Probably God!

February 20, 2009

A recent news item announced an evangelistic atheist thrust in London.  Some 800 buses carried advertising blurps on the grand thought that folks can now “stop worrying and enjoy your life” because “There’s probably no God.”  This is the brain child of Ariane Sherine, and supported by none other than the infamous atheist Richard Dawkins.

I guess we can see who they are targeting, since the spell god with a capital G.  Of course, they couldn’t use a small “g” because they know in London (and in America), as is known in India, that there are literally thousands, if not millions of ‘gods.’  So, they are not after all those gods, but only God.

What should we say to them?

It was wise of them to say ‘there’s probably. . . .’  Honesty demands agnosticism here rather than atheism, because they haven’t checked in Argentina where “Probable God” may be alive and well, hiding among the slum dwellers in Buenos Aires.   The point being, they have not searched everywhere in the universe for Him. 

And, to be fair, we must all say at this point ‘probably’ we can take their point.  So a believing Christian’s statement would be, ‘There’s probably a God; trust Him, stop worrying and live a full abundant life.’

Why say ‘There probably is a God’?  As Alister McGrath’s “Glimpsing the Face of God”, might put it, ’Probable God’ appeals to the emotion, to the senses, to the imagination and to the mind. Therefore, lets explore this a bit further and suggest three areas where ‘Probable God’ meets major difficulties of the 21st Century.

First, we need an answer for an era of scientific endeavor which in all its exciting discovery of the items in our universe, it never gets outside the box.  How sad to live in a room where we measure the size of the nails, test the paint on the walls, clean the carpet and never consider walking through the door (faith) to see what is outside the box.  We never give a single thought to how the box (room) got there, even though common sense tells us our room didn’t happen as a result of a long vanished tornado!  Augustine described it as ‘faith in search of understanding.’

Genesis one answers three basic questions: (1) Why is there something rather than nothing? (2) How did animate things (plants, animals) arise from a totally inanimate situation and (3) How did the uniqueness, the specialness of the human race arise?  In three places, Genesis 1 uses the word ‘bara’ (create), a word used in the Bible only of God (1:1, 21, 27), to answer these questions.  God created . . . So we say to our atheist friends, “Probable God created the world, from outside the box.”

Second, for an age demanding historical certitude, faith leads us to the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  Before our postmodern world totally eradicates history in favor of wishful thinking utopia, we must consider all the options of that historical fact.  The empty tomb, the lame excuse of Roman soldiers guarding Him, the Muslim wrong-headed idea that Jesus did not die – was it someone else on that cross or perhaps he was drugged(?) and many other possibilities have been explored, but none have been able to displace that historical fact.  Faith seeking understanding agrees with the position of faith, “Probable God raised him from the dead.”  If that is true, my faith leads to abundant life which goes beyond death!

Third, in a time of disappearing ethical and moral standards, by faith we read that there is a righteous judgment to come.  It is appointed to all men once to die and after that, judgment!  My friend Omar Garcia (click here to read his blog) reminds us that we will not know about that until we die and then it will be too late.  Pascal’s wager is not worth the taking.  Eternity is a rather long time and I don’t want to chance missing heaven.  And . . . “Probable God will be the judge!”

So, Mr. Dawkins and company, that’s really what you don’t want, isn’t it, Sir?  You can’t stand the thought of someone being over you and promising judgment on every one of us.

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Jacob and the Face of God

February 7, 2009

Jacob – Finding what is Important
Genesis 32

Jacob had treated Esau wrongfully, stole his birthright, cheated him out of the traditional blessing, then ran away to avoid the vengeance of Esau.  After several years he obeyed God’s command to return to Canaan.  His mother was dead and the years had only hardened Esau’s heart to ‘get even!’

Jacob saw the serious situation, prayed to God (32:9-12), reminding Him of the promise, and then immediately set about solving the problem of an estranged brother in his own way, who by the way was coming to meet him with 400 men (32:6).  I don’t think he needed that many men to say, “welcome home, brother,” do you?

So then, notice how Jacob’s mind was working to appease his brother: (32:13-19).  I have put the gist of the story in the verses below.  In the blank spaces write down the literal translation from the Hebrew, which in each case is “face.”

Jacob instructed his servants to “take these animals as a gift and say, ‘These gifts before your _____, are from your servant Jacob, and sent to my lord Esau’.”  He did this two more times thinking (see 32:20): “I will cover his _____ with these gifts I am sending before my ____; later, when I see his _____, perhaps he will lift up my ____.”

So Jacob was hopeful that the gifts would satisfy or appease his brother but God was
not satisfied with Jacob’s prayer or his preparation.  And we read in verse 24 that he wrestled with “a man” that night.  Jacob did not know with whom he was wrestling, but knew that he must persevere.  The ‘man’ blessed Jacob by giving him a new name – Israel and then blessed him again (32:26, 29).  Does that tell you Who ‘the man’ was?

Jacob knew and named the place ‘Peniel’ (which means Face of God) saying, I saw God _____ to _____ and yet my life was spared.

Thus we learn the real lesson in this story.  Jacob was in a crisis situation, concerned
about the evil revenge of Esau’s presence (face) and his own possible death – loss of face. 

Here is the point of this story: what he really needed was first and foremost to be affected by the face – the presence – of God.

That is true for us as well.  Things we are so concerned about in our daily lives may not be as important as our finding fresh relationship with our God.  When we do that, we might just find that our critical problems have been dissolved or that they no longer have the critical edge we thought them to have.

“Face” – An idiomatic Way to Talk of “Presence”

Before we look at some references on this word “face,” let me say this about the uses I make of a concordance study.  I think we all need to look up these verses and get a biblical word-picture in mind as we study these various words.  We need to understand them in their ancient and Hebrew context if possible and then apply that understanding to our 21st C American culture.

The word ‘face’ is used in a variety of ways (much as we do in English when, for example saying someone lost face when they were embarrassed or denied a position or place which they sought.)  But this word in the Hebrew Bible also has the idea of ‘presence’ as we might say, “It’s good to see your face.”  In fact the following references are from Strong’s Concordance under the word ‘presence.’  Look at these verses and translate ‘face’ in place of ‘presence.’

Gen. 3:8; 4:16
Ex. 33:14, 15
Lev. 22:3
2 Kings 24:20
1 Chron. 16:27, 33
2 Chron. 20:9; 34:4
Psalm 9:3;   16:11;   17:2;   23:5;   31:20;   51:11;   68:2, 8;   95:2;   97:5, two times;   100:2;    114:7, two times;   139:7;   140:13;  
Isa. 63:9;   64:1-3
Jer. 4:26;   5:22;   23:39;   52:3
Ezek. 38:20
Jonah 1:3, 10
Nahum 1:5
Zeph. 1:7

Again, these verses emphasize the ‘personalness’ and nearness of our God, combining and strengthening the other studies of God’s Name, the Angel and the many metaphors and anthropomorphisms we find in Scripture. 
In philosophy and much popular thinking, the concept of the Almighty is depersonalized as we might find in movies like ‘the Force’ in Star Wars, etc. 
Science, by in large, does not want to consider personal intelligent design because it is getting too close to what Richard Dawkins dreads, “allowing a divine foot in the door.”  But Scripture is quite clear here and we cannot afford to back down even an inch from this great truth!  And, of course, the New Testament everywhere assumes this grand truth of Who our God is.

We Christians often take the personalness of God for granted, but we cannot give even an inch as we share our faith in God.  God is He, NOT ‘it’ – even with a capital ‘It’!  I am not here getting into the gender debate, but rather emphasizing the personal rather than the impersonal.

The next post will focus on a Biblical story that uses this idiom in a rather unique story.