Seeking to Understand the Nature of God

 

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Throughout recorded history countless numbers of religious scholars have sought to better understand the nature of our Christian God. Why would a plain, ordinary lay theologian attempt to improve on the multiple volumes on this subject written by hundreds of renowned heros of the Bible?

My reasons include:

  • Being concerned and analytical about our loving God, in my judgment, is superior to being silently afraid or passive about him.
  • Being seriously interested in exploring the nature of God, may be risky, but it draws me closer to him – even if my judgment is wrong.
  • When one truly cares about another, one seeks to be involved more closely with that person, rather than sitting a far off in fear of offending or judging. To ignore God is one of the greatest sins.
  • While it is obvious that much about the nature of God shall always be a mystery, God gave mankind a mind, a keen sense of wonder and a propensity to explore the very depths of all human experience. I believe God approves and may even enjoy man’s feeble attempts to know him more personally. Lord, I hope so!

I am prompted to explore God’s nature and even to attempt to defend him, after reading all the misguided rationale expressed by atheists (who say God does not exist) and agnostics who confess (they do not know if God exists or not). Many of their writings appear to be well thought out and often make some logical sense. My first line of defense would be to counter that the very nature of God cannot be fully explained by logical reasoning or material facts.

Second, two thousand years of human experience by millions (even billions) of religious peoples from dozens of ethnic backgrounds in hundreds of countries, will easily trump the opinions of all intellectual, non-religious people in the world. If we take a vote, there is no contest!

Praise God for doubt leading to blind faith, but should we not attempt to truly understand the nature of God? I think so – fully realizing it is a risky endeavor. We must not assume to be equal to God!

Atheist, in particular, enjoy discounting the existence of God because:

  • Evil and suffering exist in the world and our all powerful, all knowing and all present God seems to ignore or retreat from stepping in and preventing or correcting bad things.
  • A God of love and compassion cannot sit idly by and allow bad things to happen to good people.
  • How could a loving God allow natural events such as: volcanos, earth quakes, tornados, famine, flooding and disease to destroy lives and property of innocent people? Where is God when all of these terrible things are happening? There are no easy answers but here are some thoughts to ponder:
  • God created the universe, the earth and all living creatures. He is continuously involved in our human experiences – but in my view, he does not micro- manage the individual events in our daily lives. He ordained that part of being human would be free will, thus allowing mankind to freely choose between doing good or doing evil. I believe “evil” is a condition – a substance – it is not a person in a red suit and forked tail going around infecting people with sin. In essence, evil is the absence of God.
  • Our all powerful God chooses to limit his power in some relationships with humanity. For example, God will not make 2 plus 2 be anything but 4, God will not step in and make the color blue to be red or any other color, and God will not step in and rescue a small child that wanders, unsupervised, into deadly traffic or an open swimming pool. God honors the physical laws that hold the world together.
  • Some horrendous events or conditions such as the Holocast or devastating earth quakes cannot be logically explained. They remain a mystery. Maybe, just maybe, God allows some tragic events to occur with knowledge that – later a greater loving consequence will be realized. We humans may never understand some tragic events.
  • Is God all knowing? Maybe, but has he always known about countless numbers of scientific inventions such as – computers and cell phones? It seems more reasonable that God gained new knowledge as it was discovered or created. The Bible says: God sometimes changed his mind. If this is true, then it follows that he must have gained new information to persuade him to change his mind. Since humans were made in the image of God, we too grow and gain new knowledge that causes us to change our minds and our understandings of events and circumstances. To think otherwise relegates the world to being a dull and preplanned robot. Perish the thought!
  • Is God everywhere? Probably so – since the presence of the Holy Spirit is available to all who seek it. God seems to find a place next to all humans and to enjoy their happiness as well as their feelings of suffering and pain. For reasons we do not clearly understand, God selects (at least in most cases) not to intervene in our painful human experiences.
  • In the middle of these considerations, God created mankind with a free will to choose between doing good and doing evil. If this is true, God cannot honor this decision and at the same time control the outcome of every human experience. Such control would negate the principle of free will which is basic to our human existence.
  • So, it seems fair and logical to surmise that God is all powerful (within his rules of creation).
  • God is all knowing at any point in history but he gains more knowledge as his created world evolves. This may not be standard Christian thinking but it is what I believe. Forgive me Lord.
  • God is everywhere and while seeing all human events (good or bad) he feels and suffers with us rather than intervening in the natural laws he created. Intervention would reduce the world order to chaos.
  • Most natural disasters can be scientifically explained. Scientists know, without any doubt, that multiple sections of the earths crust (tectonic plates) have moved about over prehistoric time and finally settled to form the continents we have today. From time to time, subterranean movements of these tectonic plates sometimes cause volcanos to erupt, earth quakes and tsunamis to flood the earth. Many civilizations have suffered from these geological events. Did God premeditatedly plan these events? I don’t think so. They are only the result of natural events that God does not select to control. God does not create complex physical laws and then jump in and oppose or change them!

These humble thoughts about the nature of God may be grossly inadequate. How will mankind ever fully understand the mysteries of God? Probably never.

It is comforting to remember that Job, while being humble and respectful to God, debated and argued with God and challenged God’s treatment of him. God finally responds to Job and teaches him right thinking but he also admitted that Job’s hardships and suffering were not the result of his sins. Job’s advisors were wrong.

There are earthly consequences for human sin, but God does not impose punishment on any living creature for their sins. However, mankind is capable of generating its own earthly punishments. The rains fall equally on the just and the unjust. Suffering is a normal event of our human experience. How sad and sterile the world would be without suffering persons to love. This is one of the lessons Job learned.

God ultimately agreed with Job and restored him to a deserving and normal life. I believe God welcomes thoughtful inquiries and prayerful studies into his nature. After all, we were made in the image of him.

 

Written by W.F. Peck

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Modern Beliefs About Creation

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Modern day Christians need to adjust their theological understandings of the biblical story of beginnings as new scientific facts are uncovered. We have all been raised and “schooled” to accept the traditional and cultural interpretations of the early chapters of the book of Genesis – that is, God created the universe and the earth in a short period of time (one week).

Current scientific facts clearly disclose that the universe, and later, planet earth, to be billions of years old. Are these scientific facts reliable? Have they been proven beyond any doubt to be accurate? Yes they have! But rather than trying to understand a set of complex scientific proofs, most layman would opt to believe what a majority of competent scientists believe. International statistics consistently report that 95% of all informed scientists – across the entire world- believe in these evolutionary facts. Additionally, most educated adults accept these scientific facts as being true, even though they may not understand the technical details. Also, the vast majority of our most highly educated clergy (in all denominations) believe in the evolutionary process.

So do these new scientific discoveries undermine or discount the value of the Bible? Of course not! God has continued to reveal more and more about his beautiful creation every year through modern science. God’s biblical messages regarding creation are still true. Although modern knowledge of the processes have been refined- God is still at the center of Creation!

Even so, many traditional Christians still have trouble accepting new scientific information. Most layman do not understand the scientific processes – that appear to contradict the Bible. Well, can we agree that many of God’s best messages are often hidden behind the literal words of the Bible – in metaphorical or allegorical stories? Jesus used similar teaching methods through parables. If one cannot accept this premise, then surely one will find interpretations of certain scriptures to be troublesome. Please remember, St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the founding fathers of Christian theology – in about 300AD – stated: “When scientific facts appear to be in conflict with scripture, it is time to reinterpret scripture.” Traditional thinking has not been wrong, it simply requires intelligent updating.

Since some would suggest that none of this discussion impacts our central beliefs regarding the life and teachings of Jesus, why worry about it? I disagree. Jesus said: “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free”. If Christianity is to remain viable in the lives of human kind, it must be about truth. Our young people are progressively exposed to more and more scientific information. They are smart, analytical and perceptive. Their school training is complex and comprehensive and includes studies of scientific creation. They are far ahead of most mature adults in their learning. It only takes a few years of college training or experience in the work place for them to discover many new truths about God and his creation. How can we expect them to remain loyal to their traditional family churches that tend to hide from or give lip service to scientific truths? This topic is crucial to keeping our traditional churches viable and growing for future generations.

As I view it, there are five (5) related reasons why scientific truths are ignored or suppressed by many Christian churches:

1). Many pastors cling tenaciously to the literal interpretation of all scriptures because it fits well with the educational level of the majority of their church members. Tis far easier to promote peace and harmony than intellectual analysis.

2). Many pastors, who intellectually believe in scientific evolution, will admit it privately, but stay away from it in their public pronouncements. Why is this? Pastors have to weigh carefully what they say from the pulpit – regarding nontraditional matters, for fear of confusing or losing many loyal church members. In my view, they are placating the older traditional members while risking the loss of their now grown children. Carefully planned and objectively presented educational programs are the answer.

3). Knowledge of Scientific Evolution is very complex and continuously changing. Even the scientific community cannot provide clear and simple answers to many creation questions. Most people do not have the educational background to grasp highly technical concepts. Our public libraries offer dozens of well written books on scientific creation, written by both theologians and scientists, that most layman can understand. Unfortunately, most senior citizens do not care or will not change their traditional beliefs regarding creation.

4). The fundamental movement across America attracts many people who prefer a simple, literal and traditional interpretation of all scriptures. It seems sad and wasteful for so much time and energy to be expended defending outdated and inaccurate interpretations of scripture.

5). Scholars (on both sides – scientific and religious) have for centuries had great difficulties blending our beautiful Christian beliefs with new and ever changing scientific knowledge. This must be done. Substantial progress has been made in the last few years toward understanding God’s real processes of creation. Fully understood, the scientific explanations for God’s processes of creation are exciting, rational and inspiring. The future of our wonderful, traditional churches may be dependent on this encouraging trend.

 

Written by W.F. Peck