Clicking HERE will bring you to an audio version for absolute realsies (however, we had trouble with the recording equipment, at the 9:50 mark we are missing 3 or 4 minutes, at the 13:06 mark we lose a little of the text and I added a whole story that is mostly in the recording but not in the text, at the 15:26 mark the closing lines got skippy – so we’re missing about 5 minutes – but it should be followable any way – sorry for the difficulty….).
Genesis 1:1; Ecclesiastes 3:9-14
1st Sunday in Lent, 02/18/2018
“Is God for Realsies?”
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Through the Written Word,
And the spoken word,
May we know Your Living Word,
Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.
Today is the First Sunday of the Season we call Lent – a season of recognizing our own sin-nature, reflecting on what God has already done for us through Jesus Christ, rendering our faith and our lives more deeply into God’s power and presence.
We are entering into this season with a sermon series wherein we ask some of the important questions of faith – and see where Scripture might lead us in our search for reasonable answers.
And we are starting with what may be the most basic question – something about whether there is a God at all. Some of you know that a couple weeks ago I accepted an invitation to join a group of men who meet once-a-month to talk about a book they have read in the previous month – a book group. This group is made up of mostly retired university professors, and doctors and lawyers – I dove into the academic deep-end with this group. And the book we read was written by a local author who would be present at my first meeting with this group – Shawn Vestal, Spokesman-Review journalist and novelist. The book is a coming-of-age story about Fundamentalist Mormons in southern Idaho, and we learned that the author had grown up as a mainline Mormon, but left the religion in his teens.
One of our group members asked him how much of himself was in the main character, and then he asked whether he believed in any kind of “transcendent Being” (ie, God). His answer was both revealing and hopeful. “I don’t know,” he said. “But I’m open, and I expect that maybe there is….”
Is God for Realsies? What do you think? How would you answer?
Philosophers have asked it like this: “Why is there something there, and not nothing?” Last Thursday, at Bible study I asked why these class members believe in God, and one of the classmates answered that she believes because she exists! “If there’s no God, where did we come from?” That’s the question these philosophers were asking.
The opposite way of saying this is that “nothing comes from nothing”. If we start with “nothing”, NO THING will ever grow from it. Nothing is a concept our brains can’t fully comprehend – total void, complete emptiness, utter vacuosity – we can’t imagine.
We’ve all heard René Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am”. Permit me to draw a logical next step: “Because I am, I cannot think of nothing.” And that leads to the next logical conclusion: “Because I think, therefore, it is impossible that God does not exist”.
All of the Big Bang Theory stuff included, Nothing can create only NOTHING! Something was there ahead of creation!
And so we read the opening words of the Hebrew Bible, what we know of as the Old Testament.
Genesis 1:1, while not meant to be a science text book, none-the-less, speaks a truth no one, in my estimation, has even come close to adequately denying. Listen to these words: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
Sinclair Ferguson, a Scot (so he’s fun to listen to) and a scholar, says, “I have recently tried a simple but unnerving experiment, directing my mind to think its way into the assumption that there is no God, and then to explore the implications. I strongly discourage performing this mind experiment. It leads inexorably to a dark place, a mental abyss where nothing in life makes sense, indeed, where there is no possibility of ultimate ‘sense’. Here, all that we think of as good, true, rational, intelligible, and beautiful has no substructure to give these concepts coherence. Thus, the nature of everything I am and experience becomes radically deconstructed and disconnected from my consciousness of them. … ‘Meaning’ itself in any genuinely transcendent sense is itself a meaningless concept.”
How many times have we heard people say things like, “There’s no atheists in a foxhole”? Right? And foxholes may simply be a metaphor for any trouble we find ourselves in. “Dear God,” one might say, “I know you’re not real, but please protect my daughter; please bring my son to good health; please find a job for my grandchild.”
That is what makes sense.
There’s a famous quote by a Russian atheist who, when asked if he is an atheist answered, “Yes. But it is more than that. You see, I hate Him!” Far from being able to deny the existence of God, he confessed both God’s existence and his own antagonism toward Him.
In the Old Testament there’s this one book called Ecclesiastes (that’s actually the Latin transliteration of the Greek translation of the Old Testament Hebrew word which means something like “Gatherer” – the Greek word for “church” is “ecclesia” but it is usually understood as preacher/teacher). Ecclesiastes 3 is the chapter that says there is a time for everything under heaven (a time to be born, a time to die … a time for war, a time for peace). Right after that, the “preacher” says, Ecclesiastes 3:9-14 ….—-
9 What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 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. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.
Genesis 1 goes on to tell us that we are created in God’s image, however goofed up we have made that image. The “preacher” of Ecclesiastes declares that God has put “eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom all that God has done from beginning to end.”
Nearly 1,000 years after Ecclesiastes was written by King Solomon, the Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the Christian community in Rome where he, in Romans 4, is talking about how even Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, was saved by faith before he was “Jewish”. Jim Edwards, retired Bible professor at Whitworth University says about this passage, “The hardest thing in life is to believe God above [life’s] circumstances. Abraham questioned God (Gen. 15:2). He pleaded with God (Gen. 18:16). His wife laughed at God (Gen. 18:11). One commandment—to sacrifice young Isaac—struck so hard that he was left reeling in confusion. But [Abraham] obeyed the command, repeating to himself “God will provide” as he trudged up the mountain (Gen. 22). His obedience, however, was not the obedience of despondency. How could he be passive before the God of the impossible? … The question of faith was not then and is not now an easy one.”
Is God real? Does He really exist? If so, does He care what we think or believe or do?
The great old Easter hymn says it well:
“I serve a risen Savior, He’s in the world today.
I know that He is living, whatever others say.
I see His hand of mercy, I hear His voice of cheer.
And just the time I need Him, He’s always near.
He Lives. He lives. Christ Jesus lives today.
He walks with me, and He talks with me, along life’s narrow way.
He lives. He lives, salvation to impart.
You ask me how I know He lives. He lives within my heart!”
Ultimately, this is a question of faith – but it is a faith that nothing has yet been able to defeat. And when we adhere to the promises of God, when we believe in His reality, in spite of everything that tries to be to the contrary, we give glory to God.
Why does the Bible not even ask this question of God’s existence? Because it declares in its opening sentence, “In the beginning God created….”
Is He for realsies? We declare YES! And together, as we struggle through the hassles of life, we decide to trust Him with our very lives.
As we move toward the cross of Good Friday, never forget that we also move toward that empty tomb of Resurrection Sunday. Amen.
Ackley, Alfred Henry; “He Lives”; 1933.
Edwards, James R.; New International Biblical Commentary: Romans; Hendrickson Pub.; Peabody, MA; 1992; Pp. 127-128.
Ferguson, Sinclair; “Is There a God?”; TableTalk; August 2017; Pp. 6-7.
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church Thursday Bible Study Group; Spokane, WA; 02/15/2018.