The Christian practice of apologetics means making a defense for the faith—the Greek apologia means to defend, not to say you are sorry. Christians who focus on apologetics are focused on using Scripture, philosophy, science, and other evidences to help skeptics to see that the claims of the faith are rational, genuine, and trustworthy. So, the person who defends the accuracy of biblical translation, the person who argues for the existence of God from the principle of first causes, and the person who uses archeological findings to show that the walls of Jericho really fell all are using apologetics.
If you ask different Christians, you will find different levels of interest in apologetics. Some folks will spend a lot of time and energy brushing up on their arguments, and they do so for good reasons. Others believe that God has already given all people knowledge of his existence (cf. Rom. 1:18-20), and thus they will not go far down the road of arguing for God based on nonbiblical foundations, and they do so for good reasons. Some believe that apologetics are tools to use to help people come to faith in Christ. Others believe that apologetics can pull down obstacles to faith, but that this kind of argument cannot change a heart.
My goal in this post is neither to affirm nor disavow apologetics as a whole, but to remind us , from an odd Scriptural angle, that the unbelieving world is far less logical about things of God than we often assume in apologetics. We need to realize that those who are antichristian are not always willing to actually think clearly about the evidence and arguments before them.
Take, for instance, the Egyptians. Pharaoh, the Egyptian ruler, experienced multiple miracles in his presence and around his land that laid waste to his kingdom. He saw water turned to blood, pests swarm and depart based on the commands and prayers of Moses, storms wreck the crops and livestock, darkness cover the land of the Egyptians but not the Hebrews, and even the death of firstborn all over the country. Each time, Pharaoh claimed to believe in the power of the Lord and he claimed that he would release the Hebrew slaves. But, after he looked back over his situation, he hardened his heart, changed his mind, and went back on his word.
After the Passover, the Egyptians sent the Hebrews out of their land. However, Pharaoh changed his mind one more time, leading his chariots out to recapture the valuable workers. Thus came the confrontation on the shores of the Red Sea.
Now, what I want us to consider is the logic, the rationality, of the anti-God Egyptians in the face of evidence. Let’s not argue about what the plagues should have done to persuade the Egyptians. Let’s not argue about the walls of water that parted to allow the Israelites to cross over on dry land. Let’s not even point out that the Egyptian soldiers recognized they were in deep trouble as their chariot wheels began to clog and swerve as they tried to cross the Red Sea. Instead, lets focus on one thing that happened before anybody had to drown.
Exodus 14:19-20 – 19 Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, 20 coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night.
Besides the plagues, besides the other evidences to come, this odd little story stands out to me. The Egyptians arrived in time to get to the Hebrews before the sea parted and the land was dry. The Egyptians should have been able to take care of business, except for one thing: God stood in between the Egyptians and the Hebrews. The pillar of cloud—also a pillar of burning fire at night—came down out of the sky and blocked the path of the Egyptians so that they could not get to the Hebrews.
Now, what would a logical leader do when faced with this event? Would not a thinking person be convinced by a supernatural cloud that stood in the gap and refused to let his army get to the Hebrews? Would not a thoughtful leader say to himself, “Maybe I’d better turn around, cut my losses, and go back home?” One would think so. But Pharaoh pressed on, drove his army into the sea, and the army that chased Israel died. God proved himself mighty and glorious.
Now return to the concept of apologetics for a moment. What impact did logic and rational thinking have on the skeptics at the Red Sea? What help was repeated proof and visible confirmation to those who hated God and his people? The answer is that such things, perfectly powerful evidence, did not convince the Egyptians.
We live in a world of folks, some of whom are going to come to faith in Christ and some of whom are not going to come to faith in Christ. And I would suggest that it is wise and good for Christians to have solid answers in areas like philosophy, science, history, archeology, and all the rest. We want to think through the skeptics’ questions and know that the Scripture has answers. We want to offer a defense for the faith, especially for those who are honestly confused. But, and this is important, we also must recognize that, regardless of the seeming honesty of the skeptic, we will often find that a person who does not desire to submit to God will not be convinced by evidence, not even miraculous evidence. It is only the power of God working through the word of God and Spirit of God that can bring a spiritually dead heart to life and draw a skeptic to Christ. So, let us focus on solid thinking for sure. But, let us even more focus on Scripture, prayer, and honesty, as we learn that only the Lord can help a person to believe the truth that is blazing like a pillar of fire before their eyes.