What About God?

Title: What About God?

Text: Psalm 14:1, Genesis 31:19, Deuteronomy 6:4, Isaiah 45:5

Time: January 31st, 2013

It occurred to me the other day that one of the problems facing the citizens of the Western World, one of the reasons for so many problems in society today, is that we’ve nearly lost any real understanding of God. Not that people don’t believe in God today; they do. It’s just that while they say they believe in God, they act as if he doesn’t exist.  Why this “practical atheism” as the normal way of life for most people today in our secular, modern Western culture? It’s because we only superficially understood what we mean when we use the word “God.” So then it occurred further to me that I should go back over some pretty basic stuff – why we believe in One God. Now again, most people in the United States and Europe and other Western nations will affirm belief in one God, but again, they will go on acting as if they didn’t believe in God. They will say or claim to believe in the God of Christianity, but they turn right around and think and live their lives as if there were no God. So then what is the problem? It’s as if they are trained to say they believe in God, but in reality they don’t really believe in God at all. Or maybe they believe in the abstract concept of God, in some philosophical or theoretical sense, say, like scientists believe in “black holes” in space or “parallel universes” or some such speculations. The fact is, God is not very close to most people today in the West. He isn’t very close in people’s thinking, nor is he close in their actual experience of life in the modern world. While people continue to affirm belief in God, he isn’t a present reality to them in their everyday world. Again, we might ask why this is the case. I believe it has a lot to do with our understanding of God – or better yet, our lack of understanding of God. Is there really one God? Or is there really no God. Or maybe, there are many gods as primitive peoples used to believe. Which is it? Actually, it isn’t just primitive people who believe in many gods. For example, in India today, under the religion of Hinduism, millions and millions of people believe in many gods. But it isn’t just exotic religions of the East. Here in the West, the cultic semi-Christian group the Mormons, also believe in many gods. In fact, they believe that God started out as man and progressed to become God. They also believe that others have progressed to the level of God, and that it’s possible for people today to progress to the level of God. So then, according to Mormonism, there are many gods who rule over many planets. This is nothing less than polytheism – or the belief in many gods. No wonder Christians have correctly labeled Mormonism as a dangerous non-Christian cult. It’s actually a different polytheistic religion that patterns itself after Christianity. But this just shows that belief in many gods is still alive and well today. So which is it — Atheism, polytheism or monotheism? Let’s explore further.

First, some people say there is no God. Psalm 14:1, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” It’s become fashionable among some people today to profess atheism, or the belief in no god. For about ten years now a handful of public intellectuals like Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, for example, have put out books that promote atheism, while at the same time criticizing religion, specifically, Christianity. They enjoyed popular success in the publishing world, as well as on television, radio and the Internet in persuading people to disbelieve in God. Whereas in the past atheists generally minded their own business, today many atheists are bold in denouncing religion and promoting life without God. But do they have a point? Is there an argument for God’s non-existence? Yes, there are arguments made against God’s existence, but not one of them is strong. Atheists rest their beliefs mostly on the assumption that there is no God, and then go about trying to support this belief. For example, a famous atheist of past generations, Aldous Huxley, once said, “I had motive for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics, he is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do, or why his friends should not seize political power and govern in the way that they find most advantageous to themselves. … For myself, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation, sexual and political.” This is basically what all atheists do, that is, they assume there is no god, and then they go about trying to prove their atheism as best they can. So today’s atheist evangelists are actually trying to persuade people to buy their assumption of atheism rather than technically “prove” there is no god. But the foolishness of atheism – that’s how the Bible describes it, specifically in verses like Psalm 14:1 – is that it is a false assumption. It forces someone who assumes atheism to automatically believe that life is meaningless and pointless. It demands that to assume atheism requires also that one deny any absolute standard of right or wrong. In other words, without a higher standard, a moral Judge, there can be no true morality. So throw out ethics. And the assumption of atheism also forces one to conclude that free will and even reason itself are illusions, since if all that exists is material energy, if there is no transcendent Being or God above nature, then everything including us is locked into the natural cause and effect system. That means, under the assumption of atheism, our thoughts, feelings, and free choices are actually simply components of a complex cause and effect sequence that originated in a gigantic explosion billions of years ago called “the Big Bang.” In other words, the assumption of atheism leads to the complete de-humanization of men and women. Why anyone would want to start with such an assumption is unbelievable. Without thinking through all the implications of atheism, I think the vast majority of humans who have ever lived on the planet earth have instinctively and intuitively rejected the assumption there is no God. In this I believe they are correct to do so. Which is why most people have always believed in some kind of god or gods, to which we turn now.

Two, some people say there are many gods. Genesis 31:19, “When Laban had gone to shear his sheep, Rachel stole her father’s household gods.” What a lot of Jews and Christians don’t realize is that some of the heroes of their faith, such as in the biblical quote I just mentioned, Rachel, started out as polytheistic worshippers. In fact, Abraham, the spiritual father of Jews and Christians, started out in a polytheistic culture, then was called by God to leave it and pursue the One True God. But along the way, there was always the interaction between the strong Jewish monotheism and the surrounding culture’s polytheism. In the case of Rachel, evidently her father Laban, was still a worshipper of many gods, and as we learn from the passage, Rachel herself wasn’t quite converted enough to believe in just one God and to ignore the gods of her father completely. Whether she stole his gods (cast idols) in order to keep him from worshipping them, or whether she stole them so that she might worship them, it’s hard to say. For ancient peoples it was very common to believe in many gods. If we look back in history we see most cultures believed in many gods. For example, Greeks believed in many gods, such as Zeus, Hermes and others. Romans also believed in more than one god, basically taking the gods of the Greeks and renaming them appropriate Roman names, like Jupiter instead of Zeus, Mercury for Hermes, and so on. But the basic problem with polytheism, or the belief in many gods, is that it all comes down to this, to quote the famous line from the science-fiction movie The Highlander – “In the End there can be only one.” And it’s true. In every single polytheistic culture we see a progression starting from a general acceptance of the existence of many gods to a general sense that there is a single, most powerful god. Once this process works its way out, people normally and naturally begin to worship the one most powerful deity and pretty soon the other, lesser deities fade away. The logic of polytheism normally and naturally cancels out the lesser gods, and in the end, as the quote goes, “there can be only one.” Of course, it’s possible for believers in many gods to fight the logic of “in the end, there can be only one,” but to do so requires they resist and deny the conclusion. One of the reasons why Christianity spread so rapidly in the pagan Greco-Roman culture of the first century was that these polytheists were waiting for some good reason to give up their belief in many gods because the logic of it had run out. The Jews offered monotheism, but had too many cultural requirements, such as circumcision and dietary laws, to name a few, that non-Jews were intimidated away from it, even though they were attracted to its belief in one God. Christians offered a more simple way to belief in one God – by faith in Jesus Christ without all the Jewish baggage. Millions responded. Which brings us to monotheism.

Third, most people agree there is one God. Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One.” The Bible teaches that there is only one God. Isaiah 45:5, “I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God.” Now that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any spiritual beings other than God. The Bible also describes spiritual creatures such as angels and demons that exist apart from the physical world, in the spiritual realm. Unfortunately, many times ancient peoples were confused by these beings into thinking that there were multiple gods. Demonic spirits no doubt used confusion and superstition to perpetuate the idea that there are many gods, and thus sow misinformation among people. Probably demonic spirits still reinforce polytheism for evil purposes. But Jews and Christians have taught the world to believe in One God, and that message has been a tremendous influence for thousands of years. Islam, later, also borrowed from the Jewish-Christian teaching of monotheism; Muslims teach belief in one God. Now there have been some clever atheists lately who claim they simply complete the job Jews and Christians started, namely, in doing away with the gods. Judeo-Christian culture all but did away with the kind of polytheism that had existed a long time in the West and turned people to monotheism, so atheists now claim to finish the job by doing away with the last remaining god, Jehovah. The problem with atheism, as I’ve already mentioned, is that it requires one to assume not only atheism, it requires one assume that humanity is less than human. It requires that we believe we are accidents of nature with no point or purpose for our lives. So in trying to do away with belief in God, atheists do away with human dignity, and we become simply the by-products of nature, animals or less. But the Christian view of mankind is inspiring and meaningful. We are all made in the image of the One God. He has a plan and purpose for mankind in general, and all of us individuals specifically. That doesn’t mean we always understand his ways and means, because we don’t. But at least we have enough revelation of his will to point us in the right direction and keep us inspired along the way. The Bible describes enough about God so that we can get a general picture of him, and with the coming of Jesus we can get to know his more personal side also. The greatest source of knowledge about God is, of course, the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, although it’s interesting that the better Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle were coming to an essentially monotheistic conclusion about God also.

Like I said before, I think one of the major problems of us citizens of the Western World is that we lack conviction about our understanding of God. Sure, we affirm some form of monotheism because it’s part of our culture heritage; it’s the default position for everyone born in the West. But we’ve not developed our understanding of God into a mature, adult conviction. I think the churches have to take most of the blame for this, particularly church leaders who haven’t done a very good job in teaching about God. Now that’s ironic because when we stop and think about it, we must ask the question, “What’s a pastor or church leader supposed to be doing, if not teaching people the basic truths about God from the Bible?” Well, unfortunately, if we were to give pastors and teachers in the church a grade on their teaching the basics of Christianity to people, we’d probably have to give them low marks, perhaps even Ds and Es. But I don’t want to blame church leaders for all the ignorance and lack of conviction about God in today’s Western culture, because it’s not all their fault. Parents today don’t seem very committed to teaching their children the basics of the faith, or try very hard to see that they are taught the essentials either. Of course, it doesn’t help that parents entrust the public school system with their children all day long, and yet often what is taught in these same schools is the very opposite of faith in God. The way our secular government system has taken things in recent years is in the direction of atheism. With such an excessive preoccupation with making sure religion isn’t taught in any shape or form in public schools, government has almost guaranteed that atheism is taught as a consequence. In other words, today in public schools it’s perfectly acceptable to assign readings from atheistic scientists, like Richard Dawkins, but the Bible is prohibited. The default view in the public school system today is atheism; it’s the only philosophy that passes the religion-free test. So consequently, parents may not be aware that their children are growing up learning how to be atheists in school. It only takes a few generations of this in order to arrive at where Great Britain is today – a nation full of non-religious people. Yes, there are Christians in England today, but the whole tone and tenor of society’s skeptical leaning is towards atheism. Is that where we want America to go? Is that how we want our society to end up? Like Great Britain, like France or Germany? We aren’t there yet, but we’re getting there. But if we would begin to talk more about God, and especially think more about him, like we’ve been doing here. Then, the truth of God would become brighter, and the darkness of doubt and unbelief would dissolve away. I encourage us all to talk more about God with friends and family, and especially to think deeply about God. It’s muddy thinking about God that’s gotten our culture into the mess it’s in spiritually, and it’s clear thinking about God that will pull us out of the mess we are in. Amen.

Advertisements

%d bloggers like this: