2008-04-13pm Acts 14.8-18; Lord’s Day 9 Q&A 26 God the Father—Creator & Sustainer
What do you believe concerning God the Father? What do you think of when you consider His creative activity? When you read the book of Genesis, what does it tell you about God?
When I was at Seminary this last time, I took a course called “Theology and Science”. In that course, we looked at some of the issues surrounding the creation of the universe, such as the Darwinian theory of evolution, Intelligent Design, creationism and that sort of thing.
We watched several fascinating movies that demonstrated the incredible power of God in creating the universe. Clearly, this universe we live in, even the stuff we know about the earth is vast, broad and incredibly complex.
From DNA—the building blocks of life, to quantum physics, the distances of the universe, the formation of life from conception to birth, it is obvious that God is amazing. The world is incredibly complex, beautiful, efficient, marvellous, and that is a reflection of God!
The news often presents scientists as being atheists, or nominally deists. The truth is, most scientists are religious, and many of those are Christian.
Indeed, it was the Christian worldview that started the whole scientific movement, and atheism is an extreme branch of the scientific movement. Prior to Christians searching out creation, trying to understand it, examining it, people were pagan, and there were no atheists. People believed that gods were in charge of weather, harvests, trees, everything. They had a Roman or Greek understanding of the universe, such as a pantheon of gods who ruled everything, or a pantheistic understanding of the universe, in that gods or deities inhabited all of creation. Or they might have been Buddhist or some other religion. But everyone was religious, and in one form or another, they worshipped things as gods.
We see this in many places in the Bible. For example, in the book of Jonah, after God sent the storm (the author makes it abundantly clear that God sent the storm), the sailors start panicking, calling on their gods and offering sacrifices by throwing stuff off the ship. Then, after they’ve done this, the captain goes below and finds Jonah asleep! Ah ha! The captain thinks, “This is why we haven’t received an answer yet; this guy hasn’t called on his gods yet.”
So he hauls Jonah up to the deck and tells him to get praying. The sailors start to get very worried. They’re sure someone has done something sinful, and all of them are being punished for it. So they cast lots, and the lot goes to Jonah!
Why? Well, he was running away from God, so God, in order to get Jonah’s attention sends a storm to threaten the ship. It is particularly interesting to watch the sailors change their beliefs. Prior to the storm, they worshipped the sea god.
But Jonah nonchalantly tells them that the sea isn’t a god at all, it is just a sea, it is a creature, it was created by God, the God he worships. Then, after the sea stopped storming, the sailors worshipped the one and only, the true God, Jonah’s God! They became believers!
Similarly, when scientists study the universe, not very many of them maintain an atheistic position, if they even held one in the first place. Not too long ago, a fairly famous atheist converted to Christianity because of his studies. He could not comprehend how the universe we live in could have existed apart from a creator.
Now for us, this is elementary stuff. But the debates in science, the debates on the internet, and the debates among religions show that this doctrine is still incredibly important.
We believe in God the Father, the creator of the entire universe.
Consider most people in the world. Most people believe in something. If you’re an atheist, you either believe in the goodness of humanity, which, when you look at the atrocities humans commit all over the world, is plain silly, or you believe in a god or gods who hasn’t revealed him or herself.
Consider the weather reports, don’t they talk about mother nature, or mother earth? What is that but new paganism? They even attribute storms to mother nature. That’s no different than those sailors Jonah was with!
Look around you! People are very religious. Even atheists and Darwinists behave and act like a religion.
Mark Driscoll, in his sermon called “The Rebel’s Guide to Joy in Conflict” describes the contrast between Christianity, which in its core is not a religion, and religions and religious people.
He says, in essence, that religions and religious people add things. So, in the early church, for example in the Philippian church, there were people who said, you need Jesus and something in addition to Jesus, Jesus’ righteousness isn’t enough. In that context, these people said, “You need to add circumcision.” Paul says, very clearly, “No!” You don’t need anything in addition to Jesus Christ. He is perfectly sufficient. He called those religious people dogs and mutilators of the flesh. Driscoll also makes it clear that the dogs they had in those days are not the domesticated, cute, cuddly animals we might think of when we hear the word dog.
So religious people distort the truth. Why? Because it is a political thing, they get to exercise power over other people. For example, in the Darwinian and Intelligent Design debate, just look it up on the internet, there is all kinds of posturing, fighting, name calling, slander and stuff going on. If Darwinism was pure science they would not be threatened by Intelligent Design. But because it is political, they are worried that they’ll lose their power and influence in the public education system, etc. Religions are power struggles. Christianity is humility: “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” Christianity is not a religion!
What the debate concerning the creation of the universe shows is simply the rejection, the age old rejection of God, which goes all the way back to Satan’s rebellion against God.
Satan didn’t like the way God was doing things, thought he could do a better job, tried to take control, lost and was punished to an earthly and under earthly existence. Then, seeing an opportunity to corrupt others, Satan turned Adam and Eve against God.
That remains his primary method: deceit. Trying to turn people against God. Some people don’t seem to give him much work at all. Others are harder to convince.
So, that’s why the authors of the Heidelberg Catechism, very early, very clearly presents who God is.
Some people might argue, well, we can’t know God. We can’t see him, Christians can’t prove his existence, all we have to go on is the testimony of others.
But really, are any of those criticisms true? “I heard on the news somewhere that decaffeinated coffee is worse for you than caffeinated coffee.”
How about that last statement? There are so many things at issue here. First of all, we’re basing the validity of the statement on a news report. Which news report? When? “Well, I can’t remember.” Okay, well maybe they really did see the report, and perhaps an internet search would find out that particular information. But what if they misunderstood the news report? Or what if the news reporters got it slightly wrong. What if they said, “Decaffeinated coffee is worse for everyone than caffeinated coffee”, but the actual report said, “decaffeinated coffee is worse than caffeinated coffee for people with high blood pressure.” That’s a pretty easy generalisation to make.
Just because we can’t prove the existence of something, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Recently, some scientists studied creatures that live in the very cold waters near Antarctica. They discovered species they never knew existed. Did that mean those animals didn’t exist until they were discovered? Of course not!
Do you believe there are such things as electrons? Why? You can’t see them? The smallest observable thing is now an atom, and yet we believe atoms are made up of protons and electrons, but we can’t see them! Scientists also believe that there are things smaller than protons and electrons, such as quarks. So for those science influenced atheists who refuse to believe in God, because they can’t see God, they’re perfectly willing to suspend their rules for proof, when it comes to scientific things!
So, a lack of empirical proof of God’s existence doesn’t mean that God doesn’t exist. If Christians are unable to prove empirically that God exists, likewise, non Christians can’t empirically prove that God doesn’t exist.
Now, let’s leave all that aside for just a moment. Let’s look at Acts 14.
Instead of atheists, we have pagans who believe in the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes, and the whole Parthenon of Gods.
So, Paul and Barnabas are going around, preaching, doing the stuff they always do, when Paul spots a cripple in the crowd. There’s eye contact. The Holy Spirit reveals to Paul that this fellow has believed the words Paul is speaking, the Holy Spirit is at work in this man’s life, and he’s given him the faith to be healed. So, without further ado, Paul, in the middle of his sermon stops and says, “Stand up on your feet!” And the cripple did, only he wasn’t a cripple anymore, God had healed him!
When the crowd saw this, they obviously didn’t connect it to what Paul had been preaching, but rather defaulted to their old pagan worldview. In order to explain what was going on, they said, “Paul and Barnabas must be gods in human form. Barnabas is quite strong looking, he must be Zeus, and Paul, well he never shuts up, so he must be Hermes, the spokesperson of the gods.
So, they quickly gather the priest, form a worship service, and then get ready to offer sacrifices to honour Paul and Barnabas, the gods with them.
But Paul stops them and makes it abundantly clear that they are mere men.
Then he appeals to them, in words that are quite similar to that of Jonah, when the pagans on the ship confronted him.
Paul says, “We’re just men, like you. We’re bringing a message, that’s true, but it is from the real God, not the false man made, the gods you worship. Those don’t actually exist; the God we serve does exist. So, give up on those useless mute, deaf, idols you worship and listen to what we’re saying. We’re telling you that there really is a God, one God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them.
God created the entire universe, everything you can see, and everything you can’t see.”
Up to this point, God permitted people to believe what they wanted. He allowed them to be ignorant, to make whatever religion they wanted. No, they were not worshipping the truth, but they still were trying to worship, because God created people to worship. Nowadays, if you’re not worshipping the real God, you probably worship false gods, paganism is making a comeback, or you worship sports teams, or what have you.
So, the very existence of creation is testimony to God! The fact that there are crops, there is rain, there are the various seasons, the fact that people have stuff, they have food, and that they are able to experience joy, is testimony to God’s existence.
Now even though Paul said all of that, the crowd had a hard time believing, and stopping going through with their plans. So then what happens? The established religion with strong street cred, took over and turned the crowd against Paul and Barnabas. They stoned Paul and left him for dead. Figures!
So how do we testify to God? Since people can’t see God, since there are atheists who denounce God, how can we convince our neighbours that God exists?
What Paul was getting at here, and what the Heidelberg Catechism is addressing, we’ll look at more closely next week. But I’ll mention it now. The key is God’s providence.
Believe me, this will only get harder, as people are doing more and more to disprove even that, or to elevate human responsibility to the point where we can destroy the world, or save it, talk about a god complex!
But still, God’s providence is the key. Why?
Well it gets us on the most basest levels. Why are we here? Why are we able to question why we are here. What’s the purpose of life? As far as we know, the rest of creation doesn’t ask these questions. Dogs don’t ask why, trees don’t ask why, rocks don’t ask why. Only humans have consciousness. Only humans can question and understand the meaning of life.
God’s providence gives us the clue. The seasons, food, and in particular, joy, peace, happiness, all come from God, and give us the reason for the universe. But we’ll look at it more closely next week.
One last thought. Why providence? Well, God provided creation, he made us. We sinned, we turned away from God, we’re estranged from God. But who provided a way back to God? God did. That’s what God’s providence is leading us toward! Amen!