Christian theology Course title: systematic theology Essay

INTRODUCTION

One of the most important problems faced by the human mind is the question, “Does God exist?”. The question seems to be very simple; however, the simpler is the question the more difficult is to find a correct answer. The philosophical reflection aimed to grasp the concept of God’s existence and knowability is the attempt to understand the nature of faith. Therefore, it should follow the theology that, in its turn, implies God’s existence. Therefore, the main idea is to obtain the evidence of God’s existence. The inability to find out the demonstrative evidence of God’s existence means a state of blissful ignorance in relation to the being of the subject whom all religious beliefs relate to. In another way, it is impossible to know anything about God in case it is unknown whether He exists or not.

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The knowability of God is another important issue. It relates to the extent to which God can be perceived and known by people. Some scholars consider that God cannot be known due to his uniqueness. In order to support this opinion, scholars bring in evidence the fact that God is so unique that it is impossible to understand and to know him. Different philosophical schools have different opinions. There is the opinion that as far as God is infinite and we are infinite, we are unable to understand Him. At the same time, people are able to know at least something about God’s wisdom, power, love, and other attributes.

So, these are two main aspects we are going to examine in the essay.

CHAPTER 1

THE EXISTENCE OF GOD

Some scholars do not see the necessity to justify that they follow the rules of theology, because they do know that God’s existence is not the statement of the implicit faith. They rather adhere to the fact that all statements of faith imply God’s existence. Otherwise they would inevitably be pointless and purposeless. In such a way, to find the rational argument in support of the statement “God exists” means to elicit the prerequisite truth if not relating to the concept of faith[1] so at least the argument in support of the fact that human mind conceives as solemn truth everything in relation to the subject of faith. In this respect the belief in God’s existence virtually embraces the belief in everything we can and should believe in. Intellectual cognition and knowability of the God’s existence implicitly contains everything we should know about Him. Therefore, in search for understanding we should start from establishing the fact that the subject of belief does exist.

1.1  SCHOOLS OF THOUGHTS

There are several basic schools of thoughts concerning God’s existence

(i)                  Atheism – According to atheists, natural material world is unique and self-sufficient. Atheists consider that no reference to supernatural forces (e.g. God, gods, spirits, angels, and other immaterial creatures) is necessary to explain the events and laws of nature. Atheists consider all existing religions and beliefs to be created by people, and, consequently, examine and explain the creation of Universe from scientific point of view. Atheism is closely related to rationalism, skepticism, freethinking and secular humanism.

(ii)                Agnosticism – This school of thought denies the possibility of objective perception of the environment by the subject by means of his own experiences. Agnostic is the person, who denies the belief related to God. He is convinced that the initial origin of the things is unknown, and, therefore, cannot be known. In other words, agnostic is the person who considers that it is impossible to prove existence or non-existence of God.

(iii)              Pantheism and Deism – Pantheism is the school of thought, according to which God is something impersonal, which is not beyond the limits of nature, but rather identical to it. Pantheism ‘dissolves’ God in nature and denies supernatural beginning.  According to Deism, God created the world, and since then takes no part in its destiny and never intervenes in the course of events.

(iv)              Panetheism – (from Greek ‘pan en theo ‘ – everything in God) – is the school of thought, according to which the world is in God, however, God is not ‘dissolves’ in the world (unlikely to Theism). According to Panetheism, God is everything. Actually, Panetheism is the synthesis of Theism and some Pantheism’s concepts.

(v)                Theism – Finally, theism is completely opposite to atheism. It acknowledges absolute unboundedness of God and, consequently, His closest relation to the world.

1.2  EVIDENCE FROM THE INNER WITNESS

The believers are convinced that God exist. They have an inner feeling that there is a Creator, who takes care of them and they are his creatures (Rom. 1:21, 1:19). This inner belief becomes stronger when the believer knows more about their loving Father (Rom. 8:15). Holy Spirit can also serve as an inner witness (Rom. 8:16). Some people can deny their inner sense (Ps. 14:1, 53:1, 10:3-4).

1.3  EVIDENCE FROM SCRIPTURES & NATURE

The Bible contains many evidences of God’s existence. It is believed that the Bible is veritable, as well as we believe that the Bible contains the solemn truth because there was somebody supreme, who ‘controlled’ people and forced them to write correct things in the holy Scripture.

There are places, where it is asserted that God created the Bible, not people. For example, 2 Timothy 3:16 contains classical statement that the Bible was created by God, not only by people: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16).

Let’s take another example – Psalm 19

1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

 2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge (Psalm 19:1-2)

The verbs here are put in the form that underlines constant, usual, perpetual action. The revelation through His creations occurs on a constant basis.

3 There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard (Psalm 19:3)

The revelation through creation is spread all over the universe; although it is expressed in no words, it is, still, easy to understand to all humans – “there is no place, where their voice is not heard”.

“nothing is hidden from its heat” (Psalm 19:6). The warmth that comes from the Sun can be perceived even by the blind. Even those, who do not see the circuit “at one end of the heavens” (Psalm 19:6) to the other, can put this question.

There are also psalms that show God’s ethical and ontological immutability (e.g. Psalm 102:26-27). According to Wayne Grudem, “it is significant that this passage is quoted in Heb. 1:11-12 and applied to Jesus Christ. Heb. 13:8 also applies the attribute of unchangeableness to Christ: ‘Jesus Christ I the same yesterday and today and forever.’ Thus, God the Son shares fully in this divine attribute.”[2]

Nature also can serve as evidence in support of God’s existence. First of all, God reveals Himself through creation. The very fact of existence of the universe witnesses to God’s existence. The universe is the effect, and God is the cause (It is a so-called cosmological argument in support of God’s existence). The prerequisites of God’s existence are as follows:

a)      The effect has its cause;

b)      The effect is defined by its cause;

c)      The nature is unable to create itself;

Everything that exists (e.g. the universe) is either created from nothingness, or has an eternal initial cause. In the second case either the very universe or the contingency, or the eternal creature (God) may act in the capacity of the initial cause. The universe created from ‘nothingness’ (e.g. the universe created by itself) is a logical nonsense[3]

Moreover, there were no facts of ‘self-creation’ from nothingness in the entire history of nature and universe[4]. Now it is possible to put the next question. Probably, God is also the effect, and the cause lies beyond his competence. The answer is negative, because God has an eternal nature, He has no cause and He, Himself, is the initial cause.

Therefore, the eternal cause of the universe should exist. The first assumption is that the universe exists eternally. However, there are few scientists who support this theory. The vast majority of scientists agree that the universe had its initial point of origin, although, they differ on fundamentals concerning the age of the universe. The second assumption is that the cause of the universe’s creation is the eternal principle of contingency, or the ‘blind mind’. Yet, this assumption is quite easy to refute. For example, it is easy to explain logically that the chance of accidental creation of something (e.g. molecule) necessary to create life is miserably low.

There is also another assumption developed by theists. The eternal creature (God) is the cause of the universe. The world order witnesses to intelligence of its Creator. The life forms in the universe witness to Creators’ existence, because the dead cannot give birth to the living. The majesty and power of natural forces witness to even more majesty and power of their Creator. Although it is impossible to know everything about His personality from his creations, the universe still witnesses to the existence of living, sentient, and powerful Creator.

1.4  TRADITIONAL PROOFS

The theologians and philosophers can be divided into two main groups: those, who deny the arguments in favor of God’s existence and those, who try to find forcible arguments to prove God’s existence. However, none of the scholars won a victory. This fact can be explained only by assumption that the nature of conflict hardly was in the core of the subject. Those, who refute arguments in favor of God’s existence, rather criticize its argumentative form, whereas those scholars, who try to find the arguments in support, simply accept its implicit sense.

 One can hardly put in doubt the fact that arguments meet with failure so far as they claim to be the mere arguments. As well as the concept of existence, the method of argumentation is inadequate to the very idea of God and His existence[5]. Be it as it may, God’s existence contradicts to the idea relating to creative and constructive grounds of the essence (or matter) and existence. The grounds of existence cannot be interpreted as the totality of things in existence, and, at the same time, the grounds of essence and existence inevitably take part in all those processes peculiar to the conversion from essence (or matter) to the existence[6]. So, let’s examine traditional proofs of the existence of God.

1.      Cosmological argument

This argument in support of God’s existence can be called cosmological argument or the ‘cause’. It is based on the fact the world should be created by somebody or by something.

(i)                 Something exists. Even those, who deny this fact, by doing that, deny themselves. This ‘something’ has limited nature and is object to changes;

(ii)               The limited and changeable ‘something’ is the effect of a certain cause;

(iii)             These coherent arguments can be continued, but not ad infinitum;

(iv)             Ipso facto, this logical raw has its origin – the initial cause of existence;

(v)               This initial cause is the only, eternal, necessary, simple and unchangeable;

(vi)             Finally, when we compare the initial cause with God from the Bible, we come to conclusion that they are identical.

2.      Teleological argument

“The purpose, order, and design we observe in the world calls for a designer”[7]. The fact that creature should be associated with the presence of somebody, who created it (the Creator), is teleological argument of God’s existence. This argument is based on reasonableness and perfection of the world around us. This argument is the most popular due to its simplicity and convincingness. The main idea of teleological argument is that the world (both in general and in particular) amazes by its harmony and regularity; therefore, it witnesses to super reasonableness and omnipotence of the power, which created the world. Logically, God is the Creator.

  The basis of teleological proof of God’s existence is the threat to the finite structure of existence (e.g. the threat to the unity of polar elements). The concept ‘telos’ (or intrinsic goal)[8] is a meaningful, sensible and meaning-bearing structure of the objective reality. This structure is used as jumping-off place to make a conclusion that the finite goals (telos) consist of an infinite basis of theology; the finite meanings contain the infinite and reliable basis of meaning. This conclusion is hardly of importance in terms of logical proof[9]. Other cosmological arguments are, probably, also of no use. However, in the capacity of the formulation of the problem it is not only valuable, but even inevitable. The fear of senselessness is a peculiar human form of ontological fear. This kind of fear is peculiar only to the thing in existence that, by its nature, unites freedom and destiny. The fear to lose this unity forces human to put a question of God’s existence. Teleological argument puts a question of the basis of meaning similarly to cosmological argument’s question of the basis of existence. In contrast to ontological argument, both of them to a considerable degree are cosmological.

3.      Ontological argument

Ontological argument is based on idea of the perfect Creature: “since the idea of existence is contained in the idea of the Most Perfect Being, the Most Perfect Being must exist[10]. According to it, in case we have the idea of a certain omnipotent creature, this creature should inevitably exist, because in care the Creature has no attribute of being, He wouldn’t be perfect. We think of God as of the omnipotent creature; therefore, He should have the attribute of being (existence).

The ontological argument is determined by categorical structure of the finite existence. It goes through an endless cause-and-effect chain and comes to conclusion that there is an ‘initial cause’. Starting from the accidental nature of all substances, creatures, events and happenings it comes to conclusion that there is a necessary matter. However, both the reason and the substance are categories of the finite existence. The initial cause is a hypostatic question. It is not a statement of existence that comes in the very beginning of this cause-and-effect chain. The things in existence are parts of the cause-and-effect chain, and, logically, can again recall the question about the cause. Similarly, the ‘necessary matter’ is a hypostatic question, but not a statement of existence that attaches an attribute of substantiality to all substances. Such thing in existence will be the substance with accidents itself and again, by itself will recall the question about the substantiality. Both categories, when used in the capacity of the material for the arguments lose their categorical character. The initial cause and the necessary matter are the symbols that express question of the finite existence, – e.g. what goes beyond the limits of the finite existence and its categories, the question of the self-existence, embracing and gaining the victory over non-existence, and, finally, the question of God’s existence.

4.      Moral argument

Moral argument is based on the fact that the man has a certain kind of moral law. Nations follow certain social rules. Every person has the idea of what is right and wrong. Murders, lie, robbery, immorality are blamed by the people. Therefore, the rules concerning rightness and wrongness are inspired by God. Besides, moral argument also relates to the fact that the man, being the moral creature, strives for the idea of moral and spiritual perfection.

1.5  ARGUMENTS AGAINST THE EXISTENCE OF GOD

As far as arguments in support of the existence of God exist, there are also arguments against His existence. In their majority, the arguments can be divided into two main groups: a priori (as far as there are logical contradictions in theistic approach) and a posteriori (God cannot exist because in that case the world would be other).

In addition, there are arguments, claiming that the science has sound proofs that there is no God; nobody saw God, therefore He doesn’t exist; the world is full of suffering, therefore God cannot exist; logical contradictions in the Bible, to mention a few.

CHAPTER 2: THE KNOWABILITY OF GOD

Here we come to the most important part of the essay. Although we cannot understand God fully (Ps. 145:3; Ps. 147:5; Ps. 139:6; Rom. 11:33), as far as we are finite and he is infinite, we still can know Him.

                  2.1    SCRIPTURAL BASIS

The knowability of God can be confirmed from the Scriptures:

(i)                 Independence – God needs no creation to exist (Acts 17:24-25; Job 41:11; Psalm 50:10-12). “No one has ever contributed to God anything that did not first come from God who created all things”[11].

People and all other creatures can bring God joy by worshipping Him and glorifying his omnipotence (Isaiah 43:7; Eph. 1:11-12; Zephaniah 3:17-18).

Grudem[12] claims that it is not enough to realize that God doesn’t need the creation; moreover, He couldn’t need the creation for anything, because “the difference between God’s being and ours is more than the difference between the sun and a candle, more than the difference between the ocean and a raindrop, more than the difference between the arctic ice cap and a snowflake, more than the difference between the universe and the room we are sitting in: God’s being is qualitatively different.  No limitation or imperfection in creation should be projected onto our thought of God.  He is the Creator; all else is creaturely”[13]

(ii)               Immutability – God is unchangeable in his perfections and being (Psalm 102:25-27; Malachi 3:6; James 1:17), purposes (Psalm 33:11; Isaiah 46:9-11), and promises (Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29)

(iii)             Timelessness – God has no beginning and has no end. There is a timeless in His being (Psalm 90:2; Revelation 1:8; Exodus 3:14; Genesis 1:1). He has equal perception of the entire period of time, “for a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night” (Psalm 90:4; 2 Peter 3:8).

God always acts in time: ““God can act in time because he is Lord of time.  He uses it to display his glory.  In fact, it is often God’s good pleasure to fulfill his promises and carry out his works of redemption over a period of time so that we might more readily see and appreciate his great wisdom, his patience, his faithfulness, his lordship over all events, and even his unchangeableness and eternity”[14].

(iv)             Omnipresence – God has no spatial dimensions. He has no size. He is the creator of space (Genesis 1:1-2a). He is everywhere (Jeremiah 23:23-24; Psalm 139:7-10; Acts 17:28a; Colossians 1:17). “In summary, God is present in every part of space with his whole being, yet God acts differently in different places.  Furthermore, when the Bible speaks of God’s presence, it usually means his presence to bless, and it is only normal for our own speech to conform to this biblical usage”[15].

(v)               Simplicity – Although he has plenty of attributes, he is not divided into parts (Exodus 34:6-7; 1 John 1:5; 4:8) “God’s whole being includes all of his attributes.  He is entirely loving, entirely merciful, entirely just, and so forth.  Every attribute of God that we find in Scripture is true of all of God’s being, and we therefore can say that every attribute of God also qualifies every other attribute”[16]

                  2.2     CHARACTERISTICS OF THE KNOWABILITY OF GOD

The characteristics of the Knowability are as follows:

The Source – God is the source of the knowledge. He is the source of solemn truth. The Bible alone can help us to recognize true truth.

The Content – At far as it is difficult to know the person without knowing the facts about him; as well as it is difficult to know only facts without knowing the person, God reveals facts and makes possible to know Him. Therefore, the knowledge of God enhances our relationship with Him and makes strengthens our desire to know even more facts about Him.

The Progressiveness – the facts about God, the knowledge of God and his revelations were discovered and revealed throughout the entire history.

The Purpose – the purpose is to give the people eternal life; to strengthen Christianity with doctrinal knowledge, to let the people know that the Judgment day will come and to worship God.

CONCLUSION

The way how theology treats traditional proofs of God’s existence has double nature. It aims to develop the question of God’s existence, and, at the same time, to show the powerlessness of the arguments and their inability to answer the question of God’s existence. These arguments bring ontological analysis to the conclusion that the question of God’s existence resides in the finite structure of existence. However, the arguments, while speaking about it, partially accept and partially deny traditional natural theology and force the reason to find the revelation.

Bibliography

Boa, K. (1971) God, I Don’t Understand. Wheaton, Victor Books.

Grudem, W. (1994) Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids, Zondervan Publishing House.

Helm, P. (1988) Eternal God: A Study of God without Time. Oxford, Clarendon Press.

Keyser, A. (1953) A System of Christian Evidences. The Lutheran Literary Board, Burlington, IA.

Little, P. (1968) Know Why You Believe. InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL.

Packer, J.I. (1973) Knowing God. InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL.

Ryrie, Ch. (1987). Basic Theology. Victor Books, Wheaton, IL.

Thiessen, H. (1979) Lectures in Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans.

Vincelette, G.E. (1982) Basic Theology: Applied. Victor Books, Wheaton, IL.

(1999) The Holy Bible, King James Version. New York, American Bible Society.

[1] Boa, K. God, I Don’t Understand, Wheaton, Victor Books, 1971, pp.65-67
[2] Grudem, W. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Grand Rapids, Zondervan Publishing House, 1994, p163
[3] Helm, P. Eternal God: A Study of God without Time, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1988, p139
[4] Little, P. Know Why You Believe, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 1968, p418
[5] Packer, J.I. Knowing God, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 1973, p.453
[6] Keyser, A. A System of Christian Evidences, The Lutheran Literary Board, Burlington, IA, 1953, pp.196-197
[7] Ryrie, Ch. Basic Theology, Victor Books, Wheaton, IL, 1987, p29
[8] Vincelette, G.E. Basic Theology: Applied, Victor Books, Wheaton, IL, 1982, p.173
[9] Thiessen, H. Lectures in Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1979, p.217
[10] Ryrie, Ch. Basic Theology, Victor Books, Wheaton, IL, 1987, p32
[11] Grudem, W.Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Grand Rapids, Zondervan Publishing House, 1994, p161
[12] Grudem, W.Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Grand Rapids, Zondervan Publishing House, 1994, p161
[13] Grudem, W.Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Grand Rapids, Zondervan Publishing House, 1994, p161
[14] Grudem, W.Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Grand Rapids, Zondervan Publishing House, 1994, p173
[15] Grudem, W.Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Grand Rapids, Zondervan Publishing House, 1994, p177
[16] Grudem, W.Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Grand Rapids, Zondervan Publishing House, 1994, p178