THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
I. BASIC FACTS REGARDING MAN'S NATURE
From times immemorial men have believed in the existence of a Supreme Being whom we call God. This conviction is common to all races under all conditions. In our modern, scientific world the question is being asked today, Whence the idea of God? Various answers are given. Some tell us that it is innate in the human mind. Others insist that it is the result of the processes of reasoning. Another class of thinkers says that it is the result of a supernatural revelation of the Deity. What is the truth about the entire situation? As a general statement regarding these hypotheses, I would say that there is truth in each -- especially in the first and third. But we must investigate more fully to ascertain the facts as far as possible. Yet are we capable of understanding the facts and implications based thereupon?
What is meant by innate knowledge? Innate or intuitive knowledge is that which is derived from the nature of man's soul due to the fact that he is a sentient, rational, moral being. Our very being recognizes certain fundamental facts and principles as true. There is no need of any proof to convince us of the reality of such things. Our intuitive knowledge falls naturally into three classes. In the first place, we note our sense perceptions. We experience pain. We may not be able to understand everything connected with it, but we recognize the fact that there is pain. We see an object. By our innate knowledge we are convinced of the reality of that which appears before us. Again, we may be mistaken in regard to the true nature of what is seen. Nevertheless, we recognize intuitively the reality of said object. II. WHENCE THE IDEA OF GOD?
In the next place, we have intuitions of our intellectual nature. In this category fall those cognition's which we call axiomatic truths. For instance, the child recognizes that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line and that the whole is equal to the sum of its parts. By innate knowledge we recognize that every effect must have an adequate cause. We have no need to be taught these simple fundamental truths but recognize them from infancy.
In the third place, there are great moral principles that the mind instinctively and innately recognizes. From childhood we perceive the distinction between right and wrong, though often seen only faintly, the necessity of one's being virtuous, the responsibility for character and conduct, and deserved punishment for wrongdoing. There is that faculty in our inner being which is aware of these great ethical, fundamental principles.
The recognition and the acceptance of these great intuitive principles are experiences common to all men, regardless of the state of their civilization and education. By some individuals these axiomatic truths are perceived more clearly than by others. They vary with each case. Recognizing these fundamental facts about ourselves and accepting them as the basis of all our reasoning processes, we approach our subject by asking the question, Whence the idea of God?
Is the knowledge of God innate in the human mind? In other words, does a child, as its mind begins to unfold and it observes the things around about it, instinctively and intuitively recognize the existence of a Being above and beyond the external world, which it sees? If all children, of all races, of all times, thus possess this ability to perceive the existence of the Almighty and His perfection's, we are bound to conclude that the recognition of God is the result of innate knowledge or of the constitution of our being. When we approach the question this way, we must be careful lest we be led into error. If universality is made the criterion of innate knowledge, we must bear in mind that we are speaking only of those things that are recognized intuitively--known by the very constitution of our nature. Universality of belief on any one point does not prove its correctness, for there was a time when men in general believed that the world was flat. Their mistaken idea in regard to it did not convert this error into truth.
Is the belief in the existence of God an intuitive truth? The answer is that, if it is universal and necessary, it is. If men are so constituted that they recognize His existence by the things that are made, and if disbelief in His existence is impossible, then His existence is truly established by innate knowledge. A glance at the literature that has come to us from all nations of the past reveals the fact that belief in God's existence is the universal experience of mankind. It is true that certain individuals under pressure have at times disavowed such belief; but, when the pressure was removed and the individual was left free to exercise his own intellectual and moral powers, the involuntary expression of his innermost soul has usually been that there is a Supreme Being, upon whom we are all dependent and to whom we are accountable.
Being convinced by the evidence that the idea of God is native to the human mind as is evident by the universality of religion throughout the world during all ages, we shall now turn to the sacred and infallible Word of God¹ to hear its testimony on this point.
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hinder the truth in unrighteousness; 19 because that which is known of God is manifest in them: for God manifested it unto them. 20 For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse: 21 because that, knowing God, they glorified him not as God, neither gave thanks; but became vain in their reasoning's, and their senseless heart was darkened. 22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. 24 Wherefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts unto uncleanness, that their bodies should be dishonored among themselves: 25 for that they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. (Rom. 1:18-25).
According to verse 18 of this quotation the wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold down the truth by their ungodly lives and thus retard its progress among men. As proof that they are hindering the onward march of the truth of God, the apostle here declares, "... that which is known of God is manifest in them: for God manifested it unto them." This language is very exact. "That which is known of God," or literally, "that known of God," declared the apostle, is manifested in these men who by their ungodly and unrighteous lives hinder or suppress the truth. According to this verse there is a certain amount of knowledge regarding God that is revealed in men. Note the expression, "is manifest in them." This clause is an echo of innate or intuitive knowledge. Man's constitution is such that he is capable of recognizing the existence of God. Men do have that innate ability or knowledge to recognize the Supreme Being; for what is known of God, is manifested unto them. The Almighty by His providence and by His works has brought home to the hearts of all men, which are so constituted as to receive the knowledge of Himself, the truth of His existence. In further explaining what he meant by this statement, the apostle declared, "For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse." There cannot be, therefore, according to the Scriptures, any real atheists. Those only who have abnormal, distorted, or biased minds can possibly deny God's existence. Such is man's natural constitution declares the apostle.
Men in the very beginning of the human race were monotheists--believers in the one true and living God. As time passed, however, they refused to glorify Him as their Creator and became selfish and unthankful. When they took this attitude, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless hearts became darkened. Being unable, under these conditions, to see things as they are, they professed themselves to be wise; but in doing so they became fools. They then plunged into idolatry, changing "the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things."
The latest discoveries by the archaeologists prove that man originally held the monotheistic faith² and that later he introduced polytheism. Thus the scriptural statement here is supported by actual, historical facts.
According to Romans 1:28-32, when men refused to have God in their knowledge, He gave them up to a reprobate mind to do those things which are improper. Men plunged to the very depths of sin and degradation. Nevertheless, it is said of them that "knowing the ordinance of God, that they that practice such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but also consent with them that practice them" (Rom. 1:32).
We see this innate knowledge of God in Romans 2:14,15: "for when Gentiles that have not the law do by nature the things of the law, these, not having the law, are the law unto themselves; in that they show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness therewith, and their thoughts one with another accusing or else excusing them." From these scriptures it becomes immediately apparent that according to divine revelation man's constitution was so created that he could recognize the existence and the perfections of God by observing the things which are made.
In this connection we do well to notice the statement of King David found in Psalm 19:1-6.
- The heavens declare the glory of God;
and the firmament showeth his handiwork.
- Day unto day uttereth speech,
and night unto night showeth knowledge.
- There is no speech nor language;
Their voice is not heard.
- Their line is gone out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world.
In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun,
- Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
and rejoiceth as a strong man to run his course.
- His going forth is from the end of the heavens,
And his circuit unto the ends of it;
And there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.
In this passage the heavens are personified and are represented as recounting or proclaiming the glory of God the Almighty. In the second line of the first couplet the expanse or firmament likewise is personified and is spoken of as making known the works of God's hands. Thus the very heavens throughout their vast expanse, together with the firmament around our earth, are constantly (as the participle form of the verbs used in both instances in these sentences indicates) declaring the glory of God and making known the works of His hands. The master workman is known by his accomplishments and deeds. Only a mastermind could produce Homer's Iliad, Virgil's AEneid, and Milton's Paradise Lost. Only an Alexander the Great could conquer the known world of his time. Men are truly known by their deeds and accomplishments. Only an all-wise, omnipotent God could create the heavens and the earth.
In Psalm 8 we have these words; "When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, The moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him?" (vss. 3,4). In the first part of this quotation the heavens are spoken of as being the work of God's fingers. He is represented as a master craftsman who actually did the work himself, with his own hands and fingers. The workman who handles an article always leaves his fingerprints upon that which he has made. Of course, by various processes these can be removed. As the inspired psalmist looked into the heavens with spiritual insight, he saw that only God could leave such marks of identification. This language therefore has the same message that Psalm 19 delivers.
Returning to this passage, we note that in verse 2 the days of the past are thought of as persons who have their day and pass away. The day upon which God began His creative activity in bringing the universe into existence is represented as a witness who stood and observed the Almighty as he labored. Before this eyewitness died, he passed on the testimony regarding what he had seen to the next day, which, in turn, gave its testimony before passing to the succeeding day. According to this verse there has been passed down from the first day of creation to the present the testimony of God's creative activity. Not only are the days represented as bringing to us the evidence regarding the Almighty's work, but the first night likewise is represented as having been present when He began His activity. Like the day, it passed on its testimony to its successor who, in turn, passed on its message to succeeding generations. Thus the line of testimony has come down through the ages to us to the present day.
In verse 3 the psalmist declared that both the day and the night in passing on their testimony did not use human speech nor language; nevertheless their witness has been silently passed from generation to generation. Not only is there an unbroken succession of faithful witnesses passing on accurately what they heard from the original eyewitnesses, but also there is a line of evidence that has gone to the very ends of the earth. This fact is given in verse 4; "Their line is gone out through all the earth, And their words to the end of the world." When we realize that the psalmist was speaking of testimony, we see that the word "line" here can refer to nothing else but said testimony. The word used in the original frequently signifies a measuring line, that which makes the unknown known.
This declaration has gone into every corner of the globe in order that all men of every race might be able to see and understand that there is a God whose presence is veiled behind the material universe. According to the latter part of verse 4, God has set a tabernacle for the sun in the heavens. Of course, this is pictorial language; nevertheless it represents reality. In speaking of the sun, the psalmist compares it to a bridegroom coming out of his chamber who is eager to run a certain course, which is "from the end of the heavens, And his circuit unto the ends of it." Since the sun is not visible to us at night (neither was the psalmist at the North Pole so that he could see the midnight sun, nor are we), this period of darkness is spoken of as the tabernacle in which the sun spends night. But early in the morning he comes forth from this tabernacle and rejoices that there is a circuitous journey for him to travel during the day. The word rendered "circuit" literally means what our English word states. This same term is used with reference to the return to the year in Exodus 34:22 and is rendered "at the year's end." The year is thought of as making one complete circle or circuit in this given time. When David spoke of the sun and of its running in its circuit, he was speaking scientifically. Modern astronomy reveals the fact that not only does our earth revolve on its axis and travel around the sun in a circuit, but that our sun with its system of satellites is likewise moving in a circuit. I call attention to this remarkable language, which states a scientific truth uttered by a man who lived a thousand years before the beginning of the Common Era. From what source did he get this astronomical knowledge? There is but one answer--from the God concerning whose work he was speaking on this occasion. There is no wonder therefore that the Psalmist David, upon receiving the revelation concerning the movement of our solar system, was led to exclaim that the heavens and the firmament declare and show the glory of God. This evidence of the existence of the Almighty may be seen by every man and woman of every generation, of every clime, and of every nation throughout the world. They are therefore without excuse.
Notwithstanding the clear evidence of the existence of the Creator, the majority of humanity does not see His glory and recognize His presence. Even in Israel, throughout her checkered history, there have been many who have been unable to discern the evidence of His existence and power. In the Hebrew Scriptures we see evidence of this fact. Moses and the prophets constantly warned Israel and pleaded with her not to go into idolatry but to worship the God who created the heavens and the earth. For instance, Isaiah the prophet, in that matchless oration found in chapter 40, spoke of Jehovah, the God of Israel, as the one who had measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, meted out the heavens with a span, comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in balances (Isa. 40:12). Here the Lord is represented as an architect and a master builder, who has created the earth and the heavens according to a definite, specific plan. At the same time He was the master chemist who compounded all the elements out of which He built the universe.
This great statesman-prophet, in this chapter--one of the greatest polemics against idolatry--has given us one of the sublimest orations that ever fell from mortal lips. Of course, he spoke, inspired by the Spirit of God, as the subject matter of his message demonstrates. In this majestic discourse Isaiah set forth in the most forceful manner and cogent reasoning the existence of God, His having created the universe, His control of the heavenly bodies, His coming again to earth, and His delivering those in Israel who wait for him.
As we shall see upon looking at the passage, the prophet was borne forward to our day and time and urged us who know God to deliver a special message to Israel in view of the impending world crises. Because it was intended in a special way for us today--not for the people of former generations--we must look at this message very carefully. (This passage has been judged by some literary critics as being the finest specimen of oratory and literature in existence today. No person can lay claim to being well-educated, in the broadest sense of the term, who does not understand and comprehend, in a limited way at least, the message of this marvelous chapter. Because of its magnitude and grandeur, I herewith give the entire text and trust that the reader will pardon my bringing into the discussion some seemingly extraneous material. This chapter is a single literary unit. One must therefore glance at it in its entirety in order to see the force of that portion which deals with God's existence.)
40 Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. 2 Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem; and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she hath received of Jehovah's hand double for all her sins.
3 The voice of one that crieth, Prepare ye in the wilderness the way of Jehovah; make level in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the uneven shall be made level, and rough places plain: 5 and the glory of Jehovah shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of Jehovah hath spoken it.
6 The voice of one saying, Cry. And one said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field. 7 The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, because the breath of Jehovah bloweth upon it; surely the people is grass. 8 The grass withereth, the flower fadeth; but the word of our God shall stand forever.
9 O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up on a high mountain; O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold, your God! 10 Behold, the Lord Jehovah will come as a mighty one, and his arm will rule for him: Behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and will gently lead those that have their young.
12 Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance? 13 Who hath directed the Spirit of Jehovah, or being his counselor hath taught him? 14 With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed to him the way of understanding? 15 Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are accounted as the small dust of the balance; behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing. 16 And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt-offering. 17 All the nations are as nothing before him; they are accounted by him as less than nothing, and vanity.
18 To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him? 19 The image, a workman hath cast it, and the goldsmith overlayeth it with gold, and casteth for it silver chains. 20 He that is too impoverished for such an oblation chooseth a tree that will not rot; he seeketh unto him a skillful workman to set up a graven image, that shall not be moved. 21 Have ye not known? have ye not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth? 22 It is he that sitteth above the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in; 23 that bringeth princes to nothing; that maketh the judges of the earth as vanity. 24 Yea, they have not been planted; yea, they have not been sown; yea, their stock hath not taken root in the earth: moreover he bloweth upon them, and they wither, and the whirlwind taketh them away as stubble. 25 To whom then will ye liken me, that I should be equal to him? saith the Holy One. 26 Lift up your eyes on high, and see who hath created these, that bringeth out their host by number; he calleth them all by name; by the greatness of his might, and for that he is strong in power, not one is lacking.
27 Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from Jehovah, and the justice due to me is passed away from my God? 28 Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard? The everlasting God, Jehovah, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary; there is no searching of his understanding. 29 He giveth power to the faint; and to him that hath no might he increaseth strength. 30 Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall; 31 but they that wait for Jehovah shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint.
In verses 1 and 2 of this chapter the prophet addressed certain ones who are worshippers of God, urging them to "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people." The ones who are called "my people" are the Jewish race as we see from verse 2. God recognized those to whom He addressed the message as being His people also and Himself as being their God. Upon the basis of this relationship He urged these to give a special message to His people, Israel.
There are three distinct elements in this message: (1) Israel's "warfare is accomplished," (2) "her iniquity is pardoned," and (3) "she hath received of Jehovah's hand double for all her sins."
From this message we see that Israel will need comfort. She is therefore seen in this vision to be in dire need and distress. But of what time did the prophet speak? The answer to this question is found in the statement, to be delivered to her, that her warfare is accomplished. When her warfare is actually over, she will not need any comfort; for she will be enjoying the blessings of God. But since the messengers in their attempt to comfort her are to tell her that her warfare is accomplished, we can come to but one conclusion; namely, that the time here foreseen is the very end of this age when Israel is suffering untold horrors and needs comfort; but that the time yet remaining through which she must endure tribulation and suffering is so very short, in comparison with the long centuries of unparalleled persecutions which she has endured, so that the messengers can say that her warfare is accomplished, that it is practically over. These facts lead me to believe that the prophet was urging the people of God in this time of Israel's major crises to comfort her with this threefold message. These instructions imply that those who are to bring this comforting message to Israel will understand the prophetic word and the signs of the time and will be able to tell Israel that her sufferings, practically speaking, are over. In the light of the prophetic word, I am able to say with absolute confidence--and without any speculation or guessing--that the time yet remaining during which Israel will suffer is very short. We are indeed in the last days. The message of these verses and the three following, when analyzed in the light of the setting, is seen to be a prediction that there will be those who proclaim to Israel the coming of Jehovah, whose advent will be seen by all nations because He will appear in all his glory.
On the other hand, in verses 6-8, we have a glimpse of those who do not heed the admonition to proclaim this prophetic message to Israel. When we analyze carefully what they say as recorded in verses 6 and 7, we see that they are unwilling to proclaim the coming of Jehovah to His people. They are against the teaching and preaching of prophecy. This is seen in the words, "All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, because the breath of Jehovah bloweth upon it; surely the people is grass." In other words, those who are here referred to refuse to give the message, claiming that the seasons come and go, one after another. The inference suggested by this statement is that they will continue to come and go and that there is no necessity of proclaiming to Israel the coming of the Lord.
In verses 9-11 those who do heed the admonition to give this message of comfort are urged to proclaim with no uncertain sound that the Lord is coming, and that He will come, not as He did nineteen hundred years ago, in humility and gentleness, but that He will return as a mighty warrior, having His reward and His recompense with Him. At the same time, however, He will be as gentle as a shepherd and will take care of His own.
In verses 12-17, the prophet soared to ethereal heights in his majestic description of this Mighty God whose coming is to be announced. This one is the Creator of the universe; He is the great architect; He is the great chemist; He is the great builder; He is the omniscient one; He is the all-powerful one. In comparison with Him the nations are but as a drop of water in a bucket. They are no more than the small dust of the balance. He is so very great that the cedars of Lebanon are not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient to make an appropriate offering to Him. In fact, there is nothing in the world that can be considered as an offering worthy of His majesty, splendor, and glory.
Notwithstanding the fact that Israel had the knowledge of God, many of them were turning to idols and making images. This, to the prophet, seemed a ridiculous and senseless thing on the part of intelligent men.
Then, looking toward the heavens, the orator shouted that He "that sitteth above the circle of the earth" was so very great that the inhabitants of the world "are as grasshoppers" in His sight. Isaiah, like Job and Solomon, knew that the earth was round and that viewed from the heavens it appears as a circle. From whence did these men of God get this knowledge? They spoke contrary to the generally received ideas of their times. There is but one answer: God gave them their messages. This great God whose coming is to be announced to Israel, is the one who stretched out the heavens as a curtain and spread them out as a tent to dwell in. He is the one who created all the stars--as innumerable as they are. Because of His power not one of them is lacking. He knows them and calls them all by name. He controls the princes and the kings of this earth, who seem to act as if they were permanently located in their position, whereas He is the one who roots them up out of their security and complacency.
In the concluding paragraph, verses 27-31, Israel is seen to be lamenting her condition, thinking that the justice due to her has passed away, and that God has forgotten her. The prophet therefore reminded his audience that the Everlasting God, Jehovah, the Creator of the ends of the earth, does not faint; neither is He weary; there is no such thing as searching out His understanding. On the contrary, He is interested in the humblest, most insignificant man or woman in Israel. He is ready to help those who will wait for Him--His coming in fulfillment of the prophecy in this chapter.
"He giveth power to the faint; and to him that hath no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait for Jehovah shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint" (vss. 29-31).
Here is the promise of divine assistance and help for those "that wait for Jehovah." We must give this message to the Hebrews now in order that the honest hearts among them may know of His (Messiah's) second coming, may turn to Him, and wait for Him to make this appearance. This promise therefore presupposes that those among God's people who now have the truth will give this prophetic message to Israel in order that the truth seekers may turn to God and wait for Him in the person of Messiah to appear, which thing He will do in His own good time and will bring the longed--for deliverance to His sorely tried people.
¹ Here it is assumed that the Bible is the inspired, infallible Word of God. The proof of this proposition, however, is found in chapter ii.
² The discoveries of the late Prof. Langdon of Oxford led him irresistibly to this conclusion.
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