Subscribe now

Article

More in this category:

Can we know God?

October 2001 | by Derrick Dalcher

Does God exist? Can we know him? Many different answers have been given to these questions. For the atheist, the answer is very simple: God does not exist. He is nothing but the product of a superstitious, popular imagination.

The agnostic, on the other hand, isn’t sure. Maybe God exists … but then, as he doesn’t make himself known, we have no way of knowing him. The deist believes in a personal God and creator, but not one that reveals himself to man or intervenes in history.

He says that God has no ongoing connection with his creation. He does not control the universe. All that exists is regulated by unchangeable natural laws, just as a clock works independently of its maker until its mechanism runs down.

By contrast, the pantheist believes that God is everywhere in his creation, and that he is part of it. God exists in what he created.

Can we know God? If we are to reply in a Christian manner, we must begin with two presuppositions or axioms which, as in geometry, cannot be proved but must nevertheless be accepted. These are, firstly, that God exists and, secondly, that he reveals himself in his Word, the Bible.

Universal revelation

Psalm 19 begins: ‘The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows his handiwork. Day unto day utters speech and night unto night reveals knowledge’ (Psalm 1:1-2).

We only have to lift our eyes to the heavens to realise that God exists. The sky over our heads, and the earth beneath our feet, declare the existence of a being of infinite power and glory who made all things. Creation reveals the existence of God.

Just like the work of a great artist, creation shows something of the talent, character and personality of its creator. No one says of a Rembrandt that it was the result of an accident: ‘This poor artist must have spilt his paints all over his canvas, and look at the result!’

Nevertheless, many would have us believe that creation is simply the product of chance and a period of evolution lasting thousands of millions of years. However, according to the Bible, creation speaks, and its testimony is powerful.

Its message is universally understood, even though it is not enunciated in human language: ‘There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world’ (Psalm 19:3-4).

Without excuse

God’s natural revelation in his creation is a powerful witness that will leave every man without excuse on the day of judgement. The apostle Paul declares: ‘For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.

‘For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God’ (Romans 1:18-21).

No one will be able to say to God at the last judgement: ‘I did not believe in you because I didn’t know you existed’.

Moral revelation

This natural revelation of God in his creation is accompanied by a moral revelation in the heart of man.

Man has always had a certain level of discernment of good and evil, knowing that some things are right and others wrong. Take, by way of example, a man who has never heard of the Bible or of the Ten Commandments.

He believes, however, that his children should obey and respect him; and that murder is an abomination. He condemns theft, particularly if it is his property that is stolen. He does not find the idea of adultery with his wife acceptable.

So what do we see? Clearly, this man has some awareness of several of God’s commandments! Yet he has never seen the Bible, so where does he get this knowledge of good and evil?

It is part of his very humanity. The law of God is written on his heart and conscience. The apostle Paul writes: ‘when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things contained in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts’ (Romans 2:14-15).

God’s natural revelation in his creation, and his moral revelation in the heart of man, are universal, so that every man is without excuse, both now and on the day of judgement.

God’s special revelation

So God exists. But how can we come to know him? How does he reveal his will to men? The answer is, ‘through the Bible’. The Bible reveals God’s will, his person and his attributes. The Bible shows us what God requires from man and, above all, how we may know him on a personal level.

The Bible provides a perfect response to questions about death, suffering, the future, and the ultimate purpose of all that God does. Through his Word, the Bible, God reveals himself and shows who he is and what he wants.

Perhaps you reply: ‘If I were sure that the Bible is the Word of God, I would read it’. What do we say to that? Well, does someone who is sick go to the doctor and say: ‘Doctor, prove to me that your medicine will heal me and I will take it’? No, no one would say anything so absurd.

The proof of the doctor’s ability lies in the healing we receive as we follow the treatment he prescribes. It is the same with the Word of God. We have to expose ourselves to it. It is by reading and meditating upon it that the Bible shows us its divine origin.

Credentials

To the Jews who asked for his divine credentials, Jesus said: ‘My doctrine is not mine, but his who sent me. If anyone wants to do his will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on my own authority’ (John 7:16-17; emphasis added).

So the Bible must be read in a spirit of submission and enquiry: ‘If anyone wants to do his will, he shall know’. Men have tried to demonstrate the existence of God by all kinds of reasoning and arguments.

Anselm developed the ‘ontological argument’, which states that man has always had, in his heart of hearts, the idea of the existence of a perfect being. Existence is an attribute of perfection. God must therefore exist, for otherwise he would not be perfect.

Then there are the ‘teleological’, ‘cosmological’, ‘ethnological’ arguments, and so on. But none of these arguments can really prove the existence of God, interesting though they may be.

Why not? Because God wills it so. It is written: ‘in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God’ (1 Corinthians 1:21). And again: ‘Without faith it is impossible to please him, for he who comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him’ (Hebrews 11:6).

Seeking God

Here we are, then, back where we started. We must believe that God exists, and seek him. This is a spiritual principle of God’s kingdom. ‘Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened’ (Matthew 7:7-8).

Seek God, therefore, and you will find him. But seek him in the right place, in his Word, that is, the Bible. Paul wrote to Timothy: ‘from childhood you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus’ (2 Timothy 3:15).

Many people seek God, but not in the Bible. Why not? Perhaps because they fear that the Bible does not reveal the kind of God they want to find. We like to imagine a God who is indulgent and tolerant, without anger or justice, who is not indignant with sin and will not punish it. A God who leaves us to live life as we want it.

But such a God does not exist, and we shall certainly not find anything like that in the Bible. We shall consider what we do find there next month.

Tags:
Evangelistic