God is…

adfontes

In this day of militant unbelief, it seems that we must first reassert the truth that God is before we can hope to undertake any discussion of what God is. Since there is no better place from which to launch, we begin at the beginning.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” Gen. 1:1

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” Jn 1:1

The Bible doesn’t begin with an argument, it begins with an affirmation. All truth rests on a single basic proposition: God is. This is the fountainhead of all true knowledge and wisdom. This is the bedrock of all true belief. There is no other foundation for epistemological certainty. All of our knowing proceeds from this starting point, it does not precede it.

One age old question has vexed metaphysicians for millennia, namely, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” The ancient Greeks were able to grasp the basic concept ex nihilo nihil fit (out of nothing, nothing comes) with relative humility (granted, all humility is relative when speaking of Parmenides and his lot). But all of the pretended intellectual erudition of modern man notwithstanding, he imagines some sort of cosmic voodoo that allows for just this sort of magic—out of nothing, everything comes. So much for well reasoned conclusions based on observable and replicable hypotheses.

Christianity maintains something much less fanciful; something which also has the benefit of being both explicable and true. In the beginning, before any of that beginning began, God began all the beginning that began to be. He did it through His Word. It is here that the believer must be quite insistent. Chaos doesn’t create and control the Cosmos, the Logos does.

It is precisely at this point that one starts to notice fumes billowing out of the ears of the overheated unbeliever. “Petitio Principii!” they cry. “You are arguing in a circle!” To which we might reply, “Yeah, so what?” This really is more of a Pauline approach to apologetics than it is a sophomoric I-Know-I-Am-But-What-Are-You line of argumentation. Philosopher and apologist Cornelius Van Til once famously noted that when it comes to the matter of ultimate reality, the only alternative to arguing in a circle is arguing in a vicious circle.

It is all very true that the Christian is presupposing an ultimate point of origin. This is not simply because he can, it is because he must. There are at least two reasons why this is the case. There is an ethical reason and there is a logical reason.

The ethical reason finds its impetus in the divine imperative. That is, because we are Christians, we are morally obligated to obey God and His law concerning any and every given subject. Since God rules we get to play the game but we have to play it by His rules. When it comes to our apologetic tasks, God has given us a very clear directive.

The locus classicus for all of our apologetic endeavors is found in Peter’s first epistle.

“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you for a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” 1 Pet. 3:15

Rendered literally, the command is that we must “set God apart as Lord” in our hearts. In essence God is saying, “Start here.” We begin our defense by swearing allegiance to King Jesus. Our apologia is not so much a defense of our faith as it is a defense of our faithfulness to Christ. Our discussions must commence with “Jesus is Lord, therefore…” We do not pivot on our hind-leg and then somehow conclude “…therefore, Jesus is Lord.” Anything less than full-throated support of His lordship is presumption and high defiance. And it is worth mentioning that committing treason is usually not the best way to demonstrate one’s obedience to the King. Since God is, we have no right to behave as though He isn’t.

No Neutral Territory

The usual course that the modern apologist takes in defending his faith is to dismiss this scriptural imperative and act as though there is some sort of “common ground” between the believer and the unbeliever; a parcel of neutral territory. But in reality, as soon as the would-be apologist takes this position he loses the fight. It would be much like the prodigal’s father selling the family farm and moving down to Hog Country. Now there is no longer any place for them to go . I suppose the penitent son could say, “I will arise and stay right where I am” but that lacks a sense of poetry. No, repentance means that he has to go somewhere. So don’t sell out by trying to defend your arguments in the “far country” while standing knee-deep in swine swill.

Allow me to change the metaphor for those more unwieldy souls who would rather fight than farm. No thinking soldier would ever take seriously the invitation to war against an enemy if he was first told that he had to leave his vast arsenal at home and meet his adversary on foreign turf armed only with spit-wads and salad spoons. The wise soldier would understand that to surrender his weapons would be to surrender the war; to concede the high ground would be to concede the battle. And so we must fight God’s battles on God’s terms. And we do it on His turf—all the while acknowledging it as such. Remember how Sun Tzu cautioned would-be warriors in his famous work, The Art of War, “Don’t do stupid stuff and lose before you even get started” (Not really, but it would make for a great addition. However, he did say “The victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory. The clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemy’s will to be imposed on him”).

There is no neutral, common ground because God owns it all. God reigns. As Abraham Kuyper once said, there is not one square inch in His universe over which the Lord does not cry, “Mine.” Where we begin our argumentation exposes where our allegiances lie. Simply put, it is a matter of authority. As Christians, we do not have the right to breathe in His air and breathe out probabilities, uncertainties, and plausibilities concerning His existence. We actually do have prior commitments. We must honor our Father. We must hallow His name. We must take every rebellious thought captive and bring them under the dominion of King Jesus. Our job is to cast down wicked imaginations and every evil idea that exalts itself above our Lord. It is impossible to defend the absolute certainty of the Christian faith by doubting it. Although most modern apologists employ these dubious methods that they learned down at the Neville Chamberlain School of Christian Apologetics, we should not aspire to be among their number. (I hear that they also teach fencing using feather dusters. Parry. Thrust. Curtsy. Retreat.)

Another reason that we cannot capitulate to any supposed neutrality is because the other guy really doesn’t believe in it either. The Christian declares that every portion of the universe belongs to God. All the while the recalcitrant unbeliever fights tooth and claw to maintain his own pretended autonomy. Even if we indubitably demonstrate that God has a rightful claim to every ounce and every inch of this world then we still have to contend with the godless man over the territory that lies behind his eyes and between his ears. He will guard that ground with all of the ferocity of a rabid junkyard dog. And I’ve known several who were given to loud barking and heel-biting.

This is because the unbeliever is not merely in an intellectual stupor; he is in high rebellion. The problem isn’t so much that he doesn’t know God. The problem is that he does know God and he hates the God that he knows is there. In a very real sense there are no true atheists. There are only anti-theists. Consider the inspired words of the Apostle Paul,

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth of God in unrighteousness; because that which may be known of God is manifest (evident) in them; for God hath showed it unto them. For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” Romans 1:18-22

The unbeliever has no excuse and is therefore inexcusable. He is guilty of willfully suppressing the truth of God’s righteous rule over him. This sovereign dominion has been clearly shown to him through the created order. Every looming tree and every rushing stream witnesses against his high-handed unbelief. It would not be surprising in the least if, on the great day of judgment, the Judge of all the earth decided to call daffodils to testify for the prosecution. Every blade of grass would cut the unbeliever’s arguments from beneath his feet. Every gust of wind would blow away his feeble defenses. The burning sun would say, “Every morning I rose to the heights of the heavens, rejoicing as a strong man to run a race. I declared the glory of God in the full light of day for all the world to see. There were none that were hid from my face. I preached the gospel of death and resurrection three hundred and sixty-five times a year. But he would not hear it.” This is not just literary license. The psalmist makes use of the same type of argument in order to bring all men before God’s judgment bar. The whole universe chants the same haunting refrain: “No excuse! No escape! No exceptions!”

In light of such clear (and universal) evidence, the God-rejecting infidel is the very picture of folly. Paul calls the anti-theist a “fool.” This seems to be an echo of the words of the Psalmist,

“The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” Ps. 19:1

When the inspired writers assert that men are fools they do not mean that they have a tough time understanding quantum mechanics or explaining the finer points of the theory of general relativity. The category is not an intellectual one at all. Their folly is not a head problem; it’s a heart problem. If one carefully reads the rest of the Psalm quoted above, one will quickly see that folly is a synonym for moral corruption; the kind of corruption that sets men against their Maker and renders them incapable of seeking God. They are not neutral in any meaningful sense of the word. Therefore, the Christian cannot suppose that if he just goes out there and presents a good version of the ontological argument, with a handshake and a smile, that the anti-theist will suddenly throw up his hands and start singing, “Jesus is the Sweetest Name I Know.”

The problem of the unbeliever is not a lack of information. His problem is an unwillingness (and even inability) to submit to God. He is not going to play by the rules and we are not allowed to wage a kamikaze war using his paper airplanes. This is all to say that our approach must be distinctly Christian from beginning to end. We have something infinitely better.

The Irrationality of Reason

The Bible maintains that ethical defiance produces intellectual darkness. Solomon, in his wisdom, reminds us that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” He concludes that famous statement by declaring that “fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Rebellion against God is insanity. It is an insidious insanity that binds the the foolish rebel in moribund darkness. St. Anselm gave us the phrase Credo ut intelligam (I believe in order that I might understand). To refuse to believe is to refuse to understand. Faith is not the opposite of reason; faith is the foundation of reason. If there is no God then all rational postulation would collapse in on itself.

This is the very point that the militant anti-theist always fails to see. This shouldn’t surprise us, he is blind after all. But I digress. The unbeliever who “professes himself to be wise” usually wants to resort to reason as his standard of authority. “I need a good reason to believe in God,” he might say. “Prove to me that there is a God!” he may insist. Our simple response should be, “Why?” Again, this would not be an exercise in childish argumentation. This is actually striking at the heart of the matter.

The point is to demonstrate that the unbeliever is guilty of the same type of circularity for which he has upbraided the Christian. Why is it that he assumes that there is this universal, immaterial, abstraction called reason which binds all men to itself? If he says that reason isn’t universal or that it isn’t binding upon all men, then what is the point of the argument? Why is he even standing there, red-faced, beating his gums together? A more important question still, “What is the whole basis of the argument then?” If he insists that there is this overarching, immaterial, universal, abstraction that binds all men, then how in the world does he account for it? What is his reason for believing in reason? How can he justify those reasons without first assuming the validity of the laws of logic? He is fast-peddling in the hamster wheel of Van Til’s “vicious circle”. Hence all of his rationalism has proven (by his own standard) to be irrational and now he must retreat to shadowlands of faith.

The argument isn’t that the unbeliever cannot reason. He can and he does. The point is that he cannot justify how he is able to reason. Whence come these universal laws of logic? To press the issue even further, the unbeliever is presumably under the impression that he is thinking. That doesn’t seem reasonable at all. If there is no God and this is a completely materialistic universe, then there are no such things as “thoughts.” One might characterize them as chemical reactions, firing neutrons, atomic explosions in the cerebral cortex, or even as involuntary spasms caused by the secretion of brain gas. But one shouldn’t call them thoughts. And one should certainly not trust them.

If there is no God then the brain produces these questionable “thoughts” the same way that the liver produces bile—and they amount to basically the same thing. So we have no way of actually thinking true thoughts. That being the case, why even believe that we have brains? Why assume that we are assuming? These intracranial epiphenomena have as much to do with rationality as do beer belches. If we were to pass a drunk on the street and he burped in our general direction we may have all kinds of reactions. But we wouldn’t for a moment catch ourselves asking if that rude belch was true.

But the anti-theist isn’t finished yet. He accuses the Christian of being completely unreasonable while he has both of his own feet planted firmly in midair. He insists that he (a pile of atoms stacked high and clanging about at inconceivable velocities) is correct and that the Christian (another pile of atoms stacked equally as high and clanging about at the same prodigious velocities) is, therefore, incorrect. It all makes about as much sense as pontificating as to the color of Math. Despite the glaring nonsense, he still wants to insist that his pile of atoms has somehow attainted self-consciousness and is now able to provide a true assessment of reality. Time and chance acted upon matter and they, in turn, gave us that which transcends time and matter. Does this really sound reasonable at all? He purports to be able to know himself and the world around him without being able to account for such vague categories as “knowing” and “self” and “world.” If you were to walk into your living room and find broken glass on the floor you might want an explanation. But you wouldn’t ask the glass, it doesn’t know about such things; it is the accident! So by appealing to reason the anti-theist has conceded the debate. Point. Set. Match.

This is but one small example of the folly and futility of unbelief. The list goes on. Without God we have no justification for the concepts of goodness, truth, and beauty. We have no standard by which to measure that which is evil over against that which is righteous. In fact, we cannot account for any concepts or standards at all. But thankfully that is not the world in which we live. There are transcendent laws of logic because God is and He is the source of rationality. “In the beginning was the Logos…” All logical thought proceeds from Him. There are moral absolutes because God is and He is the Supreme Lawgiver. He is the standard by which all actions, affections, and attitudes are tried. As such, He isn’t measured by it; He is the measure. And we can know these things. We are able to know all that is knowable because God is.

We know the beauty of that first glimmer of sunshine breaking dawn in the east. We know the pleasure of feeling the warm sand between our toes as we stroll along the beach, while gulls overhead wing their way in flight, singing out their songs of praise. We know the blessedness of a grandmother’s gentle embrace and the integrity of a grandfather’s handshake. We know the joy of a baby’s giggle and the humor of his first awkward steps. We know the thrill of wide-eyed wonder, the satisfaction of a hard day’s labor, and the rejuvenation of a good night’s sleep. We know the smell of frying bacon and brewing coffee. We know the potency of straight bourbon and the way a roaring fireplace fills up a cold room on a wintery night. We know the uproarious laughter of friends and the soft sting of their slaps on the back. We know the melody of Beethoven’s symphonies and the serene music of a puppy’s snore. We know the way that a baseball fits neatly in our hands and the way that a hippopotamus doesn’t. We know the peace of God’s pardon. We know the hope of resurrection day. We know the love of God in Christ. We know that ultimately all of our lists utterly fail. And if we know anything at all, we know that we have a profound duty to say thank you to someone.

“…God is, and He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” Heb. 11:6

Poetry is a Worldview

 

adfontes

Recently, I was sitting at home alone on a Tuesday evening. As sad as it sounds that really describes most of my evenings. But on this particular night my solitude was interrupted by a telephone call from a friend in Georgia. After a few pleasantries, and in the typical southern fashion that recognizes no concept of privacy or personal space, he asked, “What are you doing?” (For some reason whenever you hand southerners a telephone they become the “apple pie and sweet tea” version of the Grand Inquisitor.) “I am writing a poem,” I said. “You’re doing what,” he asked a bit surprised. “I’m writing a poem.” To which he responded, “I don’t believe I have ever called and interrupted anyone who was busy on a Tuesday night writing poetry.” Then he added, “You are a true Renaissance man.”

I appreciated that comment more than he knew. I probably took it more seriously than it was intended. I only wish that I were more medieval because moderns and postmoderns are really bad poets. It’s not because they can’t spell or thump out cadences, it’s because they can’t liken or see isness in the world. For them, everything just is what it is; whatever is is.

Moderns and postmoderns like to think of themselves as distinct philosophical clubs. The postmoderns think that they have transcended the folly of their fathers, and the moderns look down on their poor idiot son. But when it comes to metaphor they are the same salesman.

Metaphor is exactly where they feel they differ, and metaphor is the bed they share.

While the postmods think that all of communication and reality is metaphor, the mods refuse to acknowledge their own use of it. They dismiss it as imperfect and useless, pursuing perfection through math and other false attempts at abstraction. The postmods say that such escape into abstraction is impossible. The mods say “nu uh,” and so on. But when the issue shifts from where metaphor is used, to what it is, they are in agreement. Metaphor is nothing. Both parties agree that metaphor is meaningless.

We, like the moderns, must say that there is meaning in the world though we must not place it in puppet abstraction as they do. Like the postmoderns, we must say that all is metaphor, but must not say that metaphor is meaningless.

In a Christian world (this one), you can drink metaphors. You can eat them. You can crack your skull with one, or skin your pudgy knee. In this world, to exist is to be spoken, spoken by the One Who speaks all. We are held in our being by His Word. All of creation is metaphor, but it is metaphor that you can measure, metaphor with weight, mass and dustiness.

Human metaphor is a means of knowledge and communication. We point with ours, but God’s take on flesh—the flesh of fruit and trees, the flesh of wind and weeds. All of reality is nothing but words, but they are His words, and they are incarnate.

On an ultimate level, reality is made from nothing. We know that there was no matter before creation and that God did not make creation out of anything. He spoke, and it was, and it is. That is what the world is made of. Nothing. No things. There was no matter, then there was matter, and that matter, the matter that we and the world around us are made of, is made from and out of nothing.

But not really, right?

What’s an apple made of? It’s made of glucose, that is made of carbon that is pulled from CO2 that we, among other things, breath out. Apples are made out of the air through a fun game played by the Sun. What is carbon made of? Well, molecules, and atoms, and then electrons, and elementary particles or something, and then something else.

Eventually, even though it is unlikely that we would ever reach the very bottom, and find the smallest brick, we as Christians must say that the apple, and everything else, is made out of nothing. There is nothing that God used to make this apple. We do not say that nothing was grabbed and shaped and moulded into an apple, but that there is quite literally no thing that it is made out of. This apple is held in existence, extended spatially and temporally, by the omnipotent Word. This apple is spoken from nothing. This apple is made by nothing other than a word, an all-powerful, all-creative, all-beautiful word, spoken by the one Word.

This is true for everything around us in time and space. It is true for time and space itself. All things, at all times, are composed of nothing. They are the miraculously enfleshed words of God. The miracle of creation is constant, and should a thing no longer be held, should the apple no longer be spoken, it would be gone and no parts of it would clatter to the ground beneath, because there are no parts. There are only words. Only, but only is the wrong word.

But what does all this mean? How does it affect metaphor? It affects metaphor because we are God’s metaphors. We are His story.

This doesn’t mean that we are not real. But it does change how we think of the real. We are not just dirty bags of mostly water. We are wonderfully miraculous dirty bags of mostly water. We are created from nothing. We are not illusions, we are not the wisps of sound spoken by human voices. We and the stones have shape. We walk through time and space with weight trouble and stubbed toes. We eat and drink, we laugh and our noses run. We are words, but we are words with mass. We are words that can stink, need baths, snore at night, and kiss. We aren’t just prose written with a straight-edge; we are the poetry of Divinity. We are real, far more real than we imagine, because we are words. We and the world have meaning because we were spoken.

This is appalling to all modernities. There is meaning, and it is found in the Word. Our own words, patterns, natures, are metaphors for it. They are the only way that we can communicate; they are the only things that we can be. We are the felt-board shepherds and sheep. We are the story, the painting, the song. We are all metaphors, and we find meaning because of this fact. We are all spoken by God in a relationship of reflection to Him.

Those claiming postmodern status see one-half of the metaphor, things floating, and then deny reality because of it. God is erased, and metaphor becomes meaningless. Moderns deny God as well, and achieve meaninglessness but are not content to remain there. They strive to climb up their own backs into the sky, hunting for categorical imperatives, pi, a straight line, perfect circles, and ones, and zeros.

But we are words, and so we should dance. We should stomp and play, grow muddy and take baths. We are words, and so we know we have weight.

So I write words.

Calvinistic Idolatry and the Collapse of Culture

Nero Fiddling While Rome Burns

Unless one is looking to “start something,” one should never resort to the use of sweeping generalizations. So, having established that condition, let us begin with a sweeping generalization. The Christian church is directly responsible for all that is despicable about our present culture. Not responsible because she sat idly by and watched it all happen, but because she has brought it all about by her own actions and with her very own hands. It has often been said that culture is religion externalized. Any culture will look and smell the way its religion does. And because our religion is so pathetic, American nipples and noses are frequently pierced. Because the church has for so long used an impotent substitute in the Lord’s Supper, portraying an impotent gospel, an infidel is our president and that trend seems to be set.

The gospel is central to all of Christianity, and the church has been busy presenting her own emasculated Reader’s Digest version to the public. A man-centered foolishness has landed us in many forms of the ridiculous. From democracy to grunge, abortion to a soft currency, all our culture’s flaws can be traced back to various lies in our modernistic gospel. And when I say our modernistic gospel I do mean our. Don’t blame Schuller & company for the shallow state of your own congregants either. They couldn’t pick Peale out of a line up any more than they could cite four sturdy references from Paul.

We see culture born from religion throughout history. The Romans and Greeks worshiped powerful, beautiful, and wicked deities. Their culture mirrored their worship. Where did the culture of the Aztecs find its origin? And the Vikings? Both worshiped gods with a bloodlust not because they themselves were bloodthirsty, they obtained their bloodthirst through the worship of their gods. Muslims serve a non-Trinitarian transcendent god, with whom they can have no communication. Is it a coincidence that Muslim fathers have the same relationship with their children and wives that their god has to them? The truth is that all men are made in the image of the one true God, but all men also take upon themselves the image of the god they purport to serve. The Christian is progressively sanctified, gradually reflecting a more perfect image of God. The Viking, Roman, or atheist gradually takes on the image of his god, becoming harder, crueler, or weaker in his deity’s service.

National or ethnic culture is just a bigger picture of the same thing. When our country was overwhelmingly Christian, our culture bore a Christian image. Now that our church worships a spineless god, we have become a spineless culture. Arminianism has given birth. Her large litter includes political correctness, women in combat, a fast-food consumer mentality, and the death of good poetry. Such is the fruit of an emotionally based, man-centered religion.

But how did this revolution take place? For if indeed all our problems are rooted in flawed religion, then it has been a revolution, for this country had a Reformed culture at its birth. When did all the evil Arminian folk invade? Truthfully, they did not invade and are not to blame for our cultural degeneracy. They certainly may be encouraging it now, but they did not introduce the evil. The Calvinists have been the problem in our culture, beginning with the halfway covenant, and they have not learned from their mistakes.

The Reformed became corrupt throughout the 19th century. They began to chase after doctrine only, and failed when it came to applying that doctrine to their lives. Young men, trained in Germany, then pushed the envelope of what was considered to be doctrinally acceptable. Then they pushed it more and the old guard failed to repel the attack. Why? Because for a long time, they themselves had been living inconsistently with their own principles. They had scrapped the truth in effect but had stopped short of throwing it all away in theory. The next generation did that for them. Reformed thought was not overthrown, it devoured itself.

Today it seems that Reformation once again has a pulse. This is no illusion, but it is deceiving. Many have merely returned to the ways of our foundered fathers. They talk of their newly recovered doctrine of salvation, they have familiarized themselves with the ins and outs of eschatology, and as a result they have lots of impressive sounding words they can roll around on their pink tongues. But they stop short of actually allowing the truth to run its course. After all, truth is such a heavy thing and they don’t want their lives to be unnecessarily encumbered by it. Better to just keep things academic.

Young men sit on the front porch and discuss the Reformed theory of walking, and debate over which direction they had best proceed, and yet they remain seated on their soft Pelagian rears. They are just as feminine in their religion as the people they most look down upon. Nero may have fiddled while Rome was burning but at least he wasn’t polishing his nails to the throaty tones of Hillsong.

All that these young valiants have regained is the losing point of Reformation. They refuse to give up their self importance, and so they retain their man-centered lifestyle. But they have increased their holiness in their own minds and so have even magnified their own self importance, if that be possible.

In truth many Arminians are much better Christians than these so-called Reformed. For they have told their Father that they will not go to the vineyard, and yet have gone. But neither is good; a culture can’t be built with such men, and even less with the men who say that they go but do not. Our culture is currently one built upon hypocrisy. It is a lost culture of a lost religion. The church has stumbled and fallen. Much was given to our fathers, and we have lost it. We had truth, and now we have soft opinions, and our civil order has paid the price. We had men of God; now we have perpetual juveniles. Our idolatry has led to infidelity. The church has played the harlot, and we live among her bastards. We must repent and believe the gospel, for we bear the image of our god.