On Knowing God: Is God Necessary?

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THE EARLY GREEK PHILOSOPHERS like Socrates and Plato believed in a God. Theirs was not the God we are going to talk about. To them, God was the “unmoved mover.” By that they meant that God was the unseen mover or originator of everything. Their God was kind of a supreme celestial magnet—no direct connection with creation itself but causing everything to move along. For this non-philosopher, that definition of God is unworthy of being named God. I for one am delighted that Genesis let us know that we are “made in the image of God.” That opens the possibility for communication and relationship with God. It means we are compatible with the God of Genesis. To Socrates and Plato, that would be unthinkable.

Let’s use a modern day illustration to understand where the thinking of Socrates and Plato is flawed. As I write these lines in 2004, scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratories in Pasadena, California, are working feverishly to get the Mars Rover off its landing pad and onto the surface of Mars. The Mars Rover was designed to explore the surface of the planet Mars. After a decade of design work and planning, and investing hundreds of millions of dollars, they are having trouble getting the Rover free from its landing packing. It’s not yet working as it was designed to work. It is, however, sending back some phenomenal photographs. Latest reports are it is now working and finally moving off its pad.

For a moment, let’s imagine that a thousand years from now a group of scientists arrive on Mars but know nothing of the 2004 Mars venture. What would they think if they found the old Mars Rover sitting on Mars? They would have no idea how it got there or what it was designed for. Was it a snow remover or perhaps a lawn mower? Maybe it was a clothes washer that went spinning out of control. Mull that over in your mind for a minute because your answers will help us respond to our chapter question, Is God Necessary?

In the hypothetical case using the Mars Rover, humans a millennium from now would be examining a piece of equipment. That would be different from discovering a thriving civilization of people on Mars and finding this machine sitting in someone’s garage or in front of someone’s home. In our illustration, with no knowledge of events in 2004, the scientists would be left to make assumptions. Either someone dropped this off from some unknown planet, or over millions of years a machine of this type was bound to show up.

However, all the speculation about the Mars Rover would disappear if they could locate the designer who could tell them the history of this machine. The designer could tell them how much the Rover cost, how long it took to make it, the thrust of the engine used to propel it into space and onto Mars, etc. But unless the creator of this machine also revealed its purpose, it would be a dry and disappointing discussion. The scientists would really like to know for what purpose the Rover was designed.

Here we are on earth, not with an “Earth Rover” but with ourselves. Why are we here? Who put us here? For what purpose were we designed and created? These are the living and important questions that all of mankind is asking. Unlike our illustration about the Mars Rover, someone is around to give us the answers. You see if 1,000 years from now the scientists who put the Mars Rover together were available, they would be dying to tell the Mars’ explorers why they designed it. They would explain what they had hoped the Rover would do. Other details about the craft would be interesting but not as important. There would be no question as to who designed and built the Rover.

That is like the Genesis account of creation—we have run into the Creator of heaven and earth. He is still around—he didn’t go away after the six periods or stages of creation. Beside the fact that God is necessary for creation, the writers of Scripture tell us many other reasons why God is needed for us to understand who we are and where we are headed. If you accept the argument that a Mars Rover was bound to appear at some point through a haphazard combination of time and accident, then God is unnecessary. It takes far more faith to believe the Mars Rover “just happened” than to believe God is the Creator.

The Creator Gives Value To Life
In a Big Bang universe without a designer or planner, mankind arrives on planet earth as the result of trillions of random hits and misses spread over billions of years. That not only takes a giant leap of faith, it also declares that human life is an accident and has no ultimate value. We have seen the results of that philosophy through holocausts and “ethnic cleansings,” whether in Europe, Africa or other places. History records what has happened in societies where mankind is considered just an accident or the outcome of cosmic randomness.

Listen to the question that David, Israel’s great song writer, asked: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” He has an answer. But David is posing the question of the Greek philosophers: Next to the grandeur and magnitude of the heavens, how can we think that a God would even take note of such insignificant objects as humans? The king is asking, how on earth can mankind be of any value?

David then answers his own question: Creation! He goes back to Genesis to find the answer that escaped Socrates and Plato. He writes, “You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet; all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the sea.” As he thinks of the Creator God, the song writer shouts, “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:3-9).

It is the Creator’s activity we looked at in Genesis that gives value to life. His fingerprints are on his creation. He is not the “unmoved mover” of Greek philosophy. He spoke and he acted and he created. That places value on our lives and gives us something to live for. Since we are created in the image of God, human life cannot be treated as garbage.

Even the American Declaration of Independence acknowledges the value assigned to mankind because of creation: “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness . . .” It is not mankind’s standing on citizenship with or without democratic governments: Equality is the result of the activity of the Creator—we were created by God and that gives undeniable value to each individual. Therefore, murder, rape, and other such acts are considered criminal because they are attacks on the image of God that is in every human being. If you remove that foundation from society, you end up either with dictatorship or chaos.

The Creator Gives Meaning To Life
Right next to the value of life is meaning to what we do with our lives. If nothing else, the Genesis account of creation lets us know right away there is continuity to our lives—it’s not over when we think it’s over. In Genesis 4 God confronted Cain after he had killed his brother Abel. “While they were out in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’
“ ‘I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ ” (Genesis 4:8, 9). Since Cain’s reply to the Creator is still being used today, although in different words, isn’t it important that we examine it?

God called Cain to account not because Abel was his brother, but because Abel and Cain were his creation. They were made in the image of the Creator as were their parents, Adam and Eve. In effect God is saying to Cain, “You can’t go around doing what you feel like doing. You bear the image of your Creator and your Creator is just and righteous. When you act in an unjust and unrighteous way as you have in killing Abel, you have offended me and the imprint of justice and righteousness I put into you.” And Cain knew that!

Listen to Cain’s words after God reminds him of what he had done and its consequences: Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence. I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” (Genesis 4:13, 14). God told Cain that his brother’s blood was crying to him from the ground. Abel, created in God’s image, could not be snuffed out without retribution. Within his own soul, Cain knew he himself became a target for the death penalty because of what he had done.

Cain also realized other people were imprinted with God’s image. He was fearful. He knew “whoever finds me will kill me.” At these opening stages of society he understood the universal response to murder: Justice and righteousness would not be frustrated. If he were found he would bear the penalty. But God intervened on his behalf.

The principle of the value of human life because we are created in the image of God is reinforced a few chapters later in Genesis. Noah and his family were saved from the flood that destroyed world civilization. In talking with Noah, here is what God says: “And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.” (Genesis 9:5, 6).

Creation Reveals The Character Of The Creator
In our opening chapter, we looked at Romans chapter 1 where Paul tells us what creation shows about God: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, from what has been made.” (1:20). What is God’s divine nature? He displays his nature immediately after the first couple disobeyed his instructions about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He had drawn a circle around the tree and said, “You can have everything else, but stay away from this one tree.” The penalty for disobeying? “You will surely die!” (Genesis 2:16, 17).

When Cain killed Abel, Cain knew that in a just world, anyone finding him would want to put him to death. The “God of the Old Testament” is often depicted in current times as a hateful and vengeful person. Let’s find out what he does right on the edge of creation. What are his first actions towards his sinning creation, humankind?

For Adam and Eve there were consequences for their disobeying God’s instructions. They stepped immediately from a life world into a death world where the expectation was only toil and pain and, eventually, death. Sin separated them from a living relationship and lively communication with their Creator. The curse of their disobedience was passed on to their children as seen in the conduct of their first son, Cain. A sinful nature is the genetically inherited disease that we all carry.

It becomes apparent, though, that God did not intend for sin and death to be the permanent condition of humanity. “The Lord God made garments of skins for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” (Genesis 3:21). God provided a blood sacrifice covering for the first couple. God himself said, “I’m covering your sin with the death of a substitute animal.” The prophets and disciples and Jesus would later reveal just who that animal sacrifice was pointing to.

Cain murdered his brother. He knew that the image of God’s justice and righteousness was imprinted on all humankind. But what did God do for Cain? “Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him.” (Genesis 4:15). As with his parents, God stepped in to protect him from the just punishment for his sin. This is the character of God—grace rather than meeting out immediate justice and vengeance. God’s “eternal and divine nature” is not only holiness but also love. From creation we understand that he has always loved us and loves us still with an unrelenting and out of this world love.

Adam and Eve were also given a promise of eventual deliverance from the consequence of their sinning. To the serpent that had been used by the evil one to deceive and beguile Eve God said, “Because you have done this, Cursed above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heal.” (Genesis 3:14-15). Yes, the offspring of the woman (Jesus) would have his heel bruised in crucifixion, but through Jesus’ death and resurrection, he would crush the power of Satan over God’s works of creation.

After Adam and Eve sinned, God didn’t walk away and say, “You messed up so now you’re on your own.” He not only wanted to share his world with mankind, he wanted to share himself. His desire for fellowship and conversation did not stop because the first couple disobeyed his instructions. He does and will provide a way to forgiveness and restoration. While we’ll look at that in depth in a few pages, it’s enough to recognize that God’s love, mercy and grace are on exhibit here in the opening pages of Scripture. We will later see how he brought this love to our earth in a manner that could not be refuted.

Creation Brings Hope To Living
Right next to the question, “Why am I here,” is another question: “What happens when I die?” We know that as certain as we are alive we will also die. That can be disturbing to us because we can’t see beyond the grave. We don’t know what’s there. How can we know what awaits us? New Testament writers along with the prophets of the Old Testament have much to say on the question of death that eliminates the fear. The forming of hope starts right here with creation. The God who brought humankind into existence for fellowship and relationship is not going to quit because of the disobedience of the first couple. The Creator is the God of second chances.

While several writers of Scripture shed light on the verses in Genesis, two go into significant detail about God’s great promise in Genesis. God’s character is revealed through his actions so we have great hope. “In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:10, 11, 14, 15). From the Apostle John, we read, “Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he (God) is righteous. He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” (I John 3:7, 8). Then a few verses later (11, 12), John reminds us again about Cain and Abel.

Both writers take us back to the beginning and creation to unfurl the banner of God’s hope for us. One says all our lives we were held in slavery by the fear of death; the other tells us that the Son of God has appeared to destroy the devil’s work. And just how did he free us and destroy the devil’s work? Jesus “suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” (Hebrews 2:9). We read the connection between Satan and sin and death in Genesis 3. From that very moment God determined to set us free and to offer us life. Yes, my friend, there is hope!

In one of the most quoted passages of Scripture David wrote, “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me. Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4, 5. KJV). That is the truth of Genesis that gives us great hope. Those who will walk with God discover that God walks with them, even through death itself. You can believe that promise because he is the Creator. If it were David, or Moses, or the Apostle Paul or anyone else, it would be an empty promise. They don’t have the authority to make that promise and they don’t have the power to carry it out. The Creator of the Universe does!

Nearly three centuries ago, a prominent poet, preacher and hymn writer of his day named Isaac Watts wrote about the display of God’s power and character in creation. Here’s how he put it in poetic form.

GOD’S CHARACTER IN CREATION

I sing the mighty power of God,
that made the mountains rise;
That spread the flowing seas abroad,
and built the lofty skies.
I sing the Wisdom that ordained
the sun to rule the day;
The moon shines full at His command,
and all the stars obey.

I sing the goodness of the Lord,
that filled the earth with food;
He formed the creatures with His word
and then pronounced them good.
Lord, how Your wonders are displayed,
wherever I turn my eye;
If I survey the ground I tread,
or gaze upon the sky!

There’s not a plant or flower below,
but makes Your glories known;
And clouds arise, and tempests blow,
by order from Your Throne;
While all that borrows life from You
is ever in Your care,
And everywhere that man can be,
You, God, are present there.
Isaac Watts, 1709

So, we return to this chapter’s question: Is God necessary? If we are to believe that this life has any meaning and value, it is only God who makes that possible. We are created in his image. Our understanding of the character of God starts with the creation story. We have seen it is the character of God to show mercy and compassion. It is his nature not to leave us to our own devices. He picks us up when we stumble; he restores us when we run away; he redeems us when have lost our way. That is the way God is. We’ll see more as we continue our search.