The second title on my “books that I was able to finally finish during vacation” list was Timothy Keller’s The Reason for God. A tremendous read that I highly recommend for anyone who has real questions about God and the reality of Christ as Savior, especially when you look at the hurts, confusion and chaos that is the world we live in.
The first half of the book is dedicated to methodically and logically speaking to some of the most common areas of doubt:
- There Can’t Be Just One True Religion
- How Could a Good God Allow Suffering?
- Christianity Is a straightjacket
- The Church Is Responsible for So Much Injustice
- How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?
- Science Has Disproved Christianity
- You Can’t Take the Bible Literally
All were well explained, however, I found it to be a bit “heady” (for a simple-minded guy like myself) and it required that I read it in small chunks. The second half of the book deals with the reasons for faith. This is the section of the book, as you can see by the number of quotes below, that really resonated with me.
- The reality and weight of my sins.
- How easily I fall into idolatry.
- Having Jesus being the Lord of my life, not just the Savior of my soul.
- Grace and being accepted, not because of anything I offer (which is nothing), but because of what He did (which was everything).
- Confidence in the power of His forgiveness and that God is not mad at me, but rather radically, totally, infinitely happy with me because of what Jesus did on the Cross for me.
The Reasons For Faith
Sin is not simply doing bad things, it is putting good things in the place of God. So the only solutions is not simply to change our behavior, but to reorient and center the entire heart and life on God. (p. 178)
Everybody has to live for something. Whatever that something is becomes “Lord of your life,” whether you think o fit that way or not. Jesus is the only Lord who, if you receive him, will fulfill you completely, and, if you fail him, will forgive you eternally. (p. 179)
All other major faiths have founders who are teachers that show the way to salvation. Only Jesus claimed to actually be the way of salvation (p. 180)
If you are avoiding sin and living morally so that God will have to bless and save you, then ironically, you may be looking to Jesus as a teacher, model, and helper but avoiding him as savior. You are trusting in your own goodness rather than in Jesus for your standing with God. You are trying to save yourself by following Jesus. (p. 183)
The devil, if anything, prefers Pharisees – men and women who try to save themselves. They are more unhappy than either mature Christians or irreligious people, and they do a lot more spiritual damage. (p. 184)
Religion operates on the principle of the gospel is “I am accepted by God.” But the operating principle of the gospel is “I am accepted by God through what Christ has done – therefore I obey.” (p. 186)
When my own personal grasp of the gospel was very week, my self-view swung wildly between two poles. When I was performing up to my standards – in academic work, professional achievement, or relationships – I felt confident by not humble. I was likely to be proud and unsympathetic to failing people. When I was not living up to standards, I felt humble but not confident, a failure. I discovered, however, that the gospel contained the resources to build a unique identity. In Christ I could know I was accepted by grace not only despite my flaws, buy because I was willing to admit them. The Christian gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued and that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time. It undermines both swaggering and sniveling. I cannot feel superior to anyone, and yet I have nothing to prove to anyone. I do not think more of myself nor less of myself. Instead, I think of myself less. I don’t need to notice myself – how I’m doing, how I’m being regarded – so often (p. 187)
The Christian’s identity is not based on the need to be perceived as a good person, buy on God’s valuing of you in Christ. (p. 188)
Some years ago I met a woman who began coming to church at Redeemer. She said that she had gone to church growing up and had never before heard a distinction drawn between the gospel and religion. She had always heard that God accepts us only if we are good enough. She said that the new message was scary. I asked her why it was scary, and she replied: If I was saved by my good works then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me or put me through. I would be like a taxpayer with “rights” – I would have done my duty and mow I would deserve a certain quality of life. But if I am a sinner saved by sheer grace – there’s nothing he cannot ask of me.” (p. 189)
Forgiveness means absorbing the debt of the sin yourself. (p. 199)
It is crucial at this point to remember that the Christian faith has always understood that Jesus Christ is God. God did not, then, inflict pain on someone else, but rather on the Cross absorbed the pain, violence and evil of the world into himself. (p. 200)
The fact that Jesus had to die for me humbled me out of my pride. The fact that Jesus was glad to die for me assured me out of my fear. (p. 208)
Jonathan Edwards, in reflecting on the interior life of the triune God, concluded that God is infinitely happy. (p. 227)
Paul calls Jesus “the last Adam.” As the first Adam was tested in the Garden of Eden, the last Adam (Jesus) was tested in the Garden of Gethsemane. The first Adam knew that he would live if he obeyed God about the tree. But he didn’t. The last Adam was also tested by what Paul called a “tree,” the Cross. jesus knew that he would be crushed if obeyed his Father. And he still did. (p. 230)
In fact, as C.S. Leis put it, all the adventures we have ever had will end up being only “the cover and the title page.” Finally we will be begin “Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read; which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before.” (p. 236)
Imagine you are on a high cliff and you lose your footing and begin to fall. Just beside you as you fall is a branch sticking out of the very edge of the cliff. It is your only hope and it is more than strong enough to support your weight. How can it save you? If your mind is filled with intellectual certainty that the branch can support you, but you don’t actually reach out and grab it, you are lost. If your mind is instead filled with doubts and uncertainty that the branch can hold you, but you reach out and grab it anyway, you will be saved. Why? It is not the strength of your faith but the object of your faith that actually saves you. Strong faith in a weak branch is fatally inferior to weak faith in a strong branch. (p. 244-245)
During a dart time in her life, a woman in my congregation complained that she had prayed over and over, “God, help me find you,” buy had gotten nowhere. A Christian friend suggested to her that she might change her prayer to, “God, come and find me. After all, you are the Good Shepherd who goes looking for the lost sheep.” She concluded when she was recounting this to me, “The only reason I can tell you this story is – he did.” (p. 251)
The Reason for God Timothy Keller. The Reason for God. Riverhead Books, published by the Penguin Group, New York City, New York. 2008.