Who is God? Part 1

“In this world, the god many believe still has certain characteristics parallel to the God of the Bible…[but] a god without teeth, without majesty. This god fills people with warm fuzzies, but is never feared… dispenses a benevolent love… has little moral bearing…this god may be personal or pantheistic, but is never sovereign and rarely a judge… he or she or it cannot even be called a “god” anymore, but simply “Reality,” since in some religions…there is no place for “god” in any personal sense at all. And underlying all these gods is the great god Pluralism.”

– D. A. Carson, PhD, Professor, Trinity Divinity School, “The SBJT Forum: Is There a Battle to Define God?,” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, 1997.

“The very concept of God is among the most contested issues in contemporary thought and culture…the concept of God is merely a matter of emotivism and sentiment…Modern culture commonly denies God as God, as well as the very notion of God as an objective referent.

“In many circles[Evangelical], God is merely a therapeutic category. Many evangelicals are now mostly concerned about what good this God will do for us, how well this God may make us feel, and how much self-esteem this God may give us as His gift.”

(R. Albert Mohler, Jr., The Eclipse of God at Century’s End: Evangelicals Attempt Theology with Theism, Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, Spring 1997)

When we approach the study of God, we step out on to very holy and mysterious ground, ground on which we tread carefully and prayerfully. Unless we have the Holy Spirit as our Teacher, Counselor, and Guide, we will tend toward error as history from the very beginning illustrates.

Many errors and heresies have arisen because people have sought to The God Many Wantimagine God according to the elements of creation. They then depart from the path of knowing Him onto another dark, dangerous, and destructive road of idolatry. The study and knowledge of God is a thoughtful lifelong process requiring dependence on Him and what He reveals to us in the Bible.

No one can know God rightly without God first revealing Himself to that person. A corollary to this truth is that no one can then seek after Him unless God first not only reveals Himself but also draws the heart to Him (Romans 3:10). For unless God takes the initiative with each act, everyone in his or her human condition will seek another path.

As people reject the true biblical God, they create Him according to their imagination, raising in their minds what they want Him to be according to their own desires and their alienation from God. They then design an entire worldview around this god or these gods, projecting on these deities an authority that actually shifts this authority away from God to themselves. Note, it is not to another god to which they shift authority but to themselves. Once they have established their own authority, they can then project on themselves their present condition and include it into their worldview (“I’m OK, you’re OK, but others outside of our circle are downright nasty.”). As a remedy, they offer their own solutions from human-centered philosophy, religion, and psychology.

There are all sorts of imitations and perversions of God arising from the created order, and we must be aware of them due to the subtle ways they imitate God. The Apostle Paul in Romans informs us of these imitations,

“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, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:20-23)

Idolatry is people seeking to know and worship that which is greater than themselves while rejecting the true biblical God. Idolatry relies on fiction (false knowledge) and myth-telling (speculative story) and has no historical basis.  Idolatry does away with a personal God.  Consider the following possibilities of God:

  • Atheism, Naturalism, Humanism – No god, not even a personal one
  • Agnosticism – Who knows if there is any kind of god let alone a personal one
  • Deism – A distant Providence; An unknowable god with whom no one can relate because he or it is impersonal
  • Polytheism – fictitious and impersonal gods of the created order, that is, no God at all because they do not exist
  • Eastern Religions – Impersonal beings of the created order; unknowable; no God

Only one worldview offers a truly personal God – the biblical worldview:

  • Biblical Theism – God relates to us a Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three persons, one God. He alone is the personal God who relates to us through His Son. It took a person (Jesus Christ) who came in the flesh to draw us to the one personal God that we may relate with Him and know Him as Father.

It has been said a number of times that we live in a secular world with secular societies.  That is not exactly accurate.  We actually live in a pluralistic religious and spiritual world with people holding on to their own gods, whether they are atheistic, agnostic, deistic, polytheistic, or any number of other gods created from the material universe.  Which type of god do you worship?  In the next post, we will explore this subject in more depth.

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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.

God is Inescapable for the Atheist or Anyone Else

Try as much as they want, atheists cannot remove God from their thinking or conversations. Each time they speak of Him, they acknowledge His existence. Even in their identity and worldview, they acknowledge they know God. They call themselves a-theist. Although the “a” that precedes “theist” appears to them to mean absence, it could also be used as an indefinite article specifying their acknowledgment of God such as in the sentence, “I am a theist.” Furthermore, although atheists integrate the article to make the word “atheist,” they still cannot get away from theism.  Inasmuch as they viciously try to claim He is absent or non-existent, theism still stands out in their identity.

I recently dialoged with an atheist on the http://www.patheos.com website who titled his discussion “Godless from Dixie.” Now think about that. Although his confession is “godless,” he could not get away from acknowledging God in it. God still rises clear as the noonday sun in the confession. Many atheists as well as those who do not profess atheism use God’s name or the name of His Son when they curse. In doing so, they pray that God will damn them or others. Such amazement.

It occurred to me recently how no one can conceive, think about, or extrapolate from the corporeal or incorporeal existence that which does not exist.

We can only talk about that which we conceive in our minds, harbor or entertain in our thoughts, or extrapolate or abstract from existence whether that existence is corporeal or incorporeal.

A corollary to this is we cannot entertain in our thoughts, conceive in our minds, or extrapolate or abstract from that which does not exist.

When we talk about something, we have already entertained it in our thoughts or conceived of it.

Therefore, when we talk about God, we have thought or conceived Him in our thoughts thereby giving strong evidence of His existence in our speaking.

Therefore, when atheists talk about God, they have thought or conceived Him in their thinking and give strong evidence of His existence according to the stated premises.

Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury (1033-1109), said similarly when he wrote in “Proslogion,”

How indeed has he ‘said in his heart’ what he could not think; or how could he not think what he ‘said in his heart’, since to ‘say in one’s heart’ and to ‘think’ are the same? But if he really (indeed, since he really) both thought because he ‘said in his heart’ and did not ‘say in his heart’ because he could not think, there is not only one sense in which something is ‘said in one’s heart’ or thought. For in one sense a thing is thought when the word signifying it is thought; in another sense when the very object which the thing is is understood. In the first sense, then, God can be thought not to exist, but not at all in the second sense. No one, indeed , understanding what God is can think that God does not exist, even though he may say these words in his heart either without any [objective] signification or with some peculiar signification. For God is that -than-which-nothing-greater-can-be-thought. Whoever really understands this understands clearly that this same being so exists that not even in thought can it not exist. Thus whoever understands that God exists in such a way cannot think of Him as not existing” (St. Anselm (1998-09-10). Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works (Oxford World’s Classics) (p. 88-89). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.)

Some may claim, “Superman does not exist.  The characters in Star Wars and Star Trek do not exist.  The characters or material world in fiction novels do not exist.  The gods of other religions do not exist.  We can think, conceive, and imagine them although they do not exist and they have come into our minds through an external source.

To this a reply could be given that all of the characters and worlds of fiction are extrapolations of what already exist in reality.  Superman is an extrapolation of men who exist.  His creator simply integrated characteristics of other things that exist such as flying, great strength, and other characteristics and dressed him up in a costume that children now wear for Halloween.  The same also applies to worlds and characters in Star Wars and Star Trek.  Their creators embellish, extrapolate from, and impose on such fictitious worlds and characters from that which already exist.  Imagination is a great thing, because it can integrate those characteristics from what exist and create novel things from them.  The Preacher from Ecclesiastes said as much when he noted:

That which has been is what will be, That which is done is what will be done,

And there is nothing new under the sun.

Is there anything of which it may be said, “See, this is new”? It has already been in ancient times before us” (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10)

That is, what one imagines, thinks, conceives, or extrapolates from what exist has already occurred many times before by others who preceded those who have so imagined, thought, conceived, or extrapolated from what exist.  They simply gave this fiction the settings of their generations and encasing this fiction in that which they knew.

A professor once said of writing, “You write from what you know.”  Knowledge arises from what we imagine, think, conceive, or extrapolate from what exist.  Knowledge cannot arise from non-existence, for there is no knowledge in and of non-existence.  That which does not exist cannot contribute to knowledge.  For this reason, we depend on what exist to give rise to knowledge for filling our imaginations, conceptions, and thoughts so that we can extrapolate from what exist for creating from it some fictitious existence in a novel, poem, music, or art.  All of these display an extrapolation and integration of the characteristics of what exist.

When humanity creates fictitious characters, they do so from what already exist in reality.  The ancient civilizations so created fictitious characters and images from stones, wood, and other materials that arose from their imagination as extrapolations of what exist.  They then set these images up as gods for themselves.  They imagined these gods for worship because they knew God existed.  However, they took from the created material order and attempted to fashion from their imagination, conceptions, and thoughts of God and created images from the material world to attempt to stand for what they already knew – that God existed.

Therefore, deny all they wish, God remains strongly implanted in the minds of all as that which exist. They cannot get away from Him no matter how much they try. Their identity depends on their acknowledgment of God (atheist as a derivative from theist). Their opposition and curses reveal that they know Him. Write or preach all they wish against God, but their words testify to Him even though they resist, rebel against, and oppose Him.  Atheists betray themselves by speaking and writing about and against God.

King David once wrote, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?” (Psalm 139:7) No one can remove himself or herself from the presence of God nor can their thoughts seek escape from Him. He is deeply implanted in their minds, so try as they may, God makes knowledge of Him deeply embedded in everyone’s minds.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “…because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful” (Romans 1:21).

How can people who have never heard of God still know Him? This Romans passage puzzled me for a long time until I framed the syllogism above. Our thoughts and conceptions give witness to and evidence of the knowledge of God. It is undeniable evidence within us when our minds entertain thoughts of God.  When we think or conceive of God, we show we know Him, not in the same sense that we know Him relationally or redemptively but in the sense that we know God exists.  Thinking and conceiving thoughts are part of our experience so that our own personal experience gives witness to the existence of God no matter how much some deny Him.  In denying God they deny the reality of their own experience.

The preceding statement Paul makes gives more evidence for our thoughts and conception of God, “…because what may be known of God is manifest in them” (1:19).

Again, when atheists talk or write about God in opposition to Him, they betray themselves by showing that the knowledge of God is indelibly stamped on the mind and conscience. They can only talk and write about that which exist or can be extrapolated or abstracted from existence. In talking or writing about God, they give ample and strong evidence of His existence and show they know Him while doing all they can to suppress that knowledge. The suppression of knowledge does not eradicate it.  Knowledge exists whether one accepts it or not.  Atheists show that such suppression of the knowledge of God is impossible by continually dialoging about Him.

Those who oppose God and attempt to wipe Him from their existence need to turn their face upward to confess what their thoughts and hearts acknowledge: God is inescapably in their presence and known in their hearts.  Their rage against Him will not stand in the judgment (Psalm 2), and their chains will curtail their defiance until they finally admit God is the LORD, their Creator, and Redeemer.