Why I Believe in God
Written by Daniel Hyde
|Reformed Worldviews - Defining the Reformed Worldview|
“INEFFABLE.” From the Latin ineffabilis, this word means something that is incapable of being expressed in words. That’s the word that best describes my attempt to sketch out an answer to why I believe in God. This is an unspeakable exercise. How does one sit down and write out reasons for the most profound question in the universe? How do I, the creature “of the dust” (Gen. 2:7 cf. 3:19; Ps. 103:14), seek to present the case for the Creator of eternity? How does one try to explain what needs no explanation? Thus the word ineffable is fitting. Like Job, I should just “lay mine hand upon my mouth” and be quiet (Job 40:4). Therefore, in writing out why I believe in God, I will proceed only to whisper a few words, as it were, in between the fingers over my mouth.
Why do I believe in God? Why does anyone? Most simply put, because He is. This is His name—YHWH—“I AM THAT I AM” (Ex. 3:14). You say, “Well, that’s about as circular a reason that I have ever heard to prove God’s existence.” Yes it is, but answer me this question: how do you know you exist? You know you exist because your body, your movements, your ups, your downs, your entire life are not illusions, they are not meaningless. You know you are because you are. We all know God exists, even after we have all had our “understanding darkened” (Eph. 4:18). Because of Adam’s fall into sin, we are all characterized by “blindness of mind, horrible darkness, vanity and perverseness of judgment... wicked, rebellious, and obdurate in heart and will, and impure in his affections” (Canons of Dort, 3/4.1).
God is. The Bible begins with and assumes this truth when it says, “In the beginning God” (Gen. 1:1). This is why the great medieval theologian Anselm of Canterbury (1033–1109) “explained” God’s existence with his so-called Ontological Argument, saying, “We believe that Thou art a being than which nothing greater can be conceived” (Proslogion, 2). Anselm was saying what the opening words of Scripture say: we know God is because our minds are led upwards, beyond all that we can think and contemplate. Why is this? Because all humans have been made in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26 – 27); therefore, all of us have an innate knowledge of God. The early church father Justin Martyr (100–165) called this innate knowledge the “seed of religion” (semen religionis) while the Protestant Reformer John Calvin (1509–64) called this innate knowledge of God the “sense of the divine” (sensus divinitatis). This seed and sense are in the heart and mind of every human being. We suppress it, though, as the apostle Paul said (Rom. 1:18, 21– 23). That is the reason we are having this conversation. Our sin nature does not want to acknowledge God because that would mean He is Lord over us and that our actions have consequences. Instead, we want to be God and do whatever pleases us. In fact, the Bible says those who think they are wise and try to suppress this knowledge from their minds are really “fools” (nabal; Ps. 14:1).Yet, in all of this, do not think this is just some rational exercise. There is profound mystery here. There is utter transcendence. This means that there is a tension between my knowledge of God’s existence inherently and my struggle with that knowledge practically. We know it’s true, but it is not easy to believe. This is why we are called to “lay aside” what the writer to the Hebrews calls “the sin” which clings so closely to us (Heb. 12:1). It is not sin in general, but the sin that clings to us. What sin is this? Unbelief. He speaks of this throughout Hebrews, particularly in 3:12–13, quoting Psalm 95. The sin of unbelief “so easily beset[s] us” as Christians. Calvin said that even as Christians we are perpetually and partially unbelievers: “For unbelief is so deeply rooted in our hearts, and we are so inclined to it, that not without hard struggle is each one able to persuade himself of what all confess with the mouth: namely, that God is faithful” (Institutes, 3.2.15), and,
Surely, while we teach that faith ought to be certain and assured, we cannot imagine any certainty that is not tinged with doubt, or any assurance that is not assailed by some anxiety. On the other hand, we say that believers are in a perpetual conflict with their own unbelief (Institutes, 3.2.17).
We are all like the man who brought his possessed son to Jesus to be healed: “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief ” (Mark 9:24). This is why as a creature in the image of God I simply acknowledge the Greater-than-myself, the transcendent—for where was I when the universe was made? (Job 38 –39).
The Testimony of Creation
I also believe God exists because the creation testifies to His existence: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork” (Ps. 19:1). God has implanted in us the internal testimony of our conscience and has also given the external testimony of the things His hands have made. As Paul the apostle said, “That which may be known of God is manifest in them.... For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:19–20). Every time we open our eyes, we see the work of this Creator. According to Psalm 19, what creation says about Him is that He is great: “The heavens declare the glory of God.” Creation also testifies to His skill and ingenuity: “the firmament sheweth his handywork.” In Paul’s words, the creation shows us that God is both eternal, because the things that were made at some point were made by someone who was there before them, and that He is Almighty, because to create the vastness and the enormity of what is would take an infinite power.
The Creator Himself expressed the foolishness of denying that the creation points to its Creator when He rebuked Job, saying, “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?” (Job 38:4).
Thinking & Acting
I also believe in God because this knowledge that God exists is the only thing that allows me to know anything. Paraphrasing the eloquent British philosopher and writer C.S. Lewis, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else” (“Is Theology Poetry?” in The Weight of Glory, 140).
Everything we think or do has an ultimate point of reference. Why can we say that Hitler was evil? Because evil is measured against the standard of God, who is good. Why does 2 + 2 = 4? Because God in His wisdom has ordered the universe. Why am I able to love my wife? Because God has eternally existed in love between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Why must I tell the truth to my interviewer when I am looking for a job? Because God is truth. We cannot think rationally or live morally without God. The “fool” of Scripture who denies God’s existence is not foolish simply in a rational capacity, but a fool because his moral choices and actions lead to his eternal destruction. What this means is that reasoning as human beings and living ethically in community with one another were not invented as a convention for us to simply get along. No, thinking and living rightly were recognized based on the existence of God.
Yet philosophers and theologians have debated these things for centuries, as have ordinary believers and unbelievers—and the debate still rages. The ultimate reason I believe in this Creator God is because “the Lord is risen indeed” (Luke 24:34). God acted dramatically to save fools by sending His Son to become man. This is called the Incarnation because God appeared in the flesh: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). God became visible, tangible, and physical. Elsewhere John, the disciple “whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23), describes the realness and the earthiness of this eternal Word made flesh, saying, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled” (1 John 1:1).
After this eternal Son of God walked the earth for approximately thirty-three years, He was “crucified, dead, and buried” (Apostles’ Creed). “But now is Christ risen from the dead” (1 Cor. 15:20). Not only does the resurrection testify to the truthfulness of all that Jesus said and did, as by it the Father “declared [him] to be the Son of God with power” (Rom. 1:4), but the resurrection was the culmination of our salvation. To summarize the ancient church father Athanasius: “God came down to become a man that man might be taken up to be with God” (On the Incarnation of the Word, 54.3).
It has always fascinated me that the apostle Paul, in his reasoning with the great philosophers of his day on Mars Hill, did not point the Greeks to Christ’s death or to God’s love for the sinner, nor to His “wonderful plan for their lives,” as is so often done today by Christians. No, the apostle who saw the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus pointed them to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul’s defense was proclamation, based on historical fact. Do you want to see God? Look into the empty tomb. Because it is empty, God is.So who are we to “contend with the Almighty” (Job 40:2), fighting against Him in our minds and lives? Let us simply recognize what we know to be true deep down inside. Then let this knowledge lead us to know God, not simply as God, as Creator, as the One greater then ourselves, but as our heavenly Father. This is possible through Spirit-worked believing in His Son, the one we call Jesus Christ, who calls us to follow Him as His disciples and to live in community together as His church.
Rev. Daniel R. Hyde is the pastor of the Oceanside United Reformed Church in Oceanside, California and a Th.M. student at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. This article was printed in Heritage Reformed Churches' "The Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth" and is republished here with permission.