The second problem is that there is carnage and devastation all over nature and in human societies, which He allows if not causes. A typical Christian teaching is that death and suffering comes from sin. There is also the teaching that imperfection can be used by God to ultimately bring glory to himself, and that suffering can be used to refine a believer's character. The exact nature of this glory is not well-defined, so the teaching about imperfection being used to bring glory to God ultimately amounts to hand-waving. Also, although it is reasonable to view suffering as an opportunity to practice perseverance, not all suffering achieves such a purpose. Regarding why a loving, omnipotent, God would allow suffering and pain, it is argued by Christians that love entails allowing freedom of choice, and freedom of choice entails the possibility of causing suffering. However, it should be noted that not all suffering is man-made. For example, natural disasters are beyond human control. Regarding why God causes natural disasters, the Bible hardly attempts to give any answer. This is also highly suspect for a rational observer.
Thirdly, God blames people for a condition they cannot help that he himself is not subject to. He calls them sinful and condemns them to hell. People are vulnerable, do not know everything there is to know, especially the intentions of others, and yet have the will to survive. Beings with these limitations and desire naturally engage in destructive competition and aggression, which God views as sin. God is not subject to these limitations and it is not fair for him to blame these people for the limitations.
I think I'd like to start out by discussing your first paragraph. I'm keeping in mind the other issues you wrote too, but I think this one is the most important. The other issues may come up naturally as we discuss this one.
Why does God not communicate more clearly? This is not just an important question from a theological point of view, it is also of practical spiritual importance. People talk easily about spiritual experiences in church, but I remember all of the times when I was distressed and begged God to speak, but he stayed silent. I think that almost all Christians have had similar experiences, but they mostly don't talk about it, so they can't help other people. The question is why God remains hidden sometimes, even usually, when it would be very easy for him to communicate.
But I think it is important to ask first, WHAT is God trying to communicate? If God's primary goal were to communicate a simple factual message, and the only thing important to him was that everyone knew it, then everyone would know it. But is God's message primarily facts? The gospel message as I understand it, is that what God wants to communicate is himself, not facts. What we believe can be important, but God isn't primarily concerned with that so much as he wants us to get to know himself.
Have you ever known anyone who talks all the time, but almost always about things other than himself? There is a certain sort of shyness many of us feel when we share about ourselves. The reason is not that we don't want to communicate who we are, it's because we don't want to communicate the wrong idea of who we are. We would rather not communicate a wrong impression of ourselves. Now, it's the same for God. God isn't just interested in us knowing that there IS a God, he wants us to know what his personality and nature are like. But this means that he can't just communicate in any old way, because that wouldn't communicate who he was. He has to communicate in a way that reveals himself most clearly.
Let me give an example. How might God make it totally obvious to everyone that he existed? Maybe every Sunday a large face would appear over the earth and say "I love you and want you to accept Jesus Christ. Also, obey my commandments". Then everyone would be a Christian—or would they? What they would actually be is idol worshippers, because God is not a giant face. But if God communicated in this way, everyone would think of him as a giant face, so actually it would not be communicating more clearly. It would be communicating less clearly. (Also, no one would have crucified Jesus.)
Or to make a more subtle example of the same thing, a lot of people think of the Holy Spirit as something like "a voice in my head that tells me what to do". If any time we had a question to ask God, a thought always immediately popped into our minds that seemed like an answer from God, then most Christians would probably be a lot happier. It seems like maybe you were expecting something like this. But the Holy Spirit is not a voice in the head. The Spirit can communicate in this way, and every now and again he does communicate to me in something like this way. But if he did so on demand, I would start to think of the Spirit as being a voice that speaks to me like another human being does. But this is not what the Holy Spirit is, or wants to be. You say, "the Holy Spirit is described to be very close". Since the Spirit doesn't interact with you in the way you expected, you think he is not as close as he promised.
But the Spirit doesn't want to be a voice in your head (at least not all the time), the Spirit wants to move through you and inspire your own activities, like it inspired the activities of Jesus. You won't notice when the Spirit is acting through you because it will feel like you are the one acting!—until you learn to recognize it gradually. This assumes that you are following Christ's commandment to love other people as he loved us. If you aren't trying to follow Christ's commandment, then the Spirit will not be acting inside of you, and of course that will make it impossible to recognize it.
Now, this isn't just something I'm making up in order to explain why reality doesn't match the Bible. It's actually what the Bible says. You say, "There is no warning that the presence of the Holy Spirit will be much different in intensity or quality than the presence of Jesus the man", but actually Jesus does warn this. He says that like the wind, you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going (John 3:8). He explicitly says that the condition for him sending the Spirit is that we keep his commandment of love, and that as a result the world is incapable of receiving, seeing, or knowing the Spirit (John 14:15-17, 21). When Judas son of James asks why Jesus is not going to show himself clearly to everyone, Jesus again reiterates that the necessary condition to know God is love (John 14:24). Why would Jesus need to reassure the disciples not to be sad at him leaving (John 14:1), and not to fall away (John 16:1), if the Spirit was going to be just as obviously present as he was?
So this is my suggested answer: love is what God is like, and therefore the only way of knowing God is through love. If we came to know God in any other way besides loving each other, then we might think he was being more clear, but he would actually be less clear because he would be revealing something other than what he is.
As for the Bible teaching that prayers by believers will be answered, many times it is stated explicitly that this only applies when the person asking has faith and does not doubt (e.g. Mark 11:20-25, James 1:5-8), and asks with the right motives (James 4:3, 1 John 5:14-15). Now I don't know how much faith exactly is needed here, but one thing that is CERTAINLY not faith is asking in order to test God to see if he really exists and cares. In fact, testing God is a sin (Deut 6:16, Matt 4:1-7, Matt 16:1-4). God wants us to gradually learn to trust him over the course of many years, so that our trust can be based on our character and not on things superficially going well. If God allowed us to manipulate him into revealing himself, this process would be short-circuited and we would always be immature, and never grow up spiritually.
You might ask, if we aren't allowed to test God, how are we supposed to know he exists and cares? The answer is that we are supposed to learn this on the basis of what he has already done in creating a beautiful world, saving Israel from Egypt, sending Jesus, and starting the Church. Once we learn to trust him, then he can act through us.
I am reminded of a story about Confucius, that he once told his disciples that he was thinking of giving up speech entirely. The disciples were upset and asked what would be left for them to pass on. He said "What does Heaven ever say? Yet there are the four seasons and the hundred things coming into being. What does Heaven ever say?" Confucius understood, even without the benefit of the Bible, that God was speaking silently through the things that were made, and that this is always a call to change how we live. God is always speaking. But most of us are not good listeners.
Imagine how humble God must be! To create the whole world, to die for the people in it, and then when people complain and curse, not to lose his temper but just to wait patiently until they mature enough to understand and repent. This is the sign, not of an insincere character, but of a strong character. If God were proud and needed ego boosts you can be sure that there would be no atheists.
What do you think about this?
Thanks for taking the time to discuss this. I am still skeptical. Please consider the following:
1. The evangelical Christian God exists, is omnipotent, omniscient, loves people and wants them to believe in him so that they can join him in heaven.
2. There are sincere truth-seeking people who have not seen evidence that convinces them that this God exists, but if they just saw Jesus walk on water, feed thousands with a few fish and loaves, rise from the dead, have vivid and non-contradictory dreams about heaven, etc, they would believe. It does not have to be one single awesome event. It can be many different signs to different people. If God employed a multitude of miracles and awesome ways to reach people, people will not idolize one single manifestation. They would understand that these diverse awesome signs are just different ways that God is using to show his presence and not God himself.
3. God has no other agenda more important than the agenda of loving people and having people believe in him that would prevent him from showing evidence like the ones above.
Then, I believe God would show himself more clearly to these people, but he isn't doing so, so one of the above statements must be false.
The first step in communicating yourself is to signal your presence. 'Creation' may or may not convincingly point to the existence of a Creator, but I don't see how it points to the Christian Creator and not some unknown Creator that is not the Christian God. To many people, the Bible is just a religious book, and not special compared to other religious books of other religions. Just because it is claimed to be true and to have had its accuracy preserved doesn't mean that claim is true. A non-believer who requires more substantial evidence in order to be convinced should not be required to just accept the Bible, because he has no prior reason to believe in it.
In essence, God is letting these people go to Hell because they fail to believe as a result of his failure to provide convincing evidence. In this situation, humility doesn't really matter.
In my last email, I was discussing only of this life, and what reasons God might have for partially concealing himself for the sake of our spiritual development here. The issue you raise in this email regards the final judgement and Hell. Any discussion of this must necessarily be more tentative than discussions of life on earth, because the final judgement hasn't happened yet, so we don't know right now exactly what it will be like. If the life of Jesus reveals what God is like, then God is very merciful (even though he is also very severe towards hypocrisy and unforgiveness). If Christianity is true, then Jesus will be the one doing the judging. If he was merciful when he was on earth, then he will also be merciful when he comes again.
Your objection to Christianity is this: How could a loving God possibly arrange things so that a sincere truth-seeking nonchristian, (an atheist, polytheist etc.) goes to Hell through no fault of his own?
In order to check to see if this is a problem, we should first check to see whether there are any sincere truth-seeking nonchristians who go to Hell. One could imagine two different kinds: 1) people who have never been exposed to Christianity, and therefore have no opportunity to know it is true, and 2) people who have been exposed to Christianity but claim there is not enough evidence to believe it.
With respect to the people in the category (1), how do you know that the Christian God would send them to Hell just for not being Christians? I think the Bible teaches quite explicitly that God does NOT do this. In Acts 17, Paul is trying to convince the Athenians not to worship idols. He says, "In the past God winked at this ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent." In other words, Paul explicitly says that God did not hold the idol worship of the pagans against them before they had an opportunity to hear the gospel and repent. Furthermore, it says in the book of Revelation that people are redeemed from every "nation, tribe, people, and language". Since many people groups went extinct before having an opportunity to hear the gospel, it is clear that at least some people are saved without having explicitly heard the gospel in their lifetimes. Finally, Peter seems to suggest that there is some opportunity for people to believe the gospel even after they have died, when he says:
"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits—to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built....the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit." (1 Peter 3:18-20 and 4:5-6).
This text goes against the standard evangelical view that there is no chance to be saved after death. On the other hand, evangelicals also say you're supposed to go with the Bible rather than what any particular church says, so I think I'll go with the Bible. :-)
Now let's turn to category (2), the case of a person who has been exposed to Christianity but doesn't believe it because they claim not to have enough evidence. I think there are several different possible things that might be going on here:
First of all, just because they claim to be seeking the truth, doesn't mean they really are:
(A) They might actually have enough evidence to believe in God, but dishonestly refuse to admit it to themselves, because they don't want it to be true. In this case, they are not actually sincere, and have rejected God not because of inadequacy of the evidence, but because of stubborn rebellion. In this case, there is no reason to think that they would accept God even if they did have more evidence. So it is not God's fault that they do not believe. It should be pointed out that many of the people who saw Christ multiply the loaves, heal people, raise the dead etc. nevertheless refused to believe. It is naive to think that if everyone saw miracles, everyone would believe. Rather the people who don't want to believe become more firm in their rejection of God.
(B) Or, although they don't have enough evidence to believe, they choose not to investigate to see whether it is true or not. In this case, it is their own fault that they don't have enough evidence. If people claim to base their decisions on evidence and reason, it is hypocritical if they reject Christianity without carefully considering whether there is sufficient evidence for Christ's Resurrection and other miracles to show that Christianity is true. In particular, it is utterly irrational to insist on seeing a miracle personally in order to believe, if there is lots of evidence that other people have seen miracles. People don't refuse to believe in scientific results unless they personally witness the experiments, so long as multiple reliable people say they have done the experiments, that is enough. Why should religion be different?
I never assume that anybody is intellectually dishonest until I have some specific reason to think they are dishonest. But I've talked to enough atheists to know that most of them do fall into categories (A) or (B), at least to some extent. However, I'm sure that there do exist cases in which atheists are sincere. In this case:
(C) It might be that although right now they do not have enough evidence to believe, later God will give them enough evidence to believe and they will become Christians. This might happen either before or after death, for all we know.
(D) Or, although they will die without explicitly believing in Jesus, it may be that through caring for the needy, Jesus will regard them as having accepted him without knowing it. (See Matt 25:31-36)
(E) Or, although they do not have enough evidence to believe, they live wicked lives without love. Since God is love, this means that what little they do know about God, they hate (even though they do not know it is God that they are hating). If people hate God, there is no reason to think they will stop hating God if God reveals himself more clearly. Why should God reveal himself to someone who would not benefit from it?
Given all of the possibilities A-E, it is not at all obvious that there ARE any sincere, truth-seeking atheists who are going to Hell. I think that most of them aren't really sincere or truth-seeking, and also that many of them aren't going to go to Hell.
Jesus says "Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or the age to come." In other words, when people reject Jesus without knowing his divinity, God forgives them and does not hold it against them. But when someone by the influence of the Spirit receives the insight necessary to understand that God is working through Jesus, and then rejects him, this is a sin that cannot be forgiven. (God forgives everyone if they repent, but the point is that people who persist in this attitude won't repent.)
It should also be made explicit that no one deserves to go to heaven, God saves people by his mercy. But God will not overrule people who insist at every opportunity that they want nothing to do with his mercy. If people would hate God if they knew him, God is being merciful by not revealing himself to them yet. It gives them a chance to grow and develop, so that maybe later they would be prepared to accept him.
It sounds like the points you raised mostly hang on the rejection of the evangelical position that without believing in Jesus, someone will go to hell. If you are right, this leads to another question, which is why God lets his people get so confused about something so fundamental to Christianity, arguably causing directly or indirectly people to miss the opportunity to consider the gospel in a pure form and fail to believe it. Many verses taken in isolation do seem to support the evangelical position. AFAIK, there is no single place in Bible that clearly spells out the criteria for salvation the way you understand it. I wonder why God wouldn't make it clearer this way. We don't have to answer this question now, though, and instead can focus on the original question.
Regarding point (B), many people claim to have seen UFOs and ghosts. Does that mean we should believe that UFOs and ghosts are real? Also, belief in a scientific theory or principle is different from belief in a religion. The former do not require any commitment in the way you live. The later totally determines how you live. One does not believe in a scientific theory the same way as believing in Christianity.
Actually, I think your non-evangelical position on hell is an effective counter-argument to the objection about God not being more explicit. However, I'm curious how you deal with believers who take the evangelical position. In theory it seems you have rather different gospels. What does it mean for you to fellowship with them?
About UFO's and ghosts vs. Christianity: if you can find me documentation of hundreds of not-obviously-crazy people who are eyewitnesses to the same alien/ghost experience, and who refused to give up this belief even when some were tortured and killed for it, and if the claimed alien/ghost experience has no other plausible explanation in terms of natural causes, then I will believe in aliens or ghosts. But you won't be able to find it. I shared office space once with a person who believed in alien abductions (as well as astrology, gnosticism, and a crackpot theory of physics); he thought that the most impressive evidence for alien abductions was "recovered memories" where people originally don't remember anything but later after they are hypnotized by a psychologist who believes in UFO's, they start thinking it happened...I'm unimpressed. He also believed that there was an enormous government conspiracy to keep us from knowing about aliens. That's another important difference: in order TO believe in alien abductions, you have to believe in a conspiracy theory amongst a large number of seemingly ethical people (the government). On the other hand, in order NOT TO believe in Christianity, you need to believe in conspiracy theory amongst a large number of seemingly ethical people (the apostles).
It is not always true that "belief in a scientific theory or principle" does "not require any commitment in the way you live". My nephew Julian was diagnosed with leukemia a year ago. There is a scientific theory that you can cure leukemia with chemotherapy. The theory also says that chemotherapy hurts the immune system, and therefore that any exposure to germs could cause Julian to be much sicker. This scientific theory makes extreme demands on the lifestyle of my sister Heidi who has to take care of Julian and take him to the hospital. If my sister had decided not to believe in this scientific theory because it was too much trouble, what kind of parent would she be?
In the same way, if you did have enough evidence to convince a rational person of Christianity, but won't believe it because it demands a total commitment, then you would not be a "sincere truth-seeking" person, but a very immoral one. That is because it is very important if it is true. I hope that does not describe you! Do not believe in Christianity unless you have enough evidence. But once you accumulate enough evidence to know that it is very likely to be true, it is unreasonable to demand more, since that would be enough evidence for someone who loves truth more than convenience. Once you reach the point of enough evidence, no one but you can make the decision to believe. A lot of people say they doubt for intellectual reasons, even though they would not believe even if all their doubts were resolved. I've heard people say that they wouldn't become Christians even if they were 99.99% sure it was true. I've heard people say that they would not become Christians even if they knew for sure it was true. I've even heard atheists say that the most important reason they don't believe in God is because they hate him.
You say that the evangelical position is that "without believing in Jesus, someone will go to hell". If by belief you mean explicit belief, i.e. the person must consciously know that they believe in Jesus, then actually no one believes that position. Ask any evangelical Christian whether Abraham was saved. Abraham did not explicitly know that Jesus was God, that he would later die for his sins on the cross, or that he would rise again on the third day. And yet, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness" (Romans 4:3) And Paul is clear that Abraham was saved through faith, just as Christians are.
Abraham didn't explicitly trust in Jesus. But he did believe in something (God's promise that he would have descendents) which turned out to be about Jesus—without Abraham knowing it. Now it is true that there are evangelicals who think that no one in the present time is saved unless they have explicit belief in Jesus. But they aren't going to find any verses in the Bible which say that salvation suddenly became more difficult as a result of Jesus coming into the world. That would be strange indeed. As for how I can fellowship with believers who differ with me about this, what is the problem? We agree on the most important thing: that salvation comes only through Jesus and that we ought to tell everyone about him. But I also know lots and lots of evangelicals whose positions are more like mine.
So, even if people did die for their faith, how do you know what that faith was all about? How do you know that the Bible is completely true? What if the Jesus that people died for is not for the most part the Jesus recorded in the Bible? For example, what if he only claimed to be a prophet with an important message, but not the message that's in the Bible today? It's not too far-fetched for people to believe in this prophet and show their conviction in his important message by dying for their beliefs. Christians are not the only people in the world who value certain things more than life itself.
Additionally, I'm not sure that in those days, signing up to be a Christian and part of a Christian community is equivalent to signing up for a death sentence. Imagine you are a new believer in a certain city on a certain day between 30 AD and 70 AD. Yes, people hate Christians, and you've heard of Christians in other cities being persecuted. But, your community of believers so far has been left alone, so it seems to be safe. So, you continue to participate in your local community and you start to be identified by your neighbors as a Christian. You really like the sense of solidarity in the community, so you stay despite the possibility of trouble. One day, the city turns against Christians and decides to put them in jail or execute them. They just hate you for being so different and disruptive. They just want to get rid of your community of believers, and if you denounce Jesus, it doesn't mean they're going to let you off. They know you as a Christian and they just want to do a thorough job, so they get rid of you and your fellow believers sparing no one. You are not offered a chance to denounce Jesus in order to live. You're not really consciously choosing to die in order to proclaim your faith. You just happen to belong to a group that people want to eliminate. On the other hand, there are the apostles, most of whom were killed for their belief. I don't know why they might have died for their belief, but one could consider their executions as political executions. They stood for certain ideologies/communities/factions and their enemies just want them dead, even if they were to publicly denounce whatever they stood for. For example, maybe some apostle might have stood for not just Jesus, but also the overthrow of the Roman government. In this case, the Roman government would want to get rid of him even if he publicly rescinds.
So, I suppose at issue is the authenticity of the Bible—whether it records the actual beliefs of those early believers, and what Jesus actually said. This is a really complex topic. You need to trust the Bible with some limited knowledge regarding its accuracy in order to believe. The same goes for chemotherapy—you need to trust that the knowledge and beliefs of the doctors make sense, based on limited knowledge regarding the rationality of the scientific process. The big difference, though is that with Christianity, I don't know if there are people who went to heaven and came back, or people with a time machine who went back in time to be an eye-witness. On the other hand, belief in scientific knowledge could be based on the successful application thereof that is seen in everyday life, as well as the basic understanding that science experiments are repeatable — some science paper about an experiment could be written 400 years ago, but the experiment could be repeated to verify the recorded findings. Yes, it's hard for a non-expert to repeat the experiments, but experts are available in the present who can repeat the experiments, and you don't have to depend on second, third and fourth -hand accounts.
One way for the claims of the Bible to be repeatable is for miracles to be seen. If miracles were half as common as they seemed to be in the early church as recorded in Acts, then the Bible would be more believable today. In fact, Paul refers to his preaching in 1Cor 2 as being done with 'power', and most of the time, that word refers to some actual miraculous thing happening, such as instant healing of a sickness, resurrection of the dead, or teleportation. There's no reason given why they are less common now. I, for one, haven't seen a miracle. Why don't I see a convincing miracle the way it used to happen in Acts and the Gospels?
I suppose if you believed that believing in Jesus were the only way to be saved, then you would tell people that God is sending them to hell unless they believe in Jesus. It seems like a great way to alienate potential believers. To take it one step further, a Christian spreading the gospel with such a position may be causing damage to the work of another Christian with a more inclusive position.
God expects his people to pass on the memory of the miracles which have already happened, and to trust him even in the times when he is working more quietly. I have already explained in my first email why trust is spiritually important and why God would ruin the work he is trying to do if he just showed miracles on demand.
Are you skeptical about ancient history in general? Do you believe Julius Ceasar was assassinated by a conspiracy of Senators in 44 BC?
If you believe in any events of ancient history, you believe it based on testimony, written either by eyewitnesses, or those who compiled the testimony of others. That's how history always works. Why is 2000 years any worse than 200 years? (In either case all of the direct eyewitnesses are dead.)
In the case of the apostles, we have multiple eyewitnesses who claim to have seen the same thing, who were tortured rather than renounce it. Of course I agree that just because someone is willing to die for a belief, that doesn't mean it is true. It only means that the person believes it is true. If I died for Christianity, that only means I think the evidence is good. But when the apostles died for Christ, they were in a position to KNOW whether the evidence was good. There's no way that anyone could fake the kind of resurrection appearances that are recorded in the gospels. And the resurrection is key to the entire teaching in the New Testament. Look all over the place; it's resurrection this and resurrection that. If you believe the book of Acts, the apostles started teaching about the resurrection only a few weeks after the death of Christ. If you think that the apostles were teaching something else for the first few decades and then later brought in the resurrection, where is the evidence of this original version of Christianity.
Regardless of the experience of the average Christian in the 1st century, the apostles certainly knew from almost the beginning that their beliefs risked death, that is why they were meeting behind locked doors on Sunday morning. I don't know whether all Christians got a chance to renounce Christianity or not, but at least some of the time the Roman practice was to not punish Christians who denied their faith:
http://www.gutenberg.org/catalog/world/readfile?pageno=117&fk_files=2025 (scroll down, letter of Pliny to Emperor Trajan about persecuting Christians)
http://www.gutenberg.org/catalog/world/readfile?fk_files=2025&pageno=118 (Trajan's reply)
It makes sense anyway; if you want to stamp out a religion it's much more valuable to get an important religious leader to spare himself by recanting than to kill him.
Anyway, in order for it to be rational to disbelieve in Christianity, there has to be an alternative hypothesis that is more reasonable. Do you think the apostles were liars? Do you think they hallucinated it all? Do you think it was all made up hundreds of years later? None of these hypotheses are reasonable, for reasons which I can go into if you want.
There are also miracles which have occurred in modern times. Most of them are performed by missionaries who are evangelizing to people who have never heard the gospel before. At the price of a some research and a plane ticket, there is nothing to prevent you from talking face to face with someone who claims to have seen a modern day miracle.
Why do you insist on seeing a miracle personally? It is perfectly possible to become rationally convinced that supernatural events have occurred by doing historical research and then using your brain. Just like we become convinced of lots of other things in life. What you are basically demanding is MORE evidence than is necessary, so much evidence that you don't have to think or trust, just see. Demanding a miracle is basically saying to God, I want you to force me to believe, I want it to be so totally obvious that I don't have to reach out in faith. As long as we are on the subject of what kind of belief is necessary to avoid going to Hell, I should point out that the kind of belief you'd get from being compelled to believe isn't faith. "Even the demons believe—and tremble!" (James 2:19).
I have no reason to be especially skeptical about ancient history to say it is totally wrong, but I am not sure enough to bet my life on it, either. The gospel requires you to bet your life on it. It requires you to shift your perspective on life, your priorities in life, etc. So, it requires even more certainty if we take the approach of evaluating evidence.
Anyway, I've come to decide that you can't prove or disprove Christianity, just like you can't prove or disprove anything else that exists in the real world, as opposed to the logical world (e.g. math). The reasoning approach is still useful for demonstrating the plausibility of Christianity, though. The question of why God lets people go to hell who didn't hear about Jesus was the biggest problem but is now moot.
I've decided that Christianity is something to be tested through experience, just like everything else in the real world, especially interpersonal relationships.
I've also come to realize some of the expectations on churches and Christians I used to have that were not met. My disappointment with Christianity could have been avoided if I had taken a broader view and been less focused on a narrow set of things. Entertaining the questions I had and turning away from Christianity was one way to maintain my sanity. Another way was to realize that my expectations were actually unrealistic and perhaps too idealistic. I took the second approach and I'm now back to experiencing God again. I've learned from my experienced and revised my perspective on quite a few things about Christianity. For example, I'm now quite sure that the view that someone who doesn't believe in Jesus will certainly go to hell is misinformed.
Thanks for patiently discussing the issues with me.
Thank you for the interesting conversation. I'm glad you found the discussion helpful. I agree with you that you can't prove or disprove Christianity in the sense that one could do it in math, and that it requires an approach a little more like the ones we use in interpersonal relationships. I'm also very pleased that you feel like you are reconnecting to God. Please pray for me as well, since I may be facing a difficult decision in the future about what job I should take.
If you end up in the future becoming confident in a version of Christianity which is a bit different than the one you were originally taught, remember to be kind to those who hold versions of Christianity that you reject, just like the apostles accepted each other even when they did not always see things exactly the same way. Good luck with your continued spiritual searching.