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THE RATIONAL GOD
Does God Make Sense?
by John Clayton
CHAPTER 1: THE WAR WE ARE IN
One of the most fundamental differences between the atheist approach to life and the Christian approach is the question of why we exist. I firmly believe you cannot explain much of what happens in life if you do not have a clear view of why we exist. Why would an all-knowing, all-powerful, wise heavenly Father create something as ugly and clumsy and ignorant as myself? The atheist has no answer to the question of why we exist. Richard Dawkins gives us the atheist view perfectly on why we exist in this statement from River Out of Eden:
In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky; and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. … DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.1
It is difficult for this writer to comprehend how a man who has seen what I have seen in my lifetime can maintain that there is no such thing as evil. My explanation is that if your view is that humans have no more value than a cockroach however, and that the only moral code you must answer to is “survival of the fittest,” then no matter what you see happen, it is never wrong. Atheists are fond of saying “You don't need God to be good.” When I was an atheist I would claim I was as moral as anyone else, but “looking after number one” was in fact my most basic creed. I would argue that society would go down in flames if a moral code was not adhered to by everyone; but, deep inside, my thinking was that if I could get away with an immoral act that would bring me pleasure, there was no reason I should not do it — just do not get caught.
In contrast to the atheist view that there is no purpose in our existence, Christianity defines our purpose very clearly. In Ephesians 6:12 we are told that we are in a war against the forces of evil. “For our fight is not against any physical enemy, but against all the various Powers of Evil that hold sway in the Darkness around us, against the spirited hosts of evil arrayed against us in the heavenly warfare.” 2 The only way to deny this statement is to deny that anything that is not physical cannot exist. Naturalism is the creed of atheism. If there is no such thing as good or evil, then any notion of Satan or of any nonphysical entities can be denied. Not only does such a belief erode any meaningful notion of morality, but it also smothers any ultimate purpose to our existence.
The atheist response to this will usually be that religious people are no more moral than they are. When I was an atheist I took delight in every case where a minister or religionist was caught in an immoral act. I am now an old man and have been through a lot myself. I have also had discussions with thousands of prisoners, some of whom were religious leaders when they committed their crimes. In addition I have had deep discussions with former preachers and church leaders who have “fallen” and been involved in moral turpitude. In candid discussions with all of these folks, the base cause of their immoral decisions was that they had a lapse of faith, or turned away from their training as a child. When you have allowed a high level of doubt to come into your life, and when an opportunity for great pleasure that is in violation of God's teaching comes along, the influence of your faith weakens at best and can be nonexistent at worst.
Not only does belief in a purpose for life affect moral decisions, but it also has a profound influence on how we use the resources that are available to us. In the judgment scenes of the Bible, there is frequently a reference to how our lives were used. In Matthew 25:31 – 46 Jesus talks about judgment being based on what we did with our lives. He clearly portrays those who are “blessed of my Father” by saying, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. …” When they responded by saying they did not remember doing those things, Jesus said “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Who runs the homeless shelters, the food kitchens, the prison ministries, the ghetto schools, and the relief centers, and the medical clinics? When there is a disaster, who is there with help? It is not the 40% of our population in the United States who responds with “none” when asked their religious preference. Atheists will point with obvious glee at those few cases where a misguided religious leader who is hypocritical in his belief system takes a huge salary or absconds with donated money. The fact is that for every case where that happens, there are hundreds of honest, hard working individuals who, because of their convictions about God, sacrificially express their faith in service to others.
The Bible is full of admonitions and challenges to Christians to act upon their purpose in existing. In John 13:4 – 17 Jesus gave this purpose in vivid terms. When dinner was over he took off his outer cloths and took a towel, “poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” When he was done he sat back down and gave his disciples, and us as well, this challenge: “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” This purpose in existing is about as far from “survival of the fittest” as one can get, and it uniquely defines Christianity.
In Ephesians 3 this principle involved in the purpose of man's existence is spelled out clearly in black and white. Paul says in verse 5 that “in former generations it was not made known to mankind, but now it has been revealed ….” 3 He refers to this in verse 8 as “The endless treasures available to those in Christ and to make clear what is God's way of working out that hidden purpose … so that now to the Archangels and to all the Powers on high should now see the complex wisdom of God's plan being worked out through the Church in accordance with that purpose which runs through all the ages and which he has now accomplished in Jesus Christ our Master” 4 (emphasis added).
I have been involved in public education for my entire professional life. In my 41 years of teaching at Riley High School (including seven years at Jackson High School) I have been involved in a plethora of programs designed to help deal with the problems of inner city young people: Head Start, Upward Bound, The Stars Program, The Science Fair, the National Science Foundation, The Earth Science Curriculum Project, and Young Mentors just to mention a few. They were wonderful programs that did a lot of good. I had the joy of working with some very capable teachers at the grade school, high school, and college level. The fact of the matter, however, is that no government programs or private foundation effort is going to solve all of the problems that plague the inner city and the children that live there. Until you change the hearts of men and women and provide children with a stable home platform to launch themselves from, the failure rate and the social problems of our society will continue. The church has the potential to meet this need. Ephesians 3 calls us to God's purpose in our existence, and if I believe I have a purpose in existing and a mission that God has for me to be a part of, then everything that happens in life makes some kind of sense.
Atheists will frequently respond to this discussion by suggesting that even if they accept the proposition that such a spiritual war is going on, there has to be a better way to defeat evil and the proponents of evil than the creation of man and the world we are forced to live in. My response to this statement is “OK, give it to me. What is the ‘better way’?” First of all, let us identify the problem. If God exists, then there are certain properties which God possesses. The Bible spells out what those properties are. God has the property of love (1 John 4:8, 16) and is incapable of evil (James 1:13). God is not a physical entity with flesh and blood (Matthew 16:17). God is not a man (Numbers 23:19), and his ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8 – 9). God is outside of time and space (2 Peter 3:8; Jeremiah 23:23 – 24; Revelation 22:13). Each of these characteristics precludes the opposite of it being in existence. If there is love, there cannot be hate. Love eliminates hate. Jesus said “A new commandment I give you, Love one another …” (John 13:34). If God is not flesh and blood and not a man, then knowing God is a Spirit (John 4:24) precludes human failings and weaknesses. If God is good, then there has to be the absence of good — there has to be evil. Evil is not a thing — like a rock. Evil is a choice made by the rejection of good, of love, of God. The references of Ephesians 3:10 and Ephesians 6:12 maintain that sentient 5 beings who are spiritual in nature have chosen to reject God and his love. They have embraced evil and rebelled against God.
The only way to reject the general concept involved in this notion is to deny that evil exists, which is what Dawkins clearly does. The question is, if evil does exist, and if nonphysical beings can choose between good and evil, how do you provide a storehouse of evidence for them to use in making such a choice? A loose analogy would be what we do when we build a building. We do not just throw things together and hope for the best. We express the building in a lower dimension called a blueprint. When my wife and I built our dream house we had an extensive blueprint drawn up that expressed enormous details about what the house would look like and of what it would be made. My wife found many things that would not have been good in the house, and she found them from the blueprint. The two-dimensional plan for the house was subjected to testing, and where it was deficient, corrections were made.
God created man in a lower dimension than himself and than angels — three dimensions. For man to be able to choose between good and evil he had to be a sentient being — capable of free moral choice and capable of love. If man had not been created this way, love would be impossible. Love can only exist if there is choice — any kind of love. As an example of this, can sexual love exist without choice? The answer is no, it cannot. When there is sexual love without choice, we call it rape, and we understand it has nothing to do with love. It is the deliberate and malicious exploitation of another human being. No human would want to live in a world without love, but love is a part of the makeup of man that allows him to have a purpose in existing, and is a part of being created in God's image.
This is not a construction of your author, it is what the Bible presents. Satan is defined in the lexicon as “an opposing spirit.” 6 The Bible portrays Satan as contesting with God (see Job 1 and 2). The Bible tells us that angels have sinned (2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6) and that there is an ultimate place reserved for Satan and those spiritual beings who have chosen to follow him (Matthew 25:41). Hell is total separation from God. Jesus stated it clearly in Matthew 10:28 when he said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
How can we understand the horribleness of being separated from God? If God stepped into every horrible situation that humans create and prevented the logical consequences of what humans do, then neither humans nor spiritual beings would comprehend what it means to be without God. Hitler's death camps show us clearly how horrible human selfishness and hatred can be. As a Christian I am constantly repulsed by man's inhumanity to man in the world around me, and find movies and television shows that focus on human violence to and on other humans to be so satanic in nature that I cannot consider them to be recreation. As a Christian I also see “spiritual forces of evil” (Ephesians 6:12) as having separated us from God. Sin, evil, and suffering are a product of this separation. But, God has given us, through Jesus Christ, a way to be reconciled to him so we can live in eternity free from all these forces of evil and the consequences they bring upon us.
If, on the other hand, you believe this life is all we have, then death is the ultimate tragedy, and survival of the fittest is a necessary evil for one's biological existence. Whatever happens in this life is all there is, and if you do not get pleasure, then life is a miserable failure. If you are a child of God, then nothing that happens in this physical life is of great significance. Death is the beginning of something infinitely better. Paul said it this way: “For to me living means Christ and dying brings gain. But since to live means a longer stay on earth, and that implies more labour for me, which then am I to choose? I am in a dilemma between the two having a desire to depart and to be with Christ which is far better” (Philippians 1:21 — 23).7
It is not just man's violence and abuse of his fellow man that is involved here, but also man's selfish use of the things God has provided for man to use. Mankind is learning more and more about how we have brought horrible suffering and problems on ourselves. A vast percentage of cancer has been caused by man-made carcinogens in the environment. The terrible effects of pollution have been seen for years and are now suspected in genetic diseases and psychological disorders. God commanded man in Genesis 2:15 to take care of the “garden” — to dress it and keep it. Man was to have dominion over the biosphere of the earth (Genesis 1:28) which involved caring for it and nurturing it. Selfishness, greed, and lack of wisdom on the part of man has brought what was a good thing created by God for a purpose to become, in some cases, a terrible destroyer of human life.
A classic example of what has just been referred to is hurricanes. No one has to be reminded that hurricanes have caused a high loss of human life and catastrophic economic suffering to people in the United States as well as in other countries. What many people do not understand is that hurricanes are an important design feature of the earth. As the earth orbits the Sun, the Sun's energy is distributed unevenly on the spherical earth. Solar energy strikes the earth perpendicularly between 23.5 degrees north and 23.5 degrees south depending on the time of year. That means more heat is absorbed in the equatorial latitudes than farther to the north and south. As the heat is absorbed, the air heats and rises. As it rises it cools and water condenses producing large amounts of rain. Tropical rain forests are the result of this, modified by the altitude of the land.
When the air has dropped its moisture, it moves north or south and eventually cools enough to fall back to the earth at around 30 degrees latitude. Because this air has dropped its moisture, the air is very dry, so the land where this air comes down will be very dry. If you look at a globe of the earth you will see that a large percentage of the earth's deserts are located at 30 degrees either north or south — the Sahara, the Mongolian, the Australian Outback, the Great American Southwest, etc. This simplified explanation is called the Hadley Cell, and has been a starting point for understanding meteorology for a very long time.
There is a moderating influence that prevents this system from turning much of the earth's mid latitudes into deserts, and that influence is hurricanes. As the earth's rotation moves pressure systems around, low pressure systems absorb massive amounts of water in the otherwise dry air which they inherit from the Hadley Cell. These huge water reservoirs are hurricanes, and they bring massive amounts of water on land to areas that would otherwise be a desert wasteland. In the United States the beneficiaries of this water system are Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina. Before man came on the scene these hurricanes were not a major issue. The huge storms gave plenty of warning that they were coming, and the storm surge was moderated by barrier beaches, off-shore bars, and mangrove swamps. When I was a child in the 1930s and 1940s hurricane parties were still going on, and no one worried too much about the consequences of the hurricanes. The water they brought was welcomed as it recharged the water aquifers vital to life in the region.
Since that time mankind has altered the shorelines in catastrophic ways. The barrier beaches have had condos and resorts built on them, some made of flimsy aluminum manufactured housing. The mangrove swamps have been stripped away so that the storm surge crashes into a vulnerable shoreline with none of its energy diminished. We have even been foolish enough to build cities on the coast well within the reach of the storm surges, and in one case even below sea level! How can a rational human being sit back and blame God for the tragedy of a hurricane's destruction when man's greed and ignorance have turned a productive natural process into a human catastrophe?
This kind of ignorant blame fixing comes about when humans leave themselves open to disaster because of their own selfishness, greed, ignorance, or carelessness. Like hurricanes, volcanos offer great benefits to mankind. I had the opportunity to visit the big island of Hawaii when the volcano on the island was particularly active. We had watched lava flow across the highway and had even seen a Volkswagen engulfed and carried by a lava flow that went through a village. I decided to hike up along the edge of the lava flow and as I came rapidly around a large boulder I ran into a Japanese gentleman who was loading hot lava into a wheelbarrow. I made some kind of joke to him about making Pele (the goddess of the volcano in Hawaii) angry by swiping some of her rocks and he smiled and said “I grow orchids.” I did not see the connection and so I pursued it. He finally explained to me that he was a horticulturist and he believed that there were trace elements in the original materials that make up this planet that would enable plants to grow at an accelerated rate and with greater nutritive value. When we visited his greenhouse it was hard to argue with his theory. The plants he grew were huge, vigorous and had abundant fruit. Lunar soil also has been shown to provide plants with some catalysts to growth. Volcanoes not only make new islands and add to the land mass of earth, but they constantly add new nutritive materials to the planet's ecosystem.
Can volcanoes do damage to humans and their properties? Most of us know about Pompeii, and many of us will remember Harry Truman who died when Mount St. Helen's exploded because he would not leave where he lived even though it was obvious the mountain was about to erupt. When you build your house in the mouth of a volcano, how can you get angry with God when the volcano erupts? We all know that an earthquake is going to happen in the Los Angeles area of southern California. The question is not whether it will happen, but when. Are we avoiding the areas close to the faults that we know will cause the earthquake? Are we making sure that no new buildings are being built that are not earthquake proof? When that inevitable earthquake happens, there will be those who will blame God for the horrible loss of life and terrible economic damage the earthquake will cause.
Similar discussions can be carried on for tornados, tsunamis, and floods. The point of all of this is that God's existence is not abrogated by the fact of natural disasters. We cannot view hurricanes and volcanoes as proof that the earth functions by mindless chance. The purpose of man's existence is not threatened by the fact that he may die because of the selfish greed of others or because of his own ignorance. God tells us that we all face the same struggles in this physical life. Matthew 5:45 finds Jesus saying “… He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” If all a person had to do to get away from their problems and suffering in life was to become a Christian, people would be flocking to God every time they got a headache. God never intended for people to come to him just to rid the current crisis in their lives. First Corinthians 10:13 was written to Christians, and they are told “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.” We all face the same struggles, but the verse goes on to tell Christians that they will not be given more than they can stand, but that there will always be a way of escape.
There is a war going on between good and evil. This battle is pretty well recognized by everyone — the science fiction writers, the producers of video games and movies, the politicians, and most of the world's philosophers and religious leaders. You can deny the existence of evil as Dawkins does in the River Out of Eden quote, but for most of us who live in the real world the consequences of evil behavior are too obvious to deny. Why is it that many of us will attach a high level of agreement with the writings of Stephen King and the works of Steven Spielberg and will deny the message of the book of Job and the work of Jesus Christ? If we understand our purpose in existing, then we have some basis of accepting the hardships and pain of life. If we believe we have no purpose in existing, then “survival of the fittest” is our guiding principle and suicide in one form or another is the only solution to catastrophic events in life. This contrast between the Christian viewpoint of why we exist and the atheist view is made even sharper when you go on to realize that for the atheist there is nothing beyond this life. Here and now is all we have, so you live for today because ultimately there will be no tomorrow. For the Christian, a far better existence is guaranteed after this life. What happens to us here is the worst we will ever have to endure. The hopelessness of atheism is another incredible juxtaposition to the Christian view.
We are sentient beings — created with the capacity to know the difference between good and evil. This allows us to experience the joy of love, but it also offers us a choice to reject good qualities and virtues and choose evil. There is a conflict going on between good and evil. Evil is not an object like a rock; it is a free choice of a sentient being. Those beings who have embraced evil are in a spiritual war with God and those forces who hold onto good. The earth is a battleground for this war between good and evil. Christians serve as vehicles of contrast, being created in God's image but having the ability to choose. Beings that are spiritual in nature and exist in a higher dimension than do humans also have choice, and some have chosen to reject God and are in open rebellion against God (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6). The earth is Satan's world, full of sin and corruption and decay; God helps his servants on the earth, but does not overpower the creation for now. Ultimately God will dissolve the physical world (2 Peter 3:11 – 12), and the war will be over for all of eternity with no time or choice any longer being available. This is the hope and belief of those who wear the name “Christian.”
- Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden (New York: BasicBooks, 1995), page 133.
- Curtis Vaughn, general editor, The New Testament from 26 Translations (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing
..House, 1967), Ephesians 6:12.
- The New Testament from 26 Translations, Ephesians 3:5, 6.
- The New Testament from 26 Translations, Ephesians 3:8 – 11.
- Sentient: responsive to or conscious of sense impressions (sentient beings); aware; finely sensitive in perception or feeling
. “Sentient.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2014. (http://www.merriam-webster.com
- Young's Analytical Concordance to the Bible
- The New Testament from 26 Translations, Philippians 1:21 – 23.
Continue to the Chapter 2: MAN'S EVOLUTIONARY HISTORY IN THE WAR
Return to the PREFACE