Explore God – Is There A God? by John Burke

Explore God is a citywide conversation in Austin. No matter where you come from, what your beliefs are, Explore God is an experience that will help you on your journey  through life as you search for meaning.
Join us on Sundays at Gateway at one of the following locations:
  • McNeil Campus (7104 McNeil Dr 78729) at 9:30am, 11am, or 12:30pm
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  • South Campus (Crockett High School – Manchaca and Stassney just south of Ben White Blvd)
This week, John Burke spoke on the topic: “Is There A God?”
Here are some of the ideas he shared:

Today we’re tackling the question “Is there a God?”

To frame the question—I’d like you to do a thought experiment.  Imagine you are God. Your will is supreme. You know what’s best, and the universe is supposed to go your way all the time. Imagine you create a world of 2 dimensional people. They can move forward and back, side to side, but they can’t move up or down. There is no “Up or Down” in their world because they have no 3rd dimension. As a 3 Dimensional God, you can be closer to them than any 2 D creature. You are with them all the time, but they’d have no idea where you are. You could do the miraculous–you could appear as a 2 Dimensional slice by intersecting their world. You could miraculously come and go from your 3rd dimension. Imagine if you revealed three fingers to them: they would see you as three separate slices. Can you imagine the confusion if you told them, I’m actually not 3 but One Being revealed in 3 slices. That’s a 2 dimensional Paradox, 3 slices can’t be One, impossible in 2D. Here’s the main thing I want you to see- there’s NO WAY for these 2 dimensional Creatures to find you by observing their world (what we call science). They may be able to see your fingerprints in their 2D world and posit a Creator beyond 2 Dimensions, but they will never find you or know anything about you unless you choose to reveal yourself by intersecting their world since you exist in a higher dimension of time and space.

This is very important to understand as we ask the 2nd Question in our Explore God series, “Is there a God?” Last week I interviewed Dr. Walter Bradley, author of The Mystery of Life’s Origin, and we talked about how science cannot prove or disprove God’s existence. By making observations through science and our universal human experience, we can see what appear to be God’s fingerprints. Here are a few:

1. The Big Bang points to God.

In 1992 George Smoot, a Berkley astronomer reported the findings of the COBE satellite background radiation which confirmed the Big Bang and said: “We have found evidence for the birth of the universe.  It’s like looking at God.”

As a result, there was a mass turning of many astrophysicists to belief in God’s existence. Why was this evidence of God’s existence? Because what was confirmed is that all space, matter, energy and even time (all the dimensions we live in) came into being from a near infinitesimal dot.  As Steven Hawking explained: Time and space had a beginning, which means The Creator must exist beyond our 4 dimensions of time and space. The Creator must be One Uncaused, Infinite, Eternal Being. Of all the creation stories of history, the Jewish account of creation is the only one that has God not subject to length, height, width or time as the Creator of the universe must be.

2. The Mathematical fine tuning of nature is also evidence. Evolution’s best evidence shows direction not randomness which indicates intelligence directing it toward an outcome.  Even astrophysics shows how all of nature’s constants are tuned like a giant piano. If varied plus or minus a few percent, human life could not exist. Cambridge Physicist Paul Davies says: “It is hard to resist the impression that the present structure of the universe, apparently so sensitive to minor alterations in the numbers, has been rather carefully thought out…the seemingly miraculous concurrence of numerical values that nature has assigned to her fundamental constants must remain the most compelling evidence for an element of cosmic design.” 

Why?  Because the odds of all the fundamental constants of nature being finely tuned like a piano by accident takes more faith to believe than to say that the universe was created by an Intelligent Being.  To say it happened by chance is nearly blind faith in the God of chance.

3. There are all those things universal to humanity. The longing for meaning, purpose, love, justice that make life worth living would mean nothing at all unless there’s a God and a life beyond the grave that makes it all matter.

The problem is we’re just like those 2D creatures of Flatland. Unless God chooses to intersect our world in history – in time and space – we can never go find God who exists outside our 4 dimensions. So as we ask “Is There a God?” What we really need to ask is “Has God revealed himself?” Is there any evidence, looking across human religious history, that this One, Infinite, Uncaused Cause revealed anything?

This is the quest Mortimer Adler took on. Dr. Mortimer Adler was a philosophy professor at the University of North Carolina at and University of Chicago. He was not just any philosopher. He was the Director of the Institute for Philosophical Research, Editor of the Encyclopedia Britannica, and author of 60 books.  Time Magazine called him “America’s Philosopher for everyman.” Dr. Adler was a self-avowed pagan/agnostic for most of his life, but in his latter days he began to explore religion to see if there was any truth in it. He wrote 2 books How to think about God: A 20th Century Guide for Pagans and Truth in Religion. I don’t agree with everything, but he is a mind worth considering.  The preface of Truth in Religion says, “I must caution the reader that I have written this book as a philosopher and not as a communicant of one of the world’s Great Religions…so it attempts to clarify the problem of truth in religion, but it does not attempt to solve it.”

Adler first addresses what he considers a real problem in our culture: a misunderstanding between what it means to be tolerant and what it means to disagree. Tolerance is a good thing when it comes to differences in people, in tastes, or preferences. We should be tolerant of others’ opinions and even beliefs that differ from ours. Tolerance and respect of differences is good, but this doesn’t mean we have to agree that everything you think or I think is true. Adler says: In matters of taste, tolerance; but in matters of truth disagreements actually help us test what is true, because humans are fallible. This is why we get second opinions before surgery. We encourage dialogue in Explore God groups so we can learn together.

Say I’m buying a used car. I like black cars, and you like red cars. For you to try to convince me that red cars are the right cars for everyone is ludicrous.  There is no right or wrong color. It’s a preference thing. But if we’re talking about safe, reliable used cars, and I insist that the best car for the money is the Ford Pinto – the car that blows up when rear-ended. If I said, “I can get a Pinto for $500 dollars with under 20,000 miles—what a great deal.”  Is it intolerant of my faith in the Pinto if you said: “Don’t entrust your life and kids to a Pinto! They’re not safe! They blow up when rear-ended!” Would you be a mean and intolerant person because you didn’t agree with me? Of course not. You would be caring about me. Now, if you call me stupid and attack my character or intelligence then it’s not motivated by love but by your need to be right.

Adler points out that some truths are transcultural. For instance, technology and the truth found in mathematics and science works in a system of Eastern thought and Western thought. The question is: where does faith fit – in the category of preference or truth? My guess is that most people these days think it’s more like a preference thing – whichever makes you happy.

Adler says if there is a Creator, then the truth about God must be transcultural. So that needs to be our guiding question: not “Which religion do I prefer?” or even “Which religion is right?” but the ultimate question is “Has God revealed Himself and what does God want?” If there is a God, that is the ultimate question, and the place to begin searching would be the claims of our world religions.

So what do the religions of the world claim? There’s so much confusion out there and very few people really take the time to search and read. Now, the word on the street says all religions basically say the same thing. There’s wisdom to be found in all the world’s religions. I think that’s partially right, and I find many Christians often misunderstand this claim. Adler says: “There is a common core of sound morality and prescriptive truth in all or most of the major religions.”  

Many Christians don’t realize this even though it is revealed in the Bible. Scripture tells us that God has written His moral law in our hearts Even when Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, instinctively follow what the law says, they show that in their hearts they know right from wrong. They demonstrate that God’s law is written within them.”  Romans 2:14-15

If this is true and there’s a Moral Law Giver then that would explain the amazing similarities we see throughout every culture and religion. In most all of the major world religions, we see evidence of this similar moral law that God has written in our hearts. In fact, here’s a summary of what they all say morally (as summarized in C.S. Lewis’ “Abolition of Man.”):

  1. Don’t do harm to another human by what you do or say (the Golden Rule)
  2. Honor your father and mother
  3. Be kind toward brothers and sisters, children, and the elderly
  4. Do not have sex with another person’s spouse
  5. Be honest in all your dealings (don’t steal)
  6. Do not lie
  7. Care for those weaker or less fortunate
  8. Dying to self is the path to life

So we all basically agree on what’s right and wrong: what God has written in our hearts. Since we’ve all known it, how have we done at keeping our religions laws?

1. Don’t do harm in word or deed.
Have people been pretty nice? They don’t pick on each other on the playground, and they don’t talk bad or gossip about others or think hateful thoughts or say hurtful words? What do you think?  We do most of that in our marriages, with those we love most!

2. Honor your father and mother.
So let’s just ask ourselves and assume we’re better than most (which most of us do anyway): how have you done? Have we always shown respect, done what parents wanted, and held a grateful attitude since they gave you life?  Were you Leave it to Beaver or Leave it to Bevis?

3. Be kind toward brothers, sisters, children, elderly.
Let’s start with brothers and sisters? NO, Let’s just skip that one. How about children? This is a sad one. Over ¼ of children get sexually abused (probably higher for all types of abuse). Around the globe, children are cheap labor in sweatshops.  The elderly—don’t ask them how cared for they feel!  How we doing here?

3. Don’t have sex with another person’s spouse.
People are sexually monogamous—right?  We don’t have any sexually transmitted disease problems globally, do we?  Some say up to 40% of our culture has committed adultery.  What do you think? Doing well on this one or another one we’ve messed up?

4. Be honest in your dealings.
We’re still reeling from the effects of corporate dishonesty which keeps crashing our economy. How many of us have never fudged the truth to do a deal, or to get out of paying taxes? So how are we doing on this one?

5. Don’t lie.
Remember the first time you got caught doing something wrong? How did your respond? You lied, didn’t you? Kids are horrible at it. It shows all over their face! Thank goodness we grow up, mature, and learn to hide it better. 🙂

6. Care for the weaker or the less fortunate.
If the nations spent the same money solving hunger that we spend on preparing to harm each other, we could pay to solve the poverty problem. But money’s not the problem. All these other things are, especially this one.

7. Dying to self is the path to life.
Isn’t self-centeredness the root of so many of our problems?  We think of self before we think of God or others.

So what do the world’s religions teach all of us?  I’m a mess, you’re a mess, and the whole world’s a mess! We all know the right things to do, but the history of humanity is that we fall short! We all desperately need God’s help!

So, has God revealed himself? If you read the sacred texts of the major world’s religions and take them at face value at their word, most do not claim that God has revealed himself or a solution to the human dilemma in actual history.

Dr. Adler discovered this same thing, “Only three religions claim to have a supernatural foundation to be found in a sacred scripture that purports [claims] to be a divine revelation. The three religions distinguished by this claim are Judaism, Christianity, and the religion of Islam. Among the other religions…only some claim to have logical and factual truth, but the truth they claim to have is of human, not divine, origin.”

What Adler, as an agnostic philosopher discovered is that if you just read the sacred texts of the world religions, only 3 even claim that the Uncaused, Infinite Creator God has revealed himself or his will directly in history:  Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The others claim to be wise human solutions to the problems humans face, or they are devotional poems and songs and stories about gods and goddesses but do not factually claim God revealed himself in actual history.

What’s fascinating is that all 3 speak of a Messiah who would reveal the unseen God. The 39 books of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Christian Old Testament) was written over a 1500 year period and claimed that God has been revealing himself and his will to prophets. These prophets left over 60 prophecies foretelling specific, verifiable things so we would know when and where God would reveal Himself as a 3D slice in this human Messiah. Here are a few examples:

Place of Birth:  “O Bethlehem, you are but a small Judean village, yet you will be the birthplace of my King who is alive from everlasting ages past.”  Micah 5:2, 700 B.C.E

He Will Live in Galilee – a Man, yet Divine “But in the future [God] will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan–The people walking in darkness have seen a great light…for to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  Isaiah 9:1-2, 6,  680 B.C.

Time & Place of His DeathThe Anointed One [Messiah] will be killed, appearing to have accomplished nothing, and a ruler will arise whose armies will destroy the city [Jerusalem] and the Temple.”  Daniel 9:25-26, 535 B.C.E. 

We’ll look more at this in weeks to come, but this is very real history. The Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple in 70A.D.. This says the Messiah will come and be killed in Jerusalem right before that.

He Will Die for Our Sins“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities.  He was beaten that we might have peace; he was lashed—and we were healed!  Every one of us, like sheep, have gone astray.  We have left God’s path to follow our own way.  Yet God laid on him the guilt and sins of us all.”  Isaiah 53: 5-6 680 B.C.E.

The Christian faith accepts the 39 books of the Hebrew Scriptures, and includes the 27 books of the New Testament which were written by multiple eyewitnesses who claimed Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, did things only God could do, was crucified, rose from the dead as proof he has the ability to bring all people of all religions and nations back into right relationship with God.

Islam also claims Jesus was the Messiah who was sent from God, but there’s one crucial difference. Let me read straight from the Koran. “They denied the truth and uttered a monstrous falsehood against Mary.  They declared:  ‘We have put to death the Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary, the apostle of God.’  They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but they thought they did.”—Koran 4:157 

All agree there’s only one Creator God, but one major difference is that Mohammed claims Jesus was not crucified.  How does he know?  He claims an angel told him. We will look at what history outside the Bible says in a few weeks.

So has God revealed himself? A good place to start is to figure out what you think about Jesus.

Now, I know I have not fairly represented all the beliefs of adherents to other religions. It is really hard to do in 30 minutes. Some of you may say: “This is exactly the problem with all religions. You think you’re right. Muslims think they’re right. Hindus and Sikhs think they’re right. Look at all the fighting and wars! Religion is the problem!”

I agree. People use God and religion to justify self-centered ends. Arrogant religious people crucified Jesus. But to say religion causes the problems is like saying “noses cause all human problems because everywhere you find human problems, you find noses.” Religion isn’t the problem. Humans are the problem. We’re all wrong, and we all desperately need God, but we often use God to get our will done. This is a problem. Here’s what I think the Bible teaches: we’re all wrong, and we all need God.

God doesn’t care about religion. He cares about your heart.  “For the eyes of the Lord search back and forth across the whole earth, looking for people whose hearts are fully committed to him, so that he can show his great power in helping them.”  2 Chronicles 16:9

God searches the hearts of all people everywhere. He is incredibly patient will all our garbage and is looking for those who truly want to find God. He is willing to forgive them because of what he did in Christ. If you’ll stay open minded, I think you’ll see God is real and so is His love for you. There’s nothing better than knowing you’re at peace and loved and secure with the Creator of your soul.

By the way, after 90 years as an agnostic, Dr. Adler chose to follow Jesus.

So, what is your next step to determine if there is a God?

If you say you believe in God, are you living as if you trust Him?

In what way(s) does God want you to trust Him more?

To watch the entire message, go to www.gatewaychurch.com/podcast.

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