If there is a being called God, then a study about him should be one of the most important one. The greatest science then, would be the science of knowing God. The following passage is taken from Apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Rome written in early 60’s AD.
The above passage clearly states that it is possible to know God. In fact that is the basic thesis of the Bible. It surely does not postulate that we can know him exhaustively but that we can know him sufficiently. Sufficient enough to hold us accountable, for it says ‘…. men are without excuse’ because of the knowledge of God that is possible.
Dr. Ravi Zacharias puts it so well, “God has put enough into the world to make faith in him the most reasonable thing, but he has left enough out of this world to make it impossible to live by reason alone”.
He did not leave himself without a witness
It is the Bible’s claim that God kept intimations of himself all over the created order. Just as the actions of a person tell us about the person, his nature and his likings or otherwise. The actions of God reveal his nature. Paul preaching in Acts 14 says that God did not leave himself without a witness. He has had several witnesses to himself, nature, history, conscience, his prophets and his own Son who came later in history. Here it is suggested that creation is God’s witness. His invisible qualities being understood through the visible world. For long man has assumed that this world is all that there is. And the pursuit of knowledge has been basically to study this world and how to harness its power. One of the outcomes of such a belief has been the question or the dichotomous thinking that God and science are incompatible with one another. Science is about observable reality and That God/ religion is about unknown issues and that there is nothing observable about God. So much so in the positivistic thinking of AJ Ayer, he relegated theology and religion to the area of myths or superstitions. This has led to the thinking that religion is for the intellectual imbeciles and to talk of it and its followers in pejorative or condescending terms became commonplace.
But the view of the Bible is that Science and God are not mutually exclusive matters. But that this observable world does point to a Maker who is there and who has made himself known through the things he has made. The invisible God made himself visible through his creative actions. God’s actions reveal God’s being. Although what is revealed about God in nature is rudimentary, yet it stresses that it is sufficient for man to form a general idea about God, namely his eternal power and divine nature are evident through what he made.
There is one more observation that needs to be made from this statement from the Bible, and that is that it is reasonable to infer some things regarding God from the things that are made. The Bible assumes that man has a reason and that he is expected to employ it in understanding not only his surroundings but also in inferring about the Maker.
It is to that examination or exploration we shall now turn our attention in the next two chapters. First God’s knowledge through nature and then through the historical person of Christ.
Nature speaks about its maker
“The heavens declare the glory of God, the firmament his handiwork”. ‘…The whole earth is full of his glory’.
“… Since what may be known about God is 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 men are without excuse”.
“…The whole is earth is full of his glory”.
In the light of the above statements, it is plain that one cannot hold to the view that it is not possible to know God.
But how can we know about him? The Bible’s answer is ‘… from what has been made’
Let us take a look at what has been made and endeavor to find what we can about the maker. Let us look at some very plain evident facts regarding this universe.
One of the first questions that need to be asked when we look that world is, in the words of Kierkegaard, ‘ Why is there something rather than nothing’. The fact that there is something is the most evident fact of observation and it is undeniable. There is someone to observe and there is something to be observed. That is the most evident fact. To deny this is to fly in the face of all reason. Well you need to exist even to deny!
Having seen that there is something, let us now look at this observable reality and deduce
From it some undeniable, or if you like, that which is plain to all facts about it.
From the latest scientific discoveries available to us we can state the following regarding the universe in which we live without much opposition. The least that can be inferred is:
– This universe is a finite universe.
– It shows intricate, and complex information and design.
– There is immeasurable power inherent in this universe.
– There are personal and moral beings living in it.
To hold anything contrary to the above observations, to my understanding, is to fly in the face of scientific evidence that is currently available with us.
Now we know that anything that is finite requires a cause. And the ‘cause’ to which it owes its existence cannot be a finite cause, if it is then it would require a cause in turn. At some point it leaves us with out the option but to say that:
– There has to be an infinite cause behind this universe.
– Such an infinite cause needs to be intelligent in order to cause an intelligent universe with design.
– He has to be powerful to put so much power into this universe. And further
– He has to be personal and moral being, as the cause behind the personal and moral beings who inhabit the earth. (The word personal is not used in the sense of something that is possessed by someone, but of a being who possesses a personality).
Does this sound too simple? But that is the plain inference that can be drawn without much difficulty. These are the invisible qualities – eternal power and divine nature – that can be inferred from the things that are made.
It needs to be noted here that a study of anthropology suggests that, wherever there has been any rudiments of religion or worship of a supreme being it was always some one more powerful than them and in most cases a being with some level of personality. That itself clearly suggests that man did infer that any supreme being who is the cause for all that we see needs to have such qualities. Man began to question such beliefs only much later, with the advent of the so-called ‘age of reason’. Nevertheless with all his ignorance or lack of knowledge man did conceive of such a being, though far from what was expected by God, as the Bible suggests. We accused him of ignorance, imbecility, and naivety not realizing that he was just going by the plain inference of the observed reality.
And when man fails to infer this much from the observable reality, more so the modern man with all his knowledge of the universe, the bible says it is inexcusable. Such obduracy is termed as ignorance and blindness. One has to be certainly blind not to see the plain and the evident.
But let me add here, that to worship a being more than that or other than that is also inexcusable. To conceive of the ‘Cause’, as someone who could be compared to a creature is to reduce the infinite being to the finite, the creator to the creature and this is inexcusable. Such thinking flies in the face of reason. How could the infinite be finite or how can the creator and the creature be one and the same? While it is true that the created order tells about the Creator, the creature cannot be worshipped as the Creator. For if the creature is finite and the creator is infinite to think of him otherwise is to be blind.
The question that remains to be answered is who is this God, the one who is infinite, intelligent, powerful, personal and moral? Or may be there is another question popping up asking for attention. And that is it necessary to name him? Why not be content with just worshipping this infinite, intelligent, personal, moral and powerful God? Or as it is said in the Vedas, “ Ekam Sat, Viprah Bahudha Vadanti”- there is one truth; only men describe it in different ways. Or as Ramakrishna Paramahansa taught that in spite of the differences, all religions are valid and true and they lead to the same ultimate goal—God
There are two assumptions behind such an objection. One is in naming or identifying such a God; we might hurt the many who worship Him with a different name. The assumption here is that name does not matter as long as you worship a God. The answer to such an objection is: the fact that there is worship does not mean that the same being is worshipped. It certainly is commendable that there is some belief in a supreme God, but is it not incumbent on us as reasonable creatures that we make sure that our worship is right, that we do not worship a creature of our making but that we worship the Maker of all things.
The second assumption is that we might hurt people by trying to identify or by naming him. Or naming him or identifying him would be to claim exclusivity and that would smack of narrow-mindedness. First of all it needs to be said that such charity towards others is very commendable and the sincerity of such an approach is not in question. But should we sacrifice honesty at the alter of hurting others. When something is done wrongly or if a person were going in a wrong direction would silent charity be commended? Wouldn’t such silence be criminal if the person were to harm himself because of going in the wrong direction? Would you expect that good neighborliness demands telling the truth and thus save the person from any loss or damage to himself?
Secondly, one needs to remember that truth does make exclusive claims and therefore considered as narrow. But the very nature of truth is such that it is inexorably and unavoidably exclusive and narrow.
To this there would be a further question, I am sure: how can you be so sure that you know the truth? Aren’t you being too vain in making such a claim? In short, how do you know? We shall take this up as we proceed along. I would request my readers to continue patiently with what follows.
What is in a name?
Juliet cried, in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet”. That may be true in the case of Romeo or a rose for that matter or anything whose name and nature have nothing in common with its/their name, notwithstanding the protestations or wisdom of the Vedas. But when it comes to this infinite being that we are talking about it is necessary that we know who he is and worship him worthily.
Moses stood near the burning bush and asked the same question, but slightly differently. All his youth he grew up thinking he was the chosen one to rescue the people of Israel from the slavery in Egypt. He tried, but it backfired. He had fled for his life and was now tending the sheep of his father in law in the back of the Sinai desert. Probably wondering what had gone wrong. His mother had said that he was a specially child and that God had spared him to be the rescuer of Israel. All his life’s ambitions were shattered, by one foolish and hasty act. And there has been no word or intervention from this ‘God’ – the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and of his mother. His mother seemed so certain about his destiny as the rescuer. But there was no word from her ‘God’. Does he really speak? Did he actually speak to Abraham? How was his mother so sure?
But wait a minute – this bush seemed to be burning so long yet not burnt. He went closer to see why it was not burnt. That’s when he heard the voice speaking to him.
“ I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cry … and I know their sorrows. Therefore I have come down to rescue them…
So now I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people out of Egypt”.
Moses’ reply was,
“Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt”?
The response was,
“ Certainly I will be with you….”
Now listen to Moses’ next question,
“Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, “ The God of you fathers has sent me” and they ask me what is His name what should I tell them”
That was a clever saying,
“ Who are you by the way? And what is your name”.
To which the voice responded,
“I AM WHO I AM. This is what you shall say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you”. And further, “…This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation”
Hoo boy! What a name! If Moses were present today he would have said, “Give me a break, please. But what? ‘Your name is I AM who I AM’ and who is that?”
In Hebrew culture and practice the name of a person indicated the nature of the person.
“… The name … It is an integrating part of the person; what has no name is so to speak, non-existent… Moreover, the name is supposed to correspond to the essence of the object and consequently reveals it”(Theology of the Old Testament, Paul Van Imshoot).
And the voice that spoke to Moses was in effect telling him, not just his name but was revealing who he was.
And what does that name indicate regarding the nature of the voice that spoke to Moses?
I AM WHO I AM, in Hebrew is represented by four letters YHWH. In English language it is pronounced as Jehovah. What would such a name indicate about the nature of the person? The voice in effect was saying to Moses, I am the self-existing one; I do not depend on any one or anything for my existence. He was also indicating to Moses that his existence was not static but dynamic in the words of his name. Implied in the name was the fact that he was a personal being, the use of the personal pronoun makes it amply clear. The name also suggests that he was eternal, tenses did not matter to him. And extending from this it can safely be said that it also indicated that he was immutable.
And finally look at the context in which this name is being revealed, it was that of rescuing or redemption thus suggesting to Moses that he was concerned for the people of Israel as much as he was and that his concern has brought him down to not only talk to Moses but to rescue the people. There fore that name also indicated the fact of God’s love and concern for people and his willingness to come down to rescue them from their misery.
So what do we know about him, now?
His name is I AM WHO I AM, the self-existing, self sufficient, eternal, immutable, and personal and loving God, who cares for people to such an extent that he even comes down to rescue them from their misery.
What do you call a person with such qualities? If not GOD, what else?
Now I want you to move approximately 1500 years ahead in history with me, to a small town called Bethlehem in Palestine.
A young virgin, who was engaged to a man, called Joseph, was pregnant before they were married. And Joseph being a good man wanted to break the engagement, silently. Who would marry a woman who was pregnant before marriage?
An angle of God appeared to Joseph in a dream and said to him, “ Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins”.
I wish to point out two things from this episode recorded here. First of all the meaning of the name Jesus and the purpose of his coming as mentioned by the angel and their relationship to the episode that we dealt with earlier, that of the encounter that Moses had with God, at the bush.
The name Jesus, in Hebrew is Joshua and it means ‘Jehovah saves’ or ‘Jehovah is the savior’.
And it must be noted here at once that Jesus Christ during the course of his life referred to himself as I AM. And on eight different occasions he used the personal pronoun of Jehovah. This was one of the main reasons the Jews accused him of blasphemy. On one occasion when he said to the Jews, ‘”Before Abraham was I am”, they understood its implications and took stones to stone him for blasphemy.
Secondly, look at the words of the angel to Joseph regarding the purpose of his birth, that he will save his people from their sins and the words of God to Moses. He came down for the sake of rescuing the people from slavery in Egypt and here we find that Jesus was coming into the world to save the people from their sins.
Who is this Jesus? Born to a virgin in Bethlehem? Born in a manger, needing to be changed and taught and fed like all other children, he was none other than the Jehovah who had come into the world to save people from their sins just as he came down during the days of Moses, he had now come with a wider and larger purpose. He had now come not just for one nation or to rescue anyone just from political bondage but for the whole world and for all those who are living under slavery to sin and burdened with its guilt.
Now do you see, why the name does matter? When it comes to the name of the Infinite being, the Maker of all things, we must know his name. It will not do to call him by any other name. For it is a specific name used for God in the Bible and it reveals for us his nature and as well as his concern for the people of the world.