(1) How can we know God?

If there is a God, how can we know Him? He is evidently not part of the material world, and so we have no suitable tools by which to investigate Him. We cannot track Him down to any geographical location, nor ask Him to give a television interview, nor subject Him to scientific experimentation. Over the course of human history, this gap has been filled by philosophical speculation. Hence there have been many different religions – and many different ‘gods’. And at the end of it all, humanity is none the wiser. “The world through its wisdom did not know God.” (I Corinthians 1:21)

And yet… the human race has not been left totally in the dark. For as far back as history can reach, human minds have been grappling with questions of origin and existence, as well as ultimate destiny. There is something in us that cannot be satisfied with the material and the temporal. As the Teacher said, ”God has set eternity in the human heart; yet no-one can fathom what He has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

We may not be able to see or touch God, but that does not mean that evidence of His existence and character is totally absent. “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.” (Romans 1:20) And God Himself (Job 38 & 39; Isaiah 40:25,26) encourages us to look at the universe – in all its glorious beauty, intricacy and diversity – in order to gain some understanding of who He is. Whether we are studying the distant galaxies, the geological structure of the earth, the awesome physical properties of the atom, or the complex biochemistry of a living cell, we are confronted with the wisdom, power and majesty of the One who made it all. And the very fact that human beings – on the face of it, just one small part of the universe – can ‘stand back’ from the rest and analyse it bears witness to the possibility that there is an objective, ‘outside’ point of view. As the Bible puts it, “God created mankind in His own image.” (Genesis 1:27)

This ‘natural theology’ is available to all races, cultures and periods of history (Romans 10:18). But it has its limitations. The evidence that it presents is equivocal: it is perfectly possible to look at the world and draw the conclusion that God had nothing to do with it at all. Other eminent thinkers have concluded that, having made the world, God then left it to run itself according to the laws of chemistry and physics – a kind of ‘absentee landlord’ that we can conveniently ignore. The glory of God is indeed visible in creation – but only to those with the eye of faith.

So any understanding of God based on creation alone is likely to be seriously inadequate. For one thing, the world as we now experience it is not what He originally intended it to be. For another, we ourselves are not what we should be. The original design has been subtly corrupted. How do we know this? Because we have another source of revelation available to us. As the first half of Psalm 19 proclaims so poetically: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.” (verse 1) But then the second half continues by enumerating the virtues of Scripture: “The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul.” (verse 7)

The Bible claims to be that revelation. Not the inarticulate witness of the creation, but a message in words from the Creator. It tells us that the God who made the world still cares for it and for the species (Homo sapiens) that He appointed as its guardian and steward. It tells us that we rebelled against God’s authority and struck out on our own – with disastrous consequences. It tells us that God set in motion a rescue plan to restore everything to its original state. And it tells us that He entered His world as a human being, in order to bring that rescue plan to fulfilment and enable us to know Him once again – personally and intimately.

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