Is it all real? This is the question to which we invariably come. As children we begin to use our minds and our senses to draw some conclusions about ourselves and our surroundings. From these conclusions we develop our “philosophy of life.”
Within this philosophy, each of us must make a fundamental decision: “Am I faced with reality? Does the world exist, and do I exist; or is it all just a mental mirage, a figment of my imagination?” If we conclude that there is no reality, then we ought to put a gun to our heads and end it all. But most of us have concluded that we are faced with reality. We are real people, living in a real world, in real time and real space.
In concluding that the world is real, our minds and senses demand that we come up with a satisfactory explanation of the origin. If I am faced with a real world, where did it all come from? We have three alternative answers to that question: (1) The world has always been here. (2) I don’t know where it came from. (3) Someone or something put it here. These alternatives set forth three great systems of thought which have been reflected down through the centuries.
IS MATTER ETERNAL?
If we say that the world has always been here, we conclude that matter is eternal. In other words, we assume the eternality of the material world. The formula to explain reality is: Matter + Time + Chance = the present world. Eventually this chaotic matter started to change. Simplicity brought forth complexity and randomness produced order. Furthermore, for some strange reason, inanimate matter brought forth organic matter. And, after many, many years, the organic matter became so complex that it became conscious of itself. This system of thought has classically been called atheism.
To illustrate the bankruptcy and inconsistency of atheism, Dr. J. Edwin Orr relates in his book, Faith That Makes Sense, the following conversation between an atheistic soldier and himself:
“Some of the G.I.’s” the soldier explained carefully, “get scared during an air raid, and they need a bit of religion to help them; but I’m an atheist, and I don’t need any religion to help me at all!”
“Could I ask you a couple of questions?”
“Go ahead and shoot,” he agreed cheerfully.
“First – do you happen to know everything?”
“No,” he said. “Professor Albert Einstein says that scientists, as a whole, are on the fringe of knowledge. So I’ll be modest and admit I’m on the fringe of the fringe.”
“Good,” I said. “Now the second question is this – is it conceivable that God could exist outside all that you happen to know?”
He hesitated. “How much do you know, in relation to total knowledge,” I asked. “Ten percent?”
“Well,” said I, “let us say just one percent. Is it possible that God could exist outside one percent of knowledge?”
“Yes,” he agreed. “Theoretically, yes!”
This little dialogue displays how untenable the atheistic position is. To be an atheist, a person must have explored the universe and know everything there is to know before he can be qualified to rule out the possibility of God. The words of the psalmist ring in our ears: “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”1
I DON’T KNOW
If we choose the second alternative and say, “I don’t know where this world came from,” we are agnostics. The dogmatic agnostic says, “I don’t know, no one can know, and that settles it.” This person’s mind is made up and he won’t be confused with the facts. The indifferent agnostic says, “I don’t know, and I don’t care.” Finally, there is the dissatisfied agnostic, who says. “I don’t know, but I’d like to know.”
The only agnostic with intellectual integrity is the third. He is searching for Truth. He is not satisfied to live nor to conclude his life sitting on the fence of agnosticism. He recognizes that his position, though legitimate, is a transitory one and should ultimately lead to more concrete convictions about himself and the world in which he lives.
THE WORLD IS AN EFFECT
There is a further alternative beyond atheism and agnosticism. If we choose this explanation, we see reality and the world as effect, not as cause. Something or Someone has produced the world in which we live. We call the person who believes this a theist. He has a God concept.
Several things suggest the existence of an ultimate Somebody or Something. First, since no effect is greater than its cause, something or someone greater than the universe is responsible for producing it.
We see a second line of evidence in the human personality, a complex entity, made up of mind, will and emotions. Is it possible that a being who can reason, feel and make decisions could be produced by an inferior entity? How could an entity void of personality produce something which has personality?
A third indication of the existence of God comes from the clearly observable order, precision and design of the universe. No purposeful machine has ever just happened. Wherever there is design, there is a designer. We see it when we look at a snowflake through a microscope or out into the universe. If we were to take a watch apart and put the pieces in a box, how many times would we have to shake the box before the pieces would fall together to form a watch? If a simple wrist watch could not come into being without an intelligent designer, how much more incredible is it to believe that the universe, with its infinite complexity, could have happened by chance?
We find a fourth line of evidence in the universality of religion. Belief in God reaches to the most primitive and remote peoples of the world, according to the anthropologists. Pascal said, “There is a god-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man, which cannot be satisfied by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator…” St. Augustine said, “Thou has made us for Thyself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.”
PANTHEON OF THEISTS
We are now faced with a very disturbing problem – there are so many kinds of theists. There have been the polytheists, who worship a pantheon of gods, as the Greeks and Romans did. Monotheists, such as the Jews and the Muslims, worship one god. Pantheists insist that God is everything. Some theists believe that God is an impersonal, unintelligent force. Others see God as transcendent, like a disinterested watchmaker, who created and then abandoned his own universe. Someone on a remote island might worship a stick and call it god, while a philosopher may call god the unmoved mover. There are still other theists who believe that God is dead.
The fact is, if each theist, through the use of his own senses and reasoning power, creates his own definition and concept of God, there will be as many definitions and descriptions of God as there are theists! Who is right? Which theist has the right definition? If God is there, what is He really like? Is He one God, or many? Does He have personality or not? The evidence seems to indicate that somebody or something is there, but we cannot really prove it, not even with the four lines of thought developed above.
The hopelessness and multiplicity in the theistic camp would tend to send us back to agnosticism in despair. It was this despair that caused Herbert Spencer to write that no bird has ever flown out of the heavens; therefore, no man can really know God. In other words, there is no way for us, as finite men, to penetrate the veil which hides the Infinite from us.
It is true that we, in our finiteness, cannot reach God, nor find Him through reason and sense alone. While empiricism (all knowledge is ultimately derived from experience) and rationalism (all knowledge may be arrived at by the use of reason alone without experience) have their place, we must turn to another means in order to find and know God. We can agree with Spencer that no man, due to his finiteness, can find or reach God, but we must reject Spencer’s conclusion, because it fails to take into consideration one very important fact – the fact of revelation.
By revelation, I don’t mean sitting under a tree, plunking a guitar and having a revelation. I am talking about God communicating with us.
If the Infinite does exist, He is destroyed by definition if we say He is incapable of penetrating the veil from His side and revealing Himself to man. Now, the only question remaining is, “Has He ever done so?” Christians nod an emphatic “Yes.” God has invaded human history. We are, as J. B. Phillips aptly put it, “the visited planet.”
God has revealed Himself to us. We don’t have to wonder about the kind of God who has created the universe in which we live. We can know what He is like and how He feels about things – we can know Him intimately.
He has revealed Himself to us in four ways. First, He has revealed Himself to us in nature.1 This isn’t a naturalistic proof, but rather, Creation speaks to us about God. Nature reveals His intelligence and His power.
Paul said, “Because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (italics mine).2
Our consciences also reveal God to us.3 Our consciences tell us something about the moral character of God. There is in each of us a sense of oughtness and of ought-not-ness, though it may vary in some of its particulars from culture to culture. We need some guidelines, and God has given them to us – they are planted in the tables of our hearts. There is no way we can get away from them.
Before I became a Christian, I set standards for myself. But if I couldn’t live up to them, I lowered them so I wouldn’t feel guilty. Whenever I felt guilty, I would lower my standards some more. Finally, I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror. Something inside me would not leave me alone.
God has also revealed Himself to us in the written Word: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God – it’s God-breathed – and is profitable to us.”4
And God has revealed Himself through the living Word.
Years ago, the apostle John said, “No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.”5 Jesus of Nazareth was called the Word of God. A word is a vehicle of communication. Jesus is to the invisible God what a spoken word is to an invisible thought. “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son.”6 If Jesus has revealed God to us, what is He like? God is sovereign (He’s the ultimate and final authority). He is omniscient (all-knowing); omnipresent (everywhere, because He’s a Spirit); omnipotent (all powerful). He is perfect love – He loves even though we have sinned, even though we don’t deserve His love. He is eternal life and He is truth. That means that I don’t have to fear truth wherever I find it – whether it be in science or in history. Wherever we find truth, we’ll find God, the God that Jesus revealed, the God of Truth.
God is immutable – He doesn’t change, He doesn’t go back on His Word. He’s just and He’s righteous, and that means He’s holy.
Has anyone heard from God lately? Jesus Christ is the latest Word from God. The proof is in the Bible. You can know God through Jesus Christ. Simply trust in the fact that because Jesus died to pay the penalty for all of our sins, we are forgiven for all of our sins and will, therefore, receive eternal life in heaven. Then you will be able to eternally hear from God in person.
1. Psalms 14:1; 2. Romans 1:19-20; 3. Romans 2:14-15; 4. 2 Timothy 3:15; 5. John 1:18; 6. Hebrews 1:1-2.
Jim Williams received a master of theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.