No doctrine or aspect of theology is more basic than the doctrine of God, sometimes referred to as Theology Proper. Since the term theology (the study of God) is often used of the study of other biblical subjects like the Bible, angels, man, salvation, and so on, Theology Proper is the designation sometimes used for just the study of God Himself. Rather than an exhaustive treatment, the study which follows is designed to be a general overview of the key features of what the Bible teaches about God, His existence, Persons, and attributes of the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Here is an essential part of the foundation needed for solid spiritual growth and insight into life in general and into the Christian life in particular.
Jeremiah 9:23-24 Thus says the Lord, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; 24 but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord.
This study will be helpful for the new Christian or anyone who needs to get a handle on the essential elements of the doctrine of God. It will also benefit those looking for a review of these essentials, perhaps for Sunday school teachers in the preparation of material for their classes, or for those training disciples.
The Bible gives witness to two facts regarding the knowledge God. First, it teaches us that God is incomprehensible, and but then it also declares that God is knowable. Both are true, but not in an absolute sense. To say that God is incomprehensible simply means that finite man cannot know everything there is to know about God who is an infinite being. To say that God is knowable means that, though incomprehensible, God can be known and man can grow in the knowledge of God, at least in a limited sense and to the degree that is needed for man to trust God and have a personal and growing relationship with Him.
God’s incomprehensibility is declared in passages like Job 11:7 and Isaiah 40:18:
Job 11:7 Can you discover the depths of God? Can you discover the limits of the Almighty?
Isaiah 40:18 To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare with Him?
The fact that God is knowable is evidenced by the very gift of the Bible as God’s revelation of Himself to man, but note also the following passages:
John 14:7 If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.
John 17:3 And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.
1 John 5:20 And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding, in order that we might know Him who is true, and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.
Unfortunately, many are turned off by the term “doctrine” or “theology.” For many people these two terms mean something boring, impractical, and useless, but nothing could be more removed from the truth. Bible doctrine, the teaching of the Bible as God’s supernatural revelation to man, is the necessary foundation for knowing and understanding God, His creation (including man himself), and His plan for mankind. People, whether they realize it or not, have a set of presuppositions which form their doctrinal viewpoint or theological perspective about God, the world, and man himself. And this viewpoint, whether picked up through formal instruction or simply by the process of osmosis from their culture, is not without serious repercussions on the way people think and act. People eventually become like whatever god they worship. Concerning idols, the Psalmist wrote, “Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them” (Ps. 115:8 NIV).
The late Francis Schaeffer wrote of the significance of one’s world view, which, in the final analysis, represents one’s doctrinal perspective about God and life:
There is a flow to history and culture. This flow is rooted and has its wellspring in the thoughts of people. People are unique in the inner life of the mind—what they are in their thought world determines how they act. This is true of their value systems and it is true of their creativity …
People have presuppositions, and they will live more consistently on the basis of these presuppositions than even they themselves may realize. By presuppositions we mean the basic way an individual looks at life, his basic world view, the grid through which he sees the world. Presuppositions rest upon that which a person considers to be the truth of what exists. People’s presuppositions lay a grid for all they bring forth into the external world. Their presuppositions also provide the basis for their values and their basis for their decisions.
“As a man thinketh, so is he,” is really most profound. An individual is not just the product of the forces around him. He has a mind, an inner world …
Most people catch their presuppositions from their family and surrounding society the way a child catches measles. But people with more understanding realize that their presuppositions should be chosen after a careful consideration of what world view is true …
It is important to realize what a difference a people’s world view makes in their strength as they are exposed to the pressure of life. That it was the Christians who were able to resist religious mixtures, syncretism, and the effects of the weakness of Roman culture speaks of the strength of the Christian world view. This strength rested on God’s being an infinite-personal God and his speaking in the Old Testament, in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ, and in the gradually growing New Testament. He had spoken in ways people could understand. Thus the Christians not only had knowledge about the universe and mankind that people cannot find out by themselves, but they had absolute, universal values by which to live and by which to judge the society and the political state in which they lived …1
The many references in the New Testament to doctrine or teaching (83 times these words are found in the NASB New Testament) make it clear that doctrine or theology is not a cold and impotent force, but a vital element to the spiritual, moral, and social being of mankind (1 Tim. 1:3; 4:6, 16; 2 Tim. 3:10, 16; 4:2-3). Indeed, it is the difference between life and death, a sense of significance and happiness, and joy and peace. It is the doctrines of the Bible which bring people into a factual knowledge of the “true and living God” which must form the basis for knowing God personally. Only then can people turn from all the false gods of the world to the one true and living God (1 Thess. 1:9).
A healthy relationship with God must begin with an intellectual knowledge of who He is, which then matures into a deeper personal experience of knowing God in life. God manifests Himself to us on the mountain peaks, in the valleys, in the swamps—in all aspects of our lives.2
The study of the knowledge of God, just one of the many doctrinal themes in Scripture, is the greatest theme that can engage the mind of man. Nothing can even begin to parallel it in its impact on a man’s life. Undoubtedly, for this very reason, the very first words of the Bible introduce us to the reality of God as the source of the universe, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1).
These, the very first words of the Bible, are most basic to the understanding of the whole. No more important words have ever been uttered or written. Compton, the physicist, calls them the most wonderful words ever written. All else in the Bible stands or falls upon the validity and truthfulness of these words. Study of the person and work of God is of inestimable importance and value for all who would know the truth. Without a proper understanding of Him and His plan, everything else in the Bible and in life becomes hazy and meaningless.3
In his book Knowing God, J. I. Packer writes:
The world becomes a strange, mad, and painful place and life in it is a disappointing and unpleasant business for those who do not know about God. Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfold as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul.4
In John 17:3 Christ prayed these instructive words, “And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.” Here was Christ’s own definition of salvation and life. Christ who was sent to be both the revelation of God to man and the reconciliation of man to God declares that knowing God is the essence of eternal life. But by eternal life Christ was not simply speaking of gaining an entrance into heaven, but of knowing and experiencing an eternal quality of life now, a life of meaning, purpose, and usefulness to God and mankind with peace and joy. All the real issues and questions of life ultimately find their answer in the knowledge of God which comes to man through Jesus Christ and the Scripture, Genesis through Revelation.
Before moving into the specifics of the doctrine of God, a few things should be said about theology as a whole.
The term theology is a compound of two Greek words, theos, meaning “God,” and logos, meaning “word, speech, expression, discourse.” Both Jesus Christ as the Living Word and the Bible as the written word are the Logos of God. That which the living and written Word reveals is theology—a discourse on the specific subject of God. Though the word theology is never found in Scripture, it is Scriptural in character. In Romans 3:2 we have the words, ta logia tou theou, “the oracles of God,” meaning the discourses or utterances of and about God. In 1 Peter 4:11 we find logia theou, meaning “the utterances of God,” and in Luke 8:21 we find, ton logon tou theou, “the Word of God.”
In the use of the term theology several types develop depending on how the Word is used.
(1) A theological system: The word theology may be used of an exponent of a theological system as Augustinian, Calvinistic, Arminian, Covenant, or Dispensational theology.
(2) A method, source, or content of theology: It may be used of the source or content of the theology or the method of theology as:
(3) Biblical theology: Facts concerning God and His universe as set forth in the various books of the Bible from whence we derive other classifications as Pauline, Johannine and Petrine theologies.
(4) Historical theology: The study of the historical development of doctrine as well as its variations and heretical departures.
(5) Theology proper: This is theology in its true and proper sense. Theology proper contemplates only the Person of God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit, existence and attributes without reference to the works of each person of the trinity. This is a part of systematic theology.
(6) Systematic theology: This is the collecting, scientifically arranging, and categorizing, comparing, exhibiting, and defending all facts from all sources concerning God and His works.
For our knowledge of God to be accurate, the primary source must be the Bible, the special revelation of God, and the primary method must be the literal inductive method which is founded on a careful study of Scripture especially in the original languages in which it was written, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.
A true and accurate systematic theology must also be an exegetical theology and a revealed or scriptural theology. This is primary. Too often the study of theology is man-centered, i.e., centered around what the so-called great theologians have said, historical theology, rather than centered in the Bible. This does not mean we ignore the writings of these men as they have sought to represent what the Scripture teaches, but our final conclusions need to be based on Scripture itself as much as is humanly possible.
These are the categories which should form a part of any system of systematic theology:
Bibliology: From biblos + logos. This is the study of the Bible, i.e., revelation, inspiration, preservation, canonization and illumination.
Theology Proper: From theos + logos. This is the study of the essence, being, and trinity of God.
Angelology: From angelos + logos. This is the study of angels, fallen and unfallen.
Anthropology: From anthropos + logos. This is the study of man, his creation, make-up, innocence and fall.
Hamartiology: From hamartia + logos. This is the study of sin, its nature, derivation and classifications.
Soteriology: From soterios + logos. This is the study of God’s plan and work of salvation for mankind.
Ecclesiology: From ekklesia + logos. This is the study of the church, universal and local.
Eschatology: From eschatos + logos. This is the study of prophecy and last things. Dispensations may also be included.
Christology: From Christos + logos. This involves the study of the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, the God-Man.
Pneumatology: From pneuma + logos. This involves the study of the Person of the Holy Spirit.
In rationalism reason becomes the sole guide in discovering and learning about God whether in Scripture or in nature. Here the supernatural is generally explained away by human reason and its bias against the supernatural, i.e., the supernatural is irrational to the human mind and must be rejected.
This is the system of pursuing knowledge through observation and experiment. In the empirical system, everything must be checked out through the senses. One must be able to smell, see, touch, hear, or taste in order to know or come to a bonafide conclusion. The empirical method or the empiricist is one who depends on experience or observation alone, without regard to theory or faith.
This is complete confidence in someone or something expressed in a non-meritorious way. Faith is the primary and Biblical means of perception (Heb. 11:3 “by faith we understand”).
Faith is the means by which we understand spiritual phenomenon. Spiritual phenomenon is an infinite subject beyond the experience and reason of man. But faith is an infinite means of perception which alone is able to grasp the infinite. By the faith means of perception, a person reads the Bible, sees a fact of spiritual phenomenon and accepts it by faith. This becomes spiritual fact or truth by which an individual operates and has confidence. But is this rational? Does one have to put his brain in neutral with the faith means of perception?
(1) In Matthew 18:3 Christ said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (NIV). Children humbly accept a lot of things as true by faith, but always because they have confidence in a person, parent, or teacher. So with faith all biblical facts are accepted because of an underlying faith in God’s person and then in God’s Word. Faith begins with someone higher and greater than ourselves where rationalism and empiricism do not. They begin and end with man.
(2) Faith as a means of perception is not irrational, nor unreasonable, nor without evidence. So we read in Scripture that nature sings out the fact of God, giving constant evidence not only for the reality of God, but for something of the nature of God (Ps. 19:1-6; Rom. 1:19-20). The Bible holds fantastic evidence that its source is in God and that God has given us this book without error. For evidence of this, see the book, Evidence Demands a Verdict, by Josh McDowell, Campus Crusade.
(3) John came to the tomb in unbelief, saw the evidence within, reasoned, and went away in faith; but behind this were the previous words of Christ along with the evidence in the empty tomb (John 20:30-31). However, reason alone or rationalism, because of its bias, would say this cannot be true because it is supernatural, and this is unreasonable. Or empiricism alone would say—I have not observed it so it cannot be true, or unless I observe it, it cannot be true. Thomas, who doubted at first, may have been an empiricist (John 20:1-10, 26-31).
Illustration: The statement “the cow jumped over the moon” is irrational and cannot be believed because of what we have observed about cows and their limitations. But the statement “So the sun stood still and the moon stopped” (Josh. 10:13), though it defies our understanding, is not irrational because of what we know and believe about God. This is perception by faith.
The following are a few of the false views about God. These are either a product of rationalization or the failure of men to accept the Word of God by faith or both. They are the gropings of the human mind that operate on negative volition and as unaided by faith and God’s revelation (cf. Rom. 1:18-20). These systems reveal the truth of 1 Corinthians 2:14.
But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.
Atheism is open and positive denial of the existence of God (Ps. 14:1). The word atheism comes from a + theos which means no God. It does not refer to a mere ignorance of God, but applies to one who considers himself informed on the claims and evidence for the existence of God and who emphatically denies them.
There are three types of atheist, practically speaking:
(1) The Absolute Atheist. This is one who denies the absolute existence of God. Here is the person who argues and says “I have examined all the facts as to the existence of God and I deny them as proving His existence.”
(2) The Providential Atheist. This is the person who simply doubts the existence of God, but firmly denies His providential dealings and the care of God for the things of this world. However, this person in effect denies the being of God for he strips Him of His omnipotence, wisdom, mercy, justice and righteousness. Why? Because of their desire to be uncontrolled in their lust patterns. This kind of atheist is sometimes called a Deist. In every atheist there is a moral twist (see Ps. 14:1f). He denies God because he wants freedom from any responsibility for his sin. He is like the person who does not want to come to the light because his deeds are evil (John 3:19-20).
(3) The Practical Atheist. By this we refer to a secret or partial atheism which is present in the majority of the world. These do not actually deny the being of God, but by their actions and lifestyle, by their evil and neglect of God, or by the denial of certain aspects and rights of His divine and sovereign Being over them, they deny Him and act as though there were no God.
Titus 1:16 They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient, and worthless for any good deed.
This word comes from a + gnosis which means “not knowing.” This school of thought does not deny the existence of God, only that there are no sufficient grounds (i.e., rational proof or empirical proof) that God exists—or that if God does exist He can be known. In reality it is an unwillingness to accept any of the sources of the knowledge of God (innate, tradition, nature, revelation), and an unwillingness to act in faith. Instead, it says I cannot know.
This is the system which tries to explain everything by physical causes which can be observed and understood. It denies and excludes any spiritual causes. Materialism is closely related to empiricism.
Polytheism is a system of theology which believes in many gods. It has been claimed by unbelievers and by many evolutionists that all men were first polytheists and then evolved to monotheism. But the Bible shows that polytheism is a product not of evolution but devolution and degeneration. The idea found in evolution that monotheism, or the belief in one God, is a refinement of polytheism is contrary to the record of the Bible and even recent discoveries archaeologically. Scripture shows that polytheism is the product of man turning away from God and is specifically related to the deceptions of Satan as it is found in the false religions of the world. Polytheism is in no way similar to the biblical doctrine of the trinity which teaches that God is three in personality, but one in essence.
This is the belief that God is in everything and that everything is God. This system confuses God with nature, matter with Spirit, and the creation with the Creator. Also, pantheism must not be confused with the omnipresence of God. The Bible teaches that God is everywhere, but not in everything. God as Creator is independent of, distinct, and separate from the creation.
The term “deism” is from the Latin word deus, meaning God, and is closely allied to the Greek word theos. This system acknowledges that there is a God, that He is personal, infinite, holy, and the Creator of all things, but denies that He sustains the universe. The Deist says that God just put things into motion. He is the Creator but not the Sustainer. Deism rejects the Scriptures, anything supernatural, and the idea that God is providentially working in this world.
This is the doctrine that the Godhead consists of three independent Gods. This is a false view of the doctrine of the trinity, or better, triunity. Tritheism misses the oneness of the triunity of God.
There are many other false systems such as Positivism, Monism, Dualism, and Pluralism, but the plethora of these false systems simply show the futility of what the soulish mind can come up with when it tries to operate apart from the divine revelation of God. It is inconceivable, then, that God would leave man without a revelation of Himself.
The naturalistic arguments which debate the existence of God engender various philosophies. From these inconclusive and questionable theories the spiritual mind turns with relief to the complete, satisfying, and authoritative revelation of God set forth in the Bible.5
Can a person prove that God exists? No, not really, but if we believe in the existence of God, we should be able to give reasonable evidences for why we believe what we believe. This section is designed to help us do that as well as aid in thinking about some of the ramifications of believing in the existence of God.
The message of the Bible, or the gospel, is always equated with truth and it is presented as the opposite of error. Further, the Bible teaches us that man can know the truth and that God holds man responsible to know it. God plainly holds men responsible for not receiving and believing the truth (Rom. 1:18; 2:8; 2 Thess 2:10-12). Such verses would be meaningless unless there was some kind of clear and objective evidence by which men could come to a knowledge and conviction of the truth. If such were not the case, God would not hold man responsible for there would be no way to tell truth from error.
Many like to make the claim there is no absolute truth or that you cannot know the truth. They claim you really cannot know truth unless it can be verified by observable scientific testing and data. Morally, philosophically, and theologically, everything is simply relative. This is agnosticism, but the agnostic’s position is really unsupported by the evidence.
Pilate’s reaction to Jesus’ statement when He was on trial may be an illustration of this not just because of what Pilate said, but because of what Christ first said to Pilate. Christ said, “everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” Pilate then replied, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38) Like all atheists, practical, intellectual, or philosophical, or like an agnostic, Pilate thought he could excuse himself from moral responsibility to God and humanity, or to truth itself by claiming truth cannot be known.
But in this statement, Christ shows us that knowing truth is ultimately a moral issue. Those who are of the truth, those who really want to know, can and will listen to the evidence that God has given us so that men may know the truth. The apostle Paul teaches us the exact same thing in Romans 1:18f. The fact is there is tremendous and bonafide evidence that there is a God out there, He exists. The problem is not one of evidence, but of rebellion and negative volition to God (Ps. 14:1; Rom. 1:21, 23, 25, 28; 3:9-18). It is a moral problem. The moral issue always overshadows the intellectual or evidential issues. As Paul Little writes,
It is not that man cannot believe—it is that he “will not believe.” Jesus pointed the Pharisees to this as the root of the problem. “You refuse to come to me,” he told them, “that you may have life” (John 5:40). He makes it abundantly clear that moral commitment leads to a solution of the intellectual problem. “If any man’s will is to do his will, he shall know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority” (John 7:17). Alleged intellectual problems are often a smoke screen covering moral rebellion.
A student once told me I had satisfactorily answered all his questions, “Are you going to become a Christian?” I asked. “No,” he replied. Puzzled, I asked, “Why not?” He admitted, “Frankly, because it would mess up the way I’m living.” He realized that the real issue for him was not intellectual but moral.
The question is often asked, “If Christianity is rational and true, why is it that most educated people don’t believe it?” The answer is simple. They don’t believe it for the very same reason that most uneducated don’t believe it. They don’t want to believe it. It’s not a matter of brain power, for there are outstanding Christians in every field of the arts and sciences. It is primarily a matter of will.6
Then why do we bother with giving answers and evidence for the existence of God or any other area that is questioned? First, because the Bible tells us to be “ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet. 3:15). The reason for this is because people do have genuine doubts and questions and they deserve solid evidence.
John Stott struck a balance when he said, “We cannot pander to a man’s intellectual arrogance, but we must cater to his intellectual integrity.”7
Can we prove, then, that God exists? No! Not in the same way that you can prove something by scientific method in the laboratory by observable and repeatable experiments. However, observable data for the existence of God does exist. It exists in such degree and clarity that to deny it, one must deny his rational processes because of a bias against the supernatural and the issue of the moral twist spoken of earlier.
We must be clear from the outset that it is not possible to “prove” God in the scientific method sense of the word. But it can be said with equal emphasis that you can’t “prove” Napoleon by the scientific method. The reason lies in the nature of history itself and in the limitations of the scientific method, it must be repeatable … But history in its very nature is non-repeatable. No one can “rerun” the beginning of the universe or bring Napoleon back or repeat the assassination of Lincoln or the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. But the fact that these events can’t be “proved” by repetition does not disprove their reality as events.
There are many real things outside the scope of the scientific method as a means of verification … To insist that God be “proved” by the scientific method is like insisting that a telephone be used to measure radioactivity. It simply wasn’t made for that.8
So what is the evidence for the existence of God? The evidence falls into two categories: (1) General or naturalistic evidence—reasonable evidence from the world around us, and (2) special or revealed evidence—the evidence from the Bible. Though the evidence for the supernatural character of the Bible is a subject that comes under the doctrine of bibliology (the study of the Bible), there is tremendous evidence that the Bible is truly unique and the inerrant and infallible Word of God. It is not a book that man would write if he could or could write if he would (Lewis Sperry Chafer). Ryrie writes:
General revelation includes all that God has revealed in the world around us, including man, while special revelation includes various means He used to communicate His message in what was codified in the Bible. General revelation is sometimes called natural theology and special revelation is called revealed theology. But, of course, what is revealed in nature is also revealed in theology. Some writers use the labels prelapsarian for general revelation and postlapsarian or soteric for special revelation. However, both general and special revelation are (a) from God and (b) about God.9
As Ryrie points out, General Revelation, as the title suggests, is simply general and broad in the following ways:10
(1) It is general in its scope in that it witnesses to all people as the following passages suggest:
Matthew 5:45 in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
Acts 14:17 and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.
It is general geographically in that it encompasses the entire globe.
Psalm 19:1-4 The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. 2 Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge. 3 There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard. 4 Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their utterances to the end of the world. In them He has placed a tent for the sun. (Emphasis mine.)
(3) It is general in its methodology since it uses a universal means, the varied elements of God’s creation like the heat of the sun and the human conscience, to declare the reality and glory of God (Ps. 19:1-6; Rom. 2:14-15).
Simply because it is a revelation that thus affects all people wherever they are and whenever they have lived it can bring light and truth to all, or, if rejected, brings condemnation.11
The following arguments are drawn from natural revelation, from the world around us, in contrast to the revealed or supernatural revelation of the Scripture. This is bonafide evidence for God-consciousness as the Apostle Paul shows in Romans 1:19-20. The basic idea of these arguments is that as we study the world in which we live one can reasonably conclude that there must be a God. In the final analysis, however, one only comes to this conclusion by the perception of faith. Why? Because in spite of the evidence, one does not see God; one sees only the evidence of God, but not God Himself.
Illustration: When a man walking through the woods finds the tracks of a deer that has passed there only hours before, he knows that a deer was there because of the evidence of the tracks even though he does not see the deer. So (as with the tracks of the deer) we may know that God exists by the tracks He has left everywhere in the world.
Man has an intellectual and moral nature which demands God as his Creator. Man’s conscience, which is a law to man, necessitates a Law-Giver. Man’s free will implies a Great Will. Without God as the basis for right and wrong, no government would be possible except on the principle, “might makes right.”
Though it becomes defiled and seared by sin (1 Tim. 4:2; Tit. 1:15), to some degree all men have that faculty called conscience with its constant impulse to choose the right and leave the wrong. Society and government are based on this recognition of virtue and truth, but where does that come from? The only logical explanation is the existence of a God whose ways are holy, just, and good. A material universe without God as Supreme Governor would of necessity lack moral values and distinctions.
The universe is a cosmos not a chaos. “Adaptation of means to an end imply a Designer.” Paley, the philosopher, used the illustration of a man finding a watch in the woods. If you found a watch and then found it also kept good time, you are forced to conclude that it had a designer (Isa. 45:18). How much more is this not true with the universe and its infinite complexity.
The earth itself is evidence of design. “If it were much smaller an atmosphere would be impossible (e.g. Mercury and the moon); if much larger the atmosphere would contain free hydrogen (e.g. Jupiter and Saturn). Its distance from the sun is correct—even a small change would make it too hot or too cold. Our moon, probably responsible for the continents and ocean basins, is unique in our solar system and seems to have originated in a way quite different from the other relatively much smaller moons. The tilt of the [earth’s] axis insures the seasons, and so on.”12
Another illustration is a stone wall. Rocks falling in a landslide never form a properly placed, neat, uniform stone wall. Rather, such a stone wall proves design and a designer. So the world, in all its perfection and design, must have had a Designer. Stated in the form of syllogism the argument is as follows:
The Greek word cosmos means “an orderly arrangement.” Every effect must have its adequate cause. The universe is an adequate cause, and the only sufficient cause is God. Where did the universe come from if not from God the Creator? Reason and probability are on the side of creation, not chance or mere force (Rom. 1:20; Acts 17:28-29). Stated in the form of syllogism the argument is as follows:
There is beauty in the universe and human beings have a unique ability to appreciate it. From whence comes this correspondence between the beauty in creation and the ability of man to appreciate it? This indicates design, intelligence, personality, and so, God.
Man not only has an idea of a God, but he pictures that God is a supreme being, one who is perfect, independent, and infinite. Where does this idea come from if there is no such being?
This argument is generally considered the most profound and Keyser in his book, A System of Christian Evidences, has an excellent statement:
We can not think of the relative without also thinking of an absolute. We can not think of the derived without also thinking of the underived. We can not think of the dependent without also thinking of the independent. We can not think of the imperfect without also thinking of the perfect. We can not think of the finite without also thinking of the infinite.
Now, if these concepts are not true, and there is no perfect, absolute, infinite Being, then man’s thinking, in its deepest constitution is null and void. If that were true, all our thinking would be insane and futile. Can we believe that?13
Sometimes this argument is called, The Religious or General Argument with the argument going something like this: Since the belief in God and supernatural beings is universal even among the most backward tribes, it must therefore come from within man, it is something innate. The question is, could it have come from civilization or even from education when people all over the world possess it whether they are civilized and educated or not? The logical answer is no.
Then, where could such an idea come from if there is no God? There is always something to satisfy the desires which are common to the whole human race. There is food for the hungry, water for the thirsty, and a God for the thirsty soul. Stated in the form of a syllogism the argument is as follows:
There are some very interesting facts regarding the universal belief in God.
(1) More than 90 percent of the religions of the world acknowledge the existence of one supreme being and some even anticipate God’s redeeming concern.
(2) In every case, this monotheistic belief predated other forms of worship or beliefs and heathenistic practices. This is true the world over on every continent.
(3) These other forms of heathenistic and polytheistic practices were invariably the result of failing to pursue the knowledge of God. Failure to pursue belief in the one Supreme Being created a vacuum into which false and demonic beliefs quickly rushed. As an illustration, ancient Chinese and Koreans had believed in a Supreme God who created all things. In China his name was Shang Ti and in Korea it was Hananim, The Great One. This belief predated Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. It goes back 2600 years before Christ and worshippers throughout China and Korea seem to have understood from the beginning that Shang Ti/Hananim must never be represented by idols.14
It is very significant that recent anthropological research has indicated that among the farthest and most remote primitive peoples, today, there is a universal belief in God. And in the earliest histories and legends of peoples all around the world the original concept was of one God, who was the Creator. An original high God seems once to have been in their consciousness even in those societies which are today polytheistic. This research, in the last fifty years, has challenged the evolutionary concept of the development of religion, which had suggested that monotheism—the concept of one God—was the apex of a gradual development that began with polytheistic concepts. It is increasingly clear that the oldest traditions everywhere were of one supreme God.15
Perhaps because it is so evident everywhere, no writer of Scripture, Old or New Testament, attempts to set down arguments for the existence of God. It is a fact taken for granted. The Bible simply begins with “In the beginning God” (Gen. 1:1), and nowhere is His existence argued. Why? Because of the abundant evidence in the universe for the existence of God (Psalm 19:1-4), and because they that come to God must believe that He is. God is perceived primarily by faith as a result of positive volition (see John 18:37; 7:17; Jer. 29:13).
Heb. 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.
Biblical theism refers to what the Bible has to say about the reality, essence, and works of God, and it draws upon the marvelous revelation of God as it is found in the Holy Bible.
Biblical theism confirms the legitimate conclusions of naturalistic theism and also adds to it so much that is revealed only in the Bible. Though reason and revelation combine in any systematic theology, in approaching biblical theism certain assumptions are necessary.
Problems of interpretation of the Bible are recognized in systematic theology, but within orthodoxy there is no problem of the trustworthiness of Scripture … The Bible clearly reveals the existence of God who has all the attributes properly recognized in Deity.16
Regarding biblical theism Robert Lightner writes:
Since God did not seek to prove and defend His existence in His own Word, perhaps that is not man’s task either. We have been given the Bible which, while it does not seek to defend God’s existence before the skeptic or the unbeliever, does assume God’s existence and presents irrefutable evidence that He is, that He has worked in the past and is working today. In the Old Testament, for example, God’s existence and presence in the world is established by appeal to historical evidence (i.e., Ex. 4:1ff; 14:30f; Num. 14:11; Josh. 2:8-11, etc.). Also, in the Word of God we are told of His Son who came to reveal God to men (John 1:18). Surely, no one can read God’s Word with any degree of seriousness and go on denying the reality of God’s existence. Either God is all that Scripture makes Him out to be or the Bible is the biggest and most deceptive hoax ever compiled …
No doubt the strongest evidence for God’s existence in the Bible comes from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Let it be stated clearly again here by way of introduction, to deny the existence of the God of the Bible is to repudiate the Christ of Scripture.
The Son of God was the great Revealer of God. God also revealed Himself in the words of Scripture and in the miraculous deeds recorded there. Added to these evidences of His revelation it must also be said He reveals Himself to the believing heart through the personal experience of the Holy Spirit who “beareth witness with our spirits” (Rom. 8:16).
The revelation of God in the Bible reveals His infinite love and grace. But like His revelation in nature, apart from the illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit the message will not be believed or understood.17
The big question is what does the fact of the existence of God means to us as human beings?
First, the knowledge of the existence of God means that man is put here by design. It means that while all God’s creatures have purpose, due to man’s particular uniqueness among the creatures of God, man has special purpose and meaning. We are not merely the product of time plus chance or some impersonal force. We are each the result of a personal God who created us for Himself with meaning and purpose. But the details of this purpose are found only in the Bible, God’s special revelation of Himself. Creation of course cannot and does not reveal this. Creation’s primary role is to give man the evidence and basis for God-consciousness (Ps. 19:1-6; Rom. 1:18-20).
Second, the knowledge of God means responsibility. The fact that there is a supreme and perfect being, a divine sovereign who created us for His purposes, means that we are each responsible to Him for the way we live and for what we do with the life He has given us.
Third, the knowledge of God’s existence means that we have the responsibility to search and seek to know God personally and intimately, to be thankful, and to worship Him accordingly (Rom. 1:18-23). The facts are, however, that man in his fallen state does not search for God, at least not on his own (Rom. 3:11). But in His grace, God constantly works to draw men to Himself (see John 1:9; 6:44; 7:17; 12:32; Acts 17:27-28; Rom. 2:4; Jer. 29:13; 2 Chron. 15:2, 4).
Sadly, most people, even with the conviction that God exists, live like practical atheists, as though God does not exist or as though He is indifferent to man. One of the reasons for this is the principle found in two passages: the principle of God’s patience and slowness to act against man’s sin.
Psalm 50:21 These things you have done, and I kept silence; You thought that I was just like you; I will reprove you, and state the case in order before your eyes.
Ecclesiastes 8:11-12 Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil. 12 Although a sinner does evil a hundred times and may lengthen his life, still I know that it will be well for those who fear God, who fear Him openly.
People think they are getting by or that God is just an old man sitting in the heavens who smiles on the indiscretions of His children. This can be illustrated by the hymns we so often sing. We sing hymns indicating our faith, but then live so differently.
May we live and serve the Lord knowing that He truly is and lives as the sovereign and loving God of the universe.