“How do I know it’s true?” As an engineer, I ask myself that question all the time. My job is to design industrial machinery. If my design is faulty, time and money will be lost, and in some cases there is the risk of injury or death. I must be sure that my designs are based on sound principles and good information.
It wasn’t always my habit to ask that question. When I graduated from engineering school, with my head full of magic formulas and bright ideas, I was ready to single-handedly change the world. In due time, I was given my first project. In a flash of brilliance, I saw the solution and made a sketch of it. With my palm outstretched over the paper, I uttered the appropriate formula. In high spirits and with great confidence, I sent my drawings to the shop. Imagine my disappointment when the device was built—and didn’t work.
A sad moment, to be sure, but a necessary one. At that moment I became ready to learn the skills of fact-checking, self-criticism, submission to peer review, and above all, testing. In other words, I learned to ask at every step and in many different ways, “How do I know it’s true?” With this attitude, and the occasional use of the appropriate formula, I have been able to turn many of my ideas into reality.
Of course, I’ve also had many ideas which looked good on paper but did not pass the reality test. Such ideas must either be abandoned, or reworked to overcome the practical difficulties. No matter how much I might like an idea, I can’t make it true simply by asserting that it is true.
In addition to being an engineer, I’m also a Christian. I started down the road of faith just a few months before I drove off to engineering school. Having grown into both of these vocations simultaneously, it’s not surprising that my view of faith is colored by my respect for practical reality. Christianity puts forward the highest moral standard; it offers redemption to those who come short of that standard; it promises the love of God in this life and for an endless eternity. I can say from personal experience that it is a wonderful way of life. And yet, no matter how much I might like the results of the Christian faith, I cannot make Christ real simply by believing with sufficient intensity.
So then, which is it? Is Christ real, or am I living in a fantasy world of my own creation? Is there a moral purpose to the human condition, with genuine hope for a just and favorable outcome? Or is my life the result of blind impersonal chance, with the level of my personal pleasure being the only arbiter of right and wrong?
In the face of these questions, I feel a need for objective confirmation of my convictions. I just can’t help asking, “How do I know it’s true?”