by ProfDave, ©2021
(Oct. 4, 2021) — Is there One we cannot see? For those who choose to accept the possibility of unseen realities, the most important, most powerful of those realities is commonly the Creator God. Where does reality come from? Is it rational and ordered, or random and chaotic? Where do things come from? Where do persons come from? Where do ideas come from? Does reality come from a thing, a person, or an idea? Does it come about by cause and effect, chance, intelligent design or some combination?
What god? Different religions propose not only different gods, but different kinds of gods. You have a lot of choices: the pantheist Everything of Buddhism, the impersonal Heaven of Confucius and the Force of Luke Skywalker; the three hundred million deities of Hinduism, the Animist personifications of natural things and forces and the ancient embodiments of civic values; kings and emperors; Lady luck, Mother Earth, and the ethical monotheism of the West. Even Christians, Jews and Muslims cannot agree: is Allah the God of Abraham and the Father of Jesus or entirely different?
Is there an Umpire in the game of life? Before we choose a god from all the popular deities in the world today, we need to define god and God, little g and big G. First, is he/she/it/they in this world or outside it, that is beyond time and space? Polytheism places the gods – little g – within the cosmos; monotheism places the one God – big G – outside, as its creator. He could not create anything before He existed, so the Creator had to be self-existent before and outside all He created – including time and space. H.G.Wells’ theory has religion beginning in the fear of and desire to control natural forces, such as weather and fertility, and gradually evolving into monotheism. G. K. Chesterton posited the opposite: archaic monotheism devolving into polytheism because the “God of Heaven” could not be manipulated – too hard to handle. That would explain why there were Gentile priests and prophets of the “God of Heaven” in the days of Abraham and of Moses. To this day primitive polytheistic societies have a vague conception of a Creator God beyond the gods they worship and attempt to appease and manipulate.
The advantages of big G monotheism for a worldview are that it gives us a viable Creator of all time and space and all things therein and a being more likely to be real and effective than the gods. Multiple creators would lead to chaos – just too complicated. The disadvantage of a single God is that He would be beyond human control – particularly if you seriously believed Him to be real. He would determine you; you would not determine Him. God would also be beyond human understanding and human reach – unless He chose to reveal Himself and engage with His creatures. The term is ‘transcendent.’
According to my fifth-grade dictionary, a god is “a being of more than human attributes and power” or “any object thought to be endowed with divine powers; an idol.” As in American idol? God capitalized, on the other hand, is defined as “the Supreme Being,” the uncaused First Cause of all things. We can do a little better, I think. The gods are usually seen as powerful spiritual forces within the cosmos. they represent real forces of nature (sun, moon, lightning, sex) and may, in turn, be represented by and conflated with physical objects (idols, totems, symbols, rocks, trees). In functional terms, a god is whatever you hold to be of ultimate value, whatever you worship (give worth-ship to). What is first in your life — money? Power? Sex? Science? Football? Are you a polytheist without knowing it?
None of these “gods” could be confused with the Judeo-Christian Creator, the “God of Heaven and Earth.” Observing the night sky or looking through a microscope decisively tells you that whoever made what you see is extremely large and extremely wise and extremely old. Judeo-Christian revelation tells us He is infinite, all knowing and eternal. Just working out what that means has taken philosophy and theology millennia. The final answer is: we cannot know – it is beyond human comprehension. Insert Him into your worldview and you have Hawking’s “theory of all things” – but Hawking insisted on seeking another one. Such a God, large and in charge, is more than capable of creating and maintaining the heavens and the earth. Can any other god fill those shoes?
If you ask almost anyone on the street if they believe there is a God they will say “yes,” but they all do not mean the same thing. Even the “New Atheists” must believe in God in some way. Why would anyone waste so much time and energy in denying something that doesn’t exist? Nobody writes books against the Tooth Fairy. Most people assume that there is a Higher Power, a God, perhaps a Creator but He is not part of their daily life and consciousness – their practical worldview. If He were, it would change everything.
Over 90% of Americans believe, in some sense, in a creator God. Even the demons believe – and tremble (James). A creator explains existence – why there might be something rather than nothing. Well, not quite – why did the Creator create something rather than nothing we can only speculate. More later. A Creator gives us a physical cosmos that has form and content, consistency and intelligibility. Potentially, at least, we can understand it, discover its laws, predict its behavior. What appears to be random chaos has a plan and a cause. Science is possible. R.C. Sproul has also made the point that miracles are only possible against the background of a predictable cosmos of natural law.
With a Creator, we accept the reality of an unseen world as well, from which what we see has come. In the 18th century Deists came up with the idea of a cosmic Watchmaker who created the intricate world-machine with all its laws and mechanisms, wound it up and stepped away. The laws of nature are the laws of God. The project of science was to “think God’s thoughts after Him,” discover the workings of the world, and to maintain it. They did not believe in revelation, miracles or the effectiveness of prayer. God was not currently active in His creation. Note that the founding fathers, authors of the Declaration of Independence, were not really Deists in this sense. The whole document was an appeal to “Providence,” the rule of God in the affairs of men and of nations. God is maintainer and judge as well as creator. In their active worldview, rather than in theoretical, is the average American a Deist?
A God who made heaven and earth, seen and unseen, would be most unlikely not to take an interest in what He has gone to all the trouble of making. Islamic and Judeo-Christian revelations concur. The Almighty is Lord — sovereign governor — of heaven and earth as well as their maker. Monotheists believe that, although mortals are incapable of knowing God as He is, He has been pleased to reveal Himself. Christians have it all recorded in the Bible.
What difference does it make to have a God who is eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and all the other omni-s and actively sovereign over all things? Just everything. If such a being existed, He would be in control of all things, from the orbit of every galaxy to the orbit of every electron. There is an Umpire. What He says goes. He said “let there be” and it all began. What He says is. What He says is right is right from the orbit of planets to human health and behavior. Everything and everyone answers to Him. Our breath and our sentience are His gift. Any choices we are able to make are by His permission.
If we took such a Being seriously, we would be compelled to fear and worship. He would be the cornerstone of our worldview. We would know where we came from, where we are going, the meaning of life and what is right and wrong. However, we are prone to prefer to be our own gods and order our own meaning and morality.
David W. Heughins (“ProfDave”) is Adjunct Professor of History at Nazarene Bible College. He holds a BA from Eastern Nazarene College and a PhD in history from the University of Minnesota. He is the author of Holiness in 12 Steps (2020). He is a Vietnam veteran and is retired, living with his daughter and three grandchildren in Connecticut.