The God Abraham Believed In

Abraham believed in a transcendent God at a time when people still made gods of wood and stone.

I have been busy of late (what else is new?), so I haven’t written much, though I always have thoughts swirling in my head that I would like to get “down on paper”. Today, I have just a short thread I want to get out of my head.

Paul speaks of the God Abraham believed in as the God “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” (Romans 4:17 ESV)

Many are the gods that people have believed in since time immemorial. From gods made of wood and stone, to trees, mountains, the sun and other natural objects, to the pantheons of Greek and Roman gods, the number of gods people have believed in are legion.

Today, Hindus still have a panoply of gods, and pagans still worship objects of nature (or simply nature, itself). Christians and Muslims have whittled the legion down to one, and atheists believe in, simply, one less God than they. Other than the atheists of the world, most of humanity believes in something transcendent that is labeled divine.

The human drive is to attempt to discern the transcendent. Most agnostic believe that something transcends the natural worlds, though they won’t dare to divine what it is. Even some atheists hold out some form of believe in transcendence, even if they ultimately determine it is illusory. They acknowledge, like Stephen Hawking did, that it is helpful to believe it.

There is mystery in the transcendence we sense breaking into the world. There is intrigue. There is anticipation, and there is hope in the sense of transcendence that lingers often on the blurry edges of our mundane existence, sneaking into it at times leaving us breathless and wondering.

I often allude the curious statement in Ecclesiastes 3:11 that God put eternity in the hearts of men:

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (NIV)

If God didn’t put a yearning for transcendence into the human heart, where does it come from? I believe that is a rhetorical question.

For many, the idea of a transcendent being or reality is just too much to grasp. It is surrounded by too much uncertainty and requires too much strain and effort to attain even a dark understanding of it that they determine the simpler, easier and preferable course is to remain agnostic or to dismiss the idea of transcendence altogether.

Others have taken the leap to embrace one understanding or another and have committed themselves to that understanding. Thus, the legions of gods that have existed in the constructs of human thought. And that might just be what all or most of them are – constructs of human thought, attempts at putting a “face” on the transcendence we sense in he universe.

One man, Abraham, believed in a God “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” This was a God above all gods. This was a God who spoke the universe into existence.

This was a God who Paul and other first century Judeans believed entered into the world He created in the form of a created being in whom He imprinted His own image. God could enter that being because He created room for Himself in that being. The writer of Hebrews says:

“[Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature…. (Heb. 1:3)

In very recent times, our best scientists have determined that the universe had a beginning. It came into existence a finite time ago. Stephen Hawking demonstrated the necessity of “singularity” (a beginning) mathematically.

The trio of Arvind Borde, Alan Guth and Alexander Vilenkin determined mathematically that any universe that is expanding had a beginning (a singularity) a finite time ago. Thus, a point of singularity, a beginning, would apply to any number of multiverses.

The fact that our universe, and any universe like ours that exists or could possibly exist, had a beginning a finite time ago raises the specter of the transcendent – a Beginner who initiated our universe into existence.

This is the God Abraham believed (a God who “calls into existence the things that do not exist”) in at a time when people were still making gods out of wood and stone. Though the entire world he knew thought they could conjure up and appease gods they made, Abraham believed in the kind of God that is utterly transcendent and which could create a universe out of nothing by speaking it into existence.

Abraham also believed in a God who could raise dead things to life. Paul in the first century, and all the followers of the man, Jesus, claimed that Jesus is the vindication of that belief. That Jesus was God who became man – emptying Himself (Phil. 2:7) to take on the form of a being (man) who God created in His image. (Thus, it was a good fit!)

That man demonstrated the character of God for us in the way he lived out his life. He reflected God’s love for us by his willingness to give his own life for us. He gave us the ultimate, transcendent hope by rising from the dead in that same body and inviting us to follow him.

Now, Paul says, we only have a partial understanding of that God who would stoop to come to us and demonstrate His love for us, but there will come a day when we shall know as we are fully known:

“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”              (1 Corinthians 13:12)

We yearn for Him because of the eternity that He set in our hearts, and we have some understanding of him because of His image that He placed in us. We can put a “face” to God in the life of Jesus, and we have hope that we will see Him “face to face” because of the resurrection of Jesus in human body he inhabited.

He holds out the promise to all of us that He made through Abraham thousands of years ago – a promise that Abraham could not even articulate other than to say that, through him and his descendants, God would bless all the people of the earth.

And Jesus left for us the Holy Spirit, which is God in the form of Spirit who is available to come into and reside in each one of us (John 14:15-21) who have invited Him in to reside with us to bear witness with our spirits that we are children of God. (Romans 8:16)

These things characterize the God of Abraham who was revealed more completely through the incarnation of Jesus. These things set one conception of God apart from all other conceptions of gods, and even the conceptions of one god that remains aloof. The hope of the God of Abraham is Christ in us!

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together…. [and he is] Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:15-17, 26)

What Was God Doing with Time and Eternity?

Why would God set up the universe so we would be cognizant of time?

The Christian understanding of God is that of “the” ultimate (maximal) Being, the architect and creator of everything (all that is seen and unseen as we say). God is the First and the Last. Reality does not exist outside or apart from God. Space/time (the universe we know) was created by God.

Christians also believe that God is transcendent (other) from the universe He created. When the writer of Hebrews says “the universe was formed at God’s command” and “what is seen is not made out of what is visible”, he is saying that God initiated the material universe from His immaterial, preexisting being by His command (will) out of nothing.

Nothing?

Yes, no material thing.

This is hard for us to grasp. It suggests that God is, in essence, immaterial – like unembodied mind or pure consciousness or something like that. It’s a mystery. We can’t go back prior to the beginning and “see” what reality or God was like, but we understand that the material universe had a beginning, which means that God is something other than material.

The beginning of the universe is confirmed by science. The universe began from the point of singularity that can be calculated to a point of mathematical precision. Before that point, which we can trace to the millisecond, we can go no further. This is a boundary beyond which our ability to fathom the material universe cannot go.

God, therefore, exists “outside” (transcendent from) the space/time continuum that we know as the universe. He is somehow different and distinct from it. As best as we can determine, He is timeless and immaterial

This concept of God differentiates Christianity from all the Eastern religions and from all forms of pantheism and paganism.

Though we may struggle to know “what God is like”, we can know something of God through the material reality He created in the same way we can know something of an artist from the art he creates. Knowing something about the artist from his works, though, isn’t the same as knowing the artist himself.

Still, we are not left completely in the dark. Paul says that God made Himself evident in the world He created. (Rom. 1:20) The fact that something exists instead of nothing is indicative of a creator God. We can know something of God by the very fact that He created a material world that is separate and “other” than Himself.

In a material world, we have to strain to find mutuality “others”. It doesn’t come naturally. We are very conscious of our separateness – from each other and our creator – so much so that we have some difficulty connecting with (emphasizing) others, and we are tempted to believe we have no creator.

Not being of the same “substance” as God (timeless and immaterial – what Paul calls “heavenly” or “spiritual”), we know the material world much more intimately than the realm in which God exists (not that He doesn’t also exist in this material realm – though He transcends it). Yet, being made in God’s “image” suggests that we also have some ability to connect with His immateriality in some sense.

I say these things in preface to my thoughts today, which come from the Old Testament: the book of Genesis, and the book of Ecclesiastes. My thoughts begin with the beginning:

“And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years….'”

Genesis 1:7

This isn’t the actual beginning, but very close to it. It is the first thing God does after creating “the heavens and the earth” (which is the Hebrew expression that means the universe). His first act of creation after forming the material universe was to call into existence “lights in the expanse of the heavens”, and He did it for a purpose.

(Not that these separate aspects of creation were necessarily a linear progression in the sense of completely separate “acts” of God. We might read these passages that way, but it isn’t the only way to read them.)

What was the purpose for which God established lights in the expanse of the heavens? To separate day from night and for signs, seasons, days and years – to establish measurements of time.

Interesting…. God wouldn’t need those things to measure time. What is time to God? Why did He create ways to measure time?

It seems obvious that He created the ability to measure time for us. Why, though, should we even want to measure time?

Maybe a better question is: why would God want us to measure time?

We don’t really question our need to measure time. We just do it. We take time for granted, and our “need” to measure it

But why?


And why would God set up the universe that way so that we would be so cognizant of time? He obviously desired it and designed the very universe to make us cognizant of time, but why?

Continue reading “What Was God Doing with Time and Eternity?”

Carried Off to Babylon

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us.

Panorama of partially restored Babylon ruins and Former Saddam Hussein Palace, Babylon, Hillah, Iraq

“Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord.” (Isaiah 39:6 ESV)

This is a follow up blog piece to Here Today Gone Tomorrow. The story of King Hezekiah, and Isaiah Chapter 39, is, illustrative of our tendency to hold on to things in this world and in this life contrary to what God intends for us. Jesus speaks to God’s intention when he urges us to lay up our treasures in heaven, and not to focus on accumulating treasures on earth.

Hezekiah was a pretty good king as kings of Judah go. Many of those kings turned away from God to idol worship and other behaviors influenced by the pagan culture of the nations around them. These were the people who were never completely driven out of the Promised Land as God instructed. The people and their kings became corrupted by those influences and succumbed to them.

The descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob split into two camps early on after the people rejected the rule of judges and wanted kings like the nations around them.  They split into the nation of Israel and the nation of Judah.

By the time King Hezekiah came around, the nation of Israel had been overrun, captured, and exiled to Babylon. During Hezekiah’s reign the people were hanging on by a thread, with the threat of Babylonian exile dangling like the sword of Damocles over the remnant, Judah, that remained in Jerusalem.

In Hezekiah’s fourteenth year as king, Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them, but for Jerusalem. King Hezekiah responded to this threat by turning to God. He prayed, and, as the story goes, 185,000 troops of the Assyrian king died in the camp overnight, sparing the City of Jerusalem from certain doom. (Isaiah 37)

Hezekiah turned to God when circumstances were dire and his death was imminent. Like most of us, though, the King was short-sighted. He focused on the immediate, protecting himself for the remainder of his short life.

Continue reading “Carried Off to Babylon”

Hope: In My Time of Dying

Photo courtesy of yours truly, Budapest Hungary


I have experienced an awful lot of dying in my world recently. People that I know, friends and family of people that I know, one after another, many people in my world are dying lately.

Frankly, from the moment we are born, we begin to die. This isn’t a pleasant thought, but this is where my head is going as I read my Facebook feed, offering condolences, prayers and thoughts, one after another.

Our cells begin to die off from the moment we are born. Sure, they regenerate. Our cells die off and regenerate throughout our lives. As our lives go on, however, the dying process speeds up, it picks up in intensity, the dying outpaces the regeneration and it results, eventually, in our natural deaths… if something doesn’t kill us sooner.

It could be depressing to think about. On the other hand, it is natural. This is the way it is.

Why do we even care?

Really, why does death bother us so much? Does my dog think about dying?

If death is simply a fact, a matter of life, a natural phenomenon, what’s gotten into our heads about it? How do we explain our preoccupation with death?

Continue reading “Hope: In My Time of Dying”

Our Transcendent Hope

Llife is short and tenuous. Whether we live to be a hundred or 80 or only 8, life will end. What, then, is our hope?

Depositphotos Image ID: 84091092 Copyright: kevron2002

A very close friend of mine was expressing concern about the state of the world recently. Specifically, Donald Trump seems to be provoking the Korean dictator, like a bully provokes a mass murderer. I was not prepared for such an existential discussion, and I did not respond very well.

The concerns are real. I was haunted by the specter of nuclear war as a child growing up in the 60’s and 70’s. I even bought a poster of a mushroom cloud to hang on my wall, not because I wanted the world to end in a ball of fire, but because it was the reality I couldn’t ignore.

But we do learn to ignore realities likes that. Maybe because it’s hard to live with them, we learn to push them back into the recesses of our consciousness. We displace the angst with busyness, entertainment and other distractions.

The fact is that life is short and tenuous. Whether we live to be a hundred or 80 or only 8, life will end. This is also a harsh but true reality, thought I’m afraid it isn’t very helpful “advice” for someone who is laboring under the burden of the weight of the world. I wish I had said something more.

I firmly believe this world is not all there is. We thirst, and water exists to quench our thirst. We hunger, and food exists to sate our hunger. It makes sense that, if we yearn for something transcendent, something transcendental exists to satisfy our existential longing.

We all seem to “know” this, but the world is so full of a thousand superficial answers to the ultimate existential question that we hardly have any idea where to start looking. We might be tempted to seize on the first or closest one, like responding to that Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes mailer declaring you might be the winner, or we abandon any hope of an existential answer and resign ourselves to the material world.

Is there proof of something transcendent? How can we know? These are serious and heartfelt questions.

Continue reading “Our Transcendent Hope”