Question from a Site Viewer
Who is God? Why do we try to figure Him out?
I appreciate your questions. I want to try to provide you some answers that come to my mind with respect to your questions.
First, you ask, “Who is God?” I suppose you could ask that question of 1000 people and perhaps get 500 different answers. Everyone may have some view of how to answer the question. And with respect to the many answers, some would say that all answers are correct. Some would say that all answers are wrong. Some would say that some answers are right and some are wrong. If I give you an answer, why should my answer be any more or less persuasive than any other?
Ultimately, only one person truly knows the answer to that question. And that person is God. He knows who He is. Let me give you an illustration. If I were to ask someone who you are, I may get many different answers. If I were to ask someone who has met you five or six times who you are, I may get somewhat of a picture of what you are like. If I were to ask your close friends who you are, I would get a much better picture. But the best way for me to discover who you are is to talk to you, to interview you, to follow you around, to become your friend, and to take the time necessary to know who you are. Being around you is the best way to answer that question. But if you did not let me come near to you, I would never really know who you are.
So it is with God. None of us can know God by intuition or analysis. While we all can create caricatures of God in our imagination, we cannot know God unless He chooses to make Himself known to us.
This brings us to the big question: “Has God made Himself known to us?” The answer to this question is multifaceted. First, we look at the world around us. There is order and there are laws that govern the universe. There appears to be meaning. There is ugliness, beauty, happiness and pain. There is often a longing; there is the sense that things are not quite like we would want them to be; they are not quite right; something is askew. Why do we have these perceptions? How do we explain the existence of the world? How do we explain our capacity to love, to hate, our emptiness, the lack of fulfillment in possessions? Mankind has never developed an answer to these questions other than the person of God. Some would postulate that the elements have existed forever, and that through time and chance, beauty and order are born. This position seems preposterous in my thinking. If I let my house go for two weeks, there is no beauty and order. If I let my garden go for two months, there is no beauty and order. I cannot believe in an eternal universe where the trend to disorder is somehow “magically” reversed. I believe it had to start somewhere and it has to be maintained by someone. And the only person capable of starting it and maintaining it is God.
Given what I think is a valid conclusion, that God started the universe, the universe reveals at least something about God. When I see the size and scope of the universe, I understand a little about the majesty and power of God. But this is like seeing a computer and discerning that somebody must exist who knows a lot more about electronics than I know. There is someone far more powerful than me who exists. I know this from looking at the universe.
But I still would never really know who God is. My only hope of discovering knowledge of Him is if He has chosen to reveal Himself to us. So, I look around and see if there are indications that He has done so.
It is in this search that I discover this wonderful history of a small group of people called Israel. It is not that the people are more or less fascinating than other groups of people, but their tale certainly is. In a collection of books they have preserved, there is a story that goes back to Creation and forward to around 430 B.C. What is fascinating about the collection is not that it tells what wonderful people the Israelites were (often it tells us that they were not wonderful at all), but it tells a tale of an incredible God. And I find that tale most convincing. It records great miraculous events. We have no way of confirming or denying many of these events. It also records astonishing prophecies, many of which we know from history were fulfilled precisely as they were prophesied centuries earlier. It accurately portrays the human condition, our capacity to love but also our capacity to change quickly and to do evil. And, yes, it does address in some detail the problem of evil. Unlike the other accounts of antiquity, it does not glorify its heroes. It tells us not only of their successes but also of their failures. And, throughout, it tells us about the most incredible God, a God who says He is the maker of heaven and earth; a God who says He is the only true God; a God who makes promises and keeps them; a God who desires to have a relationship with every person; a God who values the rich and the poor, the old and the very young, men and women; a God who also is just and holy, who finds sin to be obnoxious and horrendous; a God who ultimately will and does judge the evil and the good, punishing the evildoers and rewarding the good. We find an unbroken tale of this God in books dating from before 1400 B.C. to books dating after 500 B.C. It’s a 1000 year history of books being written, telling many different stories, and when we read closely we see that there really is only one story being told; it is a story about God. Some 10,000 times, in this collection of books, He is named. Many more times we see what He is like through His statements, His actions and His passionate love for people who seek Him.
The collection of books also contain numerous prophecies of a coming One, referenced as the “Messiah,” a Hebrew word meaning “Anointed One.” You may read some of these prophecies on our page of Messianic Prophecies and Fulfillments. All of these prophesies were made before 400 B.C. Around 200 B.C., the entire collection of writings was translated from the Hebrew and Aramaic into the Greek.
Approximately 200 years later, around 5-6 B.C., a son was born to a woman from Nazareth, now a town in Palestine, who was named Jesus. We know His story because we have four books describing part of His life, His death and His resurrection, written by those who knew Him. We also have the Jewish writer Josephus who writes that He did not know if it was proper to call Jesus a man, because He performed so many miraculous things. This Jesus was born miraculously, with angels announcing to simple shepherd folks His birth, with wise men from far countries journeying to worship Him. This Jesus claimed to be sent by God. He said that He came to earth to reveal to us God. He claimed that we could have eternal life through knowing God. He did not support His claim by consuming His enemies and otherwise asserting His power. Rather, He supported His claim by miraculously healing multitudes of people. He had compassion on the downtrodden. He supported those who were weary. He opened the eyes of the blind. He healed the deaf. He raised the dead, something that most clearly demonstrated the power of God. He was gracious and compassionate. All of these were things the prophet Isaiah had prophesied 750 years earlier would be marks of the Messiah. He (Jesus) spoke about God in ways that amazed people. He spoke about sin and our need for a Savior. He spoke of God’s great love for us. He said that the person who saw Him had seen God. He taught us how to know God.
He also repeatedly told those around Him that He would be killed and would rise again on the third day. He told them that He was dying for a purpose that was on His heart and on the heart of the Father. It was God’s chosen way for us to have a relationship with God. At one point He asked the Father to spare Him of this impending death, if there was any other way. There was no other way. When He was around 33 years old, He was killed and crucified on a wooden cross, as He had said. Three days later, He arose bodily and visibly from the grave. He was seen by over 500 people at various times during the next 40 days. Then He went to heaven. The evidence was so overpowering that within 2 months of the resurrection, the 120 close followers of Him before the resurrection swelled quickly to more than 3,000 people in the very city in which the resurrection occurred. Soon, the multitudes became too large to count. He promised to send the Holy Spirit to those who believed in Him and He said that the Holy Spirit would instruct us about God. Today, we have a collection of 27 books that were written by the people who knew Jesus, which tells us about Him, and ultimately about God.
Nowhere else in history do we have a similar revelation of God. Nor is there any other history of God that is as testable and subject to proof as this history. While some may call certain parts of the history into question, the actual factual evidence does not support their claims. What evidence we have supports the historicity of much in these books.
Thus, when I look to see if God has revealed Himself to us so that we might know who He is, I am drawn to these books. Both in the Hebrew Scriptures and in the books written by those who knew Jesus, I find a remarkably consistent picture of God. God is one God who exists in three persons (God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit), a fact which stretches our minds and ultimately we cannot fathom, but seems well supported by the way He has revealed Himself beginning in the first book of Moses written 3,400 years ago and ending with the last book of John written 1,900 years ago. He is the creator of heaven and earth. He is the creator of humans. He wants to have a relationship with us. But we have sinned, and sin separates us from God, because He is pure. He established an elaborate sacrificial system for Israel to observe in order to teach us through this object lesson that there was the possibility of substituting the life of another for the death we deserved because of our sins. But He did not delight in sacrifices of animals. It was only a lesson. Then, at the right time, God the Son came to this earth. We know Him as Jesus. He came to offer Himself, a perfect sinless person, to die in our place, to take away our sins, and to offer us His purity. He died for our sins, the books tell us, as was prophesied in Isaiah 53 and as told to us in 1 Corinthians 15:1-3. He was buried in the ground. And three days later, He rose again, an event celebrated by Christians around the world at Easter time. He offers a personal relationship with Himself by simple trust in Jesus as our Savior and Lord (Romans 10:4-13). If we trust in Him, He will come to us and begin the process of transforming us into people who know Him. And He tells us that one day Jesus will come again and take those who believe in Him to God.
You ask a second question: “Why do we try to figure Him out?” My suggested answer to this question is much shorter. I believe it is because we are curious beings, and we want to know. I think that somewhere, deep within us, there is a desire to know about God. There is a desire to have a relationship with God. All over the world, in many different ways, we find culture after culture seeking ways to get to know God. And some have developed elaborate systems for this pursuit. I find it interesting, here in America, while many people have never taken the time to read the revelation of God as set forth above, the same people want to pursue what they term “spirituality,” a term in some vogue today. People want a connection with the Divine. But, ultimately, all of our efforts to connect are delusional and in vain if He has not revealed Himself to us. I have challenged people in the past as to what type of hope they can have in a God who is simply something they created in their own mind, taking a little from here and a little from there. Does anyone really believe that a God we create in our imagination is going to be anything like the God who is and whom we will face one day in judgment? I think to believe this is insanity. It is like a person creating a fantasy world where they can jump off of buildings and not be hurt, and then one day try it. Fantasy is not reality.
Having reached the conclusion that I cannot, on my own, figure Him out, I return to my search to see if He has disclosed Himself to us. This, again, leads me back to the God revealed in this wonderful collection of books I described above.
I will pray to God that He will reveal Himself to you, and that you will discover the joy of knowing Him. The prophet Isaiah says in Isaiah 55:6-7:
Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.