In the Beginning
Today’s talk is as much about thinking clearly as it is anything else. We all have things we think clearly on and things we don’t think clearly on. Some people think clearly on politics. Whether you like Rush Limbaugh or not he is extremely insightful on the political situation in America.
My dad is a big sports fan and can analyze a football play and see everything that happens in it when I don’t even know where the football went. When I was younger, my mom got a book about football, something like “Football for Dummies” so that she could think more clearly on what was happening during a game. I never read that book.
Some people can analyze numbers in great detail and make equations in their heads. They can think clearly on mathematics. Ben Franklin used to do mathematical calculations just to relax.
Every discipline takes time and mental effort and we normally only think clearly in the things we’re used to or are concerned about but often don’t think clearly on the greater and more important issues of life. For example abortion – most people have never thought the issue through, but they simply nod their support for what is only surface deep or what is emotionally satisfying.
When looked at it through the proper lens, the issue of abortion becomes painfully clear, but we may not want to face such clarity simply because it challenges us morally and who wants to face the moral issue of killing another human being?
Even greater than the issue of abortion is the ultimate issue – what is the nature of God? If we can determine this, then every other issue subservient to it becomes far more important in the eternal scheme of things. So today, we’re going to learn to think more clearly about the God of Creation.
If any of you have ever seen the 3D picture magic photos that used to be popular, you know that they look like arbitrary lines. But if you look at them for a while, a hidden image will eventually jump out at you. Once you’ve seen the image, you can’t “not” see it – it’s as evident as a smile on child with an ice cream cone. But until you can see it, it’s as hidden from you as the back side of the sun.
I hope after today, you’ll see things about God a little more clearly and that in the future, you’ll take time to think the larger issues through in a way which will bring you closer to the Creator.
If you’re old enough, you may know the song In the Beginning by the Moody Blues and you might remember how the song starts –
*I think, I think I am, therefore I am, I think.
*Of course you are my bright little star, I’ve miles and miles of files
Pretty files of your forefather’s fruit
and now to suit our great computer,
You’re magnetic ink.
*I’m more than that, I know I am, at least, I think I must be.
Those words were a play on the Cartesian conclusion – I think, therefore I am.
Rene Descartes was a 17th century French philosopher who went on a journey of doubting everything… He asked himself, “What can I know is real?” He began to doubt that he was able to see things, to touch things, to smell things – “Can I be absolutely certain about anything?”
Eventually he locked himself in a closet and determined not to come out until he could come to some sense of reality. In a moment of clarity, he discovered one thing he simply couldn’t doubt – Cogito ergo sum or “I think, therefore I am.” If you can think then you must exist.
From finding certainty in this simple, yet profound statement, Descartes built an entire system of philosophy which leads from –
1) the mental knowledge of self (there is mind), to
2) an eidological (from the Greek word for “idea”) and a causal argument for God (God being the cause of reality), to
3) the necessity for a material substance to support the physical sensations around us (taste, smell, sight, etc.)
In essence Descartes went from I am, to God is, to this is.
Introduction: Because we’re sitting here on solid ground, there’s a logical sequence of thoughts by which we can deduce, and which by necessity must be true, about how we got here. This isn’t a Christian or even a Jewish idea, but is a universal knowledge that’s available to all people. The problem is, it takes thought and consideration to realize what is otherwise amazingly evident. It’s mentally challenging to go beyond “I wonder how we got here” and so most people never stop to think it through.
When someone comes to the realization that we are in fact here and then thinks on the process correctly, there are normally one of two reactions –
1) Awe and a desire to know more, or
2) Denial and a desire to suppress the truth.
In essence we say to God either, “You are what I strive to be, or You are what I strive to flee.”
I’m going to give you these reasonings and some of them you’ll probably grasp immediately, and some of them may seem as foreign to you as Arnold Swarzenegger’s accent. But if you take the time to ponder them, you will be able to properly process the God of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. You will also be able to clearly determine that no other god presented in human history meets these twelve requirements.
These are called the First Principles; there are 12 of them. Before I give these 12 principles, I want to tell you that these are something we should all know, but I, like most other people had never even considered them until they were presented to me at college.
I was talking to Rhoda over here a while ago and brought these up. I pulled them out and started going through each of them and after the first four or so, she said, “Oh I already know these. My parents talked about these things to me.” If young girl from Nazareth in Israel is taught these by her parents, then we have no excuse for not knowing them as well.
Concerning these 12 principles, understand first that God is the author of reason and nothing unreasonable will come from Him or describe Him. As Norman Geisler says it –
“He created us to be like Himself, so the basic principles of reason are not arbitrarily imposed on God, rather they come from God. … God is rational, and humans are made in His image. So using logic is not opposed to revelation; it is a part of it.”
And as Isaiah says, “Come, let us reason together says the LORD.”
We didn’t invent these principles; rather we discovered them. This might be a bit confusing at first, but by the time we finish, it should be cleared up for you.
1. Being Is = The Principle of Existence
2. Being Is Being = The Principle of Identity
3. Being Is Not Nonbeing = The Principle of Non-contradiction
4. Either Being or Nonbeing = The Principle of the Excluded Middle
5. Nonbeing Cannot Cause Being = The Principle of Causality
6. Contingent Being Cannot Cause Contingent Being = The Principle of Contingency (or Dependency)
7. Only Necessary Being Can Cause a Contingent Being = The Positive Principle of Modality
8. Necessary Being Cannot Cause A Necessary Being = The Negative Principle of Modality
9. Every Contingent Being Is Caused by a Necessary Being = The Principle of Existential Causality
10. Necessary Being Exists = Principle of Existential Necessity
11. Contingent Being Exists = Principle of Existential Contingency
12. Necessary Being Is Similar to the Contingent Being It Causes = Principle of Analogy
These principles are undeniable or reducible to the undeniable. In other words, any attempt to deny them will validate them. Take the first one for example. To doubt one’s own existence is self-defeating and, honestly, stupid. The principle of existence states that in order to deny existence one would have to exist.
If we exist, then we came from somewhere. Today, we’ll talk about the One who brought us into existence. The psalmist says –
On my bed I remember you;
I think of you through the watches of the night. Psalm 63:6
Text Verse: B’reshit bara elohim eth ha’shemayim v’eth ha’eretz. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Gen 1:1
May God speak to us through His word today and may His glorious name ever be praised.
I. The God of Creation
Aristotle said, “As if the now had remained the same, time would not have existed.”
Imagine an artist getting ready to paint a painting. We’re going to use this analogy for our points today, but even at point one – The God of Creation – it’s lacking good comparison. The God of creation is the One who created time, space, and matter. None of these existed before He created them and they are products of His infinite wisdom and power. But for the lack of a better analogy, we’ll assume that the paint, canvas, and easel aren’t real. Instead, the white silky canvas will simply resemble the nothingness before creation which will come to be something.
Another point, we think sequentially – from one thing to another, but God doesn’t do this. He knows everything immediately and intuitively, so when I say He thought X and then Y, He didn’t really think this way – you see, even thinking reflects an act of change. But there is no change in God. We can know this without the Bible but the Bible bears it out in several verses – “I the Lord your God do not change” for example.
To understand the God of Creation, we need to know what He is like. The Bible says “God is Spirit.” And we could actually know this without the Bible. Before Einstein presented the theory of relativity, monotheistic thinking had already believed in a beginning. The Bible says it; I believe it, but it sure would be nice to prove apart from the Bible. And so very intelligent minds developed ways of proving that time didn’t always exist.
They first needed to determine if the universe really had a beginning. This can be demonstrated in several ways, some more philosophical and some more scientific. One simple way is to look at time. If time always existed, there would be no Present. We couldn’t reach right now, here on TurtleBeach if there was no beginning to time. This can be represented by an infinite line of books. If the line of books has no beginning, then you can never get to the last book. You’re never starting so you’re never ending.
To help you understand that, suppose that infinite line of books is red, then black, red then black… If you took out all the red books, you wouldn’t have decreased the line by even one and yet you would have an infinitely large pile of red books taking up all the space in the universe. This is the philosophical argument. The one from physics is similar but deals with the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics and useable energy. Both come to the same conclusion and are irrefutable. There is no way around these arguments and there WAS a beginning to time.
In addition to these concepts, comes Relativity (1920) which finally, once and forever, proved that time, space, and matter are co-dependent and came into existence at exactly the same moment.
From this understanding that time has a beginning we can use an Arabic argument called the Kalam which states that if something had a beginning, it had a cause. As the universe did, in fact, have a beginning, it must have had a cause. As an infinite series of causes is impossible so there must have been an uncaused Cause; a necessary Being. (Existential Necessity)
However, this doesn’t explain WHY God is Spirit. The reason for this is that if the universe had a beginning – meaning time, space, and matter, then those things didn’t exist before they existed. Therefore, whatever was before those things has no parts…no parts. It also means that the Creator is pure Actuality – or no potential. If He had potential, then there would be change. Change implies time and time exists only with space and matter. Therefore He simply is. The Bible bears this out – I AM WHO I AM.
This reasoning, if properly understood, eliminates all other religious expressions but monotheism – you’re left with One God.
Polytheism is the belief that there are many gods. In order to differ (as in one god from another), a being would have to lack something found in another being. If this were the case, the entity wouldn’t be unlimited or perfect – they would be lacking something. If one is lacking what the other has then this implies change. Change implies time, and time exists only with space and matter. Remember the nothingness of the silky white canvas? This ain’t it.
Further, as previously stated, such limited beings would be contingent and contingent beings can’t be caused by other contingent beings nor can they cause other contingent beings. (*contingency). Therefore, anything that comes to be must have been caused by a Necessary Being. Polytheism is incorrect.
Pantheism is the belief that all is God. It denies the reality of limited and finite beings. However, it’s painfully evident that change occurs in us – such as my beard growing or getting gray – which indicates we’re finite. Any real change indicates a being separate and distinct from God because God is unchanging.
The very nature of pantheism is self-refuting because it claims that individuality is merely an illusion of our minds. If this were true then pantheism must be false because there could be no mind to explain the illusion; it is a self-defeating system of belief. A circle of stupidity, if you will. This thinking is kind of like what Descartes faced as he tried so desperately to get away from a mind-only belief.
Because pantheism believes that everything is God, this would also imply that everything always existed. Like before, this is impossible as the nothingness of the silky white canvas is violated by the somethingness of the ever-present universe. Something implies matter and matter implies both space and time. This isn’t an acceptable nothingness – especially when something isn’t nothing. Pantheism is incorrect.
Panentheism means “all in God.” It holds that God is in the universe like a mind is in a body. However, we’ve already seen that God is pure actuality – He doesn’t change; and He is absolutely simple. Being pure actuality, He has no potential.
Panentheism looks at God as changing (having potential) and finite. He is a director of the universe rather than the Creator. This would mean God changes essentially to us. Instead, any change between God and the creation is relational, not essential. In panentheism, there is a confusion of the world process with God.
Because this says all is in God, then the pretty silky white canvas we’re supposed to start with is already filled with the creation that isn’t supposed to exist. Time, space, and matter, clutter it up, regardless of the form it takes. Panentheism is incorrect.
In the end, we are left with the inescapable facts. God exists, He is eternal, He is One, and He is Spirit – Monotheism. And, this monotheistic God is prior to His creation, not a part of it.
As the Bible says –
“You are My witnesses,” says the LORD, “And My servant whom I have chosen, That you may know and believe Me, And understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, Nor shall there be after Me. Isaiah 43:10
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the LORD, The Creator of the ends of the earth, Neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. Isaiah 40:28
II. The God above Creation
Now that we’ve had a small, a very small, taste of the God of creation, we should look at the God above Creation. A lot of this point is tied up in the previous point, but I’ve separated them so that we can see the nature of Creation in relation to the Creator.
In the beginning… God. He is all there was before there was a beginning. There wasn’t time, there wasn’t space, and there wasn’t matter. Because He created those things, He is separate and distinct from them. Even now, while we’re enjoying them, He is not a part of them in the sense that He doesn’t change with the change going on around us. He is above His creation.
Although we tend to want to ask the question, “How long has God existed?” the question itself is a category mistake. God is eternal, but not in the sense of time going from point to point, like seconds ticking on a clock or as the sun moves above. Instead, He simply is. There is nothing to count out His days. What we perceive as time is a part of what He has created and therefore He is above it.
Time is merely a result of God’s desire to fellowship with His creatures.
Imagine now our invisible, eternal, unchanging Creator getting ready to paint His creation into existence. There is no movement in Him as He does so. He is the unmoved mover. There is no change in thought as it happens. When He paints the silky white canvas, it is an act of His very nature – “Let there be…” is how the Bible describes it – “Let there be light,” “let there be a firmament,” etc. but the words come from a concept, the concept doesn’t come from the words.
How did God create and what is His current situation in respect to the creation? There are three possibilities concerning how He did it
– Ex Deo, or out of God – meaning out of Himself; Ex morphine hules, or out of shapeless, unformed, pre-existing matter; or Ex Nihilo – out of nothing. Only one is possible and the only possible one is the one also presented in the Bible.
Ex Deo, or “out of God” is what pantheism believes, but if everything is God, then time always existed because matter must also have always existed – in God. But we’ve already seen that time going back infinitely is wrong. Ex Deo is not what happened.
Ex morphine hules or “out of shapeless, unformed, pre-existent matter” is what panentheism necessitates. As with Pantheism, you have the problem of an infinite regress. If matter always existed and time is linked to matter, then time would also have always existed. This was put to rest by Einstein with General Relativity. Creation ex morphine hules did not occur.
The only possible explanation for us sitting here at Turtle Beach and listening to the wind blow through the trees is creation Ex Nihilo or out of nothing. The Bible bears this out on numerous occasions. It says that God is eternal, God is Spirit, God doesn’t change, and so on. And the psalms say how God did it –
By the word of the LORD the heavens were made,
And all the host of them by the breath of His mouth.
He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap;
He lays up the deep in storehouses.
Let all the earth fear the LORD;
Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.
For He spoke, and it was done;
He commanded, and it stood fast. Psalm 33:6-9
God simply spoke the universe into existence. As God doesn’t have a mouth, the psalmist used a metaphor to explain creation via the Word, or the Logos, which is Jesus Christ; the Word of God. In His infinite wisdom and from His very nature, He created something from nothing.
Understanding this, we need to consider something more about the God above creation. “Does He still actively work in the universe?” Or, did He create and then end His work?
Deism is a theistic approach to God – one God – which holds to a Creator who initiated everything and then left for vacation – in essence, God is like a watchmaker who wound up the clock and departed. However, the universe is a dependent or contingent system. Because the universe we live in came from nothing, it could – in an instant – return to nothing. God is, even right now, holding all things together by the power of His word.
Because the universe is dependent, it always needs an independent Being on which it depends; it needs a Sustainer. Let’s suppose the universe was created and didn’t need to be sustained. What would be the result? It would become a Necessary Being; the universe would become God – an impossibility as point 8 of the First Principles demonstrates. Because it’s not necessary, it is contingent. Because it is contingent, it cannot support itself. If God didn’t actively sustain the universe, it would simply cease to exist. Deism is incorrect.
The Bible specifically bears this out – in Colossians, in Hebrews, John, etc.
“For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. (The God OF creation). He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (The God ABOVE creation). Colossians 1:16, 17
God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds (The God OF creation); who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power (The God ABOVE creation). … Hebrews 1:1-3
Both of these verses support what we can know even without the Bible. Jesus made exactly the same claim in the book of John –
“My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” John 5:1
The God above creation is the God before and the sustainer of creation. The vast blank tapestry was filled with the thoughts of His infinitely intelligent mind. Through His Word, He created all things, and by His Word He sustains those things. The little spider in its web and the great sea creatures came from the same unlimited source of wisdom.
The red giant stars and the protons swirling around the nucleus of atoms were thought into existence by Him. Though to us the sizes are immensely large or unbelievably small, to Him they are equally known and equally understandable. It is no more effort for Him to create a dandelion than it is to create a galaxy full of a billion stars.
III. The God in Creation
The God of creation is eternal and unchanging. The God above creation is unlimited in intelligence, power, and place. The God in Creation is present, active, and caring. He is committed to His creation and directs it for His purposes. These purposes have one ultimate goal – to bring Him the glory He deserves. When He spoke through the prophet Isaiah, He proclaimed this to His creatures –
I am the LORD, that is My name;
And My glory I will not give to another, Isaiah 42:8
He is the God in creation, but He is not the God as creation.
How is God above and yet in His creation? He is in it like a painter making a painting. He is separate and distinct from it and yet He is active in the process. He doesn’t change in relation to His creation though, but His creation changes in relation to Him. As He applies the brushstrokes of His wisdom, the creation is directed and formed into the beauty He purposes for it.
When He acts upon creation, it occurs in time – the time He created – and yet He isn’t subject to the time. When He gets angry or responds in punishment to our sins, it doesn’t occur in the sequence we are familiar with. In other words, when I get angry I first see an offense, then I get angry at the offense, and then I respond in whatever way to the offense. All of this occurs in the stream of time and it is a developing process.
God’s anger doesn’t work this way. He doesn’t watch us committing an offense. He already knew the offense before we existed. He doesn’t then get angry at the offense. He was angry at it before we existed. And He doesn’t respond to the offense after it occurs. He responded before He created. The tapestry was completed the moment it began.
As Henry Bergson said, “Time is what keeps everything from happening all at once.”
Time is you see,
Is something made for you and for me,
Were time not to be a part of the plan,
Then in the mind of God alone.
Would exist the state of man.
Oh, but He spoke and we came to be,
Yes, God spoke and there was you… and there is me.
He made us with a special plan
His image-bearer, whom He called man
But we neglect him, yes… we do,
There’s no God… just me and you
“But when we get our thoughts just right,
And clarity returns to our sight,
It’s so plain and clear to see,
He created you and… He created me.”
The Bible shows us that everything we do, every move we make, every thought we have is occurring right in the presence of God. It does this numerous times and in specific verses. When asked about the resurrection of people who had died 1500 or more years earlier, Jesus told us this –
“But even Moses showed in the burning bush passage that the dead are raised, when he called the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ For He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him.” Luke 20:37, 38
To God, every moment in time is present to Him. From Adam in Genesis to the last person to be born at the end of Revelation and everyone in between are alive in His mind. He is right there viewing His tapestry of creation.
Paul reminded the Athenians of this –
And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being… Acts 17:26-28
IV. The Personal God
Hector Berlioz said, “Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its pupils.”
We’ve seen the God of creation, the God above creation, and the God in (but not as) creation. Because of what He is like, we know monotheism is true and all other religious expressions are by default false. But can we finally define which form of monotheism is the only one which is accurately portrayed? We’re left with three possibilities – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
The answer is yes, we can know that only one accurately reflects the nature of God. Judaism and Islam teach that God is a monad – a single God not represented by a Godhead. Biblical Judaism, which I will call uncompleted Christianity, naturally leads to Christianity and this isn’t the Judaism I’m speaking of. The modern form of Judaism, based on the Talmud and rabbinic teachings is what I’m equating with this doctrine.
If God is a monad, then we wouldn’t exist. The 12th of our 12 First Principles is the Principle of Analogy. If you remember, it states – “Necessary Being Is Similar to the Contingent Beings it Causes.” This principle clearly sets aside rabbinic Judaism and Islam as possibilities concerning the nature of God.
The question one must ask is, “How could a being that didn’t understand fellowship create anything beyond Himself containing fellowship? He’d be completely contained within Himself.” Because of the fact that we’re social beings, God must also have social qualities within Himself, such as the Trinity.
God is the painter – both of and above His creation. He is also immanent in His creation – actively working in it without being changed by it. He is reflected in the things He has created.
The wisdom of the ant reflects the wisdom of its Creator. The intelligence of the periodic table shows His intelligence. The brilliance of mathematics demonstrates the brilliance of the Mathematician who developed them. The spirals of a shell and also of a galaxy both reflect the Fibonacci series which demonstrates the orderly thinking of the great Architect.
Beyond these reflections of Himself, there are several personal ways God is related to His creation. The first is through His prophetic word breathed out and uttered by men of God. Instilled in them is a quality to speak His intentions to the people of the world. His messages through these people tell His very heart – I love my creatures; I am angry at sin; I am merciful; I am just; I am righteous; I am holy; I am full of grace; I embody truth.
His personal messages reflect His personal nature. They also reflect His infinite worth –
Let them praise the name of the LORD,
For His name alone is exalted;
His glory is above the earth and heaven. Psalm 148:13
If God were a monad, there would be no need to praise Him, nor an understanding of that praise. To His self-contained existence, praise would have no meaning. But through His prophets, praise is directed back to Him reflecting His social nature. His own words reveal His worth.
I am here and I am infinitely glorious. I have created you to acknowledge this fact.
He is also the personal God through His written word. The second question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks –
Q: What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him? A: The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.
Not only did the prophets speak His word, but they and other men recorded it, compiled it, aligned it, divided it into chapters and then into verses, translated it, and published it – all at His direction. His word is more than a technical manual about Himself and His creatures. It is a reflection of who He is and His intent for us.
It is the definitive explanation about how He has done things, what He expects from us, and the timeline on which He is accomplishing His purposes. It is His mind, His heart, and His will to and for His people in a language and in a form that we can grasp and respond to.
And there is one more way He is the Personal God. He united with His creation. This is the Christmas story – the Feast of Trumpets. This is the story of infinite love being displayed in a finite setting. This is the loudest cry of emotion in the universe – the voice of Jesus echoes between the finite creation and the infinite Creator.
His cries at birth heralded in a new understanding of the love God; this child breathes the air He created.
His cries to still the tossing waves demonstrated His control over the physical world. … Peace, be still.
His cries to the hurting and the sick showed His control over corruptible flesh. …Go in peace and be healed of your affliction.
His cries at the grave of a friend demonstrated His control over death. … Lazarus, come forth.
And His cries on the cross revealed the infinite breadth of His love of man and His triumph over Satan for that man. “It is finished!” He cried and the world was healed – the painting which we couldn’t comprehend suddenly came into complete and absolute clarity.
Hector Berlioz said that time kills all its pupils, but Jesus transcends time. Death is swallowed up in victory by the love of God in the Person of Jesus Christ. He calls out to you in your own time of despair –
Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death. Revelation 1:17, 18
Tom Stoppard said, “Eternity is a terrible thought. I mean, where is it going to end?”
As sure as God made little red raspberries, eternity will continue on forever. But it will be vastly different than things are now. Jesus has opened up a new avenue for the people of the world if they are willing to simply call on Him – no more backaches, no more divorces, or painful losses through death.
Instead, He promises an eternity of joy and blessing. But He leaves the choice up to each of us. We can continue down the path we’re on to eventual destruction and eternal separation from the Creator, or we can be reconciled to Him through this blessing of Christmas – the Gift of God, Jesus Christ our Lord – The Personal God.