“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse”.
God isn’t physical in the sense that we understand the word. He is a spiritual being, not a physical one, so we need to think carefully about how we know he exists. And, indeed, how we relate to him. A core truth we must understand, and certainly one which we must always be aware of is this — it is NOT possible for finite corporeal beings like us to fully understand an infinite spiritual God. And it’s a mug’s game to try.
Isaiah says, for example:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts”. (Isaiah 58v8,9)
God says to Job:
“Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than the heavens above—what can you do? They are deeper than the depths below—what can you know? Their measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea.” (Job 11v7-9)
And yet, Paul insists in today’s passage that knowing God is possible. More than that, he implies that our knowledge of God should lead us to him and it is our wilful rejection of the evidence which leads us away from God (we’ll deal with what that looks like next week). Furthermore, Paul tells the Romans that not only is God knowable, but that it is God who has revealed himself to us. He says to them “what may be known about God is plain … because God has made it plain” (v19). So, HOW does God do this? How does He reveal himself to us? That is the stuff of this morning’s message.
There are two basic ways in which he does this. They are known as Special Revelation and General Revelation.
“Special revelation” in other words God speaks directly to man. Hebrews 1v1 says “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe”. God speaks to people directly, through prophets, visions, dreams and so on. And as Hebrews says supremely he came to us in human form in the person of Jesus. The Old Testament is a record in large part of the utterances of the prophets and also a record of the Laws God gave directly to Moses. The New Testament is a record of the life and ministry of Jesus, his commission of the apostles and the growth of the church. It includes letters written by some of them in various circumstances. This is all seen as ‘the word of God’ and is collectively known as ‘special revelation’. Paul does not address or appeal to this form of revelation in this verse.
“General Revelation”. This is what Paul is talking about here. He says clearly here that God can be seen in the created order. He says: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (Romans 1v20)_
This is not a new idea. The psalmist praises God saying: “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 reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”
What I want to do is look at some of the classical apologetics from creation which point very persuasively (in my opinion) to God.
When I went to Bible College, on the first day of our doctrine lecture, our lecturer told us all to put our bibles in our bags, he took his bible and dropped it in the bin. Pausing, he looked at us all and said “without reference to you Bibles, convince me that God exists”.
How would you do that? Paul says it is possible right here (read and emphasise v20).
I have used material from the following: GotQuestions.org which is an apologetics website, Frank Turek who has a YouTube and podcast entitled ‘I don’t have enough faith to be an Atheist’ and website crossexamined.org, J Warner Wallace on YouTube and on coldcasechristianity.com, John Dickson similarly has a podcast and website undeceptions.com. Do check them out!
Here are three basic arguments for the existence of God …
- The Cosmological Argument.
- The Teleological Argument.
- The Moral Argument.
I cannot do full justice to even one these arguments in a matter of a few minutes on a Sunday morning, let alone all three of them, so all I can hope to give you is a broad brushstroke of what they are about. To get more of a grip on what they are, I wholeheartedly recommend that you check out the resources I’ve mentioned.
That said, let’s try and give you an overview …
The Kalam (Cosmological) argument
If you’ve ever had a child ask you “who made God?” You will have an appreciation for the issues which this argument tries to grapple with.
The cosmological argument can also be called the Kalam argument. The term kalam is Arabic and means ‘eternal’. The earliest form of this particular argument was actually formulated by Islamic thinkers but is also used by Christian philosophers as its arguments for a creator don’t specifically invoke Christian theology in any way. It is among the more effective logical arguments for the existence of a Creator.
The Kalam argument uses this chain of thought:
- Whatever begins to exist has a cause of its beginning.
- The universe began to exist.
- Therefore, the universe has a cause.
The Kalam argument states that the beginning of the universe has a cause, and it implies that cause is consistent with a personal God.
This argument hangs largely on the truth of the second premise, ‘the universe began to exist’ if the universe had no beginning then this argument fails. Until very recently, science believed the universe was eternal, but it is important to note that now, no modern scientist or philosopher believes that. In fact the “Big Bang” theory itself is, specifically, a scientific model which clearly states there is a beginning to the universe. Added to this other theories and observations such as Einstein’s theory of relativity and the second law of thermodynamics, means that science which once believed the universe was eternal, now falls into line with the Bible which says it had a beginning.
So, all space, matter and time had a beginning, and something caused it (the Kalam argument).
If all space matter and time had a beginning, then, rationally, the cause cannot be made of either space, matter or time. This points us very persuasively towards a creator who is not made of or contained by such things. God has no beginning and in the Christian worldview wasn’t created and therefore has no beginning.
This makes the question “who made God?” meaningless. It completely misses and misunderstands Christian belief, imposes a different worldview on God and presupposes He is created (it’s revealed in the question). Christians don’t believe God was created, so in the Christian worldview, the question makes no sense. It’s like asking “who is that bachelor married to?”
What the Kalam answer does not do, however, is point to the Judaeo-Christian God, Yahweh.
The Teleological (Design) Argument
This is the argument that says the universe bears all the hallmarks of design and points very strongly to a designer. That there are characteristics of the universe which are so finely highly-tuned, to believe they are random is neither rational nor logical. The most reasonable conclusion we can draw from this evidence is that there is a designer. The universe, the earth, even our very bodies bear all the hallmarks of being designed.
Richard Dawkins cannot ignore this even if he dismisses it. In his book “The Blind Watchmaker”, he says we cannot escape the fact that the earth “appears” to be created. This is what he says: “living results of natural selection overwhelmingly impress us with the appearance of design as if by a master watchmaker”. He claims the appearance of design is just an illusion—it is an appearance of design, he says, not evidence of it. In effect what he is doing is discarding the most obvious conclusion and jumping to a much more illogical explanation simply because it doesn’t fit in with his world view. In other words, because he cannot (I would argue it’s not cannot, it’s WILL not) believe that the universe is designed without accepting the possibility of God, who he ideologically presupposes does not exist, he summarily rejects evidence of design as merely an appearance of it. He’s not following the evidence to a conclusion, he’s already made his mind up BEFORE he looks at the evidence and then shoehorning it in to fit that conclusion. This is not evidence of an open mind, it is evidence of a closed mind.
In a nutshell, that creation is a product of a design is a much more rational and logical conclusion to draw from the evidence we see around us than is the belief it is just a consequence of random undirected chance natural processes which “appear to be designed”.
For example, we have gravitational forces, electromagnetic forces and I’ve also read there is such thing as a “weak force” (isn’t that an oxymoron?!). These forces are so highly tuned that if they were different by one part in the 100th power, life could not exist.
Explain 1:100th power. :- Imagine, if you can the width of the observable universe – that’s 93 billion light years (a light year being the distance light can travel in a year at 186,000 miles a second). Imagine a point on that diameter. Move it one inch. That is a change of 1 to the 100th power – at least that’s what I’ve heard.
There are some fine tuning arguments about our own galaxy. The distance of the earth from the sun, the presence of the moon, it’s distance from the earth, Jupiter and the role it plays in protecting the earth from meteorites, the earth’s magnetic field which protects life from the radiation from the sun.
Back into our own bodies, DNA which is the building block of all life. DNA is known to be an information storage system. It contains letters and gives information to our bodies as they grow and as they repair to tell them how to develop. The miracle of life is that the DNA strands of mother and father splits in reproduction and joins together to form a totally new and unique DNA strand NEVER seen before in the history of the world. This is one of the strongest arguments that shows an unborn child is not the mother’s body, but a valuable, unique individual.
DNA is an entire language made up of 4 “base pairs” (you may have seen the letters A,C,T and G used to describe them). In humans, they are paired together in strands that are 3.2 billion bases long. If a single base pair is out of place in that strand, life does not happen. To believe this is simply a matter of random chance is not a rational or logical conclusion. Especially when you consider that saying something happened “by chance” is just a fancy way of saying “I don’t know how”. There is a saying which says believing DNA came about by accident is as ridiculous as believing an explosion in a scrabble factory will rearrange the tiles into the complete works of Shakespeare.
Irreducible complexity. This is a feature which strongly suggests the presence of a designer. It describes a characteristic of certain complex systems whereby they need all of their individual component parts in place BEFORE they can function. AND removing anyone of those components will cause it to malfunction or stop functioning altogether. This is quite apparent with something like a television set which everyone can see will not work until all the components have been assembled. When we look at biological and natural things, we also see the same concept, there are certain characteristics of things which cannot just “evolve” if we accept the concept of irreducible complexity in nature. The eye is often used as an example. It is difficult to believe it simply ‘evolved’, all its components need to be in place and working before the eye will work, and the removal of just one component of the eye and it will not work.
These and other arguments point us very strongly to the conclusion that a belief the universe simply “exploded” into being by chance, and that life was formed by chance and that we evolved through random chance processes is a much less rational belief than one which says given the universe bears all the hallmarks of a designer, the logical conclusion to draw is that it has one!
The Moral Argument
The moral argument was first posited by Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) who asked what it is that makes people behave morally, apart from achieving some happiness for themselves by doing so.
Kant thought that there are certain objective laws which people are ‘duty bound’ to follow when faced with a moral decision. He called them categorical imperatives. Kant said that using reason could discover them. We can only fulfil these laws if we have the freedom to do so and if God is there to help us.
This argument has been restated to make it more understandable by lots of apologists over the 100 years or so since Kant said this. One of the most understandable comes from Sean McDowell, the son of Josh McDowell (who wrote the book “Evidence that Demands a Verdict”). He makes two statements …
- IF objective moral values exist, then God must exist
- Objective moral values DO exist, therefore God must exist.
What is is about objective moral values that tell us God must exist? Every culture that ever existed has morals, all people over all of history have recognised morals, that there are some things people do that are “good” and others that are “bad”. (In fact, as an aside, our understanding that some things are good and others are bad is a strong indicator that we are not simply another animal — our sense of right and wrong set us apart from the rest of creation).
Morals are not part of the physical world, we can’t weigh or measure them. We can’t take them into a laboratory and study them physically. In order to accept that morals exist it is necessary to accept a non-physical reality to the world. Morals are certainly immaterial, and they have a characteristic of spirituality. By that I mean, they don’t just describe what IS immaterially, they make a value judgment about what SHOULD be. They contain information and even instruction on what we should do …
- Tell the truth,
- Be faithful / loyal,
- Do what is right
For this to be valid for humanity, the source of this information and instruction must come from outside of human beings. Secondly, this kind of information comes from a mind, a source, which tells us what we should do or how we ought to act. This understanding, this sense of morality is simply not understandable by science. Science does not and can never answer “should” or “ought” questions, it gathers information and tells us what IS. “Should” instructions are of a completely different category to “is” information. So, the moral argument goes, that people instinctively understand that things are right and wrong imply a higher standard or “moral law” which transcends humanity. A universal law requires a universal lawgiver.
If you don’t accept that there is a universal law and lawgiver which sits above our cultures, feelings and opinions, there are a number of implications.
- If there is no universal measure of right and wrong, All beliefs about right and wrong are simply opinions driven by our personalities, our feelings and the cultures in which we live.
- by implication, then, nothing is truly “right” or “wrong” in a moral sense. Nor is it universally right of wrong for all people. They are, simply, opinions, conventions and societal norms.
- We therefore have no way of or, indeed, any right to judge the actions of another person or another culture against anything other than what are our own opinions and feelings (either individual or collective). This holds for historic cultures as well as cultures elsewhere in the world today.
- The judgment about people who hold other beliefs and opinions simply becomes power play. I can impose my beliefs on you because I am more powerful, not because my beliefs have any objectively moral value.
- Laws, then, are nothing to do with right and wrong, they are merely an outworking and consequence of power. They are simply one worldview being imposed by force on another.
If our morals are simply our internal beliefs and feelings, they cannot, in fact they must not, determine right and wrong. By their nature, they will be subjective and volatile — and they will change from person to person, from society to society and from generation to generation. Right and wrong, if it is to be applied universally can be neither subjective nor unpredictable.
- They must be objective. They cannot be dependent on circumstances or opinions.
- They must be stable. They cannot change with time or culture. If an action was morally wrong 1,000 years ago, it should be wrong today.
- They must also be universal. Not just for me or you, but for all people, all over the world, for all of time.
But if morals and right and wrong are simply a matter of opinion (this is the close cousin of “there is no such thing as objective truth”). What exactly are right and wrong, and where do they come from? This is an answer science simply cannot give us.
However, God answers this in spades, AND in this passage Paul tells us that people “suppress” the truths He sets before us. This is the last thing I want to draw out of theses few words of Paul. That belief, faith or whatever you want to call it is a choice. Paul says that people “suppress” the truth. He goes further than that, he gives us a reason, he says the reason is their wickedness.
John’s gospel tells us that “the light has come into the world and that people rejected the light because they love the darkness. And John is not talking about the brightness of the sun, the nits a computer screen puts out or the lumens a lightbulb produces. John 1:9 “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.” John 3v19 “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”
The nub of my last point is that faith, ultimately, is a choice.
I have had people say to me something along the lines of “I cannot believe”. This is untrue. It reveals an ideological understanding of faith which does not describe faith. It makes the assertion that there is a quality in faith, there is something about faith which we cannot control, that our faith or lack of it is not dependant on us, and that whether we believe or not is simply something over which we have no say.
If you “cannot” believe, you are saying that there is an aspect of faith over which we have no control, and by implication, I “cannot” NOT believe. I do not believe that is the witness of the Bible — either in the Old Testament or in the New — which is quite clear from Joshua 24v15 which says “choose the day whom you will serve” to Jesus calling us to “choose the narrow door” (Luke 13v24), to all of the passages which call us to live in accordance with the faith we profess. If we have no choice, why then does God give us self control? If we are not capable of choice, the gospel is meaningless.
God calls all people everywhere to repent (Acts 17v30), Paul says to Titus “the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age”
No, belief is not uncontrollable in any sense. Someone who says they cannot believe is being disingenuous, the truth is they WILL not believe.
Right at the start of the New Year, we have, culturally, a practice of doing something we call “making a New Year’s resolution”. In essence we make a choice to change something in our lives. Usually it’s about getting fitter or giving up smoking or something which will helps to improve our health or our lives. This year, why not make the choice either for the first time, or as an act or recommitment to follow Jesus more closely?