99 Truth Papers, Hyde Park Christian Fellowship
Jay Smith, April 1997
As I was going up the stair
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
I wish, I wish he’d stay away.
This little poem by Hughes Mearns provides an example of what the world is faced with today. Part of us wants to believe in God, because it would be a lot simpler, as it would make sense for that which we see around us. Yet another part of us does not accept a belief in God, partly because the world has told us so (school, media, friends…), and partly because if we did believe in God, we would have to define Him and then have to acquiesce to Him, and this would take away our autonomy (commitment). At one moment we want to find God, and then the next we want to flee from Him.
We protest violently that we want to be left alone, and yet the very thing we most fear is the dread possibility of being left alone (Watson 1979:12).
Life without God becomes pretty bleak, and meaningless. There is a loss of purpose, and a realization that we are the final and end to everything there is. After this life, there is simply nothing. That can be difficult to digest, let alone accept. It is much like the description of life in Samuel Becket’s Waiting for Godot:
Life has no reasons; A struggling through the gloom and the senseless end of it is the insult of the tomb.
Is it no wonder that so much of the world, who take their cue from themselves and their own finite existence, end up with such apathy?
On the other hand, if there is a God the scenario changes dramatically. We no longer are faced with our own finiteness, our own limitations, but suddenly we are offered the possibility that He is real, that He does exist, and furthermore, that we can be introduced to the creator Himself. What this means is that then we will have a purpose for living, because then we will know that we were made for a purpose, that there is a beginning and a conclusion to our existence, and that there are possibly answers to the questions of life and death.
If everyone were perfectly honest with themselves, they would admit that there is in all of us a need to know God; that we all had a spiritual hunger for the God Who is There. Why is this? The reason is that God has made us with a spiritual appetite which cannot be satisfied with anything less than Himself. It is much like food, which though we may deny its existence will not take away the hunger for food. Physical hunger will not prove that a man will get food, but it will prove that food exists. In the same way spiritual hunger will not mean that a man will find God, but it will strongly suggest that God exists (Watson 1979:16).
It is this hunger that brings us here today, and asks the question of whether we can truly know if God exists, and if so, Who He is? It is the same sentiment expressed by Jules Renard who said,
I am afraid I shall not find Him, but I shall still look for Him. If He exists, He may be appreciative of my efforts.
So how can we know that God exists? Can we prove His existence? The obvious answer is “No!” But likewise, neither can we prove that He doesn’t exist. The question which is always asked is “Show me God, and I will believe.” Yet to ask me to prove God’s existence is much like the medical students who killed a man and dissected the body to find where life was located. I cannot hope to prove His existence through empirical means any more than those foolish medical students could hope to locate the man’s life, but I can point you in the direction of where you can locate Him, so that you can decide for yourself whether He exists or not.
I believe there are five areas which will help us discover who or where God is:
Five Ways to delineate the existence of God:
1: General Revelation: Nature
The first way of knowing whether God exists is by looking at His handiwork, His creation. One can assume there is a potter if at first they come upon a pot.
Christians believe that God is interested in revealing Himself to His creation. Since the time of creation He has continued to do so in various ways. His beauty, power and intricate wisdom is displayed in the universe all around us, so that humanity cannot say that they have never known God (Romans 1:20):
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
That is what some theologians like to call “general revelation.” God’s existence is seen in the sophistication of His handiwork.
Take, for example, something as seemingly insignificant as the Bumble-bee: Queen bee, workers, and drones, who live in a complex community, building the hive, foraging for food (through sophisticated wing-beat signals by the scouts), and pollinating the flowers.
There are many examples of the sophistication of nature. Take for instance the spiders web which are intricate concentric circles of sticky silk constructed in an hour and repeated each day; or the Monarch butterfly who flies 1,800 miles from the U.S. to an exact spot in Mexico during winter and returns to lay an egg and die, so the next generation can continue the voyage, having never been there themselves. Or what about the human body: with 24,000 strings in the ear, 137 million elements in the eye, and 10 billion neurons, each with 200 communicating pathways in the brain; the probability of its coming together as it is would be the same as the unabridged Oxford Dictionary forming after an explosion in a printing factory.
These complex examples of nature give doubt to the notion that it could have all happened by chance. The author is known by His handiwork, and these illustrations of handiwork speak clearly of a master designer.
2: Special Revelation: The Bible
But God also chooses to reveal Himself more specifically; what those same scholars call “special revelation.”
Why did He have to do this? If you wanted to know me, I would have to tell you something about myself. There would have to be an exchange of information, otherwise all you would know was my name and the fact that I lived in the latter half of the 20th century. The same can be said of God. We can see His handiwork, and surmise that He exists, but we would not know anything more than that. In order for us to know Him better, He would have to send us something about Himself which we could understand.
Yet before God could communicate in any detail with His creation, He had to prepare a nation, so that His words and actions would be understood in a specific cultural context. Otherwise He would be speaking in a vacuum and there would be no communication. This He did by sending specific prophets, with specific words for a specific time, to a specific place, and for a specific people.
And where can this specific communication be found? In His revelation to Mankind…The Bible. Remember that childhood song we sang in Sunday School? “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so…” It is in the Bible that we find out about God. It is here that we find out who He is, what He is like, and what His plan is not only for the world, but for you and me. In fact, there is enough in the Bible about God for us to come to a position of faith that He exists.
Unfortunately, much of what was revealed to those people was quickly forgotten. The human mind has a remarkable capacity to be completely independent of God, and will only take the time to think of Him (if at all) when they are in a crisis, or near to death.
3: Incarnate Revelation: Jesus
Therefore, God saw the plight of His creation and in His love and compassion for His creation, decided to do something about it.
God decided to reveal Himself directly, without any intervening agent, to His creation. He did this also to correct that relationship which had been broken with humanity at the very beginning, in the garden of Eden (with Adam and Eve). This is consistent with a God who is personally involved with His creation.
Simply speaking, God Himself came to reveal Himself to humanity (Isaiah 7:14). He took upon Himself the form of a human (Philippians 2:6-8), spoke our language, used our patterns of expression, and became an example of His truth to those who were His witnesses, so that we who are finite and human would better understand Him who is infinite and divine and beyond all human understanding.
As we read in Hebrews 1:1-2,
God, who at various times and in diverse ways spoke in past times to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds.
In Jesus Christ we see God perfectly revealed to humanity. This goes beyond special revelation. This is revelation personified! (i.e. missionaries going overseas.)
The Bible, therefore, introduces the world to Jesus Christ. It is, for all practical purposes, a secondary revelation. It is simply the witness to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us about His life, mentioning what He said and did, and then expounds these teachings for the world today. It is merely a book which points to a person. Consequently, we can use the book to learn about the person, but ultimately, we will need to go to the final revelation, Jesus Himself to truly understand who God is.
Yet, you may ask justifiably, that happened almost two thousands years ago. What He said and did then may have been relevant for those people then, and possibly even has relevancy for us now, but is it not too distant in time and open to interpretation, to say nothing concerning whether that which those writers wrote is really authentic? And you are correct. For we don’t simply rely on the testimonies of those who went before, because the revelation of God is not dependent simply on a book. It was never meant to be static, but ongoing and dynamic. Christ knew this when He promised that after He left He would send another form of revelation.
4: Ongoing Revelation: The Holy Spirit
And here is where revelation becomes specific for us today, because God did not simply stop revealing Himself with Jesus Christ. He still desires to be in relationship with His creation, and has continued to reveal Himself in an incarnational way. His ongoing revelation continues from that time right up until the present as He reveals Himself by means of Himself, the Holy Spirit, the “comforter,” convicting us of guilt in regard to sin, guiding us into all truth, telling us what is yet to come, and bringing glory to Jesus (John 16:7-15).
Jesus is the true revelation. We find out about Him in the Bible. Yet, that is not all, for the Holy Spirit continues to make Him known to us even today, and that is why the scriptures become alive and meaningful for us. We know God exists, not just because of events which happened 2,000 years ago, but because of events which continue to happen today. God continues to enter time and space and interact with His creation, with many of us sitting right here, and this is a final area of proof for His existence.
5: Personal Revelation: My Testimony
To really know if someone exists it would help to find eyewitnesses and ask them what they knew about that person. In fact the only way we can ever really know if a person exists is if we met that person and had a relationship with him or her. I can never prove’ a person. It is only when I experience a person through a relationship that I can begin to say that I know’ that person. Why should it be any different when it comes to knowing God?
I have a faith that God exists because of my personal relationship with Him. Now you may say that my faith is not proof, as it is only relevant to myself, and no-one else. And I will answer, that we are all in this dilemma together, for everyone has faith. Even the atheist has faith, faith that God does not exist. He can not prove God’s nonexistence any more than I can prove His existence.
What I can say, however, is that my faith is not a blind faith, that it is not something I clutch on to for the sake of explaining my experience, or an “opiate” to which I turn to for security. My faith is built on a personal relationship with the God who is there. I have seen Him work in my own life. There are answered prayers, miracles which I have personally witnessed that can only be explained by the supernatural presence of a supernatural God. And it is as I continue to pray and communicate with Him daily that that relationship is strengthened and broadened and deepened, which increases my confidence in His existence.
True it is only my personal experience to which I can point. Yet it is that personal experience coupled with the knowledge of the previous four areas of revelation:
- the sophistication that I see in His creation,
- the wisdom that I glean from His word,
- the example that I aspire to in the life of Jesus Christ, and
- the ongoing relationship which I experience with the Holy Spirit, which strengthens and undergirds my understanding of Him.
This experience with God no-one can take away from me, and it is this area which stumps and threatens the atheist more than any other. For no-one can argue against my personal testimony, that which I have felt and heard, and continue to enjoy daily. Yet, because it parallels that which I read in God’s word, and because it echoes that which I see in His creation, I can truly say that He does exist, and that His existence can just as easily be understood by any person who truly searches with an open heart,
for anyone who hears [His] voice and opens the door, [He] will come in… (Revelation 3:20).