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)

Free Will and Free Won’t

Science suggests that the decisions we make are actually prompted by brain activity before we are conscious of making the decision.

Do we have free will? Modern materialists say, no. This is what I learned watching an episode in a series on science that was hosted by Stephen Hawking on Public Broadcast Television.

Hawking explained the experiments that informed this view. In the experiment, the subjects were told to choose to push a button and to note the time on the clock at which the decision was made. At the same time, the subject’s brain waves were being monitored for activity. Over and over again, the brain waves were measured showing that the uptick in brain waves happened before the subject was conscious of the actual decision being made to take the action.

The experiment demonstrated the following sequence: (1) a brain signal occurs about 550 milliseconds prior to the finger’s moving; (2) the subject has an awareness of his decision to move his finger about 200 milliseconds prior to his finger’s moving; (3) the person’s finger moves.

This was interpreted as evidence by Hawking that we don’t have free will. The decisions we make are actually prompted by brain activity before we are conscious of making the decision. The conclusion is that we are responding to some prior stimuli and only think that we are making independent decisions. Hawking concluded, therefore, that we are determined, as everything is, by natural laws in an endless stream of cause and effect.

But wait, there is more. The scientist who conducted these experiments, Benjamin Libet, actually came to the opposite conclusions. And lest you think this is only an interesting experiment with no practical application, I find some interesting applications to our struggles with sin.

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Reflections on the Influence of Stephen Hawking

Lets all go to Mars, sculpture by Stephen Hawking (Depositphotos Photography ID: 169212920 Copyright: irisphoto11 Editorial use only)

Stephen Hawking recently passed away after living a remarkably full life in spite of being stricken by Lou Gehrig’s Disease at an early age. He was one of the most influential people of his time, not because of his condition, but because of his mind. He was brilliant and pioneered new understandings of the universe through applied mathematics in the field of cosmology.

Hawking is a voice that people listened to, not only in science, but in the application of science to such things as philosophy and the origin of the universe. Hawking may have toyed once with the idea of God, but he became an atheist. He chose, as have many a modern scientist has chosen since the 19th century, to view the world without reference to God.

In this article, I explore some comments made by Hawking’s colleague, John Lennox, who begins a recent interview by extolling the brilliance of Stephen Hawking and his scientific achievements. The subject is the existence of God. I will also introduce two very young geniuses who have different takes on the subject of God at the end.

The subtext of the article is this: when Hawking went beyond the science that he knew so well, and entered into the arena of philosophy, he stumbled. Hawking, the great scientist and intellect, wasn’t a philosopher, though he sought to wield his influence in that area. We can, and should, remember Hawking as one of the greatest scientists of our time, but scientific acumen doesn’t necessarily extend to other areas of study, especially when he spent no significant time in them.

John Lennox quoting Martin Rees, a cosmologist, astrophysicist and 40-year colleague of Stephen Hawking, points out in the segment of an interview that follows that Hawking was not well read in the areas of philosophy and theology:

This unfamiliarity with sophisticated philosophy and theology led Hawking to make some very unsophisticated statements. For instance, his pronouncement that “philosophy is dead” is at best ironic. The statement, itself, is philosophical. If the statement is true, it undermines the very assertion being made.

However, since Hawking was a such a giant in his own scientific fields with which he was intimately familiar, we tend to let statements, like the one above, go by unchallenged. The danger in that is to allow some questionable philosophy into our view of the world. Without diminishing Stephen Hawkins’ contributions to science, we need to view his philosophical comments for what they are worth.

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Can Laws Like Gravity Create Something from Nothing?

If gravity created the universe, the universe wasn’t created out of nothing.

Photo by Tyler Drendel at the Garden of the Gods

I’m not a scientist, and I am not even “a science person”, though I have become much more interested in science as an adult than I was as a child. I am more of a philosophical and theological person. My background is English literature, world religions, and American jurisprudence (law).

We give scientists quite a bit of deference in our modern society, and so we should. They are peeling back the layers of this universal onion in which we live. Scientific discoveries are fascinating, life-changing and significantly valuable.

I would be quickly lost in the weeds in a discussion of science among scientists, but scientists are human. They have flaws, and they usually are not schooled in philosophy or theology.

For instance, Stephen Hawking is one of the most brilliant scientists of our age. In his book, The Grand Design, he says, “In a world in which a law like gravity exists, the universe can and will create itself out of nothing.”

This isn’t a statement of science; it’s a philosophical statement with theological impact. The question is: does it make sense?

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The Ends of Science and Beginning of Faith

“A great scientist, even like Stephen Hawking, if he had to admit a creator, it would be unavoidable, he would have to seek him because he is a great scientist.”

Photo by Ted Wright near Grandfather, NC

I recently listened to a conversation between Ravi Zaccharias and Professor David Block. Professor Block is currently the director of the Cosmic Dust Laboratory at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and a Professor in the School of Computational and Applied Mathematics. His accomplishments speak for themselves.

David Block was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society of London when he was 19. Block had a paper (on relativistic astrophysics) published by the Royal Astronomical Society in London when he was 20. Block has a Master of Science degree in relativistic astrophysics and a PhD that focused on the morphology of spiral galaxies. He has participated as a visiting research scientist at Australian National University, the European Southern Observatory in Germany, Harvard University, the California Institute of Technology and the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii and other places.

And there is more. Professor Block has been featured on the cover of the prestigious scientific journal, Nature, twice. He won the NSTF-BHP Billiton award in 2013 for “outstanding contribution to SETI through Communication for Outreach and creating Awareness over the last 5 years – sponsored by the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA)”. He wrote a book for which two Nobel Laureates wrote the preface.

US astronomer, John Kormend, says, “David Block is to South Africa what Carl Sagan was to American astronomy – his pioneering discoveries are reshaping astronomical paradigms….” David Block was the person to accompany Stephen Hawking and introduce him when he met Nelson Mandela.[1]

These things are relevant when considering the conversation he had recently with Ravi Zaccharias. He isn’t just some self-important Internet pundit. He is highly respected for his science, and he is a Christian.

In that context, Block says, “A great scientist, even like Stephen Hawking, if he had to admit a creator, it would be unavoidable, he would have to seek him because he is a great scientist.”

Continue reading “The Ends of Science and Beginning of Faith”