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EXPLORATION IN THE CHARACTER OF GOD
By Andrew Wilson
David C. CookCopyright © 2007 Andrew Wilson
All rights reserved.
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The fool says in his heart, "There is no God."
The Bible never tries to prove the existence of God. It would be like a math textbook proving that 1 + 1 = 2, or a historian trying to show that there was such a thing as the past—there would be no point. To the Bible writers, God's existence is foundational, essential, and startlingly obvious. So anyone who does not believe in God, the psalmist says, is quite simply a fool. Lots of clever people since then have come up with ways of proving God's existence, and some of these can be useful. But it is interesting that—in a book spanning two thousand years of history and with stories about all sorts of people who don't believe in him—the Bible never presents an argument for God's existence. It is so obvious, it doesn't need to be argued for.
Many people today think the opposite. Lots of people believe that nonbelief in God is the default view, and science has removed the need to add God into the picture. People take it for granted that God doesn't exist, and if you say he does, they will want you to prove it scientifically. If you ask them to prove scientifically what they believe, of course, they are very unlikely to be able to—but mostly, they will not see this as a problem, because it seems that the majority agree with them.
There are two problems with this. One, the majority is often dangerously wrong. The majority of German officers in the 1930s agreed with persecuting Jews; the majority of nineteenth-century Europeans thought black people were second-class citizens; the majority of medieval scientists thought the world was flat. But also, lots of beliefs we hold—often, the most important ones!—are just not provable scientifically.
Take the statement: "For something to be true, it must be provable scientifically." Can that statement be proved scientifically? Can you do an experiment in a lab to demonstrate that it is true? Or how about, "My daughter loves me"? How can that very important statement ever be proven? The fact is, we believe things because they make sense of the world as we see it, not because some outside authority (like scientific proof) says they are true. So the real question is: How does belief or nonbelief in God make sense of the world around us?
You see, every view of the world has to provide an explanation for every fact there is. People who do not believe in God still have to account for beauty, the fact that the world came into being in the first place, the occurrence of miracles, the awareness in people that there is such a thing as evil, the existence of things like conscience and emotions, and the sense of God that seems to be present in every civilization we have ever discovered. Often the explanations provided for these facts are so ridiculous that they call into question the worldview itself (like the ways atheists try to explain Jesus' empty tomb). Denying the existence of God creates many more problems than it solves.
The biblical perspective, on the other hand, accounts for the unbelief of other people in terms of sin. Look at Paul's argument in Romans 1:18–20:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
People don't believe in God because they suppress the truth. They want to be independent of God, without accountability for their actions, and so they don't want there to be a God. As Thomas Nagel, professor of philosophy and law at New York University, wrote recently, "It isn't just that I don't believe in God and, naturally, hope that I'm right in my belief. It's that I hope that there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that."
It is simply foolishness and sin that lead people to deny that God exists. The Bible never argues for God's existence, but titles it as the foundation stone of all thinking and living, because God's character is so clearly evident in creation. From morality to mercy, from miracles to mountains, God's existence is displayed in all things. Only the fool denies it.CHAPTER 2
God the Beginning
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In the beginning, God ...
In the beginning, God. What a way to start! No lengthy explanations or arguments, just a simple few words that show God was always there. Questions like "Who made God?" or "What was there before him?" are shown here to be as irrelevant as they are silly. God is, was, and always will be the beginning of all things.
As with God's existence, there are many people today who argue that God was not the beginning, because we can't prove he was. We have already seen how poor this argument is. On the other hand, it is important that we understand that our belief in God's pre-existence—the idea that he was there before anything else came to be—is not logically ridiculous, but actually the most likely explanation of why things are as they are.
John Piper gives a helpful way of thinking about this. Go back in time in your mind to the beginning of time, before the Big Bang, before anything we can scientifically understand had happened. We don't know what started it all—it could have been a gas, or it could have been a person. It's a 50/50 shot. We will never be able to turn up a fossil and find out which it was. The only way of coming to a conclusion about it is to look at the world around us, and see whether the person explanation or the gas explanation looks more likely. Does the universe carry the characteristics of a person who created it? Or is it all a random collection of atoms, which in some cases have formed living things?
To some scientists, the universe is exactly that: a random series of matter and events that show no sign of a personal God. Richard Dawkins, the famous scientist and atheist, said this: "In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find a rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference ... DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music."
To most people (including many scientists!), this is ridiculous. Quite apart from the social and moral dangers of believing that all people, from Mother Teresa to Hitler, are simply dancing to the music of their DNA, there are a number of properties in the universe that suggest design, purpose, evil, and good. The fact that we are aware of "good" or "evil'" at all is an obvious example. If everything in the world is "blind pitiless indifference," why do we have a sense of good or bad? Why aren't we all striving to have as many offspring as possible, as you would expect if there were no personal qualities in the universe? Conscience is another example. In evolutionary terms it is difficult to explain, whereas if we are created by a person, it makes perfect sense. Or take our attitude to things like time and death—two of the most certain and normal things there are. Why do we fear death, and mourn for people, sometimes people we don't even know? Why do all cultures known to us observe burial rituals of some kind? Why are we surprised by death, and surprised even by the passing of time? C. S. Lewis, in fact, sees this as strong evidence for man's eternal destiny, arguing that it is "as though the universal form of our experience were again and again a novelty. It is as strange as if a fish were repeatedly surprised at the wetness of water. And that would be strange indeed; unless of course the fish were destined, one day, to become a land animal."
I am inclined to agree. That God was there in the beginning, not a gas or an atom or an explosion, is indicated by the host of our universe's design features that point to a person.
The Bible does not go into this, of course. As with the existence of God, his pre-existence is just assumed. Yet it is also present throughout Scripture, from the first verse of Genesis to the first verse of John's gospel to the final chapter of the whole Bible (see Rev. 22:13). In the beginning, God. It's as simple as that.CHAPTER 3
God the Creator
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Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.
God created all things. This is one of the most important teachings in the Bible, because it establishes the relationship between God and everything else. If God created all things, then lots of very common beliefs about the universe are simply wrong. Think about it: Materialism (the idea that the material, physical world is all there is) must be wrong, because there is a God. Dualism (both God and everything else have always existed side by side) must be wrong, because God created matter. Pantheism (God is in everything) and panentheism (everything is part of God) must both be wrong, because God is distinct from what he has created. God created all things, and by his will they exist.
But if creation is one of the Bible's most important teachings, it is also one of its most contested, and confidence in it needs to be restored. We cannot go into the ins and outs of the debate here, but evolution is widely believed to make the Bible's account of creation impossible, and, although this is not true, it still holds a lot of influence at the popular level. It is worth pointing out, though, that people may choose evolution over creation, not because the science points that way (in many areas it doesn't), but because it is a theory that does not need God. As a leading Harvard biologist admits:
We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs ... because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori [fundamental] adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.
So beware of anyone who thinks they are the only one without presuppositions. It usually means theirs are so dominant that they don't even notice them any longer!
The widespread use of the word "nature," even among Christians, also suggests that confidence in the biblical view of creation needs to be restored. The Bible never talks about "nature," but about "creatures," because creatures point to a creator, whereas nature just is. It is important to recognize this: God should be given honor and glory for his creation, rather than everything being credited to some impersonal force like nature. This is the point of the verse quoted above—because God created all things, because things only exist in and through him, he is worthy to receive glory and honor and power. Remember, the origin of sin is in knowing God is there without giving him thanks or glory as we ought to (Rom. 1:21).
In Genesis 1, God is said to "create" three things: the heavens and the earth (1:1), living creatures (1:21), and man in his image (1:27). Of everything else it is said "he made." It is as if the word "create" is reserved for those moments when God makes something completely unprecedented, something that has never been done before, a new sort of something (matter, living creatures, and man as the image of God). Whether or not this is the case, the Bible makes it clear that everything that exists came about because God created it; God did not shape something that already was, but brought into being something that had never been, simply by the power of his word. That's why Genesis 1 keeps repeating the phrase, "And God said."
In fact, Genesis 1 seems to be doing more than just accounting for how things came into being. It is making a powerful statement about the true God as opposed to the false gods other nations believed in at the time. Other people believed in gods who fought and struggled with one another; the God of Genesis created simply by the power of his word. Other cultures worshipped the sun, moon, and stars; the God of Genesis created them, and indeed created things (including light itself) before them. Other nations saw great sea monsters as symbols of chaos; the God of Genesis created these as well, and "saw that it was good." In short, the God of Genesis is in a totally different category from everything else that exists.
The fact that God is the creator should make us stand in awe. Nicky Gumbel writes:
On 20th August 1977, Voyager II, the inter-planetary probe launched to observe and transmit to earth data about the outer planetary system, set off from earth traveling faster than the speed of a bullet (90,000 miles per hour). On 28th August 1989, it reached planet Neptune, 2,700 million miles from the earth. Voyager II then left the solar system. It will not come within one light year of any star for 958,000 years. In our galaxy there are 100,000 million stars, like our sun. Our galaxy is one of 100,000 million galaxies. In a throwaway line in Genesis, the writer tells us, "He also made the stars" (Genesis 1:16). Such is his power.
God created all things. If he had done nothing else, this alone would make him worthy of glory and honor and power.CHAPTER 4
God the Craftsman
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Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Not only did God create all things, but he also crafted them. He built them, brought shape to them, designed them. God didn't haphazardly scatter things about and hope for the best; he made everything with care, and the wonder of creation bears this out. God is a master craftsman.
Consider the passage from Job. Job and his friends have been questioning and speculating about God's character and justice for thirty-five chapters, until God finally speaks to them "out of the whirlwind" (if this ever happens to you, you may be in trouble!). The string of rhetorical questions that follow are designed to show Job the absolute care with which God has made all things, as well as the absolute power he wields to do what he pleases. God pictures himself variously as a ground worker (laying foundations for the earth); an architect (determining its measurements and stretching the line upon it); a builder (sinking its bases); and a bricklayer (laying its cornerstone). In other words, God is responsible for every part of creation, and nothing has been made without his design and execution.
If we think about this at the biggest level, it inspires reverence and fear. The stars, unthinkably large balls of gas and fire that appear as small dots in our sky because they are so far away, were designed, crafted, and built by the God we worship. If we go in the other direction, we can reflect in astonishment at the work ethic of ants (as in Proverbs 6:6–8), or the astounding beauty of tropical fish, or the speed of a peregrine falcon, or the variety of creatures hidden in the depths of the sea or in mountain hideouts that humankind has not even discovered yet. And we can see the design and craftsmanship of God in each of them.
Excerpted from Incomparable by Andrew Wilson. Copyright © 2007 Andrew Wilson. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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