“Does God Exist?”: Genesis 1:1
Monday, February 4, 2008— Here are my notes for my Sunday School class yesterday at Redeemer Church. These are only notes, not a refined sermon by any means.
Redeemer Church Sunday School
Genesis: Finding Answers to Life’s Crucial Questions
Semester One: Genesis 1-11 “Beginnings”
Read: Psalm 14:1-7; Pray
Introduction: Last week we began an examination of Gen. 1:1, but we did not get quite finished with the basic study of the words. This morning we will finish that study then look at the God of creation a little bit asking, “What is this God of creation like?” But I do hope to move into the crucial questions of: “Why is there something instead of nothing?” and “Does God Exist?”
First, however, I want to get to know you a little bit better. Last week we discovered that a couple of you were raised Catholic, some of you were raised Baptist like my wife and me, and a couple of you came from a more colorful background, flower filled background even. Today I want to ask you where you are from, where do you call home? I told you in my testimony in our first meeting together that I was basically from Oklahoma. How about you?
Let’s begin by reading Gen.1:1-2:3 again, this time in a different translation. Last week I read from the ESV. This week I will read from the HCSB.
I. Review of Last Week
Last week we looked at “In the beginning” and saw that it is frequently used in Scripture to refer to the beginning months or even years of a king’s reign and that the word bereshith does not specifically refer to any set time period, it is not specific. Some scholars like John Sailhamer believe that it could allow for an initial creation period of even billions of years, but more likely, most scholars of the conservative position tend to see it closely related to the week of creation itself, even though the term does not determine any length of time, its context certainly may link it to a time period.
Then we studied the word used for God, Elohim, and realized that it is a very common name for God in the Bible, but that it can also refer to false gods. Perhaps the reason Moses used this word for God in the opening sentence is to link creation not with the covenant name for God, YHWH, but with a more generic name showing that God is the Creator of all people everywhere. QQ: The curious thing about this name for God was what? It is plural. This does not mean that the doctrine of the Trinity is taught in Gen. 1, it is something like a plural of majesty, but it does help us find some OT support for the doctrine of the Trinity perhaps. At the very least we see that God encompasses unity and diversity in his being and essence.
Next we examined the word for created, ‘bara, and saw that this verb is only used in regards to God and that while it can be alternated with the word for make, it tends to be used only for things that God could do. The word by itself does not give us the doctrine of creation ex nihilo, but it certainly helps.
II. “…the heavens and the earth.”
QQ: What does “heavens and the earth” mean?
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.- hassamayim weet haares
Finally, what is meant by the phrase heavens and the earth? Sailhamer, (EBC vol2, p.23) says it “is a figure of speech (merism) for the expression of ‘totality’. Its use in the Bible appears to be restricted to the totality of the present world order and is equivalent to the all things of Isa. 44:24 (Psa.103:19; Jer.10:16). Particularly important to notice is that its use elsewhere in Scripture suggests that the phrase includes the sun and the moon as well as the stars (Joel 3:15-16).
Merisms are conspicuous features of Biblical poetry. For example, in Genesis 1:1, when God creates the heavens and the earth (KJV), the two parts combine to indicate that God created the whole universe. Similarly, in Psalm 139, the psalmist declares that God knows my downsitting and mine uprising; indicating that God knows all that he does.
Merisms also figure in a number of familiar English expressions. When we mean to say that someone searched thoroughly, everywhere, we often say that someone searched high and low. The phrase lock, stock, and barrel originally referred to the parts of a gun, by counting off several of its more conspicuous parts; we use it to refer to the whole of anything that has constituent parts.)
Sailhamer, Genesis Unbound, pp. 106-107 makes the case for Exodus 20:11 referring not to Gen.1 but, rather, to Gen.1:2ff. Ex.20:11 uses the word asa not bara, and it says that God made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them in six days. “In other words, this passage in Exodus does not use the merism ‘heavens and earth’ to describe God’s work in six days. Rather, it gives us a list of God’s distinct works during the six days. …Exodus 20:11 does not say God created ‘the heavens and the earth’ in six days; it says God made three things is six days- the sky, the land, and the seas- and then filled them during that same period.”
Wenham (WBC, p.15) seems to have a similar understanding as Sailhamer in thinking that “the heavens and the earth” refers to the entire universe. “It is therefore quite feasible for a mention of an initial act of creation of the whole universe (v1) to be followed by an account of the ordering of different parts of the universe (vv2-31). Put another way, “earth” may well have a different meaning in vv1 and 2. Compounded with “heaven” it designates the whole cosmos, whereas in v2 it has its usual meaning “earth”.
Likewise, Mathews, (NAC, p.130) “…while ‘eres, ‘earth’, stands opposite ‘heavens’ in v1, together referring to the universe, in v.2 ‘eres commonly means a territorial holding, designating ‘land’. The recurring motifs of ‘land’ and ‘blessing’ introduced in 1:1-2:3 are thematic fixtures in the patriarchal narratives and the entire Pentateuch. For Israel the land was God’s good gift that he prepared for his people to possess. Creation prepared God’s good ‘land/earth’ which was for man to enjoy (1:10, 12, 31) and for Israel to possess.”
We will come back to this idea later when we compare the various ways of interpreting the whole chapter. For right now what we see is that the phrase “the heavens and the earth” in verse one means the whole universe, but the use of heavens and earth in later verses means the land and sky from the perspective of someone on the earth, and even so specific as perhaps in the promised land.
III. Does God Exist?
I was 16 years old and sitting in class when Kenny, to whom I had been witnessing, challenged me this way: “So, you believe God can do anything, right?” “Sure”, I said. “Then answer this: can God make a rock so big that he can’t move it?”
I did not know how to respond. Something about his smug challenge did not sound right, but it seemed like I was in a dilemma, so I did not answer him. But I did promise to check out his question. Thus began a lifelong interest for me in the area of apologetics.
Fast forward to my first year in seminary. I was working security in an office tower in downtown Fort Worth on the evening shift and another guard in the building and I had begun talking about the gospel. He was a student at a fundamentalist college in the area and he warned me about another guard who was an atheist. He told me not to speak with him because he was a committed atheist. Of course I immediately went to talk with him. I was able to answer some of his tough challenges about my faith and by the end of our talking over a few days he moved from being a hard core atheist to being a squishy agnostic. He said I was the first Christian he had ever talked with who was able to answer some of his questions about the existence of God.
When you look at the first verse of the Bible God is the subject and main actor. God is assumed from the first verse on. The Bible never attempts to prove that God exists, but, as we read in Psalm 14 earlier, those who do not believe in God are put to scorn. It is fairly common in the OT for the Lord to contrast himself with the false gods. I am not sure those incidents quite meet the definition of proving the existence of God. I think that perhaps even if you tried to prove God to the ancient Hebrews they would laugh. Doubting God’s existence, and then seeking to prove it, may even be a peculiarly Western concept.
A. Should You Try To Prove There Is A God?
1Peter 3:15,16, that we read a couple of weeks ago, reads “…always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience…” Well I doubt that Peter had in mind the classical proofs of God when he wrote this, but I believe the principle teaching of this verse would certainly allow for that kind of defense. Similarly, Paul uses natural theology in Romans 1 to show that all men are guilty of suppressing the truth about God. There is evidence for God in nature, history, and in logic that, while not enough to save anyone, is clearly enough to condemn them. I believe the very point of natural theology is that God is provable and therefore we all stand condemned in our sin and we have no defense. We cannot say, I never knew, You never gave me enough proof of Your existence.
I am very well aware that there are those who would seriously disagree with me and who are opposed to the very idea of apologetics. Their response to the same kind of questions I have received through the years is to simply quote scripture and pray. I cannot argue against scripture and praying, those are certainly the key, but I also believe that we are called to destroy the philosophical foundations of the false gods of our day, the vain philosophies of man, that people cower behind when confronted with the Word of God.
So, back to Genesis. Our post-modern, post-Christian world does not believe in the God of creation. How do we take Gen. 1:1 and answer that kind of challenge?
B. Can You Prove There Is A God?
1. Back to my high school class and dealing with Kenny’s question. Can God make a rock so big that he cannot throw it? Our verse, Gen.1:1 makes some important assumptions right from the start that are proven throughout Scripture. The first assumption is The Law of Non-Contradiction. Has anyone heard of this before? What is this law?
RC Sproul writes in Defending Your Faith, Crossway Books: Wheaton, 2003 (p.31): “…the Scriptures tacitly assume the validity of the Law of Non-Conradiction, which can be summed up in the following proposition: A cannot be A and non-A at the same time and in the same sense of relationship….The Scriptures assume that there is a discernable difference between truth and lie, between righteousness and unrighteousness, between obedience and disobedience.”
My friend Kenny was essentially making a nonsense statement, violating the law of non-contradiction, by positing an irresistible force meeting an unmovable object. To answer Kenny’s point I would now say that God can do anything that does not violate his nature and is not inherently contradictory. God cannot lie, or do evil, or create something more powerful than himself.
2. The second law we can see assumed and even demonstrated in Gen. 1:1 is the Law of Causality, which basically says that every effect must have a cause. The universe is pretty big; it must have a sufficient cause. Gen. 1:1 gives us that cause. In this fundamental law of logic we can develop what is called the cosmological proof for God. Here we find an answer to one of our crucial questions: Why is there something instead of nothing? As we look around us we see things that are amazing and beautiful; and we look for the causes of these things. We study biology and see the reproduction cycle of animals and plants. We study geology and see the causes of rock formations and mountains. We study meteorology and see the causes of the weather patterns. But we very quickly realize that we cannot have an infinite series of causes for the world and the universe. You cannot have infinity behind us or you would never reach the present moment in time. Time itself must have had a beginning, a cause. The very phrase from our verse speaks to this, “In the beginning…” Folks what we see around us had a beginning. It is all caused. Aristotle spoke of the uncaused Cause, the First Cause. There has to be a Prime Mover who starts everything else but who is unmoved himself, uncaused, eternal and powerful enough to cause the universe. A supreme being is therefore absolutely necessary in order to even ask the question: Why is there something instead of nothing? In Exodus 3:14 God reveals his covenant name, YHWH, I Am Who I Am. This is the Hebrew root word for To Be. God’s name curiously meets the definition of the necessary being, the uncaused cause.
Today in science there are those who will say that the universe is self=caused. This is a nonsense statement that violates the law of non-contradiction. In order for the universe to be self caused it would have to “be” and “not be” at the same time and in the same relationship. An uncaused Cause is necessary and unavoidable. Many will try to tell you that the universe was created by “Chance”. But the word “Chance” is really a mathematical word describing probability and has no causative powers; it is simply descriptive. You have a coin and toss it into the air, it has a 50/50 chance of landing heads. But chance does not cause it to land on heads. Chance cannot create the universe.
3. The third law we are confronted with, that is assumed in Scripture, is that our sense perception is basically trustworthy. What we see is, generally speaking, real and true. Of course our senses can be deceived, they are not perfect. But in Gen. 1:31, after creating man in His own image, God’s summary statement is “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.”
Clearly this speaks to the doctrine of natural revelation. What we see around us with our senses, using the science that God blessed Adam with in the Garden of Eden when he was told to tend the Garden and name the animals, both are scientific endeavors, is that our senses are considered by God to be reliable enough to discern truth about Him in nature. When Jesus appeared to his disciples and Thomas the doubter was there, he told Thomas to “put your finger here, and see…” On another occasion he ate breakfast with Peter demonstrating he had a real physical body.
4. The fourth principle is the analogical use of language. There are those who would say that God is wholly other, completely transcendent and therefore unknowable by mere men. They say that all “god-talk” is simply a reflection of our inner feelings only. But once again Genesis 1 comes to our rescue for in verse 26-27 we see that God creates man in His own image. Combine this with the NT doctrine of the Incarnation and the two natures of Christ and you get an overwhelming defeat for those who say we cannot truly know anything about God. God created us for himself, to know him and love him forever. Language is adequate to deliver enough information about God for us to know him truly, not comprehensive, not the totality of God for he is infinite and we are finite, but we can know him truly.
Sproul writes (p.69): “Virtually every attack against theism (Gen.1:1) involves a rejection of one or more of the 4 basic necessary principles for human knowledge> 1) the law of noncontradiction, 2) the law of causality, 3) the basic reliability of sense perception, 4) the adequacy of human language to communicate. All four of these principles are assumed throughout the Bible. They are also assumed in the scientific method. They are all necessary instruments for knowledge- indeed for all science. All denials of these basic principles are forced and temporary.”
5. The Ontological Argument comes from the medieval scholar Anselm and goes like this: “God is that than which no greater can be thought, and he must, therefore, exist, for otherwise he would not be that than which no greater can be thought. In other words, God alone is the greatest conceivable being in the universe. Which is greater: to exist as an idea in the mind only or to exist in reality? And if existence in reality is greater, which is greater: to exist necessarily or to exist unnecessarily?” (Sproul. P.94).
6. The Teleological Argument of Design tells us that when we see something that is beautiful, that is complex, that functions and has a purpose, we can assume that it has a designer. Design is not accidental, but intentional. William Paley in the early 19th century came up with the watchmaker analogy that says if you were walking on the beach and found a watch you would assume there is a watchmaker because the watch is complex, functional and shows intelligent design.
The Intelligent Design movement today is catching on in a big way because their case is so hard for the atheists to rebut. Combine this with some Laws of Physics like the Second Law of Thermodynamics that says entropy is increasing, the universe is cooling down and spreading out and you get an overwhelming case for Design.
Next add the anthropic principle and the fine tuning of the universe and the case for design is sealed. This principle shows scientifically that the universe is so finely tuned for life, for human life, that the probabilities of it occurring accidentally are for all practical considerations, impossible. This again points us to our verse, Gen.1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
7. The moral argument for God tells us that we all have a sense of oughtness. We have a conscience and a sense of justice that screams when we are victimized. We all feel guilt when we violate the law which we know to be true. Our feelings of justice and of guilt in this life lead us to know that there must be some ultimate justice and Truth out there somewhere after we die. There must be a perfect judge who knows all and has all power and is holy. And of course in our study of Genesis we will come to chapter 2-3 which presents to us God’s law and man’s sin and the consequences thereof.
8. In conclusion then, I believe that within these opening words and verses and chapters of Genesis, we see traces of all the various proofs for the existence of God. Obviously these formal proofs are not explicitly taught in the Scriptures, but the laws are used and the proofs are implied.