Is there a God?
Is there a God?
How can we define “God”? It can mean different things to different people.
For our purposes God is a superhuman power that has control over phenomena that man does not have.
Looking back in the history of humanity there has always been a tendency when faced by some inexplicable occurrence to attribute the control of this to a ‘god’.
When nobody understood why the sun rose every day they believed a god of the sun existed who was responsible for its behaviour.
Since man depended on the sun for agriculture and life in general they were in awe of this god – they feared offending it and bringing disaster – they therefore worshiped and placated this god in whatever way they felt appropriate.
In the same way fishermen feared a god of the tides as this influenced their livelihood.
In Greek and Roman times there were gods who were in charge of almost everything; and they were seen as a sort of supernatural family who existed in a complex organization. From this we get our accounts of the Greek mythologies.
Nowadays we smile at these mythologies and its gods because we no longer believe in such things. There may be parts of the world where such gods are believed to exist, but in what we call ‘the civilized world’ the idea has been rejected.
What caused the change? Why do we not see the recurrent rising of the sun as evidence for the existence of a specific god of the sun? What has caused us to conclude that we can do better without all these gods?
It has come about through the increase in our understanding of the world in which we live through science.
What is the dictionary definition of science? “The observation, identification, description, experimental investigation and theoretical explanation of phenomena”
And the most reliable way to try to understand natural phenomena is to use what is known as the ‘scientific method’. This approach was devised to emphasise known facts and eliminate as far as possible the influence of human opinion, old-wives tales, wishful thinking, and scientific cheating.
There are many ways of defining the scientific method, but simply it is “the observation of the phenomena, the collection of data, formulation of a hypothesis to explain the phenomena, then experiments to extend the known data, and finally a conclusion that either validates the hypothesis or requires its rejection or modification.”
By following these principles from the 17th century onwards a greater understanding of our universe has been developed.
For example, it has been found that the earth orbits the sun once a year which causes summer and winter, and the earth rotates once every 24 hours to give day and night.
These motions are controlled by gravity – which is believed by most scientists to be a force causing two masses to be attracted to each other and is responsible on earth for objects having weight, and also for the motion of the tides which follow the moon’s orbit round the earth.
So who needs a god of the sun and another of the tides? Gravity explains it all.
But we must not forget that gravity is still a complete scientific mystery. Despite lots of high-sounding technical jargon and complex mathematics it is still not understood. It is really another god with a new name.
The truth is that science has indeed resulted in a better understanding – and removed many old gods – but we cannot assume that continued investigations will ultimately remove all influence of the supernatural – which many unbelievers do.
The scientific method is powerful, but it has its limitations. It requires observation of the phenomena in order to make measurements and collect data on which a hypothesis may be developed.
By definition this eliminates the study of any supernatural phenomena which may be outside our sphere of observation and for which we have no visible evidence.
We cannot see gravity, but its effects are obvious and consistent – and these we can study. We cannot see angels, but there are no consistent and predictable effects of their existence which we can study – so science has nothing to say about them.
But despite this, many atheists say they do not believe that there is anything in existence that the scientific method will not be able to explain in time; but by saying this they are rejecting the existence of any possible supernatural phenomena. This is an arbitrary choice on their part with no grounds for the decision.
Another set of arguments put forward against the existence of the Christian God is along these lines –
If God is love, as the Bible says, then why is the world full of violence, starvation, famines, death, and destruction over centuries of human history?
This is reality – no reconciliation with love – therefore God does not exist.
If he did, then he would take away these things — put an end to suffering – not allow terrorism – oppression – starvation.
Also God is supposed to answer prayer. Why does he not put the world to rights when so many people are praying for it to happen?
Again, if God wants people to believe in him – that he exists – then a simple appearance with a show of power would do this – but it never happens – why not?
Superficially these arguments seems to have a basis of logic, but underlying them is the supposition that if God exists he would act as we would have him act.
As human beings there is a propensity to restrict God’s actions to the way we would act – but just because we are uncomfortable with the way things are, it is illogical to deny God’s existence because things are not what we would have them be. Maybe God has reasons for acting in the way he does.
These are some of the reasons put forward by the atheist for their rejection of the existence of god, and they also make the point that it is not up to them to prove that God does not exist but for believers to prove that he does.
So is it possible to show that he does, in a way which can be accepted as an actual proof, and not simply a hypothesis, which is only a possibility and is therefore open to rejection or modification.
All available evidence is that if God exists he is outside of our sphere of space and time – which means that we have no way of observing him or of measuring anything – so the scientific method has no part to play in relation to proof of his existence.
But we do have the Christian bible. This is a book that makes claims to be a message from God for the men and women in the world, giving them information that they would not be able to find by any means other than by his revelation to them.
It gives information about the origin of the world and the formation of life. It tells us something of God’s character and how he is not constrained by the limits that have been imposed on mankind – for example, to him 1 human day is as a thousand years and a thousand years is as one day. He is also aware of what goes on in every place, so we should not expect to be able to fit all of his creations into our human framework of space and time.
We are also given information about the whole purpose of His creation – that from the beginning there was an objective in it which will be brought about in His time and by His means. This objective goes far beyond anything we can visualize from our own experiences, but we are shown that it is to our individual advantage to respond to the offer that He gives for the future of life – that our death need not be the end.
The atheist immediately jumps on such claims, pointing out discrepancies in the Bible text, and rejecting it as a man-made story-book with unbelievable accounts of miracles, angels and other supernatural phenomena for which there is no evidence.
Well, the Bible is a book which is real, and which can therefore be subject to testing, and if it is truly from God it would be surprising if it did not contain the means of testing to show beyond any doubt to anyone that it could not be of man’s invention but must have come from God.
To look into this we might follow the principles of the scientific method which we have already seen was designed to reduce the influence of personal speculation and fanciful thinking. –
First – make observations and gather data.
So what do we find?
Observations of the bible are made by reading it. This has to be done systematically and with care. We must not dismiss things that we find hard to accept or strange simply because they are hard to accept and strange.
We also need to recognize that the original texts were written in Hebrew and Greek and we usually read them in translations – for the OT Hebrew to English, sometimes via Greek, and for the NT Greek to English. – we must bear in mind that the idioms in different languages can be quite different, which is an added reason for careful consideration..
When we collate the known facts concerning the texts, we find that the Bible is not a single book at all, but consists of 66 separate books written over a period of about 1600 years by 40 authors among who were priests, kings and even a herdsman.
These books were written in 3 languages (Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic) on 3 continents (Africa, Asia and Europe), and yet show amazing agreement and do not contradict one another.
This is totally consistent with the hypothesis that God is the mind behind what was written.
But the sceptical unbeliever can insist that all the authors had knowledge (or copies) of all the earlier books and used them to give consistency. While incredibly unlikely it is possible, and man may have written it.
What is the probability of this happening? 1/million? 1/100million? However, it is within the realms of possibility and amazing as it is it cannot be seen as a rigorous proof that the bible did not have a human origin.
There is also a vast number of documents available for the New Testament, estimated at over 24,000, some of which date back to about AD125. The Old Testament evidence found in the Dead Sea scrolls goes back to about BC250. This all shows that the texts that we have today for both Old and New Testaments have been preserved nearly perfectly over the past 2000 years.
Again, if the book were a message from God for mankind in all ages, then we would expect such textual preservation, and this would strongly support the proposition that God is the author.
However, the sceptical unbeliever can argue that it was men who wrote the originals, and although nothing has changed it is not proof of God’s authorship.
The odds of this being the case are extremely small, but finite, and grounds enough for dismissal by the committed atheist.
As we have already mentioned, the scientific method is the best way that we have been able to come up with for establishing the truth of a proposition, but its weakness is that it can never prove a hypothesis only disprove it, because there is always the possibility of a future discovery which is not in agreement with the hypothesis, which must then be discarded or modified. There is nothing more heartbreaking for a scientist to see than his beautiful and elegant theory destroyed by one ugly fact!
What we need is a test which validates the hypothesis that God authored the bible and that man could not have done it, and which can never be refuted. Then we have irrefutable proof.
On examination of the content of the bible we are shown the basis for such a proof, and this is the undeniable fact that it is not in the capability of man to predict the future
We do not know what will happen in the next second, day, year or century, but the bible claims that God does.
In Isaiah 41 vv21-23 (English Standard Version) we read of God’s challenge to the idols and gods of the enemies of Israel, and in v23 God gives us a test by which a real, existent God can be recognized
It is written “Set forth your case, says the Lord: Bring your proofs, says the king of Jacob. Let them bring them and tell us what is to happen. Tell us the former things, what they are, that we may consider them, that we may know their outcome; or declare to us the things to come. Tell us what is to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods; do good or do harm that we may be dismayed and terrified. Behold you are nothing…..”.
TELL US WHAT IS TO COME HEREAFTER, THAT WE MAY KNOW THAT YOU ARE GODS.
So the bible tells us that only a true god can tell the future, and we know from our own experiences that no man can do this, so here is a test which will establish once and for all whether the bible is a book put together by men or whether it is unequivocally from God.
Simply, does the Bible foretell the future?
Any prophecy that we select must not be trivial. For example, we might predict that the sun will rise tomorrow, but since this has happened every day it would be no surprise if it did. Instead we should look for a one-off event which is not in the normal cycles of nature; and the prophecy must not be written after the event.
Well, a careful study of the bible gives a picture of the whole purpose of God in creation of this world, and how it would be accomplished.
And we find that the nation of Israel is a major factor in this.
It begins with Abraham as the father of the Jewish nation and as we read on we find the whole bible is concerned with that nation, who made a covenant with God in which God would bless them if they were faithful to their part of covenant, which was to obey God’s commandments. This they agreed to do. Through them God would bring blessing on all the world through Jesus – who was to be born into that nation.
In the book of Deuteronomy (written by Moses in about 1400BC and verified by the Dead Sea scrolls) God tells Israel what would happen to them if they broke the covenant they had made.
For our present purposes we will look at one prediction.
Part of God’s plan for Israel was that they would inherit the land of Palestine as their national home (promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), but if they rebelled against God then “You shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other” (Deuteronomy 28 v64)
There was some dispersion of the Jews in BC606 under the Babylonian captivity, but it was after the Jewish nation rejected Jesus as their Messiah and crucified him that in about AD70 the Roman armies destroyed Judea and Jerusalem and slaughtered much of the population. In AD 135 all Jews were driven from the land to go where they could. They were truly plucked from the land and scattered among all peoples.
And today there are Jews to be found in every land, where despite oppression and persecution throughout the centuries they are still a separate, recognizable, people.
And this too is foretold in the Bible (Jeremiah 30 vv10,11)
“I am with you to save you, declares the Lord; I will make a full end of all the nations among whom I scatter you, but of you I will not make a full end. I will discipline you in just measure, and I will by no means leave you unpunished”
There are no Greeks, Romans or Babylonians any more – their
lands occupied for centuries by people of many mixed races – but the Jews live on.
Could Jeremiah have guessed this?
But this is not chance – for the bible tells us that God still has a work to do with Israel in their land of Palestine, and for this to happen there must be a restoration, which is again clearly prophesied in the bible. One example is in Ezekiel (37 v21)
“Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all around, and bring them to their own land”
We should note three things here-
- the Jews are to be taken from the nations
- be gathered together
- in their own land (Israel – not anywhere else)
This prophecy, written in BC587 …. and fulfilled in our days.
The following numbers demonstrate the facts
Jews in Palestine
1948 716000 6.5% of the world Jewish population of 11million
1950 1.2 million 10% 11.3
1970 2.6 million 20% 12.6
2014 6.1 million 43% 14
In 1948 only about 6% of the world’s Jews lived in Palestine
In 2014 this was 43%, and still rising.
This data shows without question that Jews have been taken from nations -gathered in one place – in their own land.
Could Ezekiel have guessed this 2500 years ago? It is a unique event -never happened before – and it has been fulfilled in our days.
Without knowing all the bible or its details of God’s plan for his creation these prophecies are specific to Israel and given thousands of years ago.
Much has been fulfilled in our days, and never before.
This book cannot be the work of man – nobody can predict the history of a nation over a period of several thousand years, and certainly not the unique history of Israel.
The only conclusion that can be reached is that the bible is indeed what it claims to be – a message from the God who is able to foretell the future and who also
has the power to bring it about in His good time – and we must remember that we are told that with God a thousand years are as one day, so we must not try to fix anything by our personal time frame of 70 years.
It really only needs one example of fulfilled prophecy to prove that the bible is from God, but there are many other prophecies relating to the history of Israel and also to other nations who have been bound up with Israel’s history, for example Tyre, Babylon, Egypt. There are also many relating to Jesus and his life and work.
And the fulfilment of these all adds weight to the truth of the God-given origin of the bible. The bible can have no other source, and thus is proof that there is a God.