focused outward, engaged with culture, concerned with authenticity and activist in its orientation.

Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, The World Is Not Ours to Save: Finding the Freedom to Do Good, InterVarsity Press.

The Devil Buried the Bones

And I was reminded of an event from my father’s childhood:

He was in a Sunday school class, listening to his teacher expound on Genesis 1 and a young earth, and asked his teacher how to make sense of all those dinosaur bones. “Was there no room for Rex on the ark?” he asked, with guileless sincerity. “The devil buried the bones,” his teacher answered, and proceeded to explain that a literal Genesis 1 and young earth were essential to Christian faith.

My father found himself before a fork in the road. There he was, a young boy who loved Jesus and dinosaurs, and the die had been cast—either the Prince of Darkness had spent the better part of the last millennia burying dinosaur bones or there was no God.

Taken from Faith in the Shadows: Finding Christ in the Midst of Doubt by Austin Fischer. Copyright (c) 2018 by Austin Fischer pp.1-2. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

If God Wanted to Remain Silent…

If God wanted to remain silent about His existence, He wouldn’t have bothered creating the stars; He wouldn’t have made the Milky Way, or Betelgeuse. In fact, He wouldn’t have made the majestic Rocky Mountains, the rippling oceans, or the magnificent hummingbird. If His goal was to remain quiet and anonymous, He wouldn’t have created anything at all. Instead, He spoke into existence a smorgasbord for our senses. Wonder for our eyes, beauty for our ears, fragrances for our noses—and rapture for our hearts.

His creation screams about His unseen beauty; it shouts about His unseen qualities and His magnificence. When Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, he crafted an outward expression of his inner person. In the same way, God’s creation exhibited through the mountains, stars, and oceans is an expression of the God we can’t see. . . . God didn’t remain anonymous because He didn’t want to. Rather, He wanted to display His glory throughout the universe as His gift to man.

Michael Kendrick, Your Blueprint for Life (Nashville: Nelson, 2012), 18-19.

Mangoes

Once, when sharing my faith with an agnostic friend, I was asked to make my greatest argument for God’s existence. I uttered one word: mangoes. I was not talking about just any mangoes. I was talking about fresh, ripe, just-off-the-tree mangoes, about have-to- change-your-shirt-afterward mangoes.

Mangoes, I explained, were my greatest argument for God’s existence. To this day, I cannot eat a mango and say with a straight face that this is a world that has been invented by a jerk. Or that something so delicious could come from nowhere. Creation is good. Why? Because God is good. And his goodness is reflected in what he makes. A mango, as part of creation, is God’s love letter to humanity.

A.J. Swoboda, Subversive Sabbath: The Surprising Power of Rest in a Nonstop World, Baker Publishing Group, 2018, Kindle Location 443.

On Heaven and Hell

There’s a story of a young girl on a plane who was reading her Bible, and there was a businessman sitting next to her. He looked over to her and he said, you don’t really believe that do you?” And she said, why yes I do”. And the businessmen than said, you really believe that Jonah was swallowed up by a whale. “Well it was actually a big fish” she responded. Okay, a big fish. You don’t really believe he’s in heaven do you? And the young girl responds “well yes of course I do, and I plan on meeting him there some day. Well what if he isn’t there? The business man replied. “Well then you can meet him” she replied.

Source Unknown

The Practicality of Belief in God

In his June 1749 letter to Voltaire, the French Atheist Denis Diderot famously ruled that is is “very important not to mistake the hemlock for parsley; but to believe or not believe in God, is not important at all…[God has taken his place among] “ces très sublimes et trés inutiles vérités” (those very sublime and very useless truths).

But one does not have to become an atheist to lose a feel for God’s importance. Many people simply immerse themselves in the practical affairs of life, in pleasure seeking or in maintaining an illusory identity. They do not defy God or attempt to use God as a means; they just do not think about God or examine themselves before God.

Ron Highfield, God, Freedom, and Human Dignity, InterVarsity Press, 2013.

The Problem of Severe Pain

In his masterpiece The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky offers a nuclear critique of Christianity by simply contemplating the suffering of children—a critique far more damning than anything modem scientific atheism could ever proffer. Ivan Karamazov, one of the novel’s chief figures, sits in a pub across from his pure-hearted, aspiring-priest younger brother, and reels off a litany of stories about the torture and murder of children—true stories that Dostoyevsky had gathered over the years.

Infants ripped from their mother’s arms by soldiers, tossed into the air, and then impaled on bayonets. Babies coaxed into a smile by the silvery shimmer of a gun barrel, and then shot in the face in front of their parents. A little boy hunted down and torn to pieces by dogs. A little girl tortured by her own parents—locked in a freezing outhouse, mouth filled with excrement because she wet the bed. Ivan dares his priestly brother (and us) to envision that little girl and asks, “can you understand why a little creature, who can’t even understand what’s done to her, should beat her little aching heart with her tiny fist in the dark and the cold, and weep her meek unresentful tears to dear, kind God to protect her? Do you understand … you pious and humble novice?”

Taken from Faith in the Shadows: Finding Christ in the Midst of Doubt by Austin Fischer. Copyright (c) 2018 by Austin Fischer p.217. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

The Religious Guy and the Atheist

There are these two guys sitting together in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness. One of the guys is religious, the other is an atheist, and the two are arguing about the existence of God with that special intensity that comes after about the fourth beer. And the atheist says: “Look, it’s not like I don’t have actual reasons for not believing in God. It’s not like I haven’t ever experimented with the whole God and prayer thing.

Just last month I got caught away from the camp in that terrible blizzard, and I was totally lost and I couldn’t see a thing, and it was fifty below, and so I tried it: I fell to my knees in the snow and cried out ‘Oh, God, if there is a God, I’m lost in this blizzard, and I’m gonna die if you don’t help me.'” And now, in the bar, the religious guy looks at the atheist all puzzled. “Well then you must believe now,” he says, “After all, here you are, alive.” The atheist just rolls his eyes. “No, man, all that was was a couple Eskimos happened to come wandering by and showed me the way back to camp.

 David Foster Wallace, Kenyon College Commencement Speech: This is Water.

A Smart-Aleck Question and Answer

They say that in Martin Luther’s class on Genesis, a smart aleck student asked, “Dr. Luther, since you know so much about the book of Genesis, tell us: what was God doing all that time before God created the world?”

Luther, not one to be one-upped by a smart-mouthed seminarian, replied, “What was God doing before God created the world? God was gathering sticks to make a switch to beat the hell out of people like you who ask such dumb questions!”

William H. Willimon, Undone by Easter: Keeping Preaching Fresh, Abingdon, 2009.

The Smokescreen

My wife is a very social person. She loves being with groups of people, having dinners, celebrating special occasions or just hanging out with her friends. She is an elementary school teacher, which means she spends a lot of time socializing and meeting new people as part of her job. When someone learns that she is the wife of a religion professor who is also a minister, they often ask her questions about God and faith.

Once in a while the discussion turns to serious questions such as, How could a good God allow evil? or Why are there so many religions, and how do you know yours is right? Sometimes times people are genuinely seeking answers and perhaps even seeking God. She comes home from these discussions and invariably says the same thing: “I wish you had been there.” She says this because she thinks that I would be able to answer their questions.

Every time she says this I respond, “It would not have made a difference if I had been there. Most of the questions they are asking are not the real issue.

They are usually smoke screens hiding something else. What they really want to know is, `Is it true?’ and the answer to that is not in an intellectual idea but in a changed life.

That is something you can give them. Your life is your witness. You have something real, something you know to be true in your depths, and it has shaped who you are. You do not have to do anything to witness to that life, and you could not hide it if you tried. They want to know the reason you have hope.” Still, she says she wishes she could better articulate her faith when she is asked. She concludes, “I guess evangelism is not my gift.” Actually, it is one of her gifts.

Taken from The Good and Beautiful Community: Following the Spirit, Extending Grace, Demonstrating Love by James Bryan Smith, Copyright (c) 2010 by James Bryan Smith. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

The Unfulfilled Atheist

Some years ago, I was approached by a young man in our church who described himself as an “unfulfilled atheist.” He wanted to know why he should consider Christianity. I responded to him by asking him if he could name any of history’s atheists who had done a lot of good for their world. Unable to answer me, I gently dove in. I pointed him to Peter Claver at Columbia, who cared for slaves and built leprosariums.

I talked of William Wilberforce and the Clapham Circle, the small community of men and women most responsible for leading the charge to dismantle the slave trade. We dialogued about William Booth and his care for the poor, and then about George Muller, one of the leaders of England’s nineteenth-century orphan care movement. I reminded him that the civil rights movement of the mid-twentieth century that gained rights for African Americans like me was led by a courageous cohort of Christ followers.”

Brian Loritts, Saving the Saved: How Jesus Saves us from Try-Harder Christianity into Performance-Free Love, Zondervan Publishing.

The Use of Life?

If one puts aside the existence of God and the survival after life as too doubtful…one has to make up one’s mind as to the use of life. If death ends all, if I have neither to hope for good nor to fear evil, I must ask myself what I am here for, and how in these circumstances I must conduct myself. Now the answer is plain, but so unpalatable that most will not face it. There is no meaning for life, and [thus] life has no meaning. 

Somerset Maugham, The Summing Up, Penguin Books.

 

 

See also Illustrations on Atheism, Questioning God

Still Looking for inspiration?

Consider checking out our quotes page on God’s Existence. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!

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