September 8, 2011
Do you ever consider God? What do you understand Him to be? Maybe you don't even believe He exists?
The existence and nature of God infinitely affects our understanding of the universe, this world and ourselves. The Christian author, John Blanchard presents the issue with clarity in the preface of his book - Does God Believe in Atheists?
'It has often been said that the most important questions anyone could ever ask are: 'Who am I?’, 'Why am I here?' and 'Where am I going?' Dealing as they do with the issues of a person's identity, meaning and destiny, they are obviously of great
significance, but even these are secondary when put alongside one which is both fundamental and inescapable: 'Does God exist?'
This is the question, and every debate about human life and death, and about the universe in which humanity lives and dies, ultimately revolves around it …Those who disagree over the question of God's existence are not merely crossing paper swords over some interesting but ultimately irrelevant point of science, philosophy or theology. They are disagreeing over the greatest issue of all.'
Yet, so many people do treat this fundamental question as a trivial matter. The attitude evident in modern society could be summarized as follows - 'I don't believe in God, but even if he does exist, so what?' Religion, of course, is partly responsible for this situation; with so many competing and claiming to be the, or a way of truth, how can anyone be sure which religion is right or which god is real? Islam and Christianity are the largest religions in the world. They are both monothestic, that is, they believe in only one God, yet clearly the God represented by Islam is not the same God represented by Christianity. Then there are the many factions under the banner of Christianity each claiming to know and worship God.
Also, the proponents of what is called ‘New Atheism' are now aggressively propagating their ‘godless’ message loud and clear to all who will listen. One of their chief spokesmen, Professor Richard Dawkins of England, has written a book called The God Delusion in which he attacks all gods in general, and the God of the Bible in particular. His is not merely the presentation of an alternative view to theism, but an all out war against any belief in a supreme being. Professor Dawkins, who has evidently appointed himself as God's judge, jury and executioner, denounces the ‘God of the Old Testament as arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction’, rubbishes the accounts of the four gospels, and audaciously pronounces that ‘God almost certainly does not exist’.
The point is that many people are only exposed to an unjust, false and misrepresented view of God through either atheistic propaganda, or false religions, or secular media. Having a wrong perception of God will lead to a characterization of Him that is far from reality.
None of this means that we can never fully know the truth; for we certainly can. It is only when we consider what the Bible actually says about God and how He has revealed Himself that we will begin to have a right understanding as to who He really is, and our relationship with Him.
The Sovereign Creator
When Paul briefly visited the city of Athens around A.D. 49, he found a culture steeped in idolatry. Athens, the cradle of democracy, had a glorious history of art, literature, oratory and philosophy but what Paul encountered did not provoke his admiration rather it stirred him in his spirit to earnestly propagate the truth of the gospel. The Athenians were always open to some new idea and soon Paul was given the opportunity to address the Areopagus or Mars’ Hill, the name of the noble Athenian court, derived from the location where it originally met. This important body represented, and was comprised of the citizens of Athens with jurisdiction in matters of religion and morals. Paul was not there on trial rather the Athenians wanted to know the meaning of his preaching concerning ‘Jesus and the resurrection’ (Acts 17:18).
Paul spoke with directness and clarity. He had observed, among the many representations of idolatry, an altar bearing the inscription – ‘TO THE UNKNOWN GOD’ (Acts 17:23), and he used this title as the starting point for his address to this distinguished audience. Paul unhesitatingly and unequivocally identified this ‘UNKNOWN GOD’ as the Creator of everything and the Sovereign of the universe: “Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things” (Acts 17:23-25).
Having identified God as the Creator Paul then made factual and logical assertions about God – If He is the Creator then He is sovereign, and if He is sovereign He cannot be confined to the temples of men nor is He dependant upon men for anything, because He Himself is the source of everything. The accusation is often made against Christians that their faith is illogical and a cover for ignorance because of the apparent unexplainable gaps left by the Biblical worldview of the universe. The fact is that when God is acknowledged as Creator then it is only logical to believe He is all that Paul affirmed Him to be. Faith and knowledge are at the very foundations of Christianity and are in harmony, not contradiction. The basis of faith is knowledge, not knowledge that comes through human reasoning and discovery, but by divine revelation; a revelation that is absolutely sufficient for reasonable faith. Believing God does not mean the abandonment of reason, rather it is to respond intelligently to the unmistakable evidence He has given of Himself. God created man in His image therefore with intelligence and He expects us to be intelligent in the choices and decisions we make. It is the sin, and particularly the sin of self-sufficieny that makes man abandon God and act like a fool (Romans 1:20-22). Human progress in discovery and creativity don’t abolish any need for God, instead they are evidence that man has been created in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). Knowledge does not replace faith, instead it ought to confirm and strengthen it.
It is therefore a fundamental error to assume that advancement in scientific knowledge dismisses the Bible and debunks faith. Here are two reasons why: firstly, it is a mistake to assume that all we know about God, is all there is to know. While His revelation is sufficient He Himself is eternal and infinite. Secondly true science and Biblical revelation are not enemies but friends. We must not confuse the theories of men, which stand in opposition to scripture, with true science that complements scripture.
The fact that God is the sovereign and transcendent creator does not mean that He is distant and detached from His creation. God did not merely create the world only to let it take its own course or leave it to its own fate, rather He is actively near in time and space as Paul declared: “And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring’” (Acts 17:26-28)
God not only made the world, He made humankind to dwell upon it. Man originated by an act of divine creation, and not a process of evolution. All men are created by God and descend from one ancestor, Adam – ‘one blood’. Racism is a sin against God. No race is superior to another either by nature or grace. The American Declaration of Independence is right when it states:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
But what was written on paper didn't correspond with practice as American history demonstrates. Man is a sinner and the words of the Scottish poet, Robert Burns, are only too true: ‘Man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn’.
God also determined the ‘times and boundaries’ of nations, that is - when and where they would dwell. God has actively implemented throughout history what He had previously planned for the world as man's
Mars' Hill, Athens
Paul, Mars' Hill and God (Acts 17:16-34)
dwelling place. The existence, duration and boundaries of peoples throughout the centuries has been by divine design and with a specific purpose in view – ‘so that they should seek the Lord’, who is ‘not far from each one of us for in Him we live and move and have our being’. God is not distant and remote but near and present, and our very existence depends upon Him. Paul even quoted one of the Greek poets to bring home this truth to his audience.
The Almighty Judge
The reality is that the abandonment of the one true God for idolatry and the continuing battle against His existence has more to do with His moral authority than His creative power. When the first man Adam sinned against His Creator, it was the deliberate rejection of His moral authority. Adam was hardly in a position to deny His existence and power as Creator, but he could and did rebel against His moral authority. God had set the limits to man’s liberty, with a moral obligation of obedience to His word, and He established the standard of His justice by warning of the consequences of disobedience. Adam learned that he was both responsible before God and accountable to Him, yet even with this knowledge he decided he would prefer his independence and so disobeyed God’s word by eating of the fruit of the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ (Genesis 2:16-17). The fiest man rebelled against his Creator and mankind continues in rebellion to this day, but the Creator has never, and will never relinquish His moral authority over man. Paul, before concluding his message in Mars’ Hill, reminded his audience of their and all people’s accountability to God: ‘Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:29-31).
After God had judged and purged the world with water in the days of Noah, earth's population began again to multiply. All the people were of one language and had knowledge of God, but like Adam they inexcusably rebelled against their Creator at the tower of Babel and as a result were scattered abroad upon the face of the earth in complete confusion (Genesis 11:1-9). Then, instead of seeking God they completely abandoned Him to willfully practice immorality and idolatry despite having the tangible testimony of creation as a witness to their conscience: ‘For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse’ (Romans 1:20). Yet, as generations followed, growing up in the darkness of idolatry the faithful Creator still provided for the nations: ‘God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them, who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness’ (Acts 14:16-17). And though there were times of specific judgment throughout history, generally God instead of judging the idolatrous peoples of the world before Christ came did in His mercy overlook their folly, not that it didn’t matter, but He so acted in order that they might respond to His goodness and witness in Creation by turning to Him. But now that Christ has come things have changed. God with all His authority as Creator ‘commands all men everywhere to repent’ for He is now dealing with the world on the basis of the full revelation of the gospel, and therefore no one can plead ignorance. The way of salvation and reconciliation is clear for the gospel declares how ‘that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the scriptures’ (1 Corinthians 15:3-4), and the Lord Jesus commissioned His disciples ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned’ (Mark 16:15-16). God saves those who turn to Him from sin and believe on the Lord Jesus but those who don’t and who persist in willful rebellion, continue to reject His love and deliberately defy His authority - face His judgment.
God is not threatening us rather He is warning that the Day of Judgment, the time of accountability is surely coming. The resurrection of Jesus provides the guarantee that God will judge the world. God’s sovereign and moral right to judge rest in the fact that He is both Creator and Saviour; no one can point the finger at God accusing Him of unrighteousness, for through His Son the Lord Jesus He not only made the world, He has also provided in Him a way to save the world!
Paul concluded his notable message to the Athenian court and like any preacher, waited for the reaction of his audience. It is recorded that people responded in three different ways to the truth they had heard from the great apostle: some mocked, others were indecisive, and some believed. What way will you respond?
Temple of Olympian Zeus, Athens