A Word From Our Sponsor: One Who Encounters God

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple” (Isaiah 6:1)

Encounters with God differ for everyone.  Some engage Him in prayer, some through the Scriptures, while others do so through praises and singing.  Revelations and visions were rare occurrences.  God appeared unexpectedly to certain people to give them a special message for those whom He sought out.  Most of the time, these revelations and vision were about God’s redemption, that is, saving people from their troubles or delivering them from their enemies or destructive circumstances.

God engaged Isaiah in such an occasion.  One day, he entered God’s temple to worship the LORD.  Suddenly, the LORD appeared to him.  Isaiah saw the LORD sitting on His throne above him in a robe that filled the entire temple.  He also saw certain heavenly creatures called seraphim, crying out to another,

Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!” (6:3)

Just as God’s glory filled the temple, these creatures proclaimed that this same glory filled the entire earth.  The power of this vision and the voice crying out caused the temple to shake.  Stunned as he was, Isaiah could do nothing but cry out,

Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The LORD of hosts” (6:5).

One of he seraphim comes to Isaiah and touched his lips with a piece of coal, and pronounced him clean.

Immediately after the seraphim did this, the LORD Himself asked,

Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” (6:8)

Isaiah replied,

“Here am I! Send me” (6:8).

The LORD then gave Isaiah a commission and with it a message to give to the Jewish people,

“Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; Lest they see with their eyes, And hear with their ears, And understand with their heart, And return and be healed” (6:9-10)

Isaiah and the LORD continued in their conversation.

Many strange things exist in this incident between Isaiah and the LORD.  Additionally, the message the LORD gave to Isaiah is highly enigmatic.  Without delving deep into the passage, we can make a number of observations about Isaiah’s encounter with God.  First, God is the LORD (Yahweh), the God of all and everyone.  He is the sovereign and only God in all existence.  He recognizes those who do not accept His position and pronouncements of Himself and His declarations.  Second, He does not leave rebellious people without witness and revelation of Himself.  During Isaiah’s time as well as during the eras of the other prophets, He revealed Himself to Israel and others through His declared word.  Third, God’s word has immense power.  When He speaks, His word can shake the entire earth and the hearts of individuals.  We learn of such power elsewhere in the New Testament letter of Hebrews where the author declares,

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:12-13).

This power engaged Isaiah’s heart to the point that he recognized his own sinful state before a holy God.  Here he was in the temple of God preparing to worship God.  Yet he recognized that his standing in the presence of the holy God who speaks holy words yielded a confession of his own destitute position.  He declared himself “unclean” and one who lived among a rebellious people.  He saw himself not in the position to be before this God.

Fourth, God’s word changes hearts.  After Isaiah heard the words of the seraphim, he immediately confessed his sinful predicament and the predicament of his fellow countrymen.

Fifth, God’s word not only changes hearts, but it also motivates one to do God’s will.  After the seraph touched Isaiah’s lips with a piece of burning coal, the LORD spoke to him in the form of a question.  The LORD basically asked Isaiah who will accomplish His mission.  Isaiah did not allow a moment to pass without a swift reply, “Me!  I will!”  God’s word so changed Isaiah that it redirected his focus to others.

The message the LORD gave to Isaiah seems rather strange, because it was a negative one.  Close their ears and understanding so they will not turn to Him.  Why did the LORD want Isaiah to give Israel a negative message so they reject Him?  God had His purpose,

But yet a tenth will be in it, And will return and be for consuming, As a terebinth tree or as an oak, Whose stump remains when it is cut down. So the holy seed shall be its stump” (Isaiah 6:13).

The LORD speaks about a “holy seed.”  The word the LORD gave to Israel would come to a people who resists His will until the time of the “holy seed.”  This “holy seed” is the promised Messiah who will save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).  Much like the message Isaiah received from the LORD, the message of Messiah will also turn people away.  However, like God’s word to Isaiah, its power will turn the hearts of people everywhere to Him, causing them to confess their sins and to seek His redemption.  Isaiah is an example of the power of God’s word.  It not only saves but it motivates toward a mission.  This passage gives great encouragement for every Christian in every nation that God’s word will accomplish His purpose in and through those He saves so that the whole earth will eventually realize the glory of God and become His temple in which all will do His will.

The Fool’s Answer About God, Part 2

[NOTE: Numbers in parenthesis refer to notes at the end of article]

“The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God” (Psalm 53:1).

The psalmist and fool returned for their card game, tossing their bets, calling one another on their hands, and attempting to gain an edge with each card.  Their bantering continued back and forth for about an hour in their attempts to gain a philosophical strategic advantage.  The fool was hesitant to say much about the questions the psalmist left on the table from their prior game.  He thought long and hard about them, attempting to wrestle through some subtle and distracting replies from his readings of the Four Horsemen of new atheism: Dennet, Hitchens, Harris, and Dawkins.  Although, he did not want to be the first to speak, he believed he was ready to engage in this winner-take-all bout with the psalmist.  He read through numerous philosophical arguments from the four atheists and others and considered himself armed to reply to any question about the psalmist’s God.

The psalmist threw out a question, “Mr. Fool, have you ever been married?”  The psalmist paused to wait for an answer from the fool.

The fool was caught off guard by the sudden question seemingly unrelated to their previous discussion about God.  He wondered what marriage had to do with whether God exists or not.  He was unsure what the psalmist was up to and how to address his question.  His readings of atheism had not prepared him for such a question.

Then the fool replied,  “Uh…Yeah…Yes.  But what of it?  None of the ten marriages ever worked out for me.  I never got anything out of them.  Every morning when I sat down at breakfast, the wife I had would preach at me about this or that, trying to convince me of her god.  They were the worst communions I ever had.  I then shopped around to find the woman with the best looks, listened a bit to her ideas, got tired of them, and decided they were not to my liking.

The fool paused and then continued, “It was similar to searching for a church, you know.  Sit in the pew for awhile, get preached at, but never getting anything out of it.  I couldn’t get any satisfaction as the Rolling Stones would say, you know…heh heh…the preacher was like the voice on the radio trying to ignite my imagination with useless information…how pure my soul could be.”

The psalmist interrupted, “So, finding a wife is like finding a good church, eh?  You didn’t get anything out of marriage or church?  What was it you were looking for?  Self-fulfillment? Self-gratification?  Some magic solution to solve all your problems?  Did you believe the preacher or your wives were genies ready to pop out the lamp and fulfill all your fantasies?

The fool squirmed in his chair just thinking of his failed marriages and all the hypocrites he met in one church after another.  The fool replied in an angry tone as his face grew red and his hands shook, “What a second.  What does having a wife have to do with God, religion, or church?  I don’t get it.  I’m not interested in your psychoanalysis.  So what’s your point?”

The psalmist replied, “In our last card game, you suggested believers in God must take a “flying leap” of faith.  You also said that you didn’t need faith and that faith is a religious thing.  My point is that faith, or its twin “trust” is relational.  You do not rely on science for proof your wife loves you or that she is beautiful, kind, and patient with you in spite of any conflict or disagreement the two of you encountered.  Tell me how you apply scientific methodology to those qualities?  Tell me, also, how interpersonal trust between a husband and wife or even friends are religious experiences if indeed you assign faith only to religion.  Do you establish a null hypothesis (1) and apply statistical analysis in relationships for determining the confidence level of marital love?  What scientific proof do you need from the women you married that they loved and trusted you?  Finally, would you apply such an analysis to yourself for seeking scientific proof of your trusting commitment to your spouse or even that she is your spouse at all?”

The fool thought about all the alimony he paid out to each wife that left him without the means to buy his boat and RV and retorted, “Now wait a minute!  That is plain ludicrous!  You can’t apply science in that way.”

The psalmist interrupted, “Why not?  If atheists hold that science is the arbiter of all that can be known, (2) then the qualities of love, faithfulness, patience, beauty, or relational trust cannot be known except through scientific method.  The trait of trust is every bit a faith factor in relationships, and this fact seems to escape your notice.  Even the atheist Bertrand Russell suggested as much when he said, “What science cannot tell us, mankind cannot know.” (3)  Would you make exceptions for beauty, love, faithfulness, and trust by claiming that they are not within the realm of knowledge?  Or would you claim their nonexistence altogether or that they are subject to individual taste or perspective?  If so, are perspective or taste not then part of the realm of knowledge?  If they are part of human knowledge, would then Bertrand Russell’s assessment not apply that they are subject to scientific inquiry and proof?  How would scientific inquiry explain trust, love, and faithfulness apart from religion if you hold that faith is the exclusive realm of religion?  Also, you claimed that those who believe in God must take a leap of faith.

The psalmist paused, leaned over the table, looked the fool in the eyes, and continued, “Did you take a leap of faith each time you married?  Was not your interactions with your marital prospect sufficient substance and evidence (4)  for you to trust her enough to marry?  That does not sound like a leap to me but trust based on knowledge of the woman you wanted to marry before you said “I do.”  You admitted that you shopped around, examined each woman you married, listened to their ideas, and then made your choice.  Did you not gain knowledge of each woman before you married?  Was there not evidence?  Even with such evidence, you still needed mutual trust for your relationship or skepticism and doubt of your spouse would continue to overshadow you.

The fool seemed stunned by what the psalmist said.  He stared at the cards in his hand and contemplated if they were good enough to win this round.  One card kept him from an inside straight and winning the hand.  He discarded one and asked for another card.  The card he received had written on it EMOTION.  He thought, “That’s it!” Love and trust like faith are just emotions.”

The fool looked up from his cards straight into the eyes of the psalmist and exclaimed, “Faith like love is nothing but an emotion.  You can express emotions toward things that do not exist, such as a dead loved one.  Dead people no longer exist.  Christians do the same with God.  They simply express their emotions toward a god that really does not exist.”

The fool folded his arms, sit up straight in his chair, held his head high, grinned at the psalmist, and said, “Answer that!  Your god is simply wishful thinking based on emotional desire.”

The psalmist spoke gently, “Mr. Fool, your explanation of love is reductionistic much like Sigmund Freud’s assessment of religion as being nothing more than an illusion or mental illness or Karl Marx’s belief that it is no more than the “sigh of the oppressed” or “opiate of the people.”  Anyone can derive a philosophy of love.  Tina Turner did when she referred to it as a “second hand emotion.”  Now these are unsubstantiated truth claims.  They are simply sheer philosophical assumption from speculation arising from a given worldview.  Your claim also has no substance for scientific analysis as you claim as needed for knowledge.  It is no more than philosophical mysticism.

“Mr Fool,” the psalmist continued, do you think that perhaps your lack of understanding of faith may have contributed to your ten failed marriages?  You compared it to going to church for Christians – seeking what you could get from it rather than give to it.

The psalmist laid one of his cards on the table that showed the following formula:

faith (substance + evidence) = hope (God’s promises) + unseen realities (faithfulness, love, patience, self-control, kindness, giving)

Mr. Fool,” the psalmist said in a compassionate voice, “This card shows a formula that God has revealed to everyone about the essence of faith.  It transcends any religious experience or practice to the relational.  It not only applies to relationships with people but also with God.  Just as your trust in people elevates your hope, so also does this same trust in God do the same.  This faith is not a religious leap of faith but that which relies on knowledge.  Human philosophy claims that faith begins when knowledge ends.  It also claims that since God does not exist, that theists must take that leap of faith and cling to it in the face of God’s nonexistence.  That is not the biblical view of faith.  It does not separate faith from knowledge but rather joins them.  That knowledge consists of all God is and does in time and space.  Our tendency toward evil is undeniable historical fact that requires a remedy beyond ourselves before we destroy ourselves. As any judge would in human courts, God must judge all evil and those who commit it.

“God declares,

“There is none who does good. God looks down from heaven upon the children of men, To see if there are any who understand, who seek God. Every one of them has turned aside; They have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one. Have the workers of iniquity no knowledge, who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon God? There they are in great fear where no fear was” (Psalm 53:2-5).

“God broke through time and space and provided the remedy in the life of His Son Jesus.  He lived a life pleasing to God, a life we could not live.  He also died in our place so that we do not have to be judged for our evil.  Placing faith in God’s remedy gives hope of escape from God’s judgment and for being with God forever.”

The psalmist paused once again and then asked, “What is your assessment of this faith, Mr. Fool?”  How do you see yourself in relation with this God and His remedy?”

“One of God’s spokesman wrote,

“If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame”” (Romans 10:9-11).

The fool looked at the losing cards in his hand and stammered, “I…I…uh…I never thought of it like that before.  Let me…give your words some thought, and I will have an answer the next time we meet.”

__________________

CITED NOTES

(1) Null Hypothesis – Something assumed to be true unless statistical analysis shows otherwise.

(2) Paul Copan, How Do You Know You’re Not Wrong: Responding to Objections that Leave Christians Speechless, Baker Books, 2005, p. 58.

(3) Attributed to Russell in Ted Peters’ Cosmos As Creation: Theology and Science in Consonance (1989), p. 14

(4) “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).  While this passage applies to God, its truth shows it as a relational quality between and among people.  As a married couple gains knowledge of the other, their faith and trust in one another grows and becomes more firm.  That trust promotes hope of a lasting relationship and evidence of unseen realities – continued faithfulness, integrity, and self-control.

The Fool’s Answer About God, Part 1

“The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God”” (Psalm 53:1).

The psalmist and fool sit across the table from one another, cards in hand, and bets tendered.  The fool gambled with all he had in life, placing all his chips in the center of the table, sitting smugly in his chair, and holding his cards close to his chest.  He daringly looks straight at the psalmist.  The psalmist calmly and softly announces, “I call your hand.  Show it.”

The fool lays down his hand and defiantly declares, “There is no God!”

The psalmist looks at the atheist’s cards and replies, “Say that again.”

The fool again exclaims louder and in a more boisterous tone, “There is no God!”

His cards reveal the word God on each card as both the psalmist and fool stare at them.  The psalmist presents his hand.  It, too, had God written on each card. He declares, “Sorry, you lose Mr. Fool.  Your cards you held next to your heart betray you.”

The fool stared at his cards and gazed at what he just admitted.  The cards were clear.  His claim contradicted the cards he held close to his chest.  The cards reflected what he thought in his heart and thereby conceived in opposition to what he claimed.  His speech betrayed his thoughts.  He claimed there was no God while his thoughts conceived God’s existence.  The very mention of God showed what his cards showed that he held close to his chest.  He claimed with his mouth that God did not exist while making mention of God on His tongue.

The psalmist met the fool’s eyes and said to him, “You lose the hand and all that you have, for one cannot think with his thoughts, conceive in his mind, or extrapolate from what does not exist.  You have thought of God, because God implanted Himself deep inside you.  You conceived God in your thoughts before making the verbal claim about the non-existence of God.  See there, your thoughts appear on each card you held close to your chest right next to your heart…”

The fool raised his hand and shouted, “Hold on, Mr. Psalmist!  I can think about unicorns and Superman.”

He smiled widely as he laid down a card with a unicorn on it and claimed,  “They don’t exist!  Yet I thought of them and conceived of a unicorn.”

He then laid down another card that showed a picture of Superman and said with a big grin, “Here is another non-existent being from another non-existent planet.  I can conceive of him flying, bending steel with his bare hands, and moving faster than a bullet, but he doesn’t exist.”

The psalmist briefly thought and then spoke, “A unicorn is nothing but a horse, and certain novelists have simply placed a horn on his nose and given it the name ‘unicorn’.  Horses exists in reality as do horns.  Somebody got creative and integrated them into a fictitious animal and gave it a fictitious name.  With Superman, his creators knew men existed.  They then dressed him up in a Halloween costume and assigned him the powers of flying, great strength, and speed.  All of these characteristics exists in the real world.  Birds fly, polar bears have great strength, and the cheetah runs fast.  It is easy for us to imagine all of these characteristics with a man, and comic book creators did just that.”

The fool replied, “But men have to create a god or gods because one does not really exist.  These other things are not gods but fictional characters in novels and comic books.  What do you have to say to that Mr. Psalmist?”

The psalmist raised his finger to his lips and thought for several seconds before continuing, “Think about what you just said, Mr. Fool.  What is the source of these gods or god?  They are extrapolations of what exist.  Much like the creation of Superman or the unicorn, god creators integrate from things that exists, because they cannot think or conceive of that which does not exist.  In spite of denials of God, individuals who create gods do so as extrapolations of what exist.  They take from creation – animals, rocks, trees, the sun, and even people – and integrate them into what they conceived as God and take it to be their god or gods.  They knew God exists because they cannot think of that which does not exists.  God exists.  Therefore, they think and conceive of Him.  They want some image to represent what they conceive in their thoughts.  As they perceive the created order, they choose from it those things they want to represent the God of which they already conceived in their thoughts.  They then create their god or gods from the knowledge God planted in their thoughts and what they wanted from creation to represent Him from creation.  They make an idol from corrupting the true God.”

The fool folds his arms and sits gazing at the five cards he placed on the table that reflected what was in his thoughts.  He then looked at the psalmist’s card, and they reflected back his thoughts, also.  What was he to do?  In claiming there was no God, he admitted thinking of God and entertaining Him in his mind. He thought, “Where did those thoughts come from?  My parents through their parents and their parents before them!”

The fool then looked up, and with a gleam in his eye leaned forward and looked straight into the eyes of the psalmist and spoke, “I asked myself where the thoughts of God came from and I have an answer!”

The psalmist, inquisitive then asked, “What is it?”

The fool then replied, “My parents told me of God just as their parents before them, and their parents even before them.  You see, generations past passed on this fictitious thing called god.  It’s like an inheritance passed down through the generations, an inheritance through the mind.  What do you say to that, Mr. Psalmist?”

The psalmist still engaged the fool’s eyes, smiled, and then replied, “Are you accusing your parents of lying to you by later denying what they believed?  Furthermore, where did the original humans receive their idea of God if one cannot entertain in one’s thoughts, conceive of, or extrapolate from what does not exist?  How then did the thought of God come to be in the mind of the first person that ever lived if you wish to trace back that far?”

The fool thought hard for several minutes and then spoke once again, “Evolution!  God evolved along with the evolution of all that exists!  As we evolved, we continued to bring to mind that which is greater than ourselves, and we began to worship that greater thing or things.  However, some saw through the charade of religion of a hierarchy of being with God as the highest to which humanity must worship.  Those who recognized that all creatures are on equal plane without some hierarchy saw no need for a crutch like religion.  Rather reason led them to the conclusion that humanity needed no God.

The fool paused, took a breath, and then continued, “They determined that the default position was really atheism at birth.  Babies have no notion of God, because they are atheists when born.  Humanity’s natural dependency led to the need for a god or something of a divinity, and hence god and gods arose from the creation of the mind.”

The fool folded his arms and thought, “I have the psalmist now.”

The psalmist then replied, “Are you suggesting that (all we are as persons with the attributes of thinking, acting, and feeling) some impersonal thing or process determined by blind and mindless forces of chance made us into more than a robot or machine?(1)  How could we then be free or exercise any modicum of free will, make choices, or even guide our own thoughts.  We could not be thought of as having personality with hopes and aspirations, goals, and dreams for guiding our lives and giving us meaning.  Speaking of chance, how could it even move matter to generate the form of all that exists into millions and billions of shapes and give shape to the universe as we know it?  Pure chance (or randomness) cannot give such direction without there being some determinism for shaping what exists.(2)  At the point of direction, chance ceases to be chance and becomes intelligent direction for guiding and shaping the universe.  Additionally, such intelligence gives rise to intelligence (humanity) and animate and inanimate objects as well as the knowledge of such intelligent design within us for promoting our own imagination, creativity, and thinking.  That is, Mr. Fool, intelligence gives rise to intelligence, making the default position as theism or something greater than ourselves and the entire universe.”

After a moment, the psalmist continued, “Mr. Fool, do you not think and make choices or are you simply a machine for programming and that we obey the impulses of determinism without recourse?  Do you really want to take the path that humanity is nothing more than a set of drones without meaning, purpose, and hope and that what exists in the material world is all that exists?  How can you judge your life worth living?  How can you distinguish between right and wrong or good and bad?  How can you judge something fair or not fair?  How can you make any moral judgments at all? How could such judgments even arise through randomness and chance?”

The fool looked at the cards he placed on the table between him and the psalmist, reading the word “God” on each card.  Then he glanced at the other cards he place on the table that read “unicorn” and “Superman.” He pondered what the psalmist said and then replied, “Hmm, no I am not a machine but free to think, make choices, and act.”

After making that statement, the fool’s face brightened and he took another direction and exclaimed, “But Mr. Psalmist, you cannot prove scientifically that God exists..  You simply must accept it by faith, because in the face of a lack of fact and knowledge, you as a believer in God must simply take a flying leap of faith.”

The psalmist replied, “Mr. Fool, you have now taken several directions without replying directly to my rebuttals or giving a defense FOR your position that there is no God.  Your tactic of evasion shows you have no answers or adequate replies to theism.  It is one thing to deny something, but it is an entirely different matter to defend your own position.  Denial is not a defense.  So far you simply have offered excuses for not believing in God while failing to give a defense for your position.  If your position is indeed valid, you must show it.”

The fool interrupted, “I do not need to “prove” anything.  How can you ask me to defend what I do not have and do not need – faith?  I do not need faith, because faith is a religious thing and arises due to a lack of knowledge and scientific proof.  It is on you, Mr. Psalmist, to prove God exists and not on fools to prove or defend non-existence.  You cannot prove non-existence, anyway.

The psalmist then replied, “Thank you for raising the issue of faith.  I will join that issue with your assertion of proof for God and not being able to prove non-existence.  I have several questions for you regarding:

  1. Have you ever been married? You make a faulty divorce between faith and knowledge as though faith takes over when knowledge is absent.
  2. Do you hold or need scientific proof that your spouse is trustworthy and faithful?
  3. Do you really claim that science is the arbiter or medium for all knowledge and that unless something is scientifically proven, it is false or not worthy of consideration and analysis?
  4. Do you really understand the nature of “proof”?
  5. Do you really claim you do not need to support any claim you have about your atheism?
  6. Do you really believe one cannot prove non-existence?

Let us take up these questions when we get together again for continuing our game.  Thanks for all your chips I won.

(1) See Edward Feser, “The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism, Kindle location 3890.

(2) See Robert J. Spitzer, “New Proofs for the Existence of God,” Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010, p.65-67, 74, 90-91.