• God has never let me down

    “God has never let me down.”  A friend told me this some time ago, and I asked him what he meant.  What was this thing that God had never done?  What would it look like if God had let you down?  If God ever did let you down, how would you tell?  I couldn’t get this guy to tell me a single hypothetical event that would constitute God letting him down.

    We’ve all seen this in action.  If you get a new job, it’s because God always provides for you.  If you didn’t get the new job, it’s because God wants you to experience hardship a bit longer so you’ll truly appreciate happiness when it eventually comes.  If your aunt survived cancer, it’s because God healed her.  If she didn’t, it’s because God wants to teach you an important lesson about relying on him in difficult circumstances – maybe he helped you cope with your loss.

    The “God has never let me down” hypothesis seems to fit any data.  X happened – God has never let me down.  X didn’t happen – God has never let me down.

    I raised this with a different friend, and they told me of tsunami victims who had lost everything – possessions, homes, friends, family – yet they praised God because they were still alive!  There’s a whole book of the Bible about that…

    Well, if you’re ever wondering if God has let you down, I’ve prepared a simple flow chart.  It may seem specific to one particular situation, but with a little creativity, you can adapt it to anything.  I hope it’s helpful.

    1.  Have you experienced any natural disasters in your life?

    • No?  Praise God!  God has kept you safe all your life!  God has never let you down.
    • Yes?  Go to Question 2.

    2.  So, you’ve experience a natural disaster.  Was your town kept safe?

    • Yes?  Praise God!  God saved your town!  God has never let you down.
    • No?  Go to Question 3.

    3.  So, an earthquake wiped out your village.  Did all your family members survive?

    • Yes?  Praise God!  God is looking after your family!  God has never let you down.
    • No?  Go to Question 4.

    4.  So, you’ve lost a family member.  Did you cope well?

    • Yes?  Praise God!  God was there for you!  God has never let you down.
    • No?  Go to Question 5.

    5.  So, you spiralled into depression.  Did you get through it?

    • Yes?  Praise God!  God helped you through your dark times!  God has never let you down.
    • No?  Go to Question 6.

    6.  So you’ve been troubled by depression ever since.  Have your friends helped you?

    • Yes?  Praise God!  God has provided you with helpful friends!  God has never let you down.
    • No?  Go to Question 7.

    7.  Have you resorted to substance abuse?

    • No?  Praise God!  God has helped you steer clear of damaging behaviour!  God has never let you down.
    • Yes?  Go to Question 8.

    8.  Did you eventually give up your destructive habits?

    • Yes?  Praise God!  God has helped you conquer your demons!  God has never let you down.
    • No?  Go to Question 9.

    9.  Are you at least still alive?

    • Yes?  Praise God!  Um,…  you’re still alive!  God has never let you down.
    • No?  

    You could go on like this for your whole life: making excuses, fitting any situation perfectly to the “God has never let me down” hypothesis.  Unless everything – absolutely everything – has completely fallen apart, you’ll always be able to find something to give God credit for.  Even if you’ve lost all you own and all the people dear to you, you’re still alive.  You can (selfishly?) thank God for keeping your life in tact, and repeat the mantra: “God has never let me down”.

    If you’d only consider that God might have let you down if you’d lost everything, including your very life, then how could you ever know God had let you down?  You’d be dead before you could ever realise!  But if you wouldn’t even count that as God letting you down, then it’s hard to imagine what could constitute God letting you down.  And if there is no imaginable scenario that would count as God letting you down, then it is completely vacuous to proclaim that God has never let you down.  Such a statement translates to: “See this list with no items on it?  Well, God has never done any of those things!”

    Now, a Christian might say, “Ah, but there is one way God could let me down – he could send me to Hell, despite promising not to.”  But if the only way God could conceivably let you down occurs after you die, then it is still vacuous for a living person to say “God has never let me down”.  Such a statement translates to: “God has never done to me, a living person, a thing he could only do to a dead person!”

    If you think your God has never let you down, then you’re not alone.  Hindus, Mormons, Muslims, and even Pastafarians are just as warranted to say that their God has never let them down.  They could similarly define “letting you down” as something their God couldn’t even conceivably do, and then triumphantly proclaim that their God has never done it.  A being does not even have to exist in order not to do an impossible thing.  Unicorns have never let me down.

    If you still disagree, if you still think your God has never let you down, and if you still think there is something impressive about this, then please nominate a scenario (no matter how hypothetical) that would convince you God had let you down.

    hasgodeverletyoudown

    Category: AtheismChristianityFeaturedGod

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    Article by: Reasonably Faithless

    Mathematician and former Christian
    • Jeff Pinner

      As an atheist, I can correctly say that God let me down when, at 15, I determined that there were no reasonable circumstances that “He” could exist. Really bugged my pastor at the time…

      • Hi Jeff, thanks for your comment. In what sense do you think “God” (who you think most likely doesn’t exist) actually did something (ie, let you down)? eg, I don’t think unicorns have ever let me down – not even by not existing.

        • Jeff Pinner

          When one is taught to believe in God (or Santa, for that matter) finding out that someone lied is a let down, and it’s far easier to blame it on Santa than Mom and Dad, don’t you think? (I was joking when I wrote the original, sir.)

    • Tim Chavura

      Hi James.

      Thanks for the thoughts.

      I think it’s better for Christians to say ‘God is faithful’. This kind of language put’s the focus on God rather than the person. It’s also closer to what the authors of Scripture said.

      You and I can think of a number of instances where one may say ‘God has let me down’, but he really hasn’t. Perhaps it’s just that the person’s understanding of the activity / intention of God is not right. For example, that a Christian has same-sex attraction, or that a Christian lost her job etc. There’s no *reason* to outright think that God let one down in these circumstances. I could argue that these people merely had a too narrow view of what to expect could happen in life.

      Now I know what you’re going to say here. “That’s my point, Tim!” Well, you’ve made the point that Christians basically shift the goal posts in order to maintain their belief that God has not let them down.

      I agree with this. I also think that Christians too quickly become specific on why things have happened to them. I sometimes get puzzled when I hear Christians provide (somewhat) detailed explanations as to why things happened. I think, most of the time, we just don’t know.

      But, on a Christian worldview, God is sovereign. So it’s not unreasonable on Christianity to say that God willed it (in one sense or another). More detail than that may not be available.

      Perhaps you should post these concerns on a Christian site – I don’t know what they’re doing on a sceptic blog. Such concerns lead me to a reevaluation of how willing I am to make bold claims about the work of God. I didn’t make the (logical) mistake of questioning my faith.

      Further, I don’t think what you’re saying actually achieves what you want it to, James. You’re making the claim, ‘You can’t adequately convey something to me, therefore you shouldn’t assert it for yourself’. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong here. That’s how I read your ‘vacuous’ paragraph.

      If someone is unable to convey to you any scenario that would count as God letting her down, does this really mean it’s ‘vacuous’ for her to make the claim ‘God hasn’t let me down’? Well, maybe. But maybe not. It may also be a case that she is merely unable to convey any scenario which you find compelling.

      Perhaps God could ‘let someone down’ if he made a clear, unambiguous promise which, according to him was to be fulfilled in the person’s lifetime, yet didn’t keep it.

      • Hi Tim,

        Thanks for your comments – and sorry for my slow response.

        > I think it’s better for Christians to say ‘God is faithful’. This kind of language put’s the focus on God rather than the person. It’s also closer to what the authors of Scripture said.

        You could always say “God has never let anyone down” rather than “God has never let me down” to similarly put all the focus on God, but I think “God is faithful” says basically the same thing.

        > You and I can think of a number of instances where one may say ‘God has let me down’, but he really hasn’t.

        Absolutely, though I’m not really talking about such things. A kid might think his dad let him down because he didn’t let him play on the edge of a cliff.

        > Christians basically shift the goal posts in order to maintain their belief that God has not let them down… I agree with this.

        I’m glad you agree with this! (Obviously there are examples of this outside religion, too – e.g., in politics – and I am very critical of this mode of thought in any sphere of life.)

        > But, on a Christian worldview, God is sovereign. So it’s not unreasonable on Christianity to say that God willed it (in one sense or another).

        On a Hindu worldview, Krishna is sovereign. So it’s not unreasonable on Hinduism to say that Krishna willed it (in one sense or another). I’m not being facetious. Just pointing out that if you begin with a false assumption (you obviously believe “Krishna is sovereign” is a false assumption – “the Christian God is sovereign” might also be a false assumption, as I believe), and then allow *anything at all* to be a confirmation of that assumption, then there is no conceivable way to rid yourself of your false belief. If someone told you that Krishna had never let them down, how might such a person ever come to believe otherwise?

        > Perhaps you should post these concerns on a Christian site – I don’t know what they’re doing on a sceptic blog.

        I write articles that I think my readers will be interested in. Some of my readers are Christians (such as yourself), and some of my non-Christian readers know Christians. So I think this will be of use to many people. I’ve shared the link on a couple of Christian sites.

        > Such concerns lead me to a reevaluation of how willing I am to make bold claims about the work of God. I didn’t make the (logical) mistake of questioning my faith.

        I’m glad you’ve reevaluated your faith (I assume you mean some time ago, not just after reading this blog). But I don’t think it is a logical mistake to question your faith as a result of such considerations. I think it would be a logical mistake to conclude that your faith must be mistaken. But if you came to realise that any conceivable situation in your life could/would be interpreted as an answer to prayer, or God looking after you, then I think it would be wise to question your assumptions on such topics. As I was examining my faith, in the time leading up to me abandoning it, I came to realise that it was unlikely there was any argument that would cause me to believe in Christianity if I didn’t already believe in it – while I realised that this did not automatically mean Christianity was false, it certainly did give me something to ponder!

        > You’re making the claim, ‘You can’t adequately convey something to me, therefore you shouldn’t assert it for yourself’. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong here. That’s how I read your ‘vacuous’ paragraph.

        That’s not really what I’m saying. The question is not whether someone can adequately convey something – it’s about whether their claim contains any information. If I said “Tim has never let me down”, you’d instantly know several things you had never done to me – in other words, there are several (at least hypothetical) situations that people would agree constitute you letting me down – e.g., you sharing information that I had confided in you (you can think of loads more examples easily). But if a person doesn’t think there are any (even hypothetical) situations that would constitute God letting her down, then say say “God has never let me down” is a vacuous statement. If the list of things that would constitute “X” happening, then the statement “X has never happened” conveys no information. That’s what it means for a statement to be vacuous.

        > It may also be a case that she is merely unable to convey any scenario which you find compelling.

        It’s not that people have tried to explain situations to me, only for me to say “I don’t find that compelling”. It’s that people seem unwilling to even nominate a single (even hypothetical) situation that they would describe as God letting them down.

        > Perhaps God could ‘let someone down’ if he made a clear, unambiguous promise which, according to him was to be fulfilled in the person’s lifetime, yet didn’t keep it.

        This is the closest someone has come to nominating something. Someone on a (Christian) site mentioned Jesus’ promise that the world would end in the first century (but then quickly explained why they didn’t think Jesus really meant that). I definitely don’t want this to turn into an argument about this, as it is off-topic, and I will certainly blog about that topic another day. But it does of course serve as an excellent case in point. Even this promise attributed to Jesus (believed to be God by most Christians) is interpreted in drastically different ways. It seems perfectly obvious to non-Christians that Jesus just got it wrong – he really said the world would end in the first century, and it didn’t. But a Christian (with an assumption that Jesus can’t ever be wrong) will interpret this saying attributed to Jesus in all kinds of different ways in order to ensure that Jesus really did keep his promise (I’m sure you have your own interpretation). This is just another example of the vacuous nature of some Christian claims. Statements such as “God has never broken a promise” or “The Bible has no mistakes” can be “defended” even in the face of the most obvious (to outsiders) counterexamples. The same is true of the statement “The Koran has no mistakes”. When a cult leader declares “The world will end on DD/MM/YYYY”, and the world does not end on that date, his followers always manage to reinterpret his “cryptic” message in a way that maintains his infallibility. If you begin with the false assumption “X is always right”, you will never be able to escape from this false belief – at least not if you are too ready to justify the belief in the face of clear counterexamples. You show signs of doing this yourself when you say things like “it’s not unreasonable on Christianity to say that God willed it (in one sense or another)”. If Mormonism is true, then we *should* be able to interpret anything as the Mormon God looking after us.

        Possibly some further questions pertinent to your example might be:

        1. Can you describe how you might tell if God had broken a promise?

        2. Can you pick some promises from the Bible and describe what it might look like if God broke them?

        3. Can you imagine that you might find yourself “changing the goalposts” as to what might constitute a “broken promise” if God did any of the things described in your answers to the first two questions? (This question presupposes that God exists, and acted in a certain way.)

        I’m not saying you don’t have answers to those questions – I’d just be interested in hearing your responses to them.

        (As it happens, I do have one scenario I think would quite obviously constitute God letting people down, but I may write a second post about that.)

        • Tim Chavura

          Hi James.

          Thanks for your response.

          James: On a Hindu worldview, Krishna is sovereign. So it’s not unreasonable on Hinduism to say that Krishna willed it (in one sense or another). I’m not being facetious. Just pointing out that if you begin with a false assumption (you obviously believe “Krishna is sovereign” is a false assumption –

          Tim: Yes, all religious adherents would make all sorts of truth claims. The question is, is the religion true or not. I’m making the point that a Christian who believes that God is faithful is acting in accordance with her beliefs.

          James: …“the Christian God is sovereign” might also be a false assumption, as I believe), and then allow *anything at all* to be a confirmation of that assumption, then there is no conceivable way to rid yourself of your false belief. If someone told you that Krishna had never let them down, how might such a person ever come t o believe otherwise?

          Tim: I don’t think it’s a good idea for a Christian to search for confirmations or disconfirmations from among their collection of religious experiences. I think we agree that *any* conclusion may be drawn from the events of the average Christian’s life. This would lead many Christians to come to all sorts of wrong conclusions.

          James: But I don’t think it is a logical mistake to question your faith as a result of such considerations. I think it would be a logical mistake to conclude that your faith must be mistaken.

          Tim: Yes, I agree with you. I should have been clearer. By ‘question my faith’ I suppose I meant to the point of abandoning it.

          James: But if you came to realise that any conceivable situation in your life could/would be interpreted as an answer to prayer, or God looking after you, then I think it would be wise to question your assumptions on such topics.

          Tim: I agree.

          James: As I was examining my faith, in the time leading up to me abandoning it, I came to realise that it was unlikely there was any argument that would cause me to believe in Christianity if I didn’t already believe in it – while I realised that this did not automatically mean Christianity was false, it certainly did give me something to ponder!

          Tim: Well, that’s a pity. The conclusion that you came to, and that you had no overriding sense that it was true. We’ve discussed this briefly before when I was talking about properly basic beliefs. The inner-witness of the HS is enough to confirm the reality of God in one’s life.

          James: But if a person doesn’t think there are any (even hypothetical) situations that would constitute God letting her down, then say say “God has never let me down” is a vacuous statement. If the list of things that would constitute “X” happening, then the statement “X has never happened” conveys no information. That’s what it means for a statement to be vacuous.

          Tim: I see what you’re saying. But on a Christian worldview, ‘’all things’ happen for a reason’. This makes it very difficult to know. Thus, unambiguous special revelation seems to me the best way to determine whether or not God has been unfaithful. IE. The hypothetical at the end of my first post.

          James: You show signs of doing this yourself when you say things like “it’s not unreasonable on Christianity to say that God willed it (in one sense or another)”. If Mormonism is true, then we *should* be able to interpret anything as the Mormon God looking after us.

          Tim: This is why I haven’t made the blunder of speaking to you in such terms. What I mean is this: It’s no kind of apologetic. Nor should it even be a confirmation or disconfirmation of one’s own belief. There are far better places to look. In other words, a Christian may believe that all things happen by God’s will, but she should be very cautious before looking for confirmations of God’s existence in these experiences. More often than not, they’re just not clear enough.

          James: 1. Can you describe how you might tell if God had broken a promise?

          Well, I thought my hypothesis answered this. Do you have any thoughts on my hypothesis?

          Your response referring to Jesus’ words was not the kind of ‘clear, unambiguous’ promise I was suggesting. And, yes – I do have thoughts about those passages.

          James: 2. Can you pick some promises from the Bible and describe what it might look like if God broke them?

          Yes, but I see this as getting us nowhere. For example, if I point to Jesus’ promise of his own resurrection (and if he really wasn’t raised from the dead), I could imagine you might reply with something like, ‘yes but perhaps Jesus’ promise to be raised after three days was merely a metaphor for the church being raised up to ‘glory’ – not a promise of a literal resurrection’. Thus, you could show that even a perceived error can be twisted into a non-error.

          Having said that, the resurrection was a clear confirmation for the early Christians due to the religio/historical context.

          And this is really my point, as a Christian, I don’t seek confirmations from my own mundane Christian experiences. Special events such as my hypothesis would be something different.

          James: 3. Can you imagine that you might find yourself “changing the goalposts” as to what might constitute a “broken promise” if God did any of the things described in your answers to the first two questions?

          I don’t know. It’s difficult to know what I may do following a particular event. A good question is *ought* I to change my views?

          • Tim: The question is, is the religion true or not. I’m making the point that a Christian who believes that God is faithful is acting in accordance with her beliefs.

            James: Is the religion true or not? Yes, this is absolutely the question. Another question is: “Is there any good reason to believe the religion is true?”. As for acting in accordance with beliefs, this seems to me to be a side issue – Mormons, Hindus, Muslims, can all act in accordance with their beliefs. So can serial killers. As you said, the truth of a religion is more important than whether it is true. And the non/truth of the statement “God has never let me down” (or “God is faithful” or whatever) is more important than whether such a belief is in accordance with your other beliefs.

            Tim: I don’t think it’s a good idea for a Christian to search for confirmations or disconfirmations from among their collection of religious experiences. I think we agree that *any* conclusion may be drawn from the events of the average Christian’s life. This would lead many Christians to come to all sorts of wrong conclusions.

            James: I think it’s a terrible idea *not* to search for confirmations or (especially for) disconfirmations of any hypothesis through life! I also think it’s a terrible idea to simply interpret experiences in such a creative way that you will always be able to draw the desired conclusion (you seem to agree with this in your comments quoted above). If you find yourself doing that (whether to justify “God is real” or “my colleague really is a nice guy” or “climate change is made up” or “I support the right political party” or anything else), then you really need to question your desired conclusion. (I’m not saying you believe all those things, and the above comments apply to any of my beliefs too.) And if the only way you see to avoid such “reasoning” is to say that you shouldn’t seek to use your experiences to confirm or disconfirm your religious beliefs, then that is a double worry. In fact, I think this is a massive red flag – you’re pretty much describing a way to insulate a belief from any conceivable disconfirmation. If a false belief is given this insulation, you’re really in danger. You believe Islam, Mormonism, Scientology, etc, are all false, so you’d see it as a bad thing if a believer in those religions had insulated their beliefs in such a way – I believe Christianity is false, and it really bugs me to see Christians insulate their beliefs in such a way. (And Christians insulate the ir beliefs in other ways too – e.g., http://www.patheos.com/blogs/barrierbreaker/why-the-worst-passage-in-the-bible-is-1-corinthians-117-31/ )

            [James: But I don’t think it is a logical mistake to question your faith as a result of such considerations. I think it would be a logical mistake to conclude that your faith must be mistaken.]

            Tim: Yes, I agree with you. I should have been clearer. By ‘question my faith’ I suppose I meant to the point of abandoning it.

            James: “Questioning your faith” and “abandoning your faith” are certainly quite different. The former can lead to the latter, and I’m sure you’d agree that if your faith was misplaced, it would be good to question it, and also to abandon it. There are many situations that could lead one to question their assumptions – and I think that’s great – it’s even greater if it leads you (upon further thought) to abandon faulty assumptions. Certainly some things ought to lead to questioning, but not necessarily immediate outright rejection.

            [James: But if you came to realise that any conceivable situation in your life could/would be interpreted as an answer to prayer, or God looking after you, then I think it would be wise to question your assumptions on such topics.]

            Tim: I agree.

            James: I WIN!!!! 😉

            Tim: Well, that’s a pity. The conclusion that you came to, and that you had no overriding sense that it was true. We’ve discussed this briefly before when I was talking about properly basic beliefs. The inner-witness of the HS is enough to confirm the reality of God in one’s life.

            James: I don’t think it’s a pity at all. As I said above, it’s great to abandon false beliefs, and Christianity is false (as far as I can tell). As I was questioning my beliefs, I came to realise that there is no good reason to believe in Christianity – unless you count “I already believe in Christianity” as a reason. I asked many Christians if they had good reasons, and I searched Christian books for good reasons (and I continue to do both), and there was nothing.

            I find the Inner-Witness of the Holy Spirit (IWHS) a concept equally as troubling as answered prayer and God never letting one down. This is obviously a topic I’ll explore in great depth in a future blog post, but here are some preliminary thoughts for now. Many people describe the IWHS as an indisputable experience, yet the things they describe are at odds with other people who also claim to have had an indisputable experience of the IWHS. They obviously can’t both be right. So we must accept the following premise: “Some people think they have experienced the IWHS but, in fact, have not.” (And this is to say nothing of people from different religions who claim that they have had veridical experiences of different Gods.) If you come to suspect that you have just experienced the IWHS, how might you determine if you really did (or didn’t)? Do you think it is possible that you have (at least on some occasions) mistakenly thought you had experienced the IWHS? Do you also feel it is a bit of a worry that the thing you put most stock in is essentially your own ability to subjectively judge whether a certain feeling is legitimate.

            Tim: I see what you’re saying [about vacuous statements]. But on a Christian worldview, ‘’all things’ happen for a reason’. This makes it very difficult to know. Thus, unambiguous special revelation seems to me the best way to determine whether or not God has been unfaithful. IE. The hypothetical at the end of my first post.

            James: “This makes it very difficult to know” – indeed! About the hypothetical, do you mean this?:

            [Tim: Perhaps God could ‘let someone down’ if he made a clear, unambiguous promise which, according to him was to be fulfilled in the person’s lifetime, yet didn’t keep it.]

            If so, I think I addressed this (in quite a bit of depth) in my previous response. I think Jesus (as reported in the NT) quite clearly promised that the world would end in the lifetime of his (First Century) companions. So this constitutes a broken promise by Jesus (believed to be God by Christians). I also note that the “in the person’s lifetime” clause is problematic since when would you ever conclude that the promise had been not kept? When you were dead?

            Tim: This is why I haven’t made the blunder of speaking to you in such terms. What I mean is this: It’s no kind of apologetic. Nor should it even be a confirmation or disconfirmation of one’s own belief. There are far better places to look. In other words, a Christian may believe that all things happen by God’s will, but she should be very cautious before looking for confirmations of God’s existence in these experiences. More often than not, they’re just not clear enough.

            James: I think we agree that it’s a lousy apologetic! But my blog post not only aimed at people who think it *is* an apologetic. It was aimed at people who think “God has never let me (or anyone else) down” says something concrete.

            Tim: Well, I thought my hypothesis answered this. Do you have any thoughts on my hypothesis?

            James: Is your “hypothesis” this?:

            [Tim: Perhaps God could ‘let someone down’ if he made a clear, unambiguous promise which, according to him was to be fulfilled in the person’s lifetime, yet didn’t keep it.]

            If so, as noted above, I think I addressed it. If you think otherwise, can you explain?

            Tim: Your response referring to Jesus’ words was not the kind of ‘clear, unambiguous’ promise I was suggesting. And, yes – I do have thoughts about those passages.

            James: It seems very clear to me and every non-Christian I have spoken to that Jesus (as recorded in the Bible) promised the world would end in the lifetime of his (First Century) audience. It’s not a surprise that Christians (who believe that Jesus never said anything incorrect, and also that Jesus spoke the words attributed to him in the bible) would have to interpret Jesus’ apocalyptic words “cleverly” so as to get him off the hook. But this is exactly what I’m talking about. If you allow yourself to do this with every obvious failed prophesy, you’ll never let yourself realise Christianity is false. (We could also talk about promises about prayer, or about believers doing miracles, etc., and the fact that people of every religion make the same excuses for the failed prophesies / unkept promises from their religions. Such people could never discover their religion was false – and we both agree that their religions are indeed false.)

            Tim: Thus, you could show that even a perceived error can be twisted into a non-error.

            James: My point exactly. I don’t think you really could tell me how you could know that a certain promise from the Bible really had been broken. After all, even if some (seemingly?) clear promise turned out to be obviously unfulfilled, you would trivially be able to twist it into a fulfilled prophesy (as you said) – and I think Christians the world over do this with Jesus’ apocalyptic prophesy discussed above (for example). So, again, it seems pretty vacuous to even claim that God has kept all his promises.

            Tim: And this is really my point, as a Christian, I don’t seek confirmations from my own mundane Christian experiences. Special events such as my hypothesis would be something different.

            James: I think we differ quite a bit on this idea. I suppose I understand why you might not “seek confirmations”, but it seems to me that you have set things up so that you could not possibly recognise *dis*confirmations. I think that is a very strong warning sign that your beliefs are dubious.

            Tim: I don’t know. It’s difficult to know what I may do following a particular event. A good question is *ought* I to change my views?

            James: I know I’ve asked you a difficult question. I’ve essentially asked you to (a) describe a scenario that would tell you your beliefs were false, and (b) ponder what you’d do if the scenario came to pass – including pondering whether you’d change your answer to part (a) if such a scenario came to pass – if you agree you’d probably change your answer (i.e., change the goalposts), then I think you should be worried. In contrast, I could nominate plenty of things that would lead me to change my mind about Christianity (e.g., see this post – http://www.skepticink.com/reasonablyfaithless/2014/01/12/body-of-jesus-discovered/ ), or about evolution or gravity, or anything else.

            Probably the most important part of this response is the stuff about the Inner Witness of the Holy Spirit.

            • Tim Chavura

              You make the point that a Christian ought to be able to see the disconfirmations of Christianity in her own Christian faith. I agree with this. I think disconfirmation is very important.

              As someone who makes an effort to dialogue with people who are not Christians, I rely on the role of disconfirmation. However, I don’t see how we can establish a life event as a disconfirmation when it may also be viewed as a confirmation (or ’neutral’).

              That’s what I meant when I said, ‘I don’t think it’s a good idea for a Christian to search for confirmations or disconfirmations from among their collection of religious experiences. I think we agree that *any* conclusion may be drawn from the events of the average Christian’s life. This would lead many Christians to come to all sorts of wrong conclusions.’

              Let me be clear here: I’m talking about mundane life experiences. Things like finding a parking spot, getting a job, beating a disease while on medication. These things may be from God, but I don’t believe they may be used as confirmations.

              They may also happen on naturalism – that is, if God didn’t exist, they may all happen. But they wouldn’t be disconfirmations of God’s existence. In my mind, they are ‘neutral’.

              Thus, I think my hypothesis goes some way in establishing a means by which one may assert God’s faithfulness on the basis of some life event.

              You’ve caricatured me as someone who is dangerously close to not being able to discover the falsity of Christianity. However, we have discussed this before. I have said that ontological contradictions relating to the nature of God would mean someone ought not to believe in God. Further, were it to be found that the resurrection never took place, Christianity ought to be abandoned.

              I’ll have to take up your point about the inner witness later. But a few points:

              1. I disagree that it’s indisputable. So would Craig and (probably) Plantinga.
              2. I agree that people of any conviction may believe in the IWHS – thus leading to contradictions. That is, I agree that this happens.
              3. It is possible to be mistaken about such an experience.

              If you write a blog on this, you should read the scholarly material on it. Plantinga’s trilogy on warrant is a good place to look for the Xian perspective (assuming you haven’t looked already). We don’t want to be refuting Facebookers here.

              I’ll now address your point about Christ’s prediction of his second coming. I’ll treat it as your response to my hypothetical.

              Note that, like you, I didn’t want to get into a discussion on these passages. It really does bring us away from the other points. But since you believe that it answers my point about my hypothetical satisfying your call for a scenario, I need to address it.

              —–

              We know the Gospel writers exercised editorial freedom in relaying Jesus’ teachings. In doing so, they would shift the order of events around; including the sayings of Jesus. A saying of Jesus, for example, may be recontextualised to a place which serves the writer’s purpose. This is a universal position in Biblical scholarship.

              Sorry for the length of what follows, but as you’ve stressed that your reference to Christ’s prediction of the end of the world in the first century (which, by the way is nowhere found in the NT – that Christian you referenced changed the prophecy!), I need to deal with it.

              Mark’s gospel (6:7-13) gives the account of the sending of the 12. It is pretty straight-forward.

              The account of the sending of the 12 is also found in Matthew’s Gospel (10:5-23). However, this account also includes material from Mark 9 about the the Son of man coming (you’d know that Matthew used Mark in his own writing). Although Mark has the account of the instructions to the Disciples being sent out and the teaching about second coming as two separate events (Mark 6 and 13 respectively), Matthew places them together. This is one example of recontextualisation.

              And it happens to include the prophecy of Jesus Re: the second coming.

              So Matthew has taken some of Jesus’ teaching from the Olivet Discourse and appended it to Jesus’ command to the Disciples to go to the towns of Israel.

              The result is that Matthew’s account may be taken as an indication that Jesus’ second coming will happen before the Disciples have finished their mission going to the Jewish towns (over the course of the next days).

              However, as Matthew also relates the subsequent events of his Gospel – which certainly don’t include Jesus’ second coming – we know that he couldn’t have intend to convey the message that Jesus will return before the Disciples had finished their mission. Even though, this is an easy way to read Jesus’ words. It cannot be what Matthew has in mind here.

              It shouldn’t be read as a reference to the second coming. It’s a reference to something else…

              Now to get closer to your point…

              Matthew 16:28 is most easily read, as you’ve made clear, as a prophecy about Jesus coming again (IE. second coming) before some of his hearers had died. This is the easiest reading of the passage, that is, it is what it most naturally seems to say.

              However, look at the parallel passage in Mark 8:38 – 9:1. Here, Mark uses the same terms but changes the tense. Mark is relating a future event: That in the future, there will be those (who are presently hearing these words) who will see that the kingdom *has* come before they die (the ‘has’ accounts for the perfect tense verb). Mark uses future and perfect tenses to make his point.

              Perhaps Mark is talking about Christ’s resurrection – not his second coming. This makes a lot of sense given these words occur as Jesus has just spoken plainly about his death and resurrection. It also makes a lot of sense given the fact that Mark teaches that in Jesus’ (first) coming, the kingdom had come near. Further, Jesus was honest about his ignorance about the date of his second coming in both Mark’s gospel and Matthew’s. It’s strange then for Jesus, within the same text, to then make a bold prediction about the date of his second coming. It becomes easier to read this passage as a prediction about Jesus’ resurrection.

              There is also good reason to think that it may also be a reference to the Spirit coming on Pentecost and his (Jesus’) being exalted to the right hand of the Father. That is, that all three (including the resurrection) are in mind here.

              As for Matthew’s Gospel, it may also be taken as a prediction of near future events (the resurrection, being seated at the right hand of the Father, Pentecost). Further, given that it was typical of Jesus to make reference to his resurrection and second coming as a single ‘unit’, perhaps here he has done the same here. William Hendriksen argues this.

              Also, note that Jesus does not say to those present they will see Jesus coming ‘with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done’. Rather it merely says, ‘Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.’ Thus, Matt 16:27 is a reference to the second coming. However, v28 may be taken as a reference to the initiation of the new kingdom – IE. the reign of Christ and the establishment of his kingdom (the church).

              There is actually no reference to the second coming here.

              This coheres better with Matthew’s teaching in chapter 24 that Jesus doesn’t know when he shall return again. However, he consistently demonstrates clarity over the coming of the kingdom initiated by the resurrection.

              Lastly, it makes sense to adopt this interpretation for Mark 13:30 as the very next sentence of Jesus is, ‘But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.’

              It makes little sense for Mark to write a prediction on when the second coming would occur (that is, that it would occur within the years of the hearers’ lives) but then in the next sentence write nobody knows when this will happen. Mark (later followed by Matthew) even stresses that Jesus himself doesn’t know when the second coming would take place.

              I really believe that my hypothetical satisfies your call for an example of a scenario that would convince you God had ‘let you down’. No biblical scholar argues that the prophecies outlined above are unambiguous (which is one criterion present in my hypothetical). Further, taking the contexts of the passages into account, it seems we have a plausible alternative interpretation which harmonises Jesus’ teaching about his resurrection (perceived somewhat falsely as being about his second coming).

              ———

              I don’t expect you to respond to the prophecy points or the inner-witness points. You can probably do that in future blogs when you take up these points in more detail.

              Hope you have a great week, James. Take care.

              Tim

    • Daniel Lin

      People excel at convincing themselves to believe that which they already want to believe.

    • John Grove

      “We’ve all seen this in action. If you get a new job, it’s because God always provides for you. If you didn’t get the new job, it’s because God wants you to experience hardship a bit longer so you’ll truly appreciate happiness when it eventually comes. If your aunt survived cancer, it’s because God healed her. If she didn’t, it’s because God wants to teach you an important lesson about relying on him in difficult circumstances”

      The tautology of belief……………………….

      • Tim Chavura

        On the basis of your statement, what may you conclude about ‘belief’?

        • John Grove

          I conclude people who believe in superstition see what they want to see.

    • Tim Chavura

      ‘God is faithful’. This indicative statement is uttered by prophets and apostles in Bible. They make this claim because their God had made promises which were subsequently kept.

      I see no reason for Christians who believe in God to think such indicative statements are ‘vacuous’.

      I’m interested to know what you have to say about my hypothetical below.