After his roles as senior researcher at the University of Oxford’s Centre for Anthropology and Mind, and Lecturer in the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, Justin L. Barrett became the Director of the Thrive Center for Human Development, Thrive Professor of Developmental Science, and Professor of Psychology at Fuller Graduate School of Psychology.
In this work, Barrett explores evidence from cognitive science to demonstrate belief in God as a consequence of the minds humans have. His findings and conclusions are worth considering but we must also examine the cognitive or noetic affects of sin regarding why people refuse to believe.
In a piece titled, Uncomfortable Unbelief, Wilfred M. McClay suggested that, “‘Unbelief would be untenable without the moral and metaphysical capital created and banked by the belief it displaced.”
There is more to unbelief than many realize. Unbelief involves an effort to live outside of more than just the cultural influences of religion. Unbelief is an effort (unknowingly to most) to live contrary to the way we were made — to live across the grain, so to speak, of the image of God in us. Perhaps this is part of the point of Romans 2:14-15 and Acts 17:24-29.
I’ve done a couple of conferences on this theme by exploring unbelief in five ways:
Five ways to view unbelief
- An Identification: Jesus said, “You do not believe because you are not my sheep” (John 10:26). Since you stand outside of those who belong to Christ, you do not/cannot believe in Him (Acts 13:48; John 6:44, 63-65; 8:47).
- A Condition: “Since they did not consider it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, He gave them over to a depraved mind” (Romans 1:28). Consider those who love darkness (John 3:19-20; Ephesians 4:17-18) and those who are blinded (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).
- A Response: A choice (John 5:39-40; John 5:42-44; John 7:15-17; Revelation 22:17).
- A Judgment: God’s permissive agency hands some people over to their desired deception (Romans 1:18-26a;cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12; Isaiah 66:3-4 – notice how they “refused” and God ratifies their choice; Psalm 81:11-12). God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:8); Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Exodus 8:15, 32; 9:34-35).
- A lack of appetite: (John 6:35 cf. John 4:14). This understanding of unbelief deserves more focus than it typically receives. Rarely is unbelief solely or mainly a changing of one’s mind about facts. It is also a turning of the heart away from the Creator and Redeemer.
Think about it this way
Why do people refuse to believe? Consider Jesus’ words, “I am the Bread of Life; he who comes to me will never go hungry and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35 cf. John 4:14).
From these words, we learn that belief is not merely an agreement with the facts about God. It is also a matter of appetite; of longing; of hungering and thirsting and finding satisfaction and fulfillment in one’s relationship with God.
Belief is not merely thinking correctly about God and Jesus. It’s turning to Jesus as the source of nourishment for life (tasting and seeing). Many people think correctly about God without turning to Jesus as the source of nourishment for life.
But, God has set up the world in a way that, “man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3-4). Blessed are the poor, needy, hungry and thirsty. As Augustine prayed, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You…”
Our hearts are also hungry until they find satisfaction in God; Our hearts are thirsty until quenched by God.
Unbelief, therefore, involves a turning of one’s heart away from God to search for satisfaction from something or someone else.
John Piper stated that, “Unbelief is a failure to be satisfied in Jesus. It’s a failure to go to him as the living water and the bread from heaven and the light of the world. It’s a failure to go to him as a satisfaction that’s deep enough and strong enough to satisfy me when I am tempted to go in a sinful direction to indulge an appetite.”