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Is there a God and what is God like?


Today we are beginning a new message series entitled Ultimate Questions. And today’s question is perhaps the biggest one of all: is there a God? 

Now I realize I am preaching to the choir. You probably would not be here today unless you believed in God. But even those of us who believe, have questions. And so I hope I will touch today on at least one question you may have had or still have about God.

Let me acknowledge from the outset that I do not believe we can prove the existence of God. C. S. Lewis once wrote in a letter to a young agnostic, Sheldon Vanauken, 

I do not think there is a demonstrative proof (like Euclid) of Christianity, nor of the existence of matter, nor of the good will & honesty of my best & oldest friends. I think all three are (except perhaps the second) far more probable than the alternatives…. As to whyGod doesn’t make it demonstratively clear: are we sure that He is even interested in the kind of Theism which wd be a compelled logical assent to a conclusive argument? Are we interested in it in personal matters? I demand from my friend a trust in my good faith which is certainwithout demonstrative proof. It wouldn’t be confidence at all if he waited for rigorous proof. Hang it all, the very fairy-tales embody the truth. Othello believed in Desdemona’s innocence when it was proved: but that was too late. Lear believed in Cordelia’s love when it was proved: but that was too late. ‘His praise is lost who stays till all commend.’ The magnanimity, the generosity wh. will trust on a reasonable probability, is required of us.

Thus, I will offer no proof of the existence of God. What I do offer to you today are some pointers I have discovered along my own life’s journey. I imagine you could name quite a few of your own pointers that I either haven’t thought of, or don’t have time to touch on today. For my part, I grew up in a Christian home, but by the age of 13, I was already questioning the existence of God and I was reading whatever I could get my hands on, in order to find answers. That search has never ceased. 

What evidence is there for God? Well, I guess I would start by saying that the evidence is all around us. Creation itself suggests a Creator. As Paul wrote in Romans 1:19-20,

For what can be known about God is plain … because God has shown it… 20 Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. 

I believe there are at least five things we see in creation that suggest there is a God. First, there is design. This is even more notable in nature than in the artifacts intelligent humans make. The design of the universe suggests there is a designer. Psalm 19:1-4 says,

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
    and the firmament[a] proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
    and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
    their voice is not heard;
yet their voice[b] goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.

Albert Einstein once said, 

My religion consists of a humble adoration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble minds. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God.

Professor Edwin Carlston, a biologist at Princeton University once said,

The probability of life originating from accident is comparable to the probability of the unabridged dictionary resulting from an explosion in a printing factory.

A watch presupposes a watchmaker. In the same way, the intricate order and design of the universe presupposes a creator.

A second pointer to the existence of God is personality. Either there was a personal beginning to the universe or an impersonal one. Some people have suggested that the world began from nothing. Is that logical? Can you get something from nothing? And if the first cause was impersonal, then how did personal beings (humans) result? You cannot get A from -A. Therefore, I believe there must have been a personal beginning to the universe—God.

Francis Schaeffer once wrote,

If we begin with the impersonal, then how do any of the particulars that now exist—including man—have any meaning, any significance? Nobody has given us an answer to that…. Beginning with the impersonal, everything, including man, must be explained in terms of the impersonal plus time plus chance…. No one has ever demonstrated how time plus chance, beginning with an impersonal, can produce the needed complexity of the universe, let alone the personality of man….

But if we begin with a personal beginning and this is the origin of all else, then the personal doeshave meaning, and man and his aspirations are not meaningless. 

Schaeffer goes on to explore the philosophical implications of a personal beginning to the universe. He says,

But once we consider a personal beginning, we have yet another choice to make. This is the next step: are we going to choose the answer of God or gods? The difficulty with gods instead of God is that limited gods are not big enough. To have an adequate answer of a personal beginning, we need two things. We need a personal-infinite God… and we need a personal unity and diversity in God.
I remember when I was personally asking the question, “Is there one God or many gods?” I must have been studying Greek mythology in school at the time. The thing that always kept coming into my mind was the idea of hierarchy. Even if there are many gods there must be one God who is above all and ruling over the lesser gods. That seemed to be the way of it even in polytheistic religions. Whenever the mind explores the question of the origin of the universe we are always trying to press our way to something further back. But whatever is furthest back, that is either personal or impersonal. And if personal, then God. Only a personal-infinite God satisfies the demand of the universe to have a sufficient ground for ultimate values.

And as Schaeffer points out, we also need a personal unity in diversity in God. We see this in everyday life. America is becoming an ever more diverse society. The question is: how do we preserve unity in our diversity? What is going to hold our nation together and keep us from coming apart at the seams with racial, political, and religious divisions?

Einstein taught that the whole material world may be reduced to electromagnetism and gravity. At the end of his life he was seeking a unity above these two, something that would unite electromagnetism and gravity, but he never found it. Einstein, I believe, was really searching for answers that lie beyond the realm of science. At one point in time, he lived just down the street from Princeton Theological Seminary. I have heard that Einstein would often attend chapel services at the seminary. He was searching for answers to the ultimate questions of life.

What if Einstein had found something that would unite electromagnetism and gravity? It would only have been unity in diversity with respect to the material world. The need for unity in diversity with respect to personality would not have been met. But in the Christian idea of the Trinity, one God in three persons, I would suggest that we have an answer that meets the need for personal unity in diversity.

A third pointer to the existence of God is reason. It appears that we are rational creatures. But how did reason result from an impersonal beginning? How do we get purpose out of chaos?

Again, I find Lewis helpful at this point. He lived many years of his life as an atheist, but finally came to the conclusion that “…atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Darkwould be without meaning.”

Following the same line of thought, I think we can say that the statement “There is no reason,” is itself unreasonable. And the existence of reason suggests a reasoning power behind the universe. The Greeks called it the Logos.

A fourth pointer to God is the existence of morality. Yes, there have been some differences in morality between cultures down through history, but nothing amounting to a total difference. The startling thing is how similar morality in all major civilizations has been through the ages. The last six of the Ten Commandments are reflected in the moral codes of every major civilization that has ever existed. How do we explain this? How do we derive values out of time, chance, and the impersonal?

There is such a thing as conscience. It is universal. Conscience may not be an infallible guide, but it points to standards we “ought” to keep. Why is conscience there? Where did it come from? I doubt it can be fully explained by social conditioning, because conscience often points us away from what is to what should be. This inner law suggests there is a Lawgiver.

A fifth pointer to God is the existence of desire. The fact that we have a desire or longing for something or someone that cannot be satisfied by anything or anyone in this world suggests that there is something or someone outside of this world who can satisfy our desire.

Matthew Arnold once said that being hungry does not prove that we have bread. But being hungry does suggest there is such a thing as food.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God “has also set eternity in the hearts of men.” We all have a desire for timelessness. Many people have had moments in their lives that they felt were eternal, or that they wished were eternal.

The 17thcentury French mathematician, Blaise Pascal, put it this way in his Pensées:

What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words, by God himself. God alone is man’s true good…

But all of this still leaves us wanting to know, if there is a God, what is God like?

Paul suggests in Romans 1:20 that we all know from creation that there is a God, and we also know from creation something of what God is like. Paul writes, “…his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made…”

So God is eternal. There must be a first cause, something or someone who has always existed, because you can’t get something from nothing.

Psalm 90:2 says, “Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” 

In Revelation 1:8 God says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” 

By looking at creation we also see that God is powerful. In Jeremiah 32:27 God asks the rhetorical question, “I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” If God created the universe then God can do anything in keeping with God’s own nature. God is, by definition, all-powerful.

A third characteristic we can discern about God by looking at creation, specifically by looking at human beings, is that God is personal.

As I have already stated, the fact of personality suggests a personal creator. God is not simply a force present in all things. God is the personal power behind the sun and the moon and the stars and the planets.

A fourth characteristic of God suggested by creation is holiness. Morality and conscience suggest a lawgiver. The God who is, is a God who takes sides. God is the ultimate Someone who is for righteousness and against unrighteousness. Exodus 15:11 asks, “Who among the gods is like you, O Lord? Who is like you—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” 1 Samuel 2:2 answers that question. It says, “There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.” Habakkuk 1:13 says about God, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.”

It is because God is holy that we sense there are certain things we ought to do and ought not to do. Because God is holy, holiness is also required of us, God’s creatures, made in God’s image. In 1 Peter 1:16 God says, “Be holy, because I am holy.”

A fifth characteristic of God suggested by creation is that God is beautiful. God must be beautiful because creation is beautiful. How could there be an ugly God behind the creation of the rich hues of the Grand Canyon, or the white sand beaches of the Bahamas or the majestic grandeur of the Alps? 

David says in Psalm 27:4, “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.”

At the beginning of this message I quoted from C. S. Lewis’ letter to a young agnostic. In closing, I would like to share a quote from a delightful little booklet entitled Encounter with Light, written by that young agnostic, Sheldon Vanauken. The booklet chronicles his journey from atheism to faith in God. He describes part of that journey in this way,

The next step was agnosticism: not knowing, and skeptical about the possibility of knowing. And yet, at almost the same time, I began to think that perhaps one could know a little. Geometry with its unprovable but self-evident axioms provided a clue. Were there any axioms having to do with the meaning of things?  I decided that something had created the universe. This was self-evident, axiomatic. Then I applied myself to the consideration of whether there were any self-evident indications of the nature of this ‘first cause,’ and I perceived order. These were, of course, well-worn ways I was treading, but they were new to me. It began to seem axiomatic that the power that made the universe was intelligent and infinite: order must be a function of intelligence; and only infinite intelligence could comprehend the infinities of space and time. A very great awareness of beauty coupled with the recognition that everything was beautiful, except where marred by man, persuaded me that beauty was a reflection of the beauty of the Power.

Thus, it has seemed to me, and to the majority of humankind down through history, that the existence of design, personality, reason, morality, and desire point to the existence of God. And by looking at creation we can discern some of God’s attributes: eternality, power, personality, holiness, beauty. However, it also seems to me that there is much more about this God that remains unknown and unknowable to us unless God chooses to reveal himself. Job 11:7 asks the question, “Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?”

No, we cannot. But there is another possibility. If we think of God as the author of a great play, and we think of this universe and its history as the play itself, then could not God write himself in as a character in the play? 

That is the question we will delve into next week. For now, let us pray to the God who is there and who is not silent….

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