21 September 2017

Does God exist?

It seems very appropriate to begin our series on ‘Foundations’ with perhaps the most fundamental and foundational question of them all, “Does God Exist?” This question has been encountered by many in the sharing of their faith. From the corridors of universities to the high street on a Saturday night the Christian sharing the good news of Jesus will be met by the challenge, “Can you prove God exists?” Of course, the simple answer is “No.” While we can create a convincing argument for God’s existence, it is impossible to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that God exists; rather we must rely on the Holy Spirit to touch the individual and lead them into a faith relationship with God.

There are three different categories into which we can divide humanity when it comes to their perception of the existence of God. The first is Atheism. The New dictionary of Theology defines this worldview as one, “… that holds that God does not exist.” Many people claim to be Atheists, however they have a hard time creating a convincing argument that proves that God does not exist. It has been said that it takes more faith to be an Atheist than it does to believe and accept the existence of a Supreme Being. Practical Atheists live their lives in complete denial of God. They believe they are only accountable to themselves and can therefore live according to their own values and desires. If there is no God, then there is no Heaven and no Hell, and therefore, ultimately no Judgement; after all, you can’t break the speed limit if there is no speed limit set down in the first place.

The second category is Agnosticism. This term was coined by T.H. Huxley to express the view that the arguments both for and against God’s existence are so equally balanced that a decision cannot be reached. In other words, Agnostics are those who cannot make up their mind about whether God exists or not. They are firmly on the fence.

The title given to the final category is Believer. This name denotes all those who claim to believe in the existence of God.

There is, of course, a wide range of Believers, from those who claim to have a vague notion of ‘Somebody up there,’ to those who profess a personal relationship with God through His son Jesus Christ. Unlike Atheists, committed Christian Believers feel they are accountable for their actions and therefore live their lives following the guidance of God as revealed in His word, the Bible, and through the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Later in this series we will be taking a closer look at this notion of conscience and the Christian belief in the inspiration of Scripture. For now, suffice to say that the Believer quite literally believes in the existence of Heaven and Hell and therefore believes there will be a final judgement. It is with a view to this that they choose to live according to the precepts set down in Scripture.

One of the tragedies of the Western World is that many people have thrown the Church out and with it a belief in God. The net result is not that these people don’t believe in anything but that they believe in everything. All the strangest concoctions of belief systems have been developed and disseminated by those who have lapsed from having a belief in God. Thus, while they would still be deemed Believers that which they believe in may be very far removed from the truth of the Bible.

If we are looking closely at the question, “Does God exist?” we must define clearly what we mean by the term “God.” People from different backgrounds and ethnic groups will have widely differing views on God. For many people in the world their concept of God is inextricably linked to the natural world. They believe in the spirits of the trees, the rivers and other natural objects. This view of God is called Animism. Where there is animism, there are usually witch doctors, sacrifices and religious rituals. The notion that spirits must be appeased is rife and great bondage ensues. Although this view of God seems very removed from Western culture, we must ask ourselves, how many people do we know who wear charms, are very superstitious or who simply cross their fingers for good luck? These are animistic rituals and many Christians need to be delivered from them.

For some, the term ‘God’ denotes only one in a whole pantheon of deities. Rather than viewing God as a single supreme being, they believe that there are many gods, each with their own special interests. This is called Polytheism. The apostle Paul found himself in the polytheistic city of Athens.

There were altars built in honour of the many gods of ancient Greece and there was even an altar to the “unknown god”. This existed so that people could make sacrifices to appease the wrath of any god they did not know about or had overlooked. In this view of God there is no standard of ethics. The gods do not make any demands of righteousness from their devotees and they do not have any moral impact on the society as a whole.

A third view of God is one we are most familiar with. Monotheism is the belief in a single God who is supreme and superior to any other spiritual being. Christians are monotheistic, “For there is One God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Tim 2:5). The Christian understanding of ‘God’ is that He is the Creator of all things, “The Heavens declare the glory of God.” (Psalm 19 v1). Creation shows us God, but is not God itself. God is Supreme and transcendent, yet personal, close and, in actual fact, within each one of us.

We can whisper to God and believe that, although He is Sovereign in both Heaven and Earth, He will hear us and listen to our prayers. This is quite a dichotomy, yet it encapsulates all that God is understood to be.

So, how can we answer the person on the street when they ask, “Does God exist?” We cannot do experiments to ‘scientifically’ prove God’s existence, but we can point to a number of pieces of evidence. Firstly, there is a basic argument that states, “The world is here, so there must have been a maker.” In simple terms, we do not believe that a watch appears by chance, we are aware that someone had to design it and put together the constituent parts. In the same way, the universe must have an original creator.

Secondly, there is clear moral evidence for the existence of God. People everywhere, regardless of location, religion or ethnic background, have a sense of right and wrong. Nobody defends the child-abuser or murderer. CS Lewis says, “It seems then we are forced to believe in a Right and Wrong. People may be sometimes mistaken about them, just as people sometimes get their sums wrong; but they are not a matter of mere taste and opinion any more than the multiplication table.” F.E. Hamilton succinctly states, “A moral man must have a moral God as his maker.”

Finally, we can point to the actual experiences of people as they share how God has touched their lives through prayer, healing, worship and the gift of salvation. Many millions of people testify to a personal encounter with the Eternal Almightly God. These people come from all walks of life, from all countries of the world. In science, evidence like this would be deemed overwhelming.

“Does God exist?” All things considered I choose to stand with the psalmist and say, “The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be God, my Saviour.” (Psalm 18 v46).

John Matthews