Learning About God the Father
Who is God the Father? How can we learn anything about Him?
Let’s start with His existence. God absolutely exists. The evidence is overwhelming. Even atheists are forced to admit that God exists. Well, atheists who are perfectly honest will admit this.
If the evidence is so overwhelming, if everyone must believe in God’s existence, why do some people become atheists? For several reasons. For example, some atheists are angry with God. They blame God for something that happened to them: the loss of a job, the death of a family member, their house burned down, etc. What better way to “get even” with God, so they think, than to refuse to believe in Him. Many of these atheists are angry. They respond with billboards and attacks against Christianity. They seem to think truth resides in the loudest, most obnoxious responses.
Some people are atheists because they think they are too smart to believe in God. They believe that science and materialism are the only paths to truth. “Science has all the answers,” they chant. They don’t realize that science cannot even ask the right questions. Science is a means for exploring the physical universe. Science does not have the tools necessary to approach the throne of Almighty God.
Others are atheists because they don’t have time for God. Actually, they don’t want to make time for God. They are too busy with their personal lives. Jesus talks about them in Mark 4: 18-19:
“And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” (NAS)
There are other reasons why people become atheists. Some people are born rebels. They become atheists because they do not want God to rule over their lives. Their attitude is like that of Satan in John Milton’s epic poem “Paradise Lost.” In book I, Satan is thrown out of heaven. He falls down, down, down into hell. Then he picks himself up, dusts himself off, and says to his comrades, with a sneer of contempt:
We shall be free; th’ Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence;
Here we may reign secure, and in my choyce
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell;
Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n.
Some people must rebel. They refuse to take orders from anyone. Their pride is their downfall.
My point is this: There are very few true atheists. I have never met one. Everyone knows there is a God. That’s why some theologians and philosophers feel atheism is not a true belief. Everyone believes in God in some means or manner. Belief in God is the true belief. Atheism is nothing more than a reaction against the true belief.
Atheists like to cloud the issue. They sidestep the evidence for God’s existence. They ask “How can we really know anything about God?” Some of them call themselves agnostics, saying, “Of course I believe in God. Certainly I do! But we cannot know anything about God. Thus, we cannot serve God or worship Him or even learn about Him because we cannot know anything about Him. For all I know, God is that tree over there. Should I worship that tree?” Agnostics think they are cute when they say ridiculous things like that.
But they do have a point. Yes, God absolutely exists. But how can we know or learn anything about Him? God is so completely different from everything we know or understand. And God is so big. God is too big for us to comprehend or even to imagine. Well, trust me. We really can learn about God. We can’t learn everything about God but we can learn some things about God.
God Overwhelms Our Ability to Comprehend
God created us with large, complex brains. We have the most advanced brains on the planet! We can reason and think both logical and abstract thoughts. We understand days and seasons. We are able to plan ahead. We seem to be the only creatures on earth who can commune with God. We pray to Him, sing songs to Him, blame Him when things go wrong. These God-given abilities make us feel very special.
But there are limits to our mental abilities. We don’t like to admit that. Our egos tell us that since we are number one, brainwise, on the planet, we must be the best! No one else is as smart as you and me. We constantly try to go beyond our limitations. We may be the smartest creatures on earth but we realize that we really don’t know that much. And our egos get hurt.
What have we accomplished with our big brains? God told us to subdue the earth and to rule over it (see Genesis 1: 28). After thousands of years we still have a long way to go. Scientific mysteries continue to abound. We cannot even claim mastery over our own tiny planet! When we try to rule the earth we end up destroying it or damaging it. We think we are kings but, as the angel said to the church at Laodicea, we really are “wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” (Revelation 3: 17, NAS)
In spite of these obvious limitations, some people still believe we can know everything about God. That’s kind of silly when you think about it. Here are a couple of reasons why.
First, God is unfathomable in the scope of His Being. He is just too big for us to get our heads around. We cannot fully understand even the words we use to describe Him. God is eternal and infinite. He never changes. What does eternity mean? What is infinity? How can God be unchangeable and yet create such an endless variety of planets, stars, people, animals, and so on?
Second, God is immanent and transcendent at the same time. “Transcendent” describes something above and beyond the realm of human experience. Immanuel Kant used the word to refer to something beyond the limits of all possible human experience and knowledge. Theologians use this word to refer to God as a Being who is above and beyond our ability to know or understand.
A transcendent being is above and beyond but does that mean He is far away? God can be all around us and very close to us while remaining beyond our ability to see or hear or know. In fact, the Bible says God’s spirit is all around us. The Bible says in Psalm 139: 7-12
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will lay hold of me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
And the light around me will be night,”
Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to You.(NAS)
As God says to Jeremiah in Jeremiah 23: 24, “Can a man hide himself in hiding places so I do not see him?” declares the Lord. “Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?” declares the Lord. God is transcendent and yet He fills the earth.
Theologians also refer to God as immanent. “Immanent” means within or pervading or very, very close. How can God be immanent (very close) and transcendent (above and beyond) at the same time? This sounds totally illogical. How can it be?
If God is all around us, filling the universe transcendently and ready to fill our hearts immanently, why can’t we detect Him with our senses?” Is it possible for unseen things to surround us, to remain beyond us, and yet to permeate our being?
Science can help us out here. Think of all the unseen things that are all around us. For example, think about electronic transmissions. At this moment hundreds of electronic transmissions are all around us, some are even passing through us. There are television signals, cell phone transmissions, text messages, radio waves, and dozens of other unseen things. They carry information. They permeate our bodies but remain beyond our reach. But we can interact with all of these electronic transmissions. All we need is the right receiver.
Radio waves and other forms of electronic waves have been around for a long, long time. We recently “discovered” their existence. Then we learned how to harness them. Likewise, God has been around for a long, long time–forever. We are able to “discover” Him in a real and personal way through Jesus Christ. Of course, we’re not able to “harness” God. But God is willing to form a relationship with us.
God is all around you. But He is transcendent. You cannot interact with Him unless you have the right receiver. That’s where God’s immanence comes in. God is reaching out to us. He wants to interact with us in a very close and personal way. Jesus spoke of this close relationship in John 14: 23:
Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.” (NAS)
God is too big for us to comprehend but He wants to make contact with us in a way we can understand. He wants to live within us. God is able to do this through His Spirit. The Spirit of God can live in us.
The apostle Paul talks about the indwelling of the Spirit of God in I Corinthians 3: 16, which says, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” The Bible also describes immanence as: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1: 27)
The first step? Let God come into you. Let His Holy Spirit indwell you. He will make it possible for you to learn about God. According to I Corinthians 2: 12-14:
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man [a non-spiritual man, that is, a person who has not received God’s Holy Spirit] does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.
When the Spirit of God dwells within you, He helps you understand spiritual truth.
OK, what can we learn about God? God is too overwhelming for us to learn everything about God. However, there is a great deal we can learn. God’s Spirit can help us. Where is the first place we should look? We can start with nature—God’s wonderful creation. We can use reason to learn about God in nature.
Reason Discovers God in Nature
Take a look at this world around you. It’s filled with life. Some of this life is unimaginably small Today I learned about a mite that makes its home on a honeybee. The mite is smaller than the head of a pin. And yet these almost microscopic bugs are perfectly designed for their purpose in life.
God excels at making tiny things. Consider DNA. This tiny double helix of life is found within a microscopic single cell. Yet it’s composed of millions of atoms. Each atom has to be in exactly the right place for the DNA to work. And all of this precision—what are we to think? This came together by accident? Are you kidding? Reason tells us this is the work of a Designer.
Look at a single cell. It is made up of dozens of complex molecules in addition to DNA and RNA. Each of these molecules has a unique task to perform. Most of these complex molecules are different from the other molecules in that cell. There could be hundreds of atoms in each of these molecules. Each atom must be in its precise location within the molecule. Many of these complex molecules are folded in a unique manner. If the molecule is not folded correctly, it will not work as designed.
In addition, many of these complex molecules break down if they are not protected by the cell’s outer membrane. How could these molecules possibly evolve? Without the cell’s outer membrane, the molecule breaks down faster than it can form. Reason dictates the impossibility of evolution in this case. The first cell must have been designed and intentionally formed by a creative force.
But what can nature tell us about this creative force? This force is complex and precise. This force can work with any scale. Creating swirling galaxies and subatomic particles is all the same to Him. We know this creative force as God.
What about destructive forces of nature? Did God plan these? The cynic replies, “So you say nature helps us understand about God? Well, this God of yours must be an evil God. There are so many natural events that cause pain and hurt—earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, horrible diseases, and dozens of other hurtful and painful conditions. What kind of a God causes such things?”
The God of Christianity does not. The Bible tells us about the Christian God in James 1: 16-17
Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. (NAS)
Tsunamis, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods–God doesn’t reveal Himself through these kinds of natural events. They all are secondary events. They are the result of natural forces within God’s universe. They don’t tell us anything about God. They only reveal a God who allows a hands off, free will approach toward governing His Creation.
The question remains: What kind of universe did God create?
According to modern science, God created a universe that is “fine-tuned.” That is, certain physical constants of the universe seem to be perfectly “tuned.” If these constants varied to the slightest extent, the results could be catastrophic. Minute forces must be fine-tuned to produce atoms. Other forces mold these atoms into dense gaseous balls. At the proper time these gaseous balls explode. Suns are born.
These physical constants cause the suns to become stable stars—to burn for billions of years. Planets form and hold together. They circle their suns in stable orbits. The universe becomes marked by constancy and stability. God created a perfect nursery for the formation of life.
What does this tell us about God? He is very precise. He values stability and constancy. He wants a universe that can produce complex forms of life.
God created a planet where life can begin and thrive. Life on this planet began after a long, complex time of preparation. This shows us that God is patient.
God based this universe on natural laws. He made these laws relatively simple for us to understand. He wants us to search for these laws. God wants us to have dominion over the earth. He wants us to be involved in science.
And God gave us colors. What does this tell us about God? Perhaps He wants us to appreciate the beauty of His Creation. Perhaps He is willing to be whimsical.
Of course, all of this is speculation. That’s the problem with natural revelation. Nature gives us enough wonder to speculate about God but not enough precise divine facts to provide clear spiritual answers.
This is natural revelation. We can use reason to prove that God exists. We can speculate on His qualities. But nature leads to many questions and few firm answers about God. If we did not have special revelation, we would know very little about our God. To go beyond this point requires faith.
Faith Accepts God’s Word as Truth
God reveals Himself through His Word. A Christian identifies “God’s Word” as the Bible and the person of Jesus Christ. The Bible confirms these are the two ways used by God to speak to us. According to Hebrews 1: 1-2
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.
God speaks to us and reveals Himself through the Bible and the person of Jesus Christ. Thus, we can learn about God through these two sources. Someone asks, “That’s great but how do we know it’s true? How do we know God really spoke these ways? We believe by faith but is that all there is to it?” Not really. Our faith is supported by many facts which support the belief that the Bible is not just another book and Jesus is not just another person.
What are some of these facts? Entire web sites and dozens of books discuss these facts. We can look at a couple of them here. Let’s start by examining the Bible.
How can we know if the Bible is God’s Word? Of course, we know this ultimately through faith but there’s more to it than that. Let’s think about it “rationally.” The Bible tells us things that cannot be proven scientifically such as, for example, the holiness of God. The Bible also tells us things we can prove scientifically such as historical events and fulfilled prophecy. If the Bible really is God’s word, its verifiable events should be reliable.
Let’s look for a moment at prophets and prophecy. Prophecy is delivered by prophets. What does it mean when a person says, “God revealed Himself to the prophets of old. That’s how we got the Bible.” Who are these prophets of old? Can we believe their testimony? Were they reliable? And what about the Bible itself? Are the prophecies in the Bible reliable?
I used to imagine a prophet as some old hermit who’s living by himself in a cave. The guy is probably senile. He says God spoke to him. Did He? Perhaps the old guy’s out of touch with reality. Is that possible? What do you think?
What comes to your mind when you hear the words “Old Testament prophets?” Again, when I heard those words I used to think of a couple of dirty, crazy guys wandering through the desert. I imagined them wearing scratchy old sackcloth and eating locusts. People avoided these nut jobs. All of their prophecies were “doom and gloom,” such as “God’s going to destroy this country” or “God’s going to get you for that.”
Were these prophets crazy, dirty old guys wandering around the desert? Some, like Elijah, may have looked like this. But Elijah was known for his amazing deeds, like calling down fire from heaven and raising the dead. Other prophets were more “normal, respectable” citizens. They were fathers and husbands. For example, Isaiah was close to the royal court of Judah. Jonah and Daniel were close, personal advisors to their kings. Amos was a farmer of fig trees. Many of the prophets were highly respected in their community.
These prophets were held to a very high standard. If their prophesy did not come true, they could be put to death. Moses laid down God’s rules for prophets in Deuteronomy 18: 18, 20-22:
“I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. . . . But the prophet who speaks a word . . . which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die. You may say in your heart, ‘How will we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?’ When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, . . . the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.”(NAS)
Very few people wanted to become prophets. It was a hard, thankless job. Prophets did not choose to become prophets. They were chosen by God. And it was not all fun and games. Consider Jeremiah’s words in Jeremiah 20: 7-9
O LORD, . . . I have become a laughingstock all day long;
Everyone mocks me.
For each time I speak, I cry aloud;
I proclaim violence and destruction,
Because for me the word of the LORD has resulted
In reproach and derision all day long.
But if I say, “I will not remember Him
Or speak anymore in His name,”
Then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire
Shut up in my bones;
And I am weary of holding it in,
And I cannot endure it. (NAS)
The prophets spoke of Israel’s disobedience and God’s response. Their message was very unflattering to the Jews. So, of course, the prophets were unpopular. Some were killed; others thrown in prison.
But were the prophets reliable? Did they really believe God spoke to them or were they just playing a game? Did they tell the truth? As I said earlier, many of these men were trusted advisors. They certainly weren’t crazy. And ask yourself this: Why would they make such enormous sacrifices if they did not believe their message?
What about their prophecies? The reliability of prophecy was held to a high standard: It had to come true. If these prophecies are reliable, history should confirm them.
The Jews considered these prophecies as reliable. The people of Israel should have thrown away these nasty, negative words of the prophets. Although the people did not listen to the prophets, neither did they throw their words away. These are the words of God. They could not toss these words into the trash. They held onto their words. Why?
Because the prophetic words came true.
One prophecy was repeated again and again: God will judge His people. The Kingdom of Israel will be destroyed. But God will preserve a remnant from His people. The Jewish nation will survive.
This is exactly what happened. Two great world powers destroyed the Jewish nation. Both Babylon and Rome took their turn destroying God’s people. But the Jewish nation survived for more than three thousand years. The Jews were scattered across the earth on two different occasions. And yet the Jewish nation survives.
Two hundred years before the first destruction by Babylon, the prophets started to speak of the remnant of Israel. For example, consider Isaiah 1: 20-23:
Now in that day the remnant of Israel, and those of the house of Jacob who have escaped, will never again rely on the one who struck them, but will truly rely on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel. A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God. For though your people, O Israel, may be like the sand of the sea, only a remnant within them will return; a destruction is determined, overflowing with righteousness. For a complete destruction, one that is decreed, the Lord God of hosts will execute in the midst of the whole land. (NAS)
Isaiah spoke these words a few years before the destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 721 B.C. But Israel’s first destruction was not completed until 586 B.C. After about seventy years the Jews returned to Palestine. The walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt. The temple also was rebuilt. Scientists hotly debate the exact dates of this rebuilding. However, around 500 B.C. the nation of Israel was restored. A remnant of the Jewish people survived. God’s word was fulfilled.
Isaiah spoke these words from God about 135 years before Israel’s total destruction by Babylon and more than 200 years before Israel was restored.
The second destruction took place following a Jewish revolt led by Simon bar Kochba. In A.D. 135 the city of Jerusalem was destroyed. The Roman Emperor Hadrian also killed about 500,000 Jews and exhiled the remaining Jews from Palestine. After this second destruction, the Jewish nation remained scattered for eighteen hundred years! In 1947 the Jews returned to their ancient homeland. They began to rebuild the nation of Israel. A remnant has returned. Israel survived.
Two aspects of this are remarkable to me. First, the Jews were restored as a nation after being scattered throughout the world for almost two thousand years. I don’t know of any other people-group that can make this claim. Second, the prophets told of these events centuries or even millennia before they took place!
This is just one example why the Bible is called the word of God. The Bible contains prophecy that has been fulfilled. The Bible also teaches us about God.
These kinds of proofs give us rational evidence to support our faith that the Bible is from God. We want to learn about God from a reliable source. Fulfilled prophecy helps us have confidence that the Bible is that reliable source from God.
What do we know thus far? We are able to learn some things about God. Reason teaches us about God in nature. Faith and revelation (the Bible) teach us more about God.
There is one additional way to learn about God. God’s word also can speak to us through the person of Jesus Christ. Through Jesus we can know God in a totally new and different way.
Knowing God Based on a Relationship
Relationships are important. They are a basic part of God’s plan. They are the basis for a family, a community, and a nation. They also are the basis for your life with God.
Christianity is unique among religions and systems of belief. No other belief offers a personal relationship with God. For other beliefs it is foolishness. For Christianity it is central.
The coming of a personal relationship with the indwelling God also was prophesied centuries before it took place. Around 600 B.C. the prophet Jeremiah spoke the following words of prophecy in Jeremiah 31: 31-34:
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt,” . . . declares the LORD. But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (NAS)
The book of Jeremiah records this promise of a new covenant and a new relationship with God. Each one of us will know God personally. God will write His law on our hearts and will remember our sins no more. Although Jeremiah ties this prophecy to Israel, the New Testament in the book of Hebrews 10: 15-18 applies this promise to the followers of Jesus Christ.
Ezekiel also prophesied of this new covenant. But Ezekiel goes one step further. He prophesies that God will place His Spirit within us.
“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” Ezekiel 36: 26-27 (NAS)
God wants to have a personal relationship with you. He does this through Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us about this in John 1: 10-14:
He [Jesus] was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (NAS)
The way you start a relationship with God is through Jesus Christ. But before this could happen, Jesus had to come into the world. Jesus came into the world to initiate this relationship with God. If we accept this offer from Jesus Christ, we become the sons and daughters of God. This is an amazing offer! We become sons and daughters of God. It’s not because we deserve it. All we did was accept the offer of God through Jesus Christ.
God’s offer includes forgiveness of sins. The Bible teaches that we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3: 23). We have sinned and are worthy of condemnation. But Jesus’ offer includes forgiveness of sins and eternal life. But in John 5: 24-25, Jesus said:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” (NAS)
As in most relationships, continuing a relationship will only take that relationship so far. Commitment is needed to take the relationship to the next level. But a relationship with God is not a relationship between equals. A committed relationship with God requires submission to His will. Jesus spoke of this in Luke 9:23
And He [Jesus] was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. (NAS)
Remember, when you have a relationship with Jesus Christ, you also have a relationship with God the Father. Jesus answered Philip (one of the twelve apostles) in John 14: 8-11, which says,
Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me.” (NAS)
What can we learn about God the Father? Through reason we can learn about God from nature and from logic. Through faith we can learn about God through the Bible. And through a relationship with God we can come to know God as a close and personal Savior, Lord, and Friend.