24/05/2018 | 15:00
Episode 162 - Why Is God Necessary?
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Audio Transcript We talk about all sorts of topics. Some of them are more theological; some of them are more practical or cultural engagement-focused; and some are more philosophical. Growing up, I didn't know what philosophy was. I thought it was weird, which is kind of weird to think something is weird and not actually know what it was, but I didn't know much about it.
Later on in life, as I learned more about philosophy, I realized that everyone has a philosophical system. It's just something that they're most likely not aware of, and those are the most dangerous kinds of lenses that we have. Because you see, how you understand the world, the philosophy that you bring to it, your worldview, does affect how you see everything else. It affects what you think is wrong and right. It affects how you understand science. There's actually a Christian understanding of science and how the world works. It is different than a non-Christian understanding, or at least it should be.
So as Christians, while we might not naturally take to philosophy, while we might not naturally like it, it is something we need to spend some time thinking about. Paul actually gives evidence about the fact that philosophy is important in scripture. He talks about tearing down arguments that are raised up against Christ, of any type of philosophy that would be contrary to the gospel, that would undermine the gospel. So there is a Christian way to do philosophy and there are many non-Christian ways of doing philosophy.
And one of the most basic questions we can talk about in Christian philosophy is the necessity of God. Is God actually necessary? Because you see, what I fear is that many people, perhaps, are like I used to be. They think God is important-The Bible tells us about God-But that he very well might not need to exist in the daily actions of the world. Or maybe some people have a view of God maybe like the deists or Thomas Jefferson, where, yes, there is one God, he created everything, and he's just totally hands off. He wound up the world like a clock. It continues to run by natural laws, and that's just practically how many people end up thinking about God.
But you see, what I want to show you today is that God is actually necessary in the details, in every single moment, and in the movement of every single atom and electron. So strap on your seat belts; today we're gonna talk about philosophy.
And one of the first things we have to talk about when we talk about the necessity of God is the difference in one God or in many gods. There is a huge difference between believing there is one God and believing there are many gods. On the biblical view, there is one God. "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one." Jesus affirms that there is one God. There are over 20 references in the Bible to the fact that there is one God. I think of Isaiah, which says that there are no gods before me, the Lord says, and there will be none after me. In fact, there is only one God. That's the straightforward conclusion from that passage.
But we could also arrive at that conclusion differently, because God is said to be all-powerful. He knows everything. And how could there be more than one all-powerful being? You couldn't be all-powerful if there were another being as powerful as you because you would have a collision of sorts. How could you be all-knowing if there was another being who could do things that are beyond your control? You couldn't know what they were gonna do. You couldn't control what they were going to do. Further, the biblical idea of God is that God is eternal. There has never been a time when the one God did not exist. And so if there were multiple gods, are they all eternal? And how does that work? How do you have multiple eternal beings that were never created?
But see, many religious systems actually have a view where there are more gods over time. So some gods became god at some point. But isn't that interesting, because to become god, that would mean that at some point you were not god. You were less than. And God is not just kind of an achievement someone reaches. God is actually a divine type of being. He's not a creature. He's not a created thing. On any other view where something or someone can become god, that thing has been created. That's a very huge difference. One that is uncreated, which is the biblical God, or one that is created, which is not the biblical god. And if God could come in existence, start as a lesser type of being, and then become God, he would have most likely and assuredly have sinned at some point, so you would actually end up with a god who had sinned. And that's a huge problem biblically, especially when we talk about the moral perfection of God. It's just who he is. It's not a moral attribute that gets added to someone where they somehow become morally perfect where they then become God. The fact is that God by his very nature, his very constitution, is pure and holy and good.
So there can be no evil there. God doesn't have that type of capability. And it's not, like I said last week, an attribute that can be added to God. It's just who he is. He's not made up of parts. His attributes aren't external to him where he has a little bit of goodness added, a little bit of all-powerfulness. It was just fundamentally who he is. You can't divide God into parts.
The idea where you can have a being that could become god, or where there would be multiple gods, I hope what you're starting to see is that's a very different type of conception of god. You're contrasting the eternal, all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing God with a type of god who would not be all-powerful, would not have had to be all-knowing, and in fact could have come into creation at some point in time. Those are very different conceptions.
God is necessary for the continued existence of everything But more than that, let's look at what Colossians 1 has to say. This is Paul talking about the image of the invisible God, of Jesus Christ. And what he is saying is that Jesus is the image of the invisible God. He's the firstborn over all creation. Now, this word, “firstborn”, "prototokos," in the Greek, does not mean actually "born," it means "preeminent one."
"For all things in heaven and earth were created in him. All things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him."
Everything that exists in the world was created through Jesus. Jesus created everything that exists. So Jesus cannot also have been a created being.
And they were created for him, not just to exist, but actually for his pleasure and for his glory. And Paul goes on in verse 17 to say, "He himself," that being Jesus, "is before all things, and all things are held together in him." They subsist in him. They find their continuity in him. They actually exist because of him. And this is a profoundly radical philosophical claim, that everything exists and continues to exist only because Jesus holds it together.
So why is the earth still in its orbit around the sun? Because Jesus sustains it in that orbit actively. Why is a certain electron in one place and not in another? Because Jesus sustained it and willed it to go in that position instead of in another position.
And you may be thinking, what about natural laws? Well, there are no such things as natural laws that prescribe where something has to go or how a physical object moves in relationship to a physical object. From a Christian point of view, physical laws are just descriptions of how God has historically and consistently sustained creation. Creation doesn't exist or move apart from the will of God. In fact, this verse here should force us to look at science in a totally different way, that God is not just necessary because he created everything, and we'll talk about that in a minute, but because actually everything is sustained in him. It exists only because he continues to will it. If he removed his sustaining influence, it would cease to exist. If he wanted to sustain creation in a different way, then what we call physical laws would end up behaving differently. The only reason there is uniformity in the world is because God sustains it that way.
So there aren't these natural laws that exist separate from God that govern how the world works. What we call natural laws is just the pattern of God governing the world. I remember the first time I realized this. It was like my eyes were opened to the world in a totally different way. It was similar to when I learned physics in high school, and I actually understood and had equations to model everyday experiences, like a car going on the off ramp and there's a certain angle of the off ramp onto the interstate and that's based on the amount of friction between your tires and the road and the speed you're going, and so we have this angle to allow you to go faster and not fly off the ramp. And there are equations that govern this.
My point is that when I took physics, I felt like I was given a vocabulary to understand the physical world because of these equations. And those equations are certainly true in some ways. They do reflect how the world works. But when I understood creation from God's perspective here, I felt like I saw the world in a whole new way. Because far from realizing that God set things up and stepped back and they just kind of moved and he could intervene where he wanted, I understood that God is not removed from creation. He actually is willingly and willfully and continually sustaining it and willing it to exist in the way that it exists such that everything that happens is a part of the will and purpose of God. God is utterly and intimately involved in creation in so many more ways and details than we could ever understand.
Because, like Paul says here, three key things: Jesus created everything—it was created through him—it exists for him, and he sustains it in its very being and in all of its acts. Isn't that a remarkable view? That means that God is necessary, that the world couldn't actually exist apart from him.
God is necessary for there to be something rather than nothing Now, we've talked about the fact that nothing would exist if God did not create it. Everything that begins to exist has a cause. The universe began to exist, therefore the universe must have a cause. So God is actually necessary for the beginning of everything too. Some really smart people have said some really stupid things, like everything could come from nothing with no purpose, with no cause. That just sounds like intellectual suicide, more so than affirming that there is an all-powerful, nonphysical being that created everything. Because the universe did come into being, and things don't come into being from nothing, with no cause or no purpose. That makes no sense.
So God is necessary for the beginning of everything too. We would not be here. There would be no material if it weren't created. Even science points to the fact that the universe had a beginning, before which there was nothing existing that was physical. So where did all the physical stuff come from? God created it. You can't get everything from nothing without a cause, and God is that cause. (Here’s a previous episode on this.)
By now what I hope you're seeing is God is necessary as the first cause of everything, but he's also necessary to sustain everything he created in how it acts and in how it exists. That is really important.
Now, how would that work if there were multiple gods? You'd have to answer the question, if something could become God, was there always a God, or did someone have to become God in order to then be God? And if someone could become God, and before that time there was no God, where did that person come from? Mormonism say that “as man now is, God once was and as God now is, man may be.” In other words, God used to be a man, and current men can become gods. But if God used to be a man, where did that man come from? Where was the first cause? Biblically speaking, everything exists only because of the will of [the one] God. But if you don't start out with an eternal, always-existing God, you have grave problems for explaining how anything else exists. So God is the essential, necessary first cause of the universe. And God sustains everything in being.
God is necessary for morality But more than that, morality. Where would morality come from if God did not exist? Let's just grant, for the sake of argument, that things could exist without God, which makes no sense as we've established. But more than that, where would right and wrong come from? If there is no transcendent moral lawgiver, where would moral laws come from? They would have to be the types of things that are opinion. I make up something and I try to apply it to you, and maybe you don't go along with it and you have your own sense of what right and wrong is. If there's not a lawgiver that sits above everyone in terms of authority, we don't have actual morality. We might make claims that such and such is right and such and such is wrong, but unless there is a transcendent, all-powerful grounding for morality, then there actually isn't such a thing as right and wrong. And because God is perfectly good and holy, he actually is the standard of morality. Morality is grounded in the character of God. That's really important. But how would that work, once again, if God did not always exist? Morality would have had to just exist at some point, or get more refined over time as some being who wasn't always God became more deified, and that just doesn't work either.
Evolution can't account for morality. Evolution codes for survival, not morality. What about social consensus? You might say, "We get together and we decide what's right and wrong." But doesn't that point to the fact that morality can change over time and it's just basically a group's opinion? So there's not actually anything objectively right and wrong about an action; it's just what a bunch of people thought about it. There's no grounding there. If no one thought that rape was wrong on this view, then rape wouldn't be wrong. But on a biblical worldview, rape is always wrong whether anyone knows about it or not because it transgresses the perfect law of God based on his holy character.
There's so much more that we could say here, but I wanted to start you thinking about how God is necessary, not just for the beginning of everything, though he certainly is, but for the sustaining of everything. For the way that things actually continue to exist and move and act. God is willing them in every single point in time to be that way. Jesus holds everything together by his power. And remember, everything was created for him too, so there's an actual application to our lives. We understand that, yes, God is holding us together. He is holding this world in its place and in its orbit, and he is holding me on my sofa as I record this in some very real ways because he is sustaining the physical world. The physical world doesn't exist apart from him.
But I must also remember that I was created for God, for his glory, and that should affect how I live and view my life, how I do science, and it should also force me, in some ways, to learn about things and think about things like philosophy more than I would otherwise, because I need to be equipped to speak to and confront the ideas that actually conflict with biblical ideas and philosophy. Ultimately the God who created everything is the God that calls man to account. And so God is also necessary for man's salvation. So God had to exist in order for there to be anything; he has to exist for there to continue to be things; he has to exist for there to be morality; and since we have broken and transgressed his standard of right and wrong, he is necessary (but in a different way) for our salvation, that we repent of our sins and trust in him.
So all of this fits together. God is necessary. And remember, there is a big difference in one God and many gods, in a supposed god that became god, and a God that has always been God. So hopefully you have some categories to begin thinking through things along those lines.
I'll talk with you next week on Unapologetic.
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