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Who is God?
His reality, characteristics and scope.
How Can I Know That God Is Real?
People can know the reality of love, but science cannot prove love. People can know the reality of God, but not through scientific research.
But what can be known about God--His eternal power and deity--can be understood by everyone because God has revealed it within them (see Romans 1:18-20, 2:14-15). In other words, God has given mankind the ability to learn about Him from His creation, and to some He has given a special revelation of Himself through apostles, prophets, and Jesus Christ Himself.
We can deduce clearly from all the created things that there has to be a Creator. Someone said that the chance of man's being an accident is about as reasonable as walking into a scrap-iron yard, finding a Boeing 747 jetliner, and saying, "Look how those pieces of iron flew accidentally together and formed that airplane." We are very, very complicated. For example, the neurons and nerve paths from each human eye to the human brain number some five hundred thousand. There is just no way that could happen by accident.
As we see the sunsets, the regularity of the seasons, the laws of nature, we are drawn to the fact that there has to be an intelligence behind all of it. The Bible goes on to say that people suppress the truth, because their deeds are evil (see Romans 1:18-21). They do not want to believe what is clearly shown to them.
God also reveals Himself through special revelation: The Bible. Prophets of God who have walked with Him have had special revelations. They have written these down over many years to form the book we call the Bible.
Finally, the supreme revelation of God is Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus was God come to earth. He came in fulfillment of two thousand years of Jewish history, and His coming was precisely as foretold by the prophets. He came among us and showed us what God is like, so we could know Him better. As He told His disciple Philip, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father" (John 14:9).
To sum things up, we can know God from the general revelation of creation, and we can know Him from the special revelation of those who have known Him--and especially from the life and words of Jesus Himself.
People who say there is no God must realize that atheism takes a great deal more faith than does belief in God. Faith in God simply makes more sense! When you consider scientific theories regarding the beginning of the cosmos, you are struck with the fact that there have been at least ten major "cosmogonies" during the last two hundred years. Man is continuously changing his theory of how it all came to be. As our knowledge expands, we shift and shift and shift. But so far, no one has ever come up with anything better than the biblical account that there is a creator God who, in the beginning, made all that is.
What Is God Like?
Theologians have tried to describe God in many ways.
He is the substance of all human virtues. He is all-wise and all-knowing. He can do anything and everything we cannot do, and He is everything good that we would like to be. So we say that He is omnipotent (all-powerful) or omniscient (all-knowing) or omnipresent (present everywhere).
On the other hand, we can describe God by contrasting Him with our human limitations. For example, we are mortal, but God is immortal. We are fallible, but God is infallible.
God is a Spirit: Eternal and ever-living. He has no beginning or end. He is a Person who is totally self-aware--"I am"--totally moral--"I ought"--and totally self-assertive--"I will." He is the essence of love, and He is loving. He is also a righteous judge--totally fair and just.
God is the Father of all creation, the Creator of all. He is all powerful and sustains the universe. He exists outside of the universe (theologians call this transcendence), yet He is present throughout the universe (theologians say He is immanent) and is its ruler. He exists in nature, but He is not nature, nor is He bound by the laws of nature as the pantheists assert. He is the source of all life and everything that is. (For biblical references on the character and nature of God, see Deuteronomy 7:6-8, Psalm 147:5, Isaiah 43:3, 66:1, Jeremiah 32:17, John 4:24, Hebrews 1:3, and I John 4:9.)
The best description of God is the name that He gave for Himself to the early Israelites, Yahweh. Yahweh is usually translated Jehovah or LORD. Scholars believe that this is the hiphil tense of the Hebrew verb "to be" and literally means "He who (causes everything) else to be."
How Can There Be A Trinity , A Three-In-One God?
The Trinity is one of the great theological mysteries. There are some who think that because we believe in monotheism, one God, we cannot accept the concept of the Trinity. Yet the Bible teaches that the Godhead consists of three divine Persons--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--each fully God, each showing fully the divine nature (see Matthew 3:16-17).
The Father is the fountainhead of the Trinity, the Creator, the first cause. He is the primary thought, the concept of all that has been and will be created. Jesus said, "My Father has been working until now, and I have been working" (John 5:17).
The Son is the "Logos" or expression of God--the "only begotten" of the Father. If you want to know what the Father is like, look at the Son. In John 14:9, Jesus said, "He that has seen me has seen the Father." The Son of God is the agent of creation and our redeemer.
The Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, proceeds from the Father and is worshiped and glorified together with the Father and the Son.
The Father, as prime mover, brings forth the creative thought. The Son, as agent of creation, expresses that thought. The Spirit activates the creative word and relates it to that which is created. He inspired the Scriptures and empowers God's people. He takes the things of Jesus and brings them to our remembrance. John 16:8 tells us that He convicts the world "of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment."
All three Persons of the Godhead are eternal. The Father exists and has existed forever. With Him always existed His expression, the Son. Always the Father loved the Son, and the Son loved and served the Father. From that relationship of love arose the Spirit of God, who is eternal and has existed forever. There was, therefore, not a time when there was only the Father, then later the Son, and still later the Spirit. They all three have existed from before there was anything that could begin--three distinct Persons all functioning as One.
There are trinities in nature. Light can be divided into three primary colors; yet light is one. A prism will reveal the individual colors separately that are unique yet unified. An example of a trinity in nature which is sometimes given erroneously to explain the Trinity is the transformation of water to steam or to ice. The problem with this illustration is that water becomes either steam or ice, but does not at the same time remain water. This type of thinking leads to a heresy called modalistic monarchianism, which maintains that the Father changes into the Son or into the Spirit--different modes of the same being but never the three beings at one time.
Upon the occasion of Jesus' baptism, however, all three persons in the Trinity were present and active. The Father spoke from heaven, the Son was fulfilling all righteousness, and the Spirit descended upon the Son like a dove (see Matthew 3:16-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22).
The existence of the Trinity is a mystery that one day we will understand clearly. For now, we know that the Bible teaches it and Jesus revealed it, and the Christian church from the beginning has confessed and safeguarded this precious truth.
If God Is All-Powerful, Why Doesn't He Destroy Satan?
God's government rests on love. The moral foundation of the universe is based on reason, love, and justice. If God ever chose to act arbitrarily and exercise superior force, there would be a danger that He would have to rule by fear, rather than love. What He wants are people who love and serve Him voluntarily, not merely because they are afraid of Him. When God allows Satan a certain amount of leeway, He is permitting the exercise of free will on the part of one of His created beings. He is carrying forth a drama on earth that is cosmic in nature, whereby men and women, created in the image of God, freely choose to serve Him.
If God just reached out with His power and struck Satan, other created beings could say He did it because He could not win by love, and so He had to resort to force and fear.
God's plan for the triumph of love over hate is breathtaking. God placed on earth a being--man--who was made in God's image. Then He permitted Satan to tempt man, and man gave in to bring about his own downfall. Then before all of the angels in heaven, there unfolded the drama of redemption whereby God Himself sent His Son to die for fallen man. The church began to grow out of the multitudes who chose freely to follow God's love rather than to participate in Satan's rebellion.
The time will come when God has assembled a body of people who freely love Him, which will prove beyond any doubt that love is the most powerful force in the universe. With the triumph of love complete, God will then deal with Satan.
First, God will put Satan in a place where he cannot escape for a thousand years (see Revelation 20:2-3). Then God will demonstrate how beautiful the world would be without Satan. At the end of that time, Satan is going to be set free, will deceive the nations again, and will be defeated totally. Then God will cast him into eternal torment.
Satan is a tool of God's love in the sense that he forces us to see God's loving patience (see I Timothy 1:18-20, I Corinthians 5:3-5). People would have a harder time understanding the love of God without the obvious evil and hatred of His enemy. But God did not cause Satan to rebel just so we could have a better picture of His love. Satan sinned willingly because of pride. He thought his wisdom exceeded that of God's (see Isaiah 14:12-15, I Timothy 3:6). We must always remember that the devil and God are not coequal (see Ezekiel 28:13-19). The devil is a creation of God, and God can do with him whatever He pleases (see Revelation 20:7-10).
Why is There Suffering in the World?
Suffering touches everyone who lives on this planet. All you have to do is pick up a daily newspaper or listen to a news broadcast to know that a great many people are suffering. They suffer because of automobile accidents or because of terrible diseases or because of crime. Some suffer because they were born in poverty, others because they were born in countries ruled by dictators. There are many causes of suffering, and the list could go on for pages. But our question is not concerned with causes. We are looking for the reasons for suffering.
To say there is suffering because there is crime, or because there are auto accidents, is not nearly enough. Our question goes far beneath the surface, where it hits at the very roots of human pain and anguish.
The first thing to be said about suffering is that most of it comes about because of the activities of a powerful supernatural being called Satan, or the devil. He delights in hurting man and in trying to turn man away from God. Very often people blame God when they suffer, but is it God's fault? Satan takes great pride in seeing God gets the "credit" for his misdeeds.
Suffering is also caused by man's rebellion against God and by the evil in men's hearts. How much suffering has been caused in the modern world, for instance, by Communism, or by men hurting other men? Godless dictators hurt their own people, and they hurt the people of neighboring nations as well. Just consider how much suffering has been caused, in this century alone, by men such as Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and Mao Tse-tung. As the result of godless dictatorships, there is suffering in the form of heartbreak.
You might say that suffering is a result of freedom. God has given man a certain amount of freedom. If man were merely a robot, an automaton, then God could always force him to do what is right. But God gives man the freedom either to love and obey Him or to rebel against Him. When man rebels against God, he hurts not only himself but also his fellow man.
Something else to remember about suffering is that God set up certain natural laws to govern the universe. If it were not for the law of gravity, we would all go floating off into space. But that same law is going to cause pain to people who jump from the tops of tall buildings!
Consider the hurricane, the earth's way of releasing pentup heat and energy. Heat from the southern climates has to move north and be discharged from the earth. When that happens, it causes a violent wind to blow. That wind, in turn, stirs up huge waves when it passes over the ocean. The hurricane is not meant to cause suffering, but if people ignore the warnings of nature, they will be injured by hurricanes.
The same is true of faultlines, such as the San Andreas Fault. Faultlines are necessary to keep the earth from just breaking apart. But if people insist upon building houses on the San Andreas Fault--as they do--then they are going to suffer when an earthquake comes. Such suffering does not result from God's intentions, but comes rather from man's foolishness. We can either go along with natural forces and accommodate ourselves to them, or we can ignore them and be hurt by them.
Much sickness, too, is man-made. Some of it is because of improper nutrition. People do not eat the right things. God gives us natural sugar, but we bleach it and make it white. We eat white bread, when whole wheat is much better for us. God gives us naturally fibrous fruit and plants, but we boil the fiber away. We do the same thing with oranges, when we squeeze the juice out of them and throw away the pulp, which is a beneficial part. We also peel potatoes and eat only the inside. In doing so, we throw away the part that God made to help us stay healthy.
It is probable that 75 to 80 percent of the illnesses in the United States are psychosomatic. We have not learned to cast all our cares upon God, as we are advised to do in I Peter 5:7, and so we let our worried and harried minds make us sick.
We also make ourselves sick voluntarily through doing such things as smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, and ingesting drugs. Automobile accidents cause fifty-six thousand deaths in our country each year--and half of those involve drunken driving.
The technological state of our society contributes to suffering too. If there were no automobiles, there would be no deaths and injuries resulting from highway accidents. Our air would not be polluted with smoke from factories and automobile exhaust if there were no cars and factories. All of these things are part of the price we pay for our state of civilization. If we do not want to pay the price, we can go back to a more primitive society. In today's world, our lifestyle is a large contributor to sickness and disease.
To illustrate again how man contributes to his own suffering, consider what has happened in Africa. The northern plain of that continent was once a beautiful, fertile, wooded area. But over several centuries, people cut down all the trees. As a result, the topsoil eroded and there was nothing left but desert. Without the protective cover of the trees, temperatures in the region rose steadily. The people moved farther south, seeking fertile land. As they moved southward, they continued cutting the trees, and consequently the desert moved southward. Today there are three-and-a-half million square miles of desert in the northern part of Africa. In northern Africa and in many other areas of the world, men have disturbed the ecological balance in nature. As a result, poverty and hunger are worse and worse.
India has a similar problem. India was once one of the most fertile lands in the entire world. But the Indian people have embraced a philosophy that says rats and cows are sacred. So the cows eat up much of the vegetation, and the rats devour a good deal of the grain. Given a new understanding of nature, proper agricultural techniques, a forestation program, and a cleansing of rivers which are now polluted, India could be agriculturally self-sustaining.
The problem is not caused by an act of God, but it stems from man's foolishness over a period of years, perhaps centuries. And the problems are steadily compounded over successive generations.
There are other forms of suffering that men bring on themselves. Consider, for example, such diseases as genital herpes, syphilis, gonorrhea, and AIDS. These all result from a conscious lifestyle that is opposed to God's Word and breaks God's laws. God did not send herpes. It is a natural consequence of immorality. When it spreads, it becomes an incurable disease, affecting millions and millions of people.
Why does God allow this to happen? When we ask this question, it brings us back to the statement that God has created man as a free being--free even to the point of ruining much of God's creation. God has sent preachers, prophets, and other holy men to warn the people to change their ways but most will not listen. They would not listen to the prophets four thousand years ago, and most of them will not listen today.
It is true that the righteous often suffer, and this will continue as long as we live in a world of wickedness. If someone speaks out against wickedness, he is going to be involved in a struggle, and that struggle may result in pain and suffering. Jesus said, "If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you" (John 15:20).
Jesus Christ was the only perfect man who ever lived, and people killed Him. Why? Because He came into contact with evil and tried to do something about it. John the Baptist was beheaded because he told people they were breaking God's laws (see Mark 6:25-28). It has been true throughout the ages that those who are God's messengers are often set upon and hurt by the people they have tried to warn. That kind of suffering is virtually unavoidable as long as we live in a wicked world of superstition, hatred, and ignorance.
Suffering, if we allow it to, does have a way of purifying us. Many people have had to suffer in order to turn to God. Until they had their material things stripped from them, and often their health taken away, they had no desire for spiritual things.
Those who are suffering may be tempted to turn away from God. They should never allow this to happen. Instead, they should worship God and be blessed and benefited, even in the midst of their suffering. Those who hurt must remember that it is not God's will for anyone to suffer.
They must remember, too, that He will intervene for those who diligently seek Him. Thousands of people can testify that God will intervene to relieve pain and suffering, but this depends on a closeness and an intimacy with Him. Should we, then, accept everything, and thank God for whatever happens to us--good and bad?
God answers this question specifically in the Bible. "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28).
It is important to understand that accepting things is not the same thing as being resigned to them. You must accept suffering without becoming bitter, and you can accept it without resigning yourself to it. It is not your "lot in life" to suffer. Those who do suffer should never quit seeking God's touch and asking Him to set them free. Jesus said, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened" (Matthew 7:7-8). The key is to keep on asking, seeking, and knocking.
One final word about suffering. There is a certain amount of pain involved whenever growth is taking place. When people are moving to a higher level of intellectual activity, there is a struggle that has to take place, and in that struggle there is pain. When people who are great athletes are pushing through the limits of endurance to get to new records, there is constant pain. There is pain when you are running a mile or two at top speed, when your lungs are gasping and your body wants to quit. But there is also the overwhelming joy that comes when you finally do break through into that new dimension.
This kind of pain is not the same thing as suffering. Some people do not recognize the difference between the suffering that is caused deliberately by evil and the pain that comes about through striving to reach a new plateau of experience. Such suffering merely marks the transition period of going from one level of accomplishment to a higher level.
All suffering is temporary. It will all pass away when Jesus Himself returns to the earth. Revelation 21:4 reads: "And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away."
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