Have you ever wondered where love comes from?
If our atheist friends are right, love is in large part just sort of a trick our chemistry plays on us. It is simply a feeling generated by attachment or conditioning or evolutionary expediency. Imagine a little boy running up to his mother and crying out, “Mommy, I love you!” What would you think of the mother who responded, “Yes, I feel a release of serotonin in a conditioned biological response to my familial attachment to you, as well?”
I have a friend who on Facebook always tells people “Happy Birthday” by posting, “Congratulations on the completion of your gestation!” The point of the joke is to sort of take the romance out of the whole event.
It’s in religion generally that we learn that love comes from somewhere. Not from the right firing of the chemical lightning in the goop of our genes, not from the conditioned response to social attachments and the furtherance of the species, but from a kind of outer space, from outside of ourselves, from a place like heaven, actually. Most religious people believe love comes from outside of humans and is put inside of them. There are a variety of feelings about this. The monotheistic religions believe that love in some way comes from God.
But only Christianity holds that the one God is actually a community of three Persons who eternally and co-equally love each other so much that this love overspilled the bounds of their perfect relationship into the world they created to reflect their own love. And only Christianity believes that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, come to embody this love of God in the flesh and love his neighbors and love his Father perfectly, that he might bridge the gap created by sin between mankind and the Father, that mankind might have the Father’s love and that the Father might have the love of men.
I confess I feel a little breathless just writing that! And I think that’s kind of the point. I don’t think it’s right to talk about love in dispassionate, disconnected ways. Christians believe that humans love because God has put the capacity to know and give love inside of them. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
We are made in the image of God, but Jesus Christ is the perfect image of God (Colossians 1:15). This is not only unparalleled among religious worldviews, but is offensive to many of them. But biblical Christianity will not shy away from this, because we know to have love that never lets us down, love that will forgive us forever, love that will sustain us and secure us and satisfy us, the kind of perfect love that is described in 1 Corinthians 13, it must come from someone who is perfect. And only Jesus Christ fits the bill, because only God is perfect.
If you are compelled to love in a truly sacrificial way but find yourself balking at the truth claims of Christianity, I would urge you not to put down your philosophical musings and logical reasoning, but to add alongside it a focus on the person and work of Jesus Christ. Because I believe that if God is calling you through Jesus, you will find your arguments answered in the meanwhile. I love this testimony from Francis Collins, one of the world’s foremost scientists and the leader of the Human Genome Project, himself a former atheist:
I grew up in a home where faith was not an important part of my experience. And when I got to college and people began discussing late at night in the dorm whether God exists, there were lots of challenges to that idea, and I decided I had no need for that. I was already moving in the direction of becoming a scientist, and it seemed to me that anything that really mattered could be measured by the tools of science.
I went on to become a graduate student in physical chemistry, and as I got more into this reductionist mode of thinking that characterizes a lot of the physical and biological sciences, it was even more attractive to just dismiss the concept of anything outside of the natural world. So I became a committed materialist and an obnoxious atheist, and it sounded very convenient to be so, because that meant I didn’t have to be responsible to anybody other than myself.
It was a sneaking process. As a medical student I had the responsibility of taking care of patients who had terrible diseases. I watched some of these people really leaning on their faiths as a rock in the storm, and it didn’t seem like some kind of psychological crutch. It seemed very real, and I was puzzled by that.
At one point, one of my patients challenged me, asking me what I believed, and I realized, as I stammered out something about “I don’t believe any of this,” that it all sounded rather thin in the face of this person’s clearly very strong, dedicated belief in God. That forced me to recognize that I had done something that a scientist is not supposed to do: I had drawn a conclusion without looking at the data. I had decided to be an atheist without really understanding what the arguments were for and against the existence of God.
With the full intention of shoring up my atheism, I decided I’d better investigate this thing called faith so that I could shoot it down more effectively and not have another one of those awkward moments. I read about the major world religions, and I found it all very confusing. It didn’t occur to me to read the original texts — I was in a hurry. But I did ultimately go and knock on the door of a Methodist minister who lived down the street and asked him if he could make any recommendations for somebody who, like me, was looking for some arguments for or against faith.
He took a book off his shelf — Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. Lewis had been an atheist [and] set out as I did to convince himself of the correctness of his position and accidentally converted himself. I took the book home, and in the first few pages realized that all of my arguments in favor of atheism were quickly reduced to rubble by the simple logic of this clear-thinking Oxford scholar. I realized, “I’ve got to start over again here. Everything that I had based my position upon is really flawed to the core.”
What’s interesting is that Collins did not abandon science. It is not as if becoming a believer in Jesus meant losing his mind. But it meant that what he was finding in scientific pursuit was not answering the deepest cries of his heart the way what these ailing patients had did. In the end, he still had his science, still had his logic and his reason. But he also discovered that materialism cannot produce the kind of enduring love that comes from outside of us, the kind that comes from heaven.
Nancy Pearcey shares her story of conversion this way:
While still at L’Abri, I had once accosted another student, demanding that he explain why he had converted to Christianity. A pale, thin young man with a strong South African accent, he responded simply, “They shot down all my arguments.”
I continued gazing at him somewhat quizzically, expecting something more, well, dramatic. “It’s not always a big emotional experience, you know,” he said with an apologetic smile. “I just came to see that a better case could be made for Christianity than for any of the other ideas I came here with.” It was the first time I had encountered someone whose conversion had been strictly intellectual, and little did I know at the time that my own conversion would be similar.
Back in the States, as I tested out Schaeffer’s ideas in the classroom, I was also reading works by C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Os Guinness, James Sire, and other apologists. But inwardly, I also had a young person’s hunger for reality, and one day I picked up David Wilkerson’s The Cross and the Switchblade. Now, here was a story exciting enough to suit anyone’s taste for the dramatic—stories of Christians braving the slums and witnessing supernatural healings from drug addiction. Fired up with the hope that maybe God would do something equally spectacular in my own life, that night I begged Him, if He was real, to perform some supernatural sign for me—promising that if He did, I would believe in Him. Thinking that maybe this sort of thing worked better with an aggressive approach, I vowed to stay up all night until He gave me a sign.
Midnight passed, then one o’clock, two o’clock, four o’clock … my eyes were close in spite of myself, and still no spectacular sign had appeared. Finally, rather chagrined about engaging in such theatrics, I abandoned the vigil. And as I did, suddenly I found myself speaking to God simply and directly from the depths of my spirit, with a profound sense of His presence. I acknowledged that I did not really need external signs and wonders because, in my heart of hearts, I had to admit (rather ruefully) that I was already convinced that Christianity was true. Through the discussions at L’Abri and my readings in apologetics, I had come to realize there were good and sufficient arguments against moral relativism, physical determinism, epistemological subjectivism, and a host of other isms I had been carrying around in my head. As my South African friend had put it, all my own ideas had been shot down. The only step that remained was to acknowledge that I had been persuaded—and then give my life to the Lord of Truth.
So, at about four-thirty that morning, I quietly admitted that God had won the argument.
God had won the argument, and he will use any means to do so, including the intellect. Because he created it! He certainly can win souls through it. But in the end, even those who come to faith through these kinds of means are finding something more than simply an intellectual satisfaction. They are finding their souls satisfied.
They are finding the fountain of love.
Maybe God is calling you too. Maybe you’ve got good arguments against trusting in Jesus. But if he is wooing you, I think you will find these arguments answered. In the meantime, his love is calling you. If you were face to him honestly, you would see, I think, that there is no single person ever to live like Jesus Christ. Simply considering the things he said and did will prove this. And in the end, he didn’t come to win the argument, but to win you.
There are many good and compelling arguments for the existence of God and the unique truth of Christianity, and one of them is this: nothing explains the powerful existence of love like the powerful existence of the triune God who in love sent the Son to die for sinners.