by Mark Clark, adapted from his new book The Problem of God: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to Christianity.
I was raised in a staunch atheist household. We never went to church. We never owned a Bible. We never talked about God. My father was such an ardent atheist that he demanded my mother spell my brother’s name, Mathew, with only one t so as to not be biblical. He then named me Mark.
Clearly he didn’t see the irony.
My parents divorced when I was eight years old. My father was a classic deadbeat dad. He couldn’t hold down a job, didn’t know how to raise my brother and me, and divided his time between drinking and yelling at football games. He died of lung cancer when I was fifteen. I never got to say goodbye to him because he never told us he was sick. He was forty-seven years old. There were eighteen people at his funeral. As I stood over his casket, my mind was flooded with questions about God. I was a skeptic then, and in many ways, I still am. The longer you’re a Christian, the more you come to realize that faith requires skepticism. Believing in one thing means you have to challenge and exclude other things. As G. K. Chesterton once said, “To believe in everything is the same as believing in nothing.” I didn’t want to believe in everything—that everyone was right about God no matter what their views about him. That seemed weak and absurd. That whole view, now very popular, seemed too convenient, and I am skeptical about convenient things. I had chosen instead, at that point, to believe in nothing. And maybe that’s you. A skeptic. A doubter. At some level, it’s all of us. Christians don’t believe in Thor or Aphrodite, for instance. Christians have varying levels of doubt and skepticism about a lot of things. In the same way, you may not believe in God at all or you might reject some of the Christian ideas about him. That was me. But as I stood in that very lonely funeral home, I began to ponder where exactly my father was; I asked myself what I believed. About God, humankind, eternity, and morality. About my father.
Where did he go?
At age seventeen, a few days from starting to deal drugs myself, I met a guy named Chris. He was a former drug dealer at my school who had become a follower of Jesus and had been totally transformed. I was intrigued by his life, his questions, and his passion for God. We met in woodworking class, and he challenged me to examine my doubts, read the Bible, pray, and think about the implications of what I believed. I knew one of two things would happen if I did that: I would either lose the small amount of faith I had possessed since my days at summer camp or that faith would explode and come to define me.
So I began to research and wrestle with the existence of God scientifically, historically, and philosophically. I had lingering questions about suffering and evil that came from my own experience—my sickness and the loss of my father. I wrestled with the reliability of the Bible, the legitimacy of miracles, and the dark history of the church, filled as it was with judgment, violence, and hypocrisy. I wrestled with the doctrine of hell and how God could allow my father, who to my knowledge never became a Christian, to go to a place of everlasting torment, since this didn’t square with my understanding of justice, love, or Jesus. I set out to explore these things and lean into my doubts rather than away from them. The more I explored, the more I saw the power and soundness of Christianity. I saw science and philosophy were not opposed to faith at all. Historically, Christianity stood apart from other world religions in its legitimacy.
Later that year I gave my life to Christ. After I got serious about following Jesus, there still was one step I could not bring myself to take: attending church. It’s ironic looking back on this, given that I now spend my life serving and building a church as a pastor. Initially I was afraid and disinterested in church altogether. I thought it would be an old man up front preaching from a big dusty Bible, the building old and smelling like mothballs. A friend finally convinced me to go . . . and it was exactly like that! But I stayed anyway. I’m not really sure why. I guess because I found others like me, wrestling in the place where faith and skepticism meet.
To have faith in something, I require a certain level of information. Like you, I don’t believe every claim that comes my way simply because someone tells me it’s true. I want evidence. I have always been that way. It was no different when I came to faith in Christ. Every idea and claim about God or humankind had to have evidence behind it, or I wouldn’t accept it. I grew up in an exclusively non-Christian social world, where if you believed something with conviction, you would have to test it so you were able to defend it when challenged—an informed faith rather than an assumed faith. And that is what my book The Problem of God is all about.
How To Use This Book
“This is a book I will buy in bulk and keep on hand to pass out to both my skeptic and Christian friends who are honestly asking the tough questions about Jesus, the Bible, and Christianity that deserve careful and thoughtful answers,” writes author and pastor Larry Osborne.
Osborne continues, “If you’ve struggled with the arguments for and against the existence of God, the historical reliability of the Bible, or the origins of the Christ myth, you’ll find answers in these pages…
“If you’ve failed to find satisfaction in the clichés that too easily dismiss the real and genuine issues that surround the conundrums of evil and suffering, hell, and the exclusiveness of Christianity, you will find rich and satisfying answers in these pages. Not easy answers. But rich, satisfying, and intellectually honest answers.”
Pick up a copy of The Problem of God for yourself and a friend today.