have a friend who … does not believe in God
Psalm 19; John 14:1-14
is the first in a series of studies designed to help us answer the common questions
our friends may have. That’s our first goal - That every member of Christ Church be
able to answer the common questions people ask. The second goal is that each member
of Christ Church begin praying for two or three members of their family,
friends or neighbours they would like to invite to the Alpha Course we are running
in the Autumn. Our third goal is to see them come to know Jesus Christ
as their personal Lord and Saviour.
The intention therefore is that this series be practical and motivational. People come to faith in Jesus through other people sharing their faith in Jesus. People bringing people. That is our overall theme for the Summer. In the next few weeks we invite you to add to the banner at the back the names of those you are praying for to become Christians. When you enter the building each week, stop by the banner, memorise the names of two or three people and come in and pray for them before the service begins.
Today we begin with the most common statement of all, “I have a friend who does not believe in God” I imagine you know quite a few people who do not believe in God. How do you answer them? Where do you begin?
The first thing I want to say is that when you encounter someone who doubts the existence of God realize that it is not your responsibility to convince them or win the argument. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. Since God is not visible to the human eye, there can be no direct physical proof of him.
However God has provided ample evidence of his existence and character both in the created world and in the unique nature of human beings. Above all he has given a perfect and sufficient revelation of himself in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. Besides these evidences, there is the witness of the Bible and the prophecies God placed in it which have come true. Finally there is the testimony of the Church. Today one quarter of the world’s population claim to follow Jesus Christ. Ironically, the Church is growing fastest where the persecution and opposition is the most intense. There is great power in the testimony of those who have already come to know and love God through Jesus Christ over the past 2000 years. For as we are seeing this week, agencies like Christian Aid are changing our world for good in the name of Jesus Christ. Let us consider some of these evidences.
Point one. It is a sign of our fallen nature that people even doubt the existence of God, since according to Rom. 1:19-20:
“since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (Romans 1:19-20).
The second point you will note is that strangely, the Bible does not endeavour to answer the question. God’s existence is always assumed. This is because, point three, the Bible makes plain that no one has ever seen God the Father, therefore visible proof of his existence is not provided. We have neither the physical or mental faculties nor the moral purity to see God and live. Even after a lifetime of following Jesus, our knowledge of God, still remains partial and incomplete. Paul confesses in 1 Corinthians 13,
we see but a poor 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
Similarly, Jesus counts the pure on heart blessed for the will see God. Nevertheless God has provided many impressive indirect proofs of his existence. Lets consider a few of these evidences now.
The Universe Reflects God’s glory Psalm 19:1-6
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun, which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its heat.” (Psalm 19:1-6)
King David grew up with that night sky. It was often his silent companion on the hillsides of Judea. That is why he could speak so eloquently of its beauty and purpose. In 19:2 David uses a vivid expression "pours forth". It is usually associated with the irrepressible bubbling action of a spring of water. It describes the way Creation, full of variety and vitality, is continually reflecting and revealing more and more of the Creator's mind.
Last Summer we took a holiday in a very remote part of Wisconsin. Away from the city lights, polluting the night, the sky was black and the stars bright. It was a lovely feeling, an awesome holy feeling imagining the enormous distances in light years which separate us from other galactic systems. Breathing in the beauty of the intricate patterns of each constellation, which appear to be fixed and stationary but which like our own solar system are hurtling through space following predetermined invisible routes. Its hard to find words to express the wonder, the complexity and majesty which each little speck represents. Its tempting to imagine what other forms of life there might be in other parts of the universe, and to speculate on whether they too have fallen.
Sometimes I wonder whether God has created the universe this way to keep us in quarantine so that we mercifully cannot contaminate or pollute other inhabitable solar systems too. This revelation of God is silent, but no less clear.
A few years back I participated in a red nose day event at a local school where I am a governor. In one particular class, the teacher, as her contribution to red nose day remained silent all morning. She hadn't shouted at the kids once, in fact she hadn't said a word. Yet the children were able to understand everything she wanted to communicate just by looking carefully at her expressions, and hand movements. That is what God is doing in creation, but people need to look to discern it. The teaching of creation is not addressed to the ear, it is addressed to the eye and the heart. I didn't always view the cosmos in this way. And many people today fall into two errors in relation to creation.
1.1 Deny the Creator = atheism
1.2 Deify Creation = idolatry
1.1 Deny the Creator = atheism
remember as a teenager before I became a Christian, looking into that same night
sky, and feeling very different emotions. Unsure of the existence of a personal
Infinite Creator I was left with only a sense of the smallness of man, the shortness
of life, and the insignificance of the earth, tucked away as it is in some mediocre
little solar system, a back water, way out on the edge of the universe. Without
an awareness of an Infinite personal Creator God, what are people left with when
they contemplate the size and emptiness of the universe? We are insignificant,
alone and unimportant. The product of matter X chance X time. There is simply
no alternative. Either we are the creation of an infinite personal creator God,
or not. We are either a purposeful creation,
or we have a pointless existence.
One of my favourite rock bands in the 1980’s was Chicago. Listen to the lyrics of one of their songs about how an atheist might describe the universe.
When all the laughter dies in sorrow
And the tears have risen to a flood
when all the wars have found a cause
In human wisdom and in blood
Do you think they'll cry in sadness
Do you think the eye will blink
Do you think they'll curse the madness
Do you even think they'll think.
When all the great galactic systems
sigh to a frozen halt in space
Do you think there will be some remnant
Of beauty of the human race
Do you think there will be a vestige
Or a sniffle or a cosmic tear
Do you think a greater thinking thing
Will give a damn that man was here.
That is the logical outcome of a universe without God. Denial simply leads logically and consistently to despair. What a tragedy that people can look at the wonder and beauty of creation and not be able to smile and say “thank you Lord”.
Spurgeon had little time for people in that category, "He who looks up at the firmament and then writes himself down as an atheist, brands himself at the same moment as an idiot or a liar." The first reaction then is to deny the Creator.
1.2 Deify Creation = idolatry
denying the truth, they inevitably distort the truth. Worship is universal, it
is intrinsic to humanity. God has set eternity on our hearts; therefore we must
worship something, or someone.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”
So many worship creation rather that the Creator. Yet this is no better than denying His existence. It is absurd and ultimately dehumanizing. The history of the world is the history of this principle. Paul describes it in Romans 1:
“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.” (Romans 1:21-22)
Whether ancient Greece, or Egypt, whether Hinduism, Shintoism or Rastafarianism, people have and always will yearn to worship something or someone, whether living or dead. The West is no different to the East. Here people speak of Mother Nature, or Evolution as if it had a mind and purpose of its own, or they delve into astrology imagining that the stars themselves control our destiny. Science and technology are the secular gods of today.
Don't you find it incredible that people will reject the revelation of God, yet are hooked on programmes like the X Files, fascinated by crop circles, UFO's, the paranormal, astrology and the occult. Its sobering to remember just a few years ago when Breakfast Time Television started in the UK it wasn't the churches they turned to for a "thought for the day", but to the new high priests - the astrologers.... Denial or deification.
Those are the two most common responses we find in the world today, and the two dangers we must correct if people are to discover true meaning and purpose in life. The denial of a Creator God only leads to despair. The deification of Creation leads to idolatry. Both lead to a slavery to such things as fear and insecurity. Listen to how Paul responded to the idolaters of his generation:
"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.' (Acts 17:24-28).
Creation is God's General Revelation. The Universe is proof that God is there, so that those who deny Him are foolish. Creation is enough to convince that He is there, but insufficient to tell us what God is like. Or to tell us how we can know Him. For that we need further revelation. If the Universe Reflects God’s glory, (19:1-6), point 10,
2. The Scriptures Reveal God’s Purposes Psalm 19:7-11
“The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul.
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever.
The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous.
They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.
By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” (Psalm 19:7-11)
is not a philosophy but history. We believe that God has come into the world and
muddied up the waters. He has revealed Himself in space time history over 1000's
of years objectively and authoritatively, and provided an inspired, infallible
account of His thoughts and actions.
Its no accident that the word David uses to describe the Lord changes from "El" which is a very general term for God found in verse 1, to Yahweh the covenant name of God in verse 7. In fact it is used 7x in verses 7-14. Why the change? Because its only through the Scriptures that we can truly know what God is like. We do not know everything about God, but what we have been told is true and accurate, and sufficient to lead us to Him. Its interesting to see the words David uses to describe the scriptures.
Law 19:7 = Torah = is comprehensive term for God's revealed will. Statutes 19:7 = truth revealed by God in covenant relationship. Precepts/Commands 19:8 = precision and authority of revelation. Fear 19:9 = reverence = the human response fostered by His word. Ordinances 19:9 = His judicial decisions about human situations. Together these terms show the practical purpose of revelation.
What is it? "To bring God's will to bear on the hearer and evoke intelligent reverence, well founded trust, and detailed obedience" (Derek Kidner).
David is describing how he found the scriptures to be the Makers Instructions, and therefore why he loved them. He loved them because they showed the way into a personal relationship with the Infinite Personal Creator God. David could praise God for the scriptures. He describes them as perfect, trustworthy, right, radiant, pure, sure, more precious than gold, sweeter than honey. If that is true of the Law of Moses (which is probably all David had, apart from his own inspired psalms, how should we respond with the full and complete revelation found in Jesus Christ? For at the heart of the Bible is Jesus. In the resurrection encounter with Jesus, Luke tells us, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27) To the religious leaders, Jesus said, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:39). If the universe reflects God’s glory and the Bible reveals God’s purposes,
3. Jesus Christ demonstrates God’s love
“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. (Heb. 1:1-3)
This is why Jesus could say, “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 14:9)
Ultimately people come to know God not as a result of believing our personal subjective experiences, or by our convincing arguments. They are brought to faith by hearing or reading the historical facts about Jesus Christ and being challenged by the personal implications of his sacrifice on our behalf. John sums it up in that famous verse,
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). So when someone says to me they do not believe in God, I give them a copy of the Jesus booklet (Luke’s gospel) and the video and ask them to watch it or read it and answer two questions : who did Jesus claim to be? What was his purpose in life? I encourage them to decide for themselves. I find as they read the story of Jesus themselves, they are forced to one of three alternatives.
Ultimately, it is not so much of what are we to make of him, but of what does he make of us? Our problem is not primarily an intellectual one but a moral one. David picks up this implication in the third section of Psalm 19.
“Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from wilful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:12-14)
God's revelation in creation, and in the scriptures, reaching us through both our eyes and our ears burns deep into our consciences. That is why I never try and prove the existence of God to anyone. I tell them they are living proof, if they will only open their eyes to see, and ears to hear, and apply their minds to understand how they feel. David's first response to God's revelation, after praise is repentance.
“Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults.” (Psalm 19:12). Its clear that because of the Lord's revelation, David has been brought into a living relationship with God. The whole Psalm then is a song of praise to God. It concludes with David offering back to God his very thoughts and desires. Prompted by that revelation, he offers the Lord his one and only acceptable sacrifice, his heart, mind and will. Notice too, that the Lord is not addressed as David's accuser or judge but his refuge, "O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer". David can call himself the Lord's servant because he belongs to God by the covenant which the Bible reveals and presupposes.
Emmanauel Kant is not renowned for being light bed time reading, but in his book the "Dialectic of Pure and Practical Reason", he says something very perceptive... "Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe ... the starry heavens above and the moral law within." That is pretty close to what David is saying here. It is the combination of God's general witness in creation and specific revelation in the scriptures that leads us to want to worship Him, to know Him, to find our way back to the One who created us for this very purpose. To be our friend.
If someone is asking for proof of the existence of God and they are sincere, God promises to answer in a way that will leave no doubt. “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13). What ultimately and uniquely convinces of God’s existence is a personal experience of Him through Jesus Christ. Like Thomas we are brought to confess, "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28).