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Will The Real God Please Stand Up! (Part 3)

Saturday, November 5th, 2011

I began this series by exploring some of the reasons why beliefs about God cannot all be true. I then asked if there was any way to test the various beliefs that we have about God in order to determine which of those beliefs are more likely to be true.  What followed from that was a summary of the evidence that we find in various areas of philosophy and science that strongly support the idea that God exists.  In addition to that, we found that this same evidence provides clues that can give us some insight as to the nature and character of God.  Using that criteria to test the validity of various beliefs about God, I pointed out that only Judaism, Islam, and Christianity had passed the test thus far.  The only question that remains is this:  Is there any way to determine which of those three is most likely to give us the truth about God?  At this point, it all comes down to a question of authority.

In order to explain what I mean, we need to return to the example that I gave in part one of this series.  (If you haven’t read part one, it would be helpful to do so before reading further).  We imagined a table upon which I had collected papers that you sent in to me that expressed the various and contradictory beliefs that you have about my dad whom you’ve never met.  Now imagine that I write down a detailed description of my dad and add it to the pile.  Out of all of the descriptions, which description carries the most authority in giving us the truth about my dad?  Obviously it would be my description in this particular case.  When it comes to the truth about my dad, I can speak with authority on that topic, only because I have “inside information” about him as a result of having a privileged, unique, personal relationship with him.  The point is, on any given issue, it is always the case that some people are going to be in a better position than others when it comes to having access to the truth about that issue or topic-  it’s unavoidable.  It’s important for us to note that there is nothing “arrogant”, “intolerant”, or “narrow-minded” about someone claiming to have the truth about something, so long as they have the credentials to speak authoritatively on that topic.

Now let’s apply that same principle in our attempt to find the truth about God.  The question that we all need to ask is this:  Is there anyone in history whose life and words were so unique, so extraordinary, so different, and whose credentials are so obvious that if anyone has access to the truth about God, it would have to be that person?  May I suggest that the most likely candidate is Jesus of Nazareth.  Let’s consider his credentials.  He was born of a virgin.  (It’s worth noting that this detail about Jesus is even acknowledged in the Qur’an).  Those who knew him admitted that they could find no fault in him.  He fulfilled the Old Testament Messianic prophecies down to the finest detail. He was seen by eye-witnesses to demonstrate power over nature, to heal the sick and to raise the dead.  Finally, as the ultimate proof of his authority, he raised himself from the dead, as verified by numerous eye-witnesses including his enemies (Saul, for example).  In short, Jesus’ qualifications put him in such a unique category that if anyone has the “inside track” when it comes to the truth about God, if anyone can speak with authority on this topic, it has to be him.  If Jesus doesn’t know, then no one does.  The only way we will ever know the truth about God is to take Jesus’ testimony seriously.

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Will The Real God Please Stand Up! (Part 2)

Saturday, October 15th, 2011

In part one of this post, I was taking a look at some of the clichés that have become popular in our culture when it comes to religion-  namely, the idea that “all beliefs about God are equally true.”  In the process, we discovered that slogans of that kind often make the mistake of treating belief and truth as if they are the same thing when, if fact, they are not at all the same thing.  Furthermore, we established that all beliefs about God cannot be true because they are making contradictory claims about God.  This eventually led to the question:  Is there any way that we can verify which beliefs about God actually correspond to the truth about God?  Before proceeding to that question, I think that it would be best to begin by addressing those who would insist that it’s rather pointless for us to even ask such a question since we cannot know anything about God.  In response to that, let me quickly say that if God has chosen to remain anonymous by leaving it entirely up to us to figure it out for ourselves, then they are correct-  we cannot know.  However, if God has chosen to reveal himself to us by some means, then this gives us the ability to sort out which beliefs about God are more likely to be true about God.

There are many compelling reasons why I think that God has, in fact, intentionally revealed himself to us.  Both time and space in this post do not allow for a thorough presentation of the various evidences from philosophy and science for the existence of God.  That alone is such a huge topic that it deserves and requires a series of posts that I plan to address in the future.  For now, let it suffice to say that the list includes such evidence as the origin, immensity, and fine-tuning of the universe, the information content of DNA, the countless examples of obvious design that we observe in nature, and our shared moral intuitions that transcend time and culture.  When all of the evidence is combined, it requires an intelligent Cause of the universe and everything in it, who is greater than the universe itself.  In order to best explain the evidence, this First Cause must be self-existent, eternal and all-powerful (to explain the universe), all-knowing (to explain the complexity and variety of living things), moral (to explain our shared moral intuitions), and personal (to explain conscious, creative human persons).

This information alone begins the process of narrowing down the options in our attempt to determine which beliefs about God are more likely to be true.  If we begin with the evidence, as well as the characteristics that God must possess in order to best explain that evidence, it serves as a “filter” through which we can process various beliefs about God.  For example, if the combined evidence points favorably in the direction of God’s existence, then it is highly unlikely that belief systems such as atheism, agnosticism, or Buddhism are true, because they either deny God’s existence or imply that God doesn’t exist.  They disqualify themselves on the basis that they do not fit the observable evidence.  If conscious, self-aware, creative human beings (persons) are best explained by a personal Creator, then any belief system which claims that God is an impersonal force or energy immediately loses traction.  Again, they disqualify themselves because they do not comport with the observable evidence.

Once we’ve processed all of the world’s beliefs about God through this “filter”, the only three belief systems which remain are Judaism, Islam and Christianity.  Is there any way to narrow down our search any further?  Is there any way to determine which of the three “finalists” is most likely to give us the truth about God?  That will be my topic in the third and final part of this series.

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Will The Real God Please Stand Up! (Part 1)

Saturday, September 17th, 2011

“All religions are equally true.”

No religion is the ‘right’ one or the ‘only’ one.”

“It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you’re sincere.

It’s not uncommon these days to hear such catchphrases whenever the topic of religion or God is being discussed.  In fact, our culture today places such a premium on tolerance and diversity that if someone even suggests that all religions are not true, that person is going to be labeled as everything from “naïve” to “hateful”.  It certainly seems to be the case that over time, more and more people have come to accept the idea that all religions are true.  But is that really the case?  Is it possible for all religions to be equally true?  If not, then why have so many people bought into the idea that all religions are true?

The more I encounter this question, the more convinced I am that one of the biggest reasons that there’s so much confusion and disagreement on this is the failure of most people to understand the difference between belief and truth.  In conversation, I have found that it’s quite common for people to use those two words interchangeably as if they were the same thing, but they are not the same thing.  As we are about to see, there is a significant difference between belief and truth.

To illustrate, suppose that I asked those of you who never met my dad to write down what you sincerely believe to be an accurate description of my dad.  Write down what you believe about his physical appearance, as well as a description of his character and his personality.  Suppose that I asked all of you to submit your descriptions to me, and then imagine all of your papers spread out on a table in front of me for review.  What we now have represented on that table are various beliefs that people have about my dad.  Obviously, there will be a great deal of diversity among those beliefs because they are contradicting one another in their descriptions of my dad’s eye color, hair color, weight, height, personality, etc.

Even though this is a simple illustration, it contrasts the stark differences between belief and truth.  It tells us that:

1)  All beliefs cannot be true because they are oftentimes making contradictory claims. (My dad cannot be five feet, ten inches tall AND six feet, two inches tall!)

2)  No matter how sincere a belief may be, if it doesn’t agree with the truth, it is a false belief.

3)  The truth is not going to change in order to conform to one’s beliefs. His beliefs must change in order to conform to the truth.

Since it is reasonable to think that these unchanging, fundamental principles regarding the nature of truth apply to other truth claims as well, we have every reason to think that these same principles apply to truth claims about God.  Even though we recognize and respect the fact that there is a diversity of different cultural beliefs about God, that is a very different thing from saying that all of those beliefs are equally true!  In fact, as we’ve just seen, it is impossible for all of them to be true because in most cases they are making contradictory claims.  The atheist believes that there is no God.  Most religions believe that there is a God-  both claims cannot be true. Some religions believe that God is a vague, impersonal force whereas others believe that God is a specific, personal, moral, intelligent Being-  it cannot be the case that they are both correct.  Just as with the illustration about my dad, all beliefs about God cannot be true, and any belief about God that does not correspond to the truth about God is a false belief.

I’m not sure why we are so shocked or offended by that.  After all, entire cultures have been shown to hold false beliefs about much simpler truths.  For example, throughout history there has been a diversity of cultural beliefs about the earth with regard to its shape, its composition, and the means by which it travels.  But regardless how long or how sincerely those cultural traditions were held, their beliefs turned out to be false.  The point is, if entire cultures have been wrong in their beliefs about something that is much more accessible to them, it should come as no surprise to us that they may also be wrong when it comes to something that is much more difficult to grasp- that is, the truth about who God is and what He is like.

So, where does this leave us?  Is there any way to verify which beliefs about God correspond to the truth about God?  Can we know the truth about God?  If so, what is it?  In my next post, we will examine these questions and more.

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Did God Forsake His Son At The Cross?

Sunday, April 17th, 2011

Today is Palm Sunday, a day celebrated by Christians to mark the day that Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem-  a day that would lead to a chain of events that would result, a week later, in his arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection.  Each year as we celebrate Easter and as we reflect on the events surrounding his crucifixion, questions are often asked by those who seek to make sense of those events.  A question that is frequently asked has to do with one of the statements made by Jesus while he is hanging on the cross.  Two of the Gospel writers, Matthew and Mark, make mention of the fact that at one point Jesus said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  This statement has led some people to ask if God had, in fact, forsaken his Son at that moment and if so, why? 

            The answer given by most pastors and Bible teachers is that God could not look upon his Son as he hung upon the cross because Jesus had taken upon himself every crime, every offense that the human race had committed against God.  Since God is holy and cannot look upon sin, he turned away from his Son in that agonizing moment as he became the sin-bearer of the whole world.

            There is nothing contradictory about that explanation (especially in light of the concept of God’s triune nature, known as the “Trinity”).  Even though I find that explanation to be well within reason, I believe that there is another explanation that is worth noting.  This alternative view was first explained to me by my good friend Brian, who said that it was brought to his attention while he was attending a Bible study led by Bible teacher, Kevin Saunders.  Having spent a great deal of time living in the Holy Land and being immersed in that culture, Saunders’ Bible studies incorporate much of the knowledge and information that he’s gained from that experience.  In fact, Saunders says that the significance of this statement made by Jesus was first revealed to him by one of the rabbis that he met while living in Jerusalem. 

            The general idea that Saunders shares with his students goes something like this:  Suppose that you are attending a special event and the guest speaker opens with the familiar phrase, “I pledge allegiance to the flag….”  Even if he were to stop after the first six words, most people in the audience would begin to follow along and recite the entire pledge because they have committed all of it to memory.  It is deeply ingrained in them and in our culture.  Just the opening line alone is sufficient to elicit this response from those listening.  Now let’s think about how this would apply in much the same way to the Jewish culture living in Jesus’ day.  The Jewish people were diligent in their memorization of Old Testament scripture.  Memorizing the Word of God was taken so seriously that some sources say that boys between the ages of six and ten would memorize the first five books of scripture.  The better students would memorize the rest of the Old Testament by age 14.

            This fact about Jewish culture is extremely significant in understanding Jesus’ statement.  As it turns out, Psalm 22 begins with the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Just as with our illustration (the Pledge of Allegiance), when Jesus uttered these words, those standing around the cross would immediately begin to mentally recall the entire 22nd Psalm.  This leads us to the next question.  Why would Jesus want them to recall that particular Psalm?  What was so significant about the 22nd Psalm?   If you read it, you will see that it contains an extraordinarily vivid, detailed description of the events taking place during his crucifixion.  It’s important to keep in mind that this Psalm was written by David about 1,000 years before the events took place!

            To appreciate how powerful this is, imagine yourself as a first century Jew living in Jerusalem.  You hear a commotion out in the city streets and your curiosity compels you to go find out what’s going on. You see the man they call “Jesus” slowly making his way through the city streets, surrounded by a mob of local people and escorted by Roman soldiers.  As you get closer, you can see him stumbling, carrying a wooden cross on his shoulders.  His face is so badly bruised and beaten that he is barely recognizable.  His eyes are so swollen that he can hardly open them.  From head to toe, he is bleeding profusely from multiple, deep lacerations inflicted upon him at the hands of the Roman soldiers who scourged him earlier. 

            Caught up in the moment, you become part of the crowd and eventually follow the assembly up to the top of a hill known as “Golgotha” where Jesus, along with two criminals, is nailed to a cross.  There he is, suspended between heaven and earth, on  display for everyone around to look upon him in all of his agony, pain, and humiliation.  As you stand there in utter silence and bewilderment wondering what this poor, pathetic man ever did to deserve such horrific treatment, you look around and you begin to notice several details as this event continues to unfold in front of you.

            The man hanging on the cross has his arms outstretched, with his hands and feet nailed into place.  His arms look as if they are being pulled right out of the sockets and because he’s been stripped of his outer garment, you can see his ribcage heaving as he gasps for air.  In addition to the excruciating pain of his lacerations and his nail-pierced hands and feet, he is severely dehydrated, which further intensifies his torment.  On the ground near the cross, the religious leaders have gathered around to mock him and to hurl insults at him, challenging him to come down from the cross and save himself.  Off to the side, the Roman soldiers who are there to oversee the execution are now engaged in a cruel game of casting lots to see who will get to keep the dying man’s garments.

            Suddenly and unexpectedly, you hear Jesus cry out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  His words immediately trigger a response from you as your mind begins to play back, word for word, the entire 22nd Psalm that you memorized as a child:

            “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?…..But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people.  All who see me mock me;  they hurl insults, shaking their heads (saying):  ‘He trusts in the Lord;  let the Lord rescue him.  Let him deliver him, since he delights in him’…….”

            “Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.   Many bulls surround me;  strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.  Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me.  I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint.  My heart has turned to wax;  it has melted away within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;  you lay me in the dust of death.  Dogs have surrounded me;  a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet.  I can count all my bones;  people stare and gloat over me.  They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing……”

 

            As we look at the events surrounding the crucifixion from this perspective, is it possible that Jesus intentionally quoted the 22nd Psalm so that those standing nearby would be aware of the fact that David’s prophetic words were being fulfilled right there in front of them?  It’s entirely possible.  Either way, whether you accept that explanation or the view that I mentioned at the start, one thing is for sure, Jesus’ death on the cross is not to be taken lightly.  As someone has said, “Jesus did not go to the cross so that you could ‘have a nice day’.”  Whatever else the cross may tell us, it tells us that God is very serious about our sin and that he is very specific about what he is or isn’t willing to accept as payment for our sin.  “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”  (Acts 4:12)

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Reconciling A Loving God With The Reality Of Hell- (Part 2)

Sunday, April 3rd, 2011

In my previous post, I was dealing with a question that is often directed at Christians, “How could a loving God allow anyone to go to hell?”  In the process of thinking through that question, we discovered that even though the question, at a glance, seems to involve a contradiction, there is no contradiction in it at all.  Having established that, I want to look further into this question to examine some of the emotional reasons people often give for objecting to the idea of hell.  There is no doubt that the idea of a literal hell is so emotionally charged that just the mention of it is enough to create controversy.  Of those who object to it, their reasons generally fall into one of two categories.  Either: (a) They personally find the very notion of hell to be extremely offensive, or (b) They believe that it’s nothing more than a “scare tactic”. 

            Regarding the first objection, I certainly understand why many people find the idea of hell offensive.  But, as with anything else in life, it’s not a question of whether we’re offended by it- that is irrelevant.  The question that we must deal with is whether or not it’s really true!   That being said, I think that there are good reasons why we should believe that it’s true.  For one thing, there is no question that Jesus clearly affirmed the reality of hell.  Given Jesus’ credentials (i.e., his miraculous birth, life, death, resurrection, and fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy), if there is anyone who would be in a unique position to know the truth about God, heaven, hell, etc., then Jesus is the most qualified person to speak with authority on those topics.  Therefore, we have good, sound reasons to trust what Jesus said about hell and to heed his warnings about it.

            What about the objection which insists that the idea of hell is nothing more than an invention of man-  a mere “scare tactic”?  Common sense demands that there are some things in life that we should be afraid of.  There is a reason why we use “scare tactics” to warn children about strangers and to warn young people about the dangers of driving while under the influence or while texting.  A doctor who holds back from giving you bad news in order to avoid “scaring” you is not a good doctor.  “Scare tactics” are a legitimate means of warning someone as long as the threat to that person is real.  As I said, there are some things in life that we should fear.  Going to hell is not only one of them, Jesus said that it’s the one thing we should fear the most!  “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28)

            So, is there a way to reconcile the reality of hell with God’s love?  The answer is yes.  Even though God’s holiness demands justice for our innumerable crimes against him, it was God’s intense love for us that sent his Son into this world.  “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.“  (Romans 5:8)  Jesus willingly went to the Cross in order to take our punishment upon himself and to provide the only means by which we can be acquitted.  God has done everything necessary so that we can be pardoned of our offenses against him.  What we, as individuals, choose to do with his generous offer is another matter. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”  (John 3:36)

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Reconciling A Loving God With The Reality Of Hell- (Part 1)

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

“How could a loving God allow anyone to go to hell?”  It’s one of those questions that almost every Christian dreads, especially when it’s asked of him or her by a friend, a family member, or a co-worker.  When confronted by it, it seems that most Christians either end up compromising the answer, or else they end up running away from the question altogether.  Why?  I think that there are a couple of reasons, one of which is the fact that it’s an extremely emotional question.  If the person asking this question has already lost someone close to them, the thought of their friend or loved one spending eternity in hell is so overwhelming that one cannot dwell on it for very long.  The second reason that many Christians are afraid to face up to this question is because it seems like a blatant contradiction.  After all, it’s become so popular these days to talk about a loving God, there seems to be something terribly inconsistent about suggesting that this same God will actually allow people to go to a literal hell-  forever.

            As I said, at first glance, this question sounds like a contradiction, but when properly understood, there is no contradiction at all.  When a skeptic or an unbeliever asks me this question, the first thing that I ask them is why do they believe that God is loving?  In other words, what are they basing that on?  How do they know that God is loving?  Is it something that they just arbitrarily made up on their own, or do they have good, sound reasons for believing something like that?  It’s an important question because most people just assume that the idea of a loving God is central to most religions, but that’s not the case at all.  A survey of most of the world’s major religions will reveal that the concept of a loving, personal God is nowhere to be found.  For example, the idea of a loving God cannot be found in Buddhism because Buddhism does not believe in a personal God to begin with, yet love must necessarily come from a person. 

            As it turns out, the only way that anyone can speak about a loving, personal God, and do so with any degree of certainty, is if they are willing to begin with the Bible as a reliable, authoritative source of truth.  However, if they’re going to use the Bible as their starting point, even if only for the sake of discussion (as a skeptic), they forfeit the right to pick and choose which attributes of God they like in the Bible and which ones they don’t like.  The Bible makes it perfectly clear that even though God is loving, he has other attributes as well.  It goes on to tell us that God is also perfectly righteous and holy.  Even the unbeliever can appreciate the fact that if God is so “loving” that he never punishes evil, then God is not a just judge- he is not a good judge.  Even the skeptic would not respect a God who is so careless or irresponsible with his love that he would allow all of the evil in this world to go unpunished.  So, while it may sound like a contradiction to ask how a loving God could allow someone to go to hell, there is nothing at all contradictory about a God who is also perfectly holy, just, and righteous allowing someone to go to hell.

            This leads me to my closing thought.  While the question of hell and a loving God involves no contradiction on God’s part, it does, however, expose a glaring contradiction on the part of the skeptic who asks this question.  Those who ask how a loving God could allow someone to go to hell are oftentimes the very same people who will later ask how a loving God could allow so much evil in our world.  In other words, according to them, if God is loving, he should not punish evil (in hell), yet at the same time, they believe that if God is loving, he should punish the evil and injustice that we see going on in our world-  a contradiction, for sure. 

            In my next post, I want to continue with this topic as we explore the reasons why so many people object to the idea of hell and why their objections don’t add up.

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It’s Time to Put CHRIST Back in CHRISTmas

Monday, December 13th, 2010

I’m running a little late in getting my Christmas cards out this year.  Normally, I try to send them out right after Thanksgiving, but the past few weeks have been so hectic that I’m just now getting around to it.  So, there I was at the local Christian bookstore looking over the various DaySpring cards that are out this year, when I came across a quote on the front of one card that really stood out to me.  It was a quote by Roy Lessin and it reads as follows:

“If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator.
If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist.
If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist.
But since our greatest need was forgiveness, God sent us a Savior.”

In a day when Christmas has become so commercialized and the very word “Christmas” has practically been removed from our culture, we must never, ever forget what Christmas is really all about.  As Roy Lessin has so beautifully stated, God sent his only Son (Jesus Christ) into this world because our greatest need was a Savior.

Why do we need a Savior?

Because:

  1. God is holy and we’re not.
  2. ALL of us have knowingly, willingly, repeatedly violated God’s laws.  Therefore, we are all guilty and we know it.  We are all lawbreakers.
  3. Most people do not see themselves that way.  Instead, most people would describe themselves as “basically a good person”.   The reason they’ve come to that conclusion is because they are measuring themselves by a standard that they invented.
  4. The BAD news is that God is not going to measure us by our own, subjective standard.  He is going to measure us by his standard.
  5. According to God’s standard, all of us have been found guilty, and guilty people cannot and will not escape the justice of a holy God.
  6. The GOOD news (“Gospel”) is that this same God who is perfectly just, demonstrated his love for us in the most profound way by sending his Son into this world to eventually die on a cross in order to pay the penalty for our offenses against him.  God has made us a magnanimous offer:  Anyone and everyone who is willing to humble themselves and receive his Son by surrendering their lives to him will be pardoned on the Day of Judgment.  Their case will be dismissed, all charges will be dropped, and they will be granted the incredible privilege of living in the presence of God forever and ever.

I realize that such a message is offensive to many people today.  But, as with anything else in life, it’s not a question of whether we like it or not, it’s a matter of whether or not it’s really TRUE. (By the way, for anyone who may be struggling with some doubts, I would like to recommend an excellent book titled, “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist” by Frank Turek and Norman Geisler).

It is my hope that you’ve already made a decision to follow Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.   But for those of you who have never made a decision to surrender your life to him,  I would like to invite you to make that decision this Christmas.

From my family to yours,  I want to wish all of you a very merry CHRISTmas!

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What Does it Mean to Say That God is All-powerful?

Monday, October 18th, 2010

“Can God create a rock that is so big that he can’t lift it?” It’s a question that has captured the minds of both the philosopher and the average skeptic on the street. I was even confronted with this question by “the campus atheist” at one of the local high schools when I was invited to speak at one of the Christian clubs. I had just finished presenting the scientific case for God when a young man asked this question during a Q&A time. I don’t think that he was asking it purely for amusement or to draw attention to himself. He honestly felt that this was a legitimate question that would somehow push God back into obscurity. It was his attempt to cast doubt on God’s existence and to toss him into the dust bin along with every other “myth”. Whether this question is asked in a serious way or in jest, it’s intended to challenge the notion that God is all-powerful (omnipotent). The reasoning behind the question is as follows: If God can’t create such an object, then he is not all-powerful. If he can create such an object but cannot lift it, he is not all-powerful. Either way, God cannot be all-powerful. That’s the idea, but the question is not as perplexing as it sounds.

I pointed out to the student that the question itself is invalid. It has a fundamental flaw because it contradicts itself. Let’s examine the question more closely. It begins by asking if God can create such an object. Let’s pause for a moment to think about what that means. If God were to create such an object, it tells us quite a bit about the object itself. This object has a beginning to its existence, therefore it must be a finite object by definition. But the remainder of the question suggests that this object would have to be of such mass and weight that God would not be able to lift it. In other words, the object would have to be of infinite mass and weight. We now have a contradiction in the question because it is trying to imagine a finite object of infinite mass and weight- a logical contradiction. Therefore the question itself doesn’t require a response because it’s logically invalid. It violates the law of noncontradiction which states that “something cannot be A and non-A at the same time and in the same relationship”. In this case, something cannot be finite and not finite at the same time and in the same relationship.

As we think about God’s omnipotence, it’s important for us to begin with a proper understanding of what it means to say that God is all-powerful. It’s often thought to mean that God can do anything, but that’s not the case. God cannot do anything that is contrary to his nature. (For example, God cannot lie and he cannot cease to exist). I think that a more accurate definition of God’s omnipotence is to say that there is no power which exists that is greater than God.

God’s omnipotence is clearly seen in that which he has created, and just a moment’s reflection on it is enough to fill us with a sense of awe and wonder. Take our sun, for example. Our sun is considered to be a medium-sized star, yet its energy output is staggering. In order to appreciate just how powerful it is, let’s compare it to something that we are more familiar with. In the last ten years, the Hoover Dam has generated about 4.8 billion kilowatts of energy. In terms of horsepower, this would mean that it has generated about 6.4 billion horsepower over the past ten years. Suppose that we were to combine the total amount of hydroelectric power worldwide. Let’s add in the total amount of energy produced by all of the nuclear power plants worldwide. In fact, let’s combine the total amount of any and all forms of energy produced on the earth since the beginning of time. The total energy combined is still less than the amount of energy that the sun produces in one second! Now, multiply that times the seemingly innumerable stars in the observable universe. No wonder David wrote in Psalm 19, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”

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If Life Only Exists on Earth, is the Rest of the Universe “Wasted Space”?

Monday, October 4th, 2010

If the success of a movie at the box office is any indicator of what the general public shows an interest in, then it’s pretty safe to say that the topic of UFOs and extraterrestrials rates pretty high on that list since many of the top grossing films of all time were based on that theme.  I won’t take time here to specifically address the question of whether or not extraterrestrials exist.  Instead, I want to focus on a related question that is often raised whenever the topic of ETs comes up for discussion.  It is usually asked in the following manner, “If our planet is the only one that is inhabited by life, then why did God create such a vast universe?”  I must admit that it seems like a perfectly legitimate question, especially since scientific discoveries have revealed to us that there are billions of galaxies in the universe, each one containing billions of stars.

I’m sure that many of you remember the 1997 movie ‘Contact’, starring Jodie Foster.  In that movie, Foster plays an astronomer by the name of Ellie Arroway.  Early on in the movie, we are taken back to a moment in her childhood when she asks her father, “Hey Dad, do you think there’s people on other planets?”  Her father replies, “ I dunno’, Sparks.  But I guess I’d say if it is just us, it seems like an awful waste of space.”  Just to make sure we didn’t miss the point, this same line is repeated two more times.  It comes up again at the end of the movie and in an earlier conversation when Ellie is stargazing with her friend, Palmer Joss (played by Matthew McConaughey).  Ellie says, “..and if just one out of a million of those had intelligent life, there would be literally millions of civilizations out there,” to which Joss replies, “Well, if there wasn’t, it would be an awful waste of space.”

At first glance, this idea of “wasted space” sounds like a reasonable argument. The problem with this line of reasoning has to do with the word “waste” and to whom it is applied.  It’s one thing for us to talk about “wasting” something from a human perspective.  It’s quite another thing to apply such limitations to God.  It makes perfect sense to speak in terms of something being “wasted” when you’re dealing with finite human beings who are limited, both in strength and in material resources.  However, it’s a non sequitur to apply those same restrictions to a Creator who has no such limits in power, ability, or resources.

Still, the question remains. Even though God has the power to do so, why would he create such an immense universe if life only exists here on earth? Keep in mind that God knows the heart of man, and he knows that in our rebellion against him and in our attempt to declare our independence from him, we will look for every opportunity to get rid of him, to explain him away, and to push him out of our thinking.  This rebellious attitude that people have toward God certainly came through in the movie, as the writer (the late Carl Sagan) took several swipes at God throughout the film.   From beginning to end, Sagan seemed to go out of his way to make the point that God doesn’t exist, that the Bible is a myth, that faith and reason are diametrically opposed, and that ‘religious’ people are not only a hindrance to science, they are a threat to scientific discovery and progress.  Let it suffice for now to say that nothing could be further from the truth. The point is, Sagan is certainly not the only one out there who has shown this sort of antipathy toward God.

As I said, man in his arrogance is always looking for any number of ways to explain God away and to reduce him to nothing more than a myth, an invention of man.  Knowing this to be the case, and knowing that man would someday explore space, imagine what would have happened if God had created a much smaller, more modest “puny-verse”.  I could well imagine the moment when researchers finally “conquer” space by reaching the boundaries of our puny-verse.  The celebrations begin, and they pat each other on the back, congratulating themselves on finally putting the god-myth to rest.  “After all, if there really was a god, he certainly could have and would have created something much grander than this,” they tell themselves.

But that is precisely my point.  The further we reach out into space through our explorations and through our telescopes, the more jaw-dropping it becomes.  Just when researchers think that they’ve discovered all that there is to discover, they are silenced by the realization that they’ve barely scratched the surface of space.  The point is, the BIGGER we find the universe to be, the more inadequate and the more ridiculous all materialistic explanations become.  At this point, all naturalistic, atheistic explanations of the origin of the universe must be taken by faith- and lots of it.

The immensity of our universe is unmistakable testimony to the existence of a self-existent Creator who had the power and the authority to give a divine command and bring space, matter, and time itself into being.  So, why did God create such an immense universe if life only exists here on earth?  I guess you could call it “the Awe Factor”.

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Is God Simply a “Higher Power”?

Monday, September 20th, 2010

There you are, having dinner with uncle Bob, as the conversation suddenly turns toward things of a spiritual nature.  When asked if he believes in God, uncle Bob confidently replies, “If you’re asking me if I believe in organized religion or that kind of God, the answer is no.  However, I do believe in a higher power.”  This type of response has become quite common these days whenever someone is quizzed about God’s existence.

I suppose that there are several reasons why the Biblical view of a personal God has been replaced in the minds of so many by the idea that God is nothing more than an impersonal force or power that is pervasive throughout the universe.  Hollywood and the media have certainly played a significant role in promoting such a view.  The Star Wars trilogies, some of the biggest blockbusters in movie history, introduced moviegoers to the notion that there is a “force” which exists all around us, which we can gain access to and experience for ourselves.  Although this idea was not original, having been borrowed from some of the Eastern religions, it was, nevertheless, popularized by the movie.  A lot of credit for the popularization of this view must also be given to celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey who has used her tremendous appeal and her long-running and much loved TV show as a “pulpit” to reach the masses with her New Age message that god is a force or energy that we can tap into.

It’s not hard to understand why this New Age version of God has been embraced so quickly by so many people.  For one thing, it satisfies our thirst for something of a spiritual nature.  I’m convinced that most people have a natural hunger or thirst for something that is higher and greater than what we are currently experiencing in this present world.  We yearn for some ultimate purpose or meaning to our lives that will take us beyond this fleeting, temporary, earthly existence.  From a Biblical perspective, this longing, this hunger for something transcendent not only bears witness to the fact that the relationship between God and man has been broken, that same hunger encourages us to search out this God who has attempted to restore that broken relationship.

For some people, the Biblical view of God poses a real problem.  A personal God who created us is seen by many as a threat to their personal autonomy and their freedoms.  After all, if I’m hoping to define for myself what is right or wrong, how can I “write my own rules” about life if God is a personal being who “has the final say” in this universe?  Furthermore, a personal God who is holy and righteous means that we will be held accountable at the end of our lives for the manner in which we lived while here on earth.  As you can see, someone who considers this view of God as a threat to them would take great comfort in, and have an ulterior motive for selectively choosing to believe in a vague, impersonal force that makes no demands on their life and which does not hold them accountable at the end of their life.  Taking this approach gives the appearance of allowing them to have the best of both worlds- it satisfies their hunger for something of a spiritual nature, yet frees them from any accountability.  For those reasons and more, many people have opted for a belief in a lesser, “higher power” version of God.  But, as I’ve pointed out on previous occasions, simply believing something doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s true.

The real question, then, is whether there is good reason for us to think that God is nothing more than some sort of force or power.  I don’t think that such an idea is supportable.  I think that such a view of God comes up way short as an explanation and here’s why.  Gravity is a force, yet no one would be willing to say that gravity has the ability to choose anything.  Electricity is a power, but electricity lacks the ability to make decisions about anything.  Yet, in contrast to this, everything around us reveals the work of a Creator who is much more than a force- he must be a personal being who has the ability to decide and to choose.  He obviously had the ability to choose and decide how, why, and what to create.  In addition to this, he must be a personal being in order to create personal beings such as us.  Personal beings cannot come about as the result of random, impersonal forces at work.

This conclusion has certain implications.  It means that many of the world’s religions cannot be true.  The New Age religion, and every other religion which believes that god is an impersonal power, immediately disqualify themselves on the basis that they do not fit with the observable evidence around us.  Furthermore, it means that whether we like it or not, whether we believe it or not, we will be held accountable to this Creator who is sovereign over his creation.

So, while uncle Bob may wish that God will turn out to be an impersonal power that cannot hold him accountable, reality dictates that wishes don’t always come true.

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  • In today's world, there is a great deal of confusion when it comes to matters of truth, meaning, morality, our origin, and our destiny. The purpose of Renewed Thoughts is to bring clarity to such issues by examining them in light of a Biblical worldview, using the tools of science, philosophy, and critical thinking.