WHO IS GOD?
Written by Doug Ponder on May 5, 2013
Is There a God? Can We Even Know?
Since the dawn of our kind, humans have sensed that there must be Something or Someone “out there” who is ‘before us’ and ‘greater than us.’ We know this to be true in the same way that we know a rolling ball must have come from somewhere (it didn’t appear out of thin air) and must have had someone to set it in motion (for inanimate matter, by definition, does not move itself).
You don’t have to think about a rolling ball to come to those conclusions. You simply intuit them. You know them to be true, because the universe runs on that kind of cause and effect. Of course, you could be wrong about where the ball has come from, or about who has set the ball in motion, but being wrong in either of those conclusions doesn’t remove the need for an explanation of the ball’s existence and movement. In other words, just because you are wrong about who moved the ball doesn’t mean that no one moved it.
This explains why so many people, for so much of the world’s history, have sensed that there must be Something or Someone who is before us and greater than us. (Perhaps it is atheism, not religion, that is the studied position.) But if almost everyone senses this to be true, then why are the world’s religions so divided? Is there a god, and can this god be known?
Christians say, “Yes.” God is there, and he is not silent. His works “pour forth speech,” the psalmist declares. They “reveal knowledge” about their Maker (Ps. 19:2). Just as a painting shows us the skill of a painter, we ought to sense God in the skies and the stars, in the oceans and the mountains, in animals and in trees. All these things display God’s craftsmanship; they declare his goodness, his power, and his glory (Gen. 1:31; Ps. 19:1-2; Ps. 104:1-35). As Paul the apostle summarizes, “Ever since the world was made, God’s eternal power and divine nature have been seen and known in the things he has made” (Rom. 1:19-20).
The Problem Lies with Us
If creation reveals its Maker, then why don’t we see God more clearly? Why don’t the world’s religions agree more readily on the nature and purposes of God?
God himself tells us that it’s neither a problem with him nor his creation; it’s a problem with our ability to perceive him accurately, thanks to our inner corruption that results from sin. Here how it works:
“The anger of God is unveiled from heaven against all the ungodliness and injustice of human beings, whose own injustice suppresses the truth. What can be known about God, you see, is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the world was made, his eternal power and divine nature have been seen and known in the things he has made. As a result, we have no excuse: we knew God, but didn’t honor him as God or thank him. Instead, our thinking became futile and our foolish hearts were darkened. We declared ourselves to be wise, but in fact we became foolish. We swapped the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of mortal man, and of birds, animals, and reptiles. So God gave us up to the sinful desires of our hearts, with the result that we dishonored our bodies among ourselves. We swapped the truth about God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creation rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” (Romans 1:18-25)
That is the story of humanity. It is our story. The very first sin of mankind was swapping truth from God for a lie (remember the Garden of Eden?). And we’ve been doing the same ever since. Our internal corruption stretches all the way down to the roots of who we are. Like a tree that is rotting from the inside out, our darkened hearts pollute the fruit of our thinking such that we can’t see God rightly without his help. At best we have only incomplete glimpses that lead to guesses about Who or What might be before us and greater than us. That is why there are so many contradictory world religions. They are all trying to discern the truth about God from what they can see and perceive. That’s like trying to put together the pieces of a puzzle while wearing a blindfold. No wonder there is so much confusion!
He Is There, And He Is not Silent
So we can’t reason, feel, or guess our way to a complete picture of God. How, then, can we know anything about him? The truth is, we wouldn’t know anything about God unless he told us about himself. And that’s exactly what he did.
“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in many ways, but at the end of these days he has spoken to us by his Son. He appointed this Son to be heir of all things, and through him he created the universe. He is the shining reflection of God’s own glory, the precise expression of his very own being” (Heb. 1:1-3).
As the author mentions, God formerly revealed himself through human beings called prophets. Sometimes this happened in written form (the Scriptures), and sometimes this happened through their public teaching and preaching. In both instances God was making himself known to us through the use of human language so that we might come to trust him, love him, and find life in him.
But to speak even more powerfully than he could through human words alone, God spoke through the entire life of Jesus, who is “the shining reflection of God’s own glory and the precise expression of his very own being.” This is why the apostle John calls Jesus the Word of God who dwelt among us in order to make God known (John 1:1, 14, 18). In short, God’s revelation can’t get any clearer than Jesus.
Look to Jesus
This means that if we want to know what God’s like or what he’s doing in the world, we must look to Jesus. He is both the “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15) and “the light of the world” (John 8:12) who overcomes the darkness of our hearts (John 1:5).
For example, Jesus reveals hat God is Trinity, a community of persons who share one life. Jesus spoke of the shared glory he had with his Father before the world existed (John 17:5). That same glory, Jesus said, is lavished on him by the Holy Spirit, who works alongside God the Father and God the Son (John 16:14-15).
Jesus is also reveals that, as God, he is our creator. “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.” Indeed, “all things were created through him and for him” (Col. 1:16).
Jesus reveals that God is good. In everything from his rebukes of our rebelliousness to his atoning death for our sins, Jesus shows that God is holy and just. He hates sin and evil because they spoil the goodness his creation. Sin breaks the peace between God and the sinner, between the sinner and another person, and between the sinner and God’s world. God is for the good of his creation, and therefore, against sin (Acts 10:31).
Jesus reveals that God is love. If God is against sin and evil, that puts you and me in a precarious place, for we ourselves are sinful by nature and by choice. Yet Jesus shows that God is love by dying for his enemies. It’s not that we loved God or deserved his forgiveness in any way. Rather, he loved us and sent Jesus to be the atonement for our sins (1 John 4:10).
The Search Is Over
The life and teachings of Jesus remind us that he owns us, doubly so. He is our Lord and our Redeemer. He created us and he rescued us from sin and death. Or as one popular confession of faith begins, “What is your only comfort, in life and in death? That I belong—body and soul, in life and in death—not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Jesus is proof that the God of the universe, the God who made you and owns you, loves you more than you could ever imagine. Not with a sentimental, warm fuzzy sort of love. He loves with you a costly, powerful, death-on-the-cross kind of love. It’s a love that one will day put a stop to sin and evil—including those who refuse to repent of doing evil—because sin and evil spoil God’s good world and wreck the lives of his people. It’s a love that longs to heal, to cleanse, to forgive, to restore.
All that is who God is. You were created to know him. Jesus doesn’t just “show you the way” to God. Jesus himself is the way to God: “Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit” (1 Pet. 3:18). If you long to know the God you were created to worship, then keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.