Plain to See
2010-06-13 (pm) BC Art 2 Romans 1.18-32 Plain to See
You can classify all people into 3 basic categories. Theists, atheists and agnostics. Theists are those who believe there is a God. This category of people includes everyone who professes faith in a being greater than themselves. All members of AA subscribe to a higher power, though that higher power, for the purposes of their meetings is never actually defined. Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses—all are classified as theists.
Atheists, are people who believe there is no god. The “a” means no, it is a negative distinction. So, in other words, not god.
Agnostics are people who believe there is a god, but we can’t know anything about them.
Article 2 of the Belgic confession speaks to all three categories of people, thus, it speaks to all people. Now, you’ll remember that last time I said that Article 1 presupposed a belief in God. In a way, article 2 does as well, but even so, it still addresses the atheists and the agnostics.
It does this through means of two points: general revelation and special revelation. General revelation is the knowledge of God we get from the world we live in. Special revelation is the Bible. When we get to it, we’ll see that special revelation speaks to the theist group as well as the agnostic group. General revelation tells us there is a god, special revelation tells us who God is and why we need to know him. General revelation is not enough to save, you need special revelation concerning Christ in order to be saved.
So, let’s first spend some time looking at general revelation, or creation. As both the passages we read speak to this point, we’ll look at each in turn. But it is striking that according to God, there is no excuse for a lack of faith in him. Atheists will not have a leg to stand on. There is enough evidence in creation to account for God’s existence.
How many people have seen the movie, the privileged planet? A few? I highly recommend it. Basically, the movie dramatically presents the truth of Psalm 19. The heavens declare the glory of God.
Consider this. If our atmosphere were always cloudy all the time, we wouldn’t be able to see the heavens. There’d likely be no space exploration because no one would know what was beyond it, no one would know if it was solid or not. In fact, the ancient philosophers and astronomers believed that the earth was surrounded by a huge glass sphere, that occasionally lined up holes in it to allow the waters above to pour through. There was another sphere holding the moon in its orbit, another one for each of the planets and the sun and finally a large one, like a great curtain with holes punched in it for the stars, as though there was a greater light beyond that shone through the holes. Pretty imaginative reasoning, don’t you think?
But in Privileged Planet, they come to an astonishing conclusion: all the factors that make the earth hospitable for life, also make it observable. In other words, we need a thin, invisible atmosphere in order to be able to see beyond it, but the very elements of our atmosphere that make it invisible are necessary for life, our atmosphere blocks all but the narrowest bit of the light spectrum, the visible part, which is necessary for photo-synthesis in plants and production of vitamin D in humans.
Another example: the moon, necessary for tides & ocean health. It is 1 400th the size of the sun. It is also 1 400th the distance from the earth to the sun, therefore, when the moon passes in front of the sun, we observe a perfect solar eclipse. If the moon were slightly larger or smaller, we wouldn’t have a perfect solar eclipse, and we wouldn’t be able to observe the sun’s atmosphere. Without a solar eclipse, we wouldn’t have been able to prove Einstein’s theory of relativity, that light has mass, and is affected by gravitational forces.
If the moon were larger or smaller, closer or farther away, earth would not be able to support life. In the movie, there are at least 20 different factors that all have to be in place in order for life to exist on earth. The probability of just one of these things happening, let alone all 20, at the same time to produce the kind of planet we live on is like 1 in 1 trillion billion. The chances of finding another planet just like ours, even given the size of our universe is next to impossible. It is almost mathematically impossible, probably mathematically improbable that such a similar planet exists, it is almost assuredly impossible that humans would be able to find it.
Again, as Psalm 19 says, the very world we live in, the stuff we can observe in creation, declares God’s glory. And why not?
Think about it! If you walked into your house and you were surprised to see a painting hanging on your wall, you’d ask how it got there, right? You would ask who brought it into your house, who bought it, who painted it. And you’d be able to find all these things out, right? You’d be able to learn that your spouse bought it, he paid 2 million dollars for it, and it was painted by Van Gogh. You wouldn’t conclude—Whoah, there’s a painting hanging on my wall, random chance must have rearranged the molecules in my living room to extend the solid molecules of the wall into the space of the gaseous molecules of the air to align random atoms smashing into other atoms, to form different molecules, some wood ones here, some canvas ones there, some oil paint on top.
But that’s exactly what atheists want to believe about the creation of the world. That it all came out of nothing, for no reason, for no purpose, it just is. But as Father Raymond DeSousa, in an article in the National Post points out, even scientists like Steven Hawking can’t explain what caused the universe. Hawking is able to admit that physical science can’t answer such a question, because the why question, why is there something instead of nothing, is outside of the physical science discipline, it is in the area of metaphysics.
Still, atheists refuse to believe. They delude themselves into thinking that the physical just is, and that they don’t need to ask why it is. In this, they fulfil Paul’s description of them in Romans 1. They purposely suppress wisdom.
Getting back to that piece of art purchased by your spouse. If you were at all familiar with art, you’d probably be able to recognise the artist, you could tell by the brushstrokes, the colours, the paint. If you weren’t into art, you’d at the very least be able to read the signature. If it wasn’t signed, you’d still be able to say that someone painted it.
An atheist though, looks at creation and doesn’t recognise God as the artist. He fails to see God’s signature, the fact that the heavens are declaring his glory, like a good painting demonstrates, or if you will, glorifies the skill of the painter. No, an atheist boldly looks at creation and concludes that no one created it. It is a very non-intellectual point to take. Nothing in our experience gives creedance to such a position. Everything has a cause, everything has a creator. Cars don’t just appear, trees don’t just grow without first being seeds, or suckers sent out from another tree. Atheists really are without excuse.
The reason they refuse, is because they don’t want to have to answer to someone higher than themselves. As long as they maintain their tenuous position, they are the sole authorities for their lives. They don’t have to answer to anyone but themselves. But here’s the thing.
What position would you rather be in? On a sinking boat without any rescue whatsoever, walking around, telling yourself that it really isn’t sinking, it really isn’t sinking. Or on a sinking boat with a rescuer on board, able to whisk you to safety immediately?
The problem for the atheists is this. Though the can see the boat is sinking, they refuse to acknowledge it. And because the rescuer doesn’t appear in the form they’re expecting, or because they refuse to believe the rescuer’s eyewitnesses, they will remain on ship until the bitter end. Their lives are in their hands, they will be victims of their own believe, left without excuse.
So, having demonstrated that atheists are without excuse, we now turn our attention to agnostics. Some of their thinking goes like this, because God is so awesome, so powerful, so transcendent, we cannot possibly come to know him. Yes, we can declare with certainty that there is a God, but we can’t define him clearly. Thus all religions describe God, but possibly from different points of view.
Now, let’s deconstruct this a bit. This theory about God is the elephant and the blind men theory. The theory goes like this: Suppose God was a huge elephant, and theologians are blind men. The blindness represents our finite ability to understand God. A Bhuddist, standing at the back of the elephant describes what he can touch, he grabs the tail and says God is thin like a whip.
A Hindu is standing by one of the legs, he says no, God is like a tree trunk. Another standing at the side says, no God is so wide I can’t put my arms around him. Another, standing at the head, touches the trunk and says, God is thinner than a tree trunk, but thicker than a whip.
You get the picture, right? All religions are simply describing different parts of the same thing. Here’s where the theory breaks down. The blind men are all insisting that their point of view is exclusive to all others, though they know that the entire elephant cant be made up of what they can only touch.
But the real kicker is this, the elephant can speak. He can say, you’re all only partly right. I’m all those things, I’m an elephant!
God, though transcendent, all powerful, indeed all those things we looked at last time, wouldn’t be a very impressive God if he wasn’t at least a bit understandable. I mean what’s the point of having creatures being able to observe your creation, if they can’t possibly understand you?
And what would constitute understandable communication? Well, there’s dictation, like what supposedly happened to Mohammed. There’s the plates that Joseph Smith supposedly discovered but was never able to show to anyone else. And then there’s Jesus, the only person who not only claimed to be God, but was prophecied that he was God, and who proved that he was God.
So, to rule out agnosticism, we are neither too intellectually deficient to understand God, nor is God too transcendent to be understood, in fact, according to the Bible, God went far out of his way to condescend to our level of understanding, appearing in human flesh, humbling himself to the lowest servant level, even dying on a cross.
So clearly, the only rational position to have is to be a theist—to believe that there is a God, and that we can know him.
Now, that doesn’t necessarily get us off the hook of other faiths. And we should not be surprised to find some truth in them. But what we have to do is embark on a mission to establish which faith has the most credible witness to who God is. Obviously, we who are gathered here believe we know that answer already.
This leads us to our final, concluding point: the scriptures themselves, or special revelation. God reveals himself generally in creation, but specifically, or specially in the scriptures. Indeed contained in them is everything we need to know about who God is, who we are in relation to him, and what we need to know to be saved.
In the weeks to come, we’ll look at the reliability of scripture. We’ll look at the Belgic Confession’s description of the Written word of God, the canonical books, the authority of scripture, the apocryphal books and the sufficiency of scripture.
Lord willing, all this information will give us some good basis for explaining the basis for the hope we have in Christ, that Christians are not a bunch of delusional people, and that the scriptures are a reliable eyewitness account of who God is, and what he’s been doing in history. Amen.