Christopher Columbus, Sir Francis Drake, Captain James Cook. Henry Stanley finding Dr. Livingston. All these conjure up the excitement of discovery and exploration. In their time, each of these men stood on uncharted soil. In some cases they planted a flag and said something like: "I claim these lands in the name of God and His Royal Majesty King Edward (or King George or Queen Isabel) . . ."
These early explorers dedicated their lives to discovering new lands (and, they hoped, riches) and claiming them in the name of their royal sovereign. Some traveled by tiny ships into unknown waters on trips that sometimes lasted many years. They did it for God and country (although money and adventure also played a part), often with their lives in danger from savages or unknown diseases. Those were dramatic times.
Have you ever wondered what it was like back then? I have. Most people today can travel to these once-exotic places in a fraction of the time it once took. On one of many trips, I remember looking down from the aircraft and wondering what it was like in the days of those early explorers. You read of Stanley and Livingston and their struggles deep in the jungles of Africa. Africa is still mysterious. What must it have been like then?
Or in faraway Australia, what thoughts went through Captain Cook's mind when he sailed into Botany Bay back in April 1770? What must Dutch captain Willem Jansz have thought as he sailed through Australian waters 164 years earlier?
Both he and Captain Cook were thousands of miles and months away from their home waters. Who knew what awaited them in this faraway land? Whatever their circumstances or thoughts, they could never have dreamed of the ease with which we now do things that were so difficult for them.
Today we take for granted flying in mere hours distances that once took weeks and months to cover. These men were isolated from their base for months and years. We, on the other hand, in the comfort of a reclining seat, jet across continents and seas unaware of the weather beneath us!
Our homes have a talking picture box that brings in images of the things they spent lifetimes struggling to discover. The diseases they fought have been largely tamed by modern medicine. Satellites make global positioning as simple as the press of a button.
All these amazing things exist today. We are familiar with them, yet in the times of the "great explorations" they were not only impossible—they were unimaginable. For someone to have spoken of such things might well have brought accusations of witchcraft or blasphemy against God.
Thinking has a way of changing over time. These men had the comfort of their conviction and duty to God. Today we have less conviction, and the reality of God is in question in the minds of many. At best there is talk of a Prime Mover or First Source, but in the scientific world even that is limited to a relatively small number.
Evidence confirms the Bible
Can we know whether God is real and the Bible is His Word? In the beginning of the 19th century the authenticity of the Bible was questioned. But with the discovery and excavations of such ancient biblical cities as Babylon, Ur, Nineveh and Calah, the intellectuals of the day were amazed.
Now many of the principal cities of the Old Testament have been uncovered. Even the names of many specific individuals mentioned in the Bible have been found. Yet even with those amazing discoveries, many still doubt the validity of the Bible and the reality of God.
For many scholars, the early chapters of Genesis are mythology. The common view among them is that those chapters are only the writings of a tiny nation attempting to raise itself to a position of importance by claiming God led them. The ancient nation of Israel—and more pointedly the Jewish people—are presumed to have invented a supernatural God with tales of His intervening on their behalf in the affairs of men.
At times these men are amazed to hear announcements such as the one recently released by Israeli archaeologists Eli Shukron and Ronny Reich. In an Associated Press report of Dec. 23, 2004, they announced an incredible find—the biblical Pool of Siloam mentioned in John 9:7 and 11, buried since the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. "The moment that we revealed and discovered this four months ago," said Shukron, "we were 100 percent sure it was the Siloam Pool." (See "Archaeologists discover biblical Pool of Siloam," The Good News, March-April 2005, p. 16.)
In addition to its location as described in ancient documents, other verification was found in broken pottery pieces, a stone bottle cork and biblical-era coins found in the pool's structure.
Is God real?
Some time ago, newspapers reported on a survey taken in Great Britain regarding religious beliefs. Asked "Do you believe in God?," from 60 to 75 percent of adults questioned said they did. But, as it turned out, their belief had small impact on their everyday lives. It didn't impact how they lived, where or how they worked, whether or not they cheated on taxes or lied about something.
A smaller percentage said they believed in heaven. A lesser number believed in miracles—although they often hope for one—and as few as 25 percent professed a belief in angels. A large part of the British public considered themselves nonreligious.
You may find yourself wondering whether you are convinced of the reality of God. The cold fact is, the reality of God is not determined by percentages on surveys or by majority vote.
God is. He is real. He does control the ultimate end of man. This fact doesn't depend on our believing it. Our ultimate welfare does.
Read this head-on challenge. Think about it. Nothing is in doubt here: "Remember the former things of old, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure'" (Isaiah 46:9-10). Long ago specific statements were made; events were foretold and then brought about. Mankind questioning that fact doesn't change a thing.
Do we understand this statement? God says He is so powerful that He can foretell the end of a matter from the very beginning. He determines the required circumstances and brings them about.
Another wonderful thing is stated just after this in verse 13. God says He will bring His salvation. The rest of the Bible teaches that we, each of us, can share in that promise. But what does that mean?
Salvation means eternal life. Can you imagine living forever in an abundant, happy existence? In the life He promises, there will be no deterioration or aging with the passing of time. There will be no limitations because of health, physical stature or gender.
Humankind struggles mightily to discover new ways to prolong life. All too often that means more months or years of declining health. God says He offers us the opportunity to live forever—not a life of failing strength, loss of hearing and sight, but an abundant, vibrant, full experience throughout time without end. What an unbelievable gift!
Are we embarrassed about religion?
Some time ago Michael Mann, a leading British publisher, had this to say about the attitudes toward religion in Britain: "As a nation, we're slightly embarrassed about [religion]. The media don't write about it, and the booksellers won't admit to the success of the spiritual section hidden up on the third floor. People are still afraid of making fools of themselves."
How sad. It applies to many in the United States as well. Afraid of appearing foolish to friends or acquaintances, many turn away from the important questions of life and concentrate on less controversial subjects.
We need to know the reality of God. His existence can be proven (request your own copy of the free booklet Life's Ultimate Question: Does God Exist?). Are you willing to open your mind to the possibility that there is an all-seeing, all-knowing God ruling over the affairs of men?
We should be more concerned with what God thinks than what others think. What will we say when we have to look Him in the eye?
"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad" (2 Corinthians 5:10).
The point is reiterated in Romans 14:11-12, which states: "For it is written: 'As I live, says the LORD, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.' So then each of us shall give account of himself to God."
"Do not be unbelieving"
God understands our weaknesses and lack of faith. Consider the case of the apostle Thomas, often called "doubting Thomas." He wasn't in a rush to believe the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. His friends couldn't convince him. "Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe" (John 20:24-25).
Eight days later, Jesus appeared to the disciples. "Then He said to Thomas, 'Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing" (verse 27).
That is a 21st-century statement as well, one that applies to all: "Do not be unbelieving, but believing."
Jesus offered Thomas proof. He said, "Put your hand into My side." That is pretty dramatic proof that He who had been dead was alive again!
You too can have proof of God. If you are willing, you can know God exists. We can't literally put our fingers in Jesus' scars, but we have the testimony of those who were there and saw it. You can know the amazing story of things He foretold and brought to pass. You can read the real story of Jesus Christ.
You need to know God is real. He is the Creator. He is the giver of life. He is our salvation. Write for our free booklets proving these things. Remove any doubt you may have experienced and know with confidence that Jesus lives.
Are you willing to be convinced?
Of course, no one can convince you or anyone else, unless you want that conviction. To believe in the living God and His Son Jesus Christ is a major step. You must be willing to be convinced.
What does it take? For some, it is a dramatic answer to prayer. For someone else, it may be an intervention in a major family problem. For another, it may be having a spouse provided when it seemed impossible for such a thing to happen.
This may all involve prayer in some way. You may not believe in prayer. Don't sell it short. Pick up the challenge and simply talk with God. Some surprising thing might occur for you out of the blue.
Do you want to believe? Answers do come. As we saw earlier, a challenge was issued to unbelievers in Isaiah's day. It bears repeating: "Remember the former things of old, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure'" (Isaiah 46:9-10).
You can research some of the things God prophesied and see whether they came about. Much prophecy is yet to be fulfilled, but there are many prophecies that have been.
Ancient historians have recorded that the man Jesus Christ lived. As proved in our booklet Jesus Christ: The Real Story, He was not and is not a myth. The many prophecies that He would be born, live and die as a sacrifice for our sins all came to pass exactly as they were written down centuries before.
The long-ago nation of Israel was prophesied to go into captivity. It did, as many historians attest. And yet the Israelites were prophesied to become the most powerful nations on earth in the times leading up to Jesus' return. Believe it or not, the nations of the United States and the United Kingdom were spoken of in the Bible, not by those names but by the names of Manasseh and Ephraim, two of the tribes of the ancient nation of Israel. (Write for our booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy, which explains the whole story.)
God does exist. He answers prayers—though perhaps not always as we may want, because we always want something but He always know what we need. Thus His answer may be, "No, you don't need it."
He created all things and He rules in the affairs of man. That rule may be indirect at this time. But He brings it about with a push here and a nudge there to fulfill His will. Daniel 2:21 points out that God "removes kings and raises up kings."
In the coming years, He is going to intervene. When it happens, no one will be able to deny it. The rule of the kingdom of man is coming to an end. Humanity will be taught how to have a happy, abundant, peaceful life. Humanity will learn not to hate, not to be envious, not to kill. Physical human beings will be led in treating other people as they wish everyone would treat them.
When it is all said and done, human beings will become a part of the very family of God in the eternal Kingdom of God. You can be a part of that Kingdom. You should be a part of that Kingdom. You, too, can live forever.
The challenge before us is far more amazing than the challenges the early explorers faced, and it is incredibly more rewarding.
Believe it or not! GN