Lutheran Church Missouri Synod
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An Essay: Does God Exist and Where Can I Find Him?
By Dr. Richard P. Bucher
God. The fact that you are reading this suggests that you are at least partially open to His existence and open to learning more. If so, then this essay is for you. I want you to know that God is real and that God loves you.
Does God exist and if so where is He - where can He be found? In my experience this is the question that many people are asking today. At the same time many people have come to the point in their lives where they have serious doubts about God - or have already denied His existence.
Of course many have tried to "prove" God's existence with rational arguments. Aquinas, Abelard, Anselm, Pascal, and Paley are a few that have attempted this. These approaches are of limited helpfulness, for though we can approach God with our reason and detect Him in nature, He cannot be fully grasped in this way. More importantly, these logical "proofs" for God's existence miss the point.
What is the point? In my experience, most of those who doubt or deny God's existence, do not do so because of firmly held philosophical convictions. They do so because of personal disappointment with God. Furthermore, I'm suggesting that many of those who now perceive themselves as doubting or denying God for philosophical reasons, got where they are because they became personally disillusioned with God sometime in the past.
Personal Disappointment with God
What kind of personal disappointment? Disappointment like unanswered prayer. Many in personal crisis have cried out to God in prayer. They have called out to Him for help. But the help they were looking for did not come. People like Frank from the Paralyzed Veterans Association, who phoned me for a donation. As we talked he began sharing some of his problems with me over the phone. When I told him I would pray for him, he angrily responded, "Please don't. I've given up on that guy." He had prayed many times but never received the answer he expected. As a result he now severely doubts God - His existence, His power, His love.
Others have been disappointed or hurt by those who represent God. At some point in the past they were disappointed or hurt by a religious leader or member. They were abused in some way, perhaps, or given bad counsel, or snubbed. They were right to expect better behavior from those who represent God. Such bad treatment disappointed and hurt them; and it led them to doubt or deny God. They reasoned, "If God allows such as these to serve Him, what kind of God is He? Perhaps He doesn't care at all. Perhaps He isn't real."
Still others have been overwhelmed by the evil and suffering of this world. For many in this group this evil and suffering has touched them personally and often. Tragedy has found them. Or they have been cruelly treated by others. The rest see and hear it all around them. Violence, abuse, poverty, disease, and famine. Natural disasters like fire, flood, wind, and earthquake. All things that cheapen and devalue life. These people wonder, "How could an all-powerful and all-loving God allow such things?" They conclude that it is doubtful that such a God exists. Or "If He does," they say, "I don't want to know Him."
In reviewing these personal scenarios, I'm asking doubters and deniers for soul-searching honesty. I'm asking that they be honest and clearheaded about why they now doubt or deny God's existence.
In all cases, those who doubt or deny God's existence because of personal disappointment do so because God did not perform according to their expectations. But I would ask such people (perhaps you): Are you willing to at least consider the possibility that your expectations of God are or were in error?
You who cried out in prayer with no apparent answer. Could it be that God did answer for your good, but not in the way you expected? Or could it be that the good answer you were looking for didn't come because there was something else in your life that was not right, that needed to be cleaned up and changed? Or could it be that you are not right with God and you are looking for favors from Him before you are right with Him?
You who have been disappointed or hurt by those who represent God, were you truly hurt or was it in perception only? If you were truly hurt by those representing God, they were wrong to hurt you and I am deeply sorry that you were hurt. But is it right to doubt or deny God because those who represent Him prove themselves sinners? Could it not be that God is grieving over this even more than you?
You who have been touched by the evil and suffering of this world, you are not alone. All of us at one time or another have been. But questions need to be answered. Did you bring this evil and suffering upon yourself by ill-conceived decisions that you freely made? If so, is it right to blame God for this, or to doubt or deny Him? Even if the evil and suffering came upon you innocently, is it right to doubt or deny God because of it? Could the evil not have another cause?
Perhaps you say, "How could a loving God allow such evil?" But is it God's love that is defective or your understanding of it? Most religions rightly teach that it was humanity that injected evil into the order of things and that still are injecting it. God did not create or intend evil. We have brought it on ourselves. But yes, it is true: God does allow the evil in the world to continue. Is it right to conclude from this that therefore God is not all-powerful or all-loving? Could it be that He has chosen to channel His power and love in another and much more wonderful way? And this God has done; and He has made this love and power available to all who know where to look! More about this below.
Those Who Doubt or Deny God for Philosophical Reasons
Now it also true that there are some who do doubt or deny God's existence because of philosophical reasons. They doubt or deny God because their worldview does not leave room for a personal God.
All those whose worldview is "closed" fall into this category. By "closed" I mean a worldview that views the universe as a closed system, that works according to unchanging laws, allows no outside intervention, and can be perceived only by reason and the senses. Such a worldview does not allow for spiritual beings or anything miraculous. Into this category go naturalists, secular humanists, agnostics, atheists, and many evolutionists.
Yet I am convinced there is something else in the worldview of many "closed universe" proponents that leaves no room for a personal God. I am suggesting that this "something else" is a far more telling reason as to why their worldview doesn't leave room for God.
To admit to the existence of a personal God is to admit that I must answer to Him, that my life is accountable to Him, and that I must obey Him. To admit that this personal God exists means that I then must turn over the reins of my life to Him. Many people currently refuse to acknowledge the existence (or at least the certainty) of a personal God because they do not want such accountability, obedience, or control! Absolute personal autonomy and freedom is their core value. They will not allow anyone or anything to invade this core value.
It is this fact that draws many people to the various impersonal "gods" that currently exist. America Online recently promoted a new book by Deepak Chopra, "Seven Spiritual Laws for Parents." This Random House book is a sequel to an earlier book, "Seven Spiritual Laws," that the author claims brought wide praise. Thousands contacted him to thank him. In both books Chopra speaks of "God" and "Nature" as all-pervading and very impersonal laws in the universe that order things. The secret to life, he claims, is to know these laws. Notice that in his system, "God" is not a personal being, but an impersonal set of laws.
The reason that thousands are drawn to a book about an impersonal "god" is the same reason that so many who doubt or deny a personal God are drawn to "spirituality" and "angels." You don't have to answer to an impersonal god, or an angel, or to spirituality. One can be helped by them without having to be accountable or obedient to them. Absolute personal autonomy is less threatened by an impersonal God than a personal One.
So the real question is not, "Is the whole notion of God scientifically possible or provable?" I am suggesting that the real question for most people is, "Am I willing to lay aside past disappointments and overcome my fear of losing personal autonomy so that I can know God?"
God is Real - Here is How to Find Him
Dear reader, God is real and wants you to know Him personally. But where do we find Him?
We find God in Jesus Christ. We can know that there is a God, and who God is, because the eternal God entered history and introduced Himself personally through Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is God made visible. Jesus Christ is the answer to the question, "What is God like?" Jesus Christ is God's way of saying, "I am real. I love you. I am God for you." Jesus is God's ultimate revelation of Himself to humanity.
Jesus said about Himself,
I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him." Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us." Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, `Show us the Father'? (John 14:6-9)
Not that Jesus is the Father. He revealed Himself to be the Son of God the Father and therefore, God Himself. So intimate is the unity between Father and Son that both are God. To know the One is to know the Other. Along with the Holy Spirit, the Father and the Son are the one God, the holy Trinity. The epistle to the Hebrews declares,
In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven (Hebrews 1:1-3).
So when we see Jesus we see the heart of God. Far from being some aloof, capricious, angry Being, the true God is the epitome of goodness, compassion, wisdom, gentleness, power, and forgiveness. This God, the true God, is inviting, welcoming, and loving.
But as said above, He has shown His love and power in a particular way, according to His wisdom, not ours. God's incredible love is found only in Jesus Christ who, in the words of the Hebrews' text quoted above, "provided purification for sins," when He died on a cross. The message of the entire New Testament is that Jesus Christ came to be Savior, to die on the cross for our sins, summed up beautifully by Romans 5:8: "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Why was this necessary? Our sinfulness has separated us from God. We are not right with God our Creator. We desperately need forgiveness.
Our world is evil but so are we. We all stand guilty of transgressing the ways of our God. But God in His mercy looked upon our plight. He could have cast us off forever. But He couldn't give up on us, for He is divine love. So He sent the very One through whom He had made us in the beginning to save us in the end, His Son. "God loved the world this way, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life."
On the cross Jesus served our sentence, suffered the punishment that we deserved, as our Substitute.
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:3-6).
You may wish that God had purged the planet of sin and eliminated all evil and suffering. Just wait, He will! He sent Jesus to forgive our sins, to restore us to His fellowship, and to give us everlasting life in a new heaven and earth where no sin or evil or suffering will ever dwell again (Read 2 Peter 3:13). All those who by faith receive Jesus as the only Savior from sin will enjoy this new heaven and earth forever!
But in this life, in this fallen world, sin still goes to seed as evil and suffering of every kind. But thanks be to God who has given us a way out through Jesus Christ! A way out of this fallen world to a world that will be in perfect in every way. And thanks be to God that in the midst of the evil and suffering, He has promised to be with us and to give us the strength and hope that we need to cope (Matthew 28:20; Psalm 50:15).
How can you know this God, then? In the words of Jesus Christ, "Repent and believe the Gospel" (Mark 1:15). First repent, admit your sin, turn from it. Second believe the Gospel, the good news that through Jesus Christ (but only Him) all our sins are forgiven, and we will live forever as children of God. John 1:12: Yet to all who received him [Jesus], to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God--children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God."
Where can you find Jesus? Where He has promised to be and where His body gathers. There are two places in the New Testament where Jesus Christ promises to be with us for all time. One is Matthew 18:20: For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." The other is in Matthew 28:20: "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." In both locations Jesus promises to be where those who believe in Him are together, worshiping, making disciples by baptizing and teaching. Though God is everywhere, He has promised to be present in a special way where Christians gather in the name of Jesus: in a local congregation. Furthermore, Christians are repeatedly called the "body of Christ," in the New Testament (Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12). Where they are gathered, there Jesus is! There He can be found in His people, His Word, His holy meal.
With open arms, God is waiting for you to return. May this little essay in some small way encourage you to come home.