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Man is an unavoidably religious being, as many thinkers have pointed out. We all worship something, whether it be a transcendent being, a pantheon of powerful deities, nature itself, the human intellect, or something else in which we put our trust. We call these things ‘gods.’ The word ‘god’ in any language is not very specific, and refers to anything or anybody who is revered or worshipped. In Western culture (that is, culture which draws its influences from European traditions and Judeo-Christianity from the Near Middle East), we have become accustomed to using the word ‘God’ (capitalized) to refer to the Christian God. However, to distinguish further which ‘god’ I am talking about, I am going to use the name He gave his followers: Yahweh. When Moses asked God who He was, He said that He was “Yahweh”—“I AM.” Although Yahweh is different from all other beings in many ways, the one He chooses to emphasize in His personal name is His aseity, that is, the fact that He is self-existent and not dependent on anything or anyone else for His existence.
I could probably figure out how to say this on my own, but the Westminster Divines did such a fine job, that I think I will use their words, from Westminster Shorter Catechism answer number four. “God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” Yahweh “has not a body like men,” He is spirit, pure being. He is unlimited, has no beginning or end, and does not change. This sets Him apart from most ancient gods, who were constantly thwarted by other gods, sometimes even by humans, and were subject to changing whims and moods all the time. He is omniscient, knowing everything, and all-wise, knowing what to do with His knowledge. He is all-powerful, able to do anything within His nature. This is Yahweh’s only boundary—He must act according to His nature, which requires Him to be perfect. He cannot lie, or act unjustly, for example. He is holy. “Holy” means separate—He is separated from all that is unholy or profane. I don’t truly understand “holy,” but I know that Yahweh God is perfectly holy, and nothing else is right now, but that everything will be when He brings the New Heavens and the New Earth. Yahweh is just. This may seem at odds with His infinite mercy, which we will discuss in a minute, but it is not. He is perfectly good and always completely truthful and trustworthy. Anything that Yahweh says can be believed without doubt.
There is only one true God, one being in which man may without fear place his trust, but He is made up of three distinct and inseparable persons: God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ), and God the Holy Spirit. We cannot really conceive of this, it is an arrangement outside of human experience and understanding. This is one of the reasons that I am so sure it must be true. Man probably wouldn’t have thought of this on his own.
That is what Yahweh is like. But what does He do? Yahweh created the universe, as recorded in the book of Genesis, and continues to sustain it day by day. We are enabled to continue breathing only by His constant providence. Although the world He created was perfect, He allowed it the possibility of falling, and fall it did. In His infinite mercy, Yahweh has chosen to save some of His fallen creatures and all history is the story of this redemption, carried out through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. This Son is fully God and fully man, born of the Spirit and the Virgin Mary (who did not remain a virgin, but had several children with her human husband, Joseph). He lived a perfect life and died a criminal’s death. His death took away our sin, and His life makes us righteous in the sight of God. Thus, Yahweh’s justice is satisfied, even as He offers us completely undeserved mercy (and the definition of mercy is that it is undeserved). But, as the Apostle Paul tells us, that is not enough. For if Jesus Christ had not been raised from the dead, we are more to be pitied than all men. Christ’s resurrection guarantees that we will also be raised and live forever with Yahweh in glory.
Metaphysics deals with the “stuff” of the universe. Yahweh created the universe, and He created it in an orderly way that human beings could decipher and decode to a certain extent on their own, using the powers of reason He gave them. Most of reality can be experienced through one of our five senses: sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. However, there are some things that we cannot sense physically, because they are not physical things. We cannot “touch” or “see” love in its purest sense—only the expressions and displays of the emotion of love. Love itself is an idea, and yet love is surely “real.” Hate is real, as well, but we can only experience the effects of hate, not hate itself. But these things are real.
God cannot be experienced right now through the five senses, but one day, we are told in the Bible, we shall see Him. We experience Him now only through intermediaries—the Bible, His creation—much as we experience love and hate only through the intermediaries of the kiss, or the punch. The difference is that God is a person, and these other things are not. I do not believe that when the veil between the material and the immaterial is removed, we shall see “love” and “hate” in the same way that we shall see God. I just through the intermediary idea was interesting when I thought of it just now.
Scientifically speaking, the universe is made up of molecules, which are in turn made up of atoms, which are in turn made up of microscopic, subatomic particles. The way these atoms and molecules are put together determine what sort of creature a thing is. This uniformity and complexity of design is another argument for an intelligent creator. To use an old and famous example, if one enters a formal garden with short grass and blooming flowers on trimmed hedges, one assumes that there is a gardener who planted it and takes care of it. The universe is infinitely more complex than a garden, for it contains not only plants, but animals and people. Certainly it is absurd to contend that it just “happened.”
How do we know, and how do we know that we know? You can think about this forever, and you may never get to the end of this one, for everything that you think of can be challenged with, “Well, yes, but how do you know that?” Perhaps it’s best to follow the example of a small child, who will eventually say, “Because my mommy said so.” Everything that we know, we know because Yahweh has revealed it to us, either through creation, His Word, or direct revelation. Direct revelation is at least highly rare today, and I am skeptical as to whether Yahweh ever uses this method of revelation anymore, although He certainly used it in the Old Testament and the Apostolic Age. This is no barrier, however, for He has included in the Bible everything that we need to know about Him, and He has instilled in us a reasonable and inquisitive mind that is capable of reasoning out what He has not specifically told us.
There will be times when I am forced back to, “I don’t know, but it must be true because God said so.” Since we know that God is perfectly truthful, there is no reason to doubt whatever He says. I don’t know anything else that I can turn to and get the absolute truth, without fail. My reason is not enough, I know that. And if my reason is not enough, I’m unwilling to completely trust any other human being’s reason. And yet, I have to trust something. I cannot live as if I did not know anything, for then I would not be able to step forward without fear. I would not know if the floor would hold me. I could just take a “leap of faith” and hope that it would, not trusting my remembrance that the last time, it did. Or I could step out confidently, trusting that it will behave as it has always behaved before. But what to do in situations that I have not encountered before? How do I know what will happen? That could truly be a leap of faith. Francis Schaeffer gives an example of a mountain climber stuck in up in the Alps after dark who comes to the edge of a cliff and cannot go any further. If he jumps off, hoping that there is a ledge six feet down that will catch him, he is taking a blind leap of faith. But if someone calls to him from the darkness and tells him to jump, because there is a ledge six feet below him, his leap is not blind, but informed by someone who apparently know more than he does. This someone in life is God, and we can trust what He says. We do not need to fear taking the next step, because He has created the world so that it holds together.
Now I’m basing a lot on God’s truthfulness. But if the question is what do we know, and how do we know, then how do we know that God is truthful? Because His Word says He is. How do we know that His Word is true? Honestly speaking, this is my Achilles heel—I believe the Bible is absolutely true, but I cannot defend its truthfulness from an objective point of view. I only know that no other religion or philosophic system is completely consistent within itself and with the external world. None accounts for everything that we experience as well as Christianity. That in and of itself does not prove that Christianity is true, but until something more convincing comes along, I have to believe it. But it needs to be said that despite all the evidence that the Bible is true, and that Christianity is the only religion that makes sense, no one would believe it unless the Holy Spirit allowed them to believe it. Humanity’s sinful nature blinds us to the knowledge of God, and only God can open our eyes.
Ethics is the question of right and wrong, or morals. Are there absolute standards of right and wrong that demand us to behave in a certain way, or is everything subjective, based on the person acting and the situation in which he is acting? I believe there are absolute standards of right and wrong, and that they are laid down by Yahweh in the Old and New Testaments. The New Testament does not change the Old Testament; rather, it fulfills it and clarifies it. These standards are succinctly summarized in the Ten Commandments, but as Jesus shows, each commandment encompasses more than its one specific command. Example: Do not commit adultery does not condemn only the married person who has sexual relations with someone other than his or her spouse. It speaks to any person who merely looks lustfully at another person—just looks! These commands are guides for each sphere in life, and in fact, it’s impossible to break just one—all of them are interconnected.
However, not everything we do is right or wrong in an absolute sense. If I have a choice between watching Singin’ in the Rain on TV or reading Don Quixote, the decision I make is not “right” or “wrong,” unless I happen to have a literature class the next day for which I am supposed to read Don Quixote. Or a film class by which I need to see Singin’ in the Rain. This is an example of situational ethics. Neither one is good or bad in its own right, but depending on the situation, one could be better to do than the other.
There are many things that most people believe are always wrong: rape for example. Pretty much anyone in the Western world will tell you that rape is always wrong, whether they are Christians or not. So why is rape wrong? To the Christian, because it breaks the adultery commandment, the coveting commandment, the stealing commandment, and the overarching love your neighbor commandment. Also it denigrates a human being, thereby tarnishing the image of God. To the non-Christian, because it breaks into the rights of another person. Yahweh has said things like rape are wrong, but He has also created human beings so that they know these things are wrong. He has put the knowledge of right and wrong inside us, so that only by willfully rejecting it can we think otherwise. And even if we do think otherwise, that does not change what is objectively right and wrong.
Man is a creature of Yahweh and subject to Him. At some point, we will all answer to Him for our actions, and only through accepting the righteousness of Christ and trusting in Him alone will we be not found wanting. But this seems to place us on the losing side before we’ve even begun. Do we not even have a chance to be righteous on our own? Do we not have free will and the possibility of not sinning?
Yahweh created man perfectly good, but allowed him the possibility of sinning. Posse pecare, in Latin—possibility of sinning. Posse non pecare—possibility of not sinning. Man was created with these two possibilities. Adam, representing the entire human race, sinned, and lost the posse non pecare for all of us. We can no longer not sin. Our basic nature has become sinful to the core—radical corruption, as R.C. Sproul likes to call it. (The more traditional Calvinist term is “total depravity,” but that can be misinterpreted as “we’re as depraved as we can be,” where it really means “we are depraved in all parts of our being.”) We continue to have free will, but we no longer have the possibility of not sinning. This is a paradox, but consider what I said about Yahweh and His one limitation—He cannot behave contrary to His nature. As creatures made in His image, we cannot behave contrary to our nature, either. Since we are by nature sinful, we cannot behave in a non-sinful way. However, because we still carry the image of God and are not as depraved as we could be, we still sometimes do the right thing—but we have to consider if we are doing it in a completely non-sinful manner. Are our motivations completely unselfish? Rarely. Sproul says that we do whatever we want to do. If a husband takes out the trash grumblingly, he wanted to take out the trash—perhaps only because he didn’t want to get yelled at by his wife, but at the moment he took out the trash, he wanted to do that more than anything else.
So we have free will, but we can only act according to our nature. Does this lock us into sin forever, with no way to escape? No! Jesus Christ came to remove the death penalty incurred by disobeying God, but that does not guarantee that anyone would accept His sacrifice. If we were all left to our sinful devices and desires, it would not be in our sinful nature to trust in God. (It is a different thing to believe that there is a god—any pagan can do that.) However, God then sent the Holy Spirit to change our hearts and desires. Once the Holy Spirit works on an individual, his desires are redirected toward God—only then does he have the possibility of trusting in God. And yet, he is still simply doing what he wants to do! His wants have just been changed. No one is dragged “kicking and screaming” into heaven—they truly want to be there or they would not be.
The end of man is either eternal life or eternal death. If the Holy Spirit
has worked on his life and brought him a saving faith in Jesus Christ,
then he is pardoned through Christ’s death and credited with Christ’s
righteousness and will spend eternity with Yahweh, first in heaven, and
then in the New Heavens and the New Earth. If he has not been changed
and enabled to accept Christ, then he continues doing what he wants (i.e.,
sinning) and is justly condemned to eternal death in hell.
This paper originated a term paper for Introduction to Philosophy, Missouri Baptist College, Fall, 2002.
©2002 by Jandy Stone