People of all ages have lingering questions that have occupied and troubled the greatest minds of each generation. Most of the challenging philosophical conundrums are usually the exclusive domain of philosophers – but not these three questions. Both the philosophically adept and the philosophically untrained have a right to feel a vested interest in how these questions might be answered. Indeed, how we answer them has an immediate and potentially fatal bearing on how we view ourselves and those around us. And it is here we begin to question.
People may be inclined to acknowledge that God is the best explanation for answering the first question, but then they doubt this when they consider the prevalence of evil in the world. How could there be a good, all-powerful, loving God who allows there to be evil in the world? It is evil when someone we love is mowed down by a stupefied drunk driver. It is evil when a woman is raped. It is evil when people are robbed and then murdered. And it is particularly evil when it directly affects us!
How can we naturalistically explain malicious evil perpetrated by one human being on another especially when it has no advantage or bearing on their own survival?
There is also the universal problem of the misery caused by suffering from what we often call natural evil. This is when natural elements (the weather, water bodies, or geological structures) are the means of human suffering. Tornadoes, floods, fires, earthquakes, tsunamis, sink-holes and storms have inflicted their fatal worse on mankind down through the ages. Don’t these things lend weight to the atheist’s argument that life is just random and human-beings are merely the product of blind chance not some special creation by a good, all-powerful, and loving Supreme Being? In the meantime it raises questions each one of us asks.
We will all be effected by tragedy. And it is the common experience of all humans to grasp for hope and answers during such times. If we are merely DNA machines then why does loss through tragedy impact us so terribly? There is something within each of us that strives to make sense of tragedy. We look for some redemptive element in the midst of our tragedy. It is a part of being human.
If tragedy befalls us all and there is no purpose for it, or no higher meaning behind it, then what hope have we for the future? How can we do anything but despair? While atheism attempts to answer the first of mankind’s questions, it is mysticism that attempts to answer this second question.
Mysticism is the practise of certain spiritual activities which are based on certain beliefs about the world that are designed to help a human being transcend the mundane. Most of the world’s religions have mystical elements to them. But there is a type of mysticism which claims affiliation with no particular religion. And perhaps ironically, one of these forms of mysticism is grounded in atheism. In recent times, Eckhart Tolle is one of the highest profiled mystics of this genre. How does he account for tragedy and suffering? He asserts that the only reason we experience such grief is because we either live in the past and therefore remember with pain, or we hope for the future to be better and therefore in both instances fail to live in the now. By living in the now we can’t feel the pain of past loss, or feel the regret of future joys now unattainable. The past has gone and is now just an illusion. The future hasn’t yet been and is equally just an illusion. The only thing that is real, is the now.
“Time isn’t precious at all, because it is an illusion. What you perceive as precious is not time but the one point that is out of time: the Now. That is precious indeed. The more you are focused on time—past and future—the more you miss the Now, the most precious thing there is.”
― Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment
But one of the biggest problems with this form of atheistic mysticism is that it doesn’t correspond to reality. The past isn’t an illusion – it’s comprised of real events. These real events actually took place! When we feel pain from the loss of a loved one, it is an exercise in delusion to believe that that loved one never existed!
Mankind is fascinated with God. This fascination causes us to wonder whether there really is a God and if there is, can anyone really know this for certain? Therefore, Who is God? often begins with the question-
People have variously answered this question with the utterly dismal, “No one can know if there is a God or not”, or as if there is no way to objectively know – but with a hunch there might be, “Believing there is a God is a matter of faith because you cannot prove it either way”, and still others have found that the evidence for God’s existence rests not on just one thing but on a cumulative case from various disciplines. It is this latter approach that we will now explore.
It is said that whoever defines the words used in a debate will win the debate. For many people the debate over God’s existence has had its terms defined by those who deny God’s existence. For example, “faith” is defined as irrational beliefs held despite evidence to the contrary. But this is not what faith means! Faith is akin to trust. It is not despite the evidence, it is based on the evidence. Thus, we believe something because we have good reasons to do so. We find the case for a claim to be compelling if it is beyond reasonable doubt. That is, it is not necessary for there to be absolute certainty as long as there is reasonable certainty. Courts of Law operate on this principle with nearly every decision they arrive at.
(i) The Universe had a beginning: This beginning is referred to as the “Big Bang” and the Big Bang requires a ‘Big Banger’. Since no effect can be greater than its cause, the ‘Big Banger’ must be greater in every way to the effects of the Big Bang which was the moment for the beginning of all energy, space, time and matter. This means that the Cause of the Big Bang must be: omnipotent, omnipresent, eternal, and immaterial. (These are the essential attributes of God.)
(ii) The Universe displays complex and detailed design: Such design requires a Designer with an intellect for immense complexity (omniscience). Omniscience is an essential attribute of God.
(iii) The Universe is subject to laws, especially the Moral Law: Where there is a Law, there must be a Law Maker. Moral perfection is called holy. God is essentially holy.
(iv) The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: Jesus Christ based His claims to be God on His resurrection from dead: His physical resurrection from the dead is historically demonstrable beyond all reasonable doubt.
(v) The claims about the God of the Bible can be tested: scientifically, historically, experientially, prophetically. The Bible makes certain scientific claims about God as Creator, Sustainer, and (Physical) Law-giver. We can scientifically verify that there was a ‘creation moment’ which demands the existence of a creator. The Bible also makes certain experiential claims about the God of the Bible such as abiding peace through being reconciled to Him through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This claim has been verified by billions of people. The Bible makes certain emphatic prophecies which can also be tested and subsequently verified in the light of history.
Asked another way, this question might be phrased, How did the eternal God begin? In other words, the question doesn’t quite make sense. Eternal is an exclusive attribute of God – and it necessarily means uncreated and always existing. It’s like asking How much does the colour blue weigh? The question doesn’t correspond to the subject. We know that the Universe had a beginning and that the cause of the Universe had to be greater than its effect. Since the beginning of the Universe also marked the beginning of time, whatever caused the Universe and therefore time to commence must be eternal.
We can deduce many of God’s attributes from the ‘book of Nature’. These include, He is omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, eternal, benevolent, and holy. And just as a piece of art reveals much about the artist, we can see from God’s artistic canvas (the Universe) that He is ordered, beautiful, glorious, and considerate. He has provided mankind not just the minimum resources to exist, but abundant resources to thrive. He has not just made provision for our material supplies, but has provided emotional, psychological, intellectual, and social stimulus for us also.
The quest to connect with God is generally considered to be the core activity of religion. It would be easy, therefore, to consider any religious activity to serve this end and thereby be virtuous. Most religions include ceremonies, rituals and priestly services which are designed to remove the guilt and shame which impedes a human being from connecting with God. These practices can be very psychologically satisfying. They may even be spiritually satisfying. But every religion must address the question of authority. Who authorised that these religious practices would indeed absolve a person’s sins?
In a court of Law, the guilty may admit their guilt. They may even acknowledge that they are deserving of the Judge’s verdict: guilty. Yet, they may appeal to the Judge with a list of virtuous and noble achievements they did on the way to the Court Room, and therefore the Judge should acquit them. But who offered these terms of acquittal? The Judge? No. Then based on what authority can the guilty party expect to be acquitted of their guilty deeds if the Judge has neither invited them to present their virtuous and noble achievements nor offered to acquit them at all? And this is the dilemma which every religion faces. In this light, religion is really man’s efforts to reach up to God (the Judge).
Perhaps the value of religion then is not in the merit of ordinary people, but in the priestly work of another? But we immediately face the same difficulty. Who authorised this person to absolve another’s sins? If God didn’t then the claim to priestly powers of absolution of sins, guilt and shame is immediately overturned.
Millions of people have experimented with the claims of various religions and their agents and failed to find peace with God or cleansing for their guilt-stained soul. Despite their passionate devotion, they are dogged with nagging doubts about the truthfulness of the claims of these various religions. Curiously though, it seems all religions have one thing in common: they all acclaim Jesus Christ of Nazareth as a uniquely moral and authoritative person sent by God. Curious.
It seems to be universally acknowledged that Jesus Christ was a unique human being. This acknowledgement extends to the regard He has a great teacher, a wise philosopher, a noble priest, and an impeccably good person. The historical records of His life and teaching, as preserved in the various eye-witness accounts, is established as credible beyond any reasonable denial. It is to this account that we draw Jesus Christ’s answer to mankind’s unanswered questions.
Jesus Christ affirmed that mankind was originally created in the image of God which means that human beings are unique. But He also affirmed that all humans are separated from God by their sin. We are also fallen. This is why He said He was going to offer His life as a sacrificial substitute for all mankind.
¶ The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
It is the fallenness of human beings that lies at the root of human evil and wickedness which causes misery and suffering. Rather than asking- Why does a good, all-powerful and loving God allow evil and suffering, a better question graphically answered by Jesus of Nazareth is- What has God done about evil and suffering? The answer is, He has entered into it and experienced it at its worst. This gave the early followers of Christ, who experienced tremendous evil and suffering, great comfort, knowing that the God they worshiped had both experienced what they were going through and could therefore comfort them, but that He also promised to ultimately vanquish evil and suffering when He finally judged all humanity and the forces of evil.
but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
Jesus Christ claimed to be God in the flesh. He invoked the divine name for Himself. He claimed to have the authority to exercise divine prerogatives such as forgiving sins. He claimed to be without sin. He claimed to have existed before being conceived. He claimed to be the Judge of all mankind. He then claimed to be supreme over every other person and power – including death – when He asserted that He was Lord.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
¶ Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
Jesus Himself is the answer to this lingering universal question of God’s existence and identity. He now invites all people everywhere to come to Him for more than mere answers. He invites us to come to Him for the solution to our greatest need. As Dr. Eugene Peterson translates Christ’s words in Matthew 11-
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Our greatest need is not intellectual. While these three big questions are immensely important to all human beings, compared to our greatest need, they are almost inconsequential. Our greatest need is to to be reconciled to our Creator. But as long as our defiant rebellion toward Him dominates our hearts, this is not possible. The tragedy of such defiance is that it cannot be overlooked and must be brought to justice – which has eternal consequences.
© Dr. Andrew Corbett.
30th September 2015
Mankind’s 3 Greatest Unanswered Questions, Part 1 from Dr Andrew Corbett on Vimeo.