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