Lesson 1 – Knowing God


Survey Studies in Reformed Theology

Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies
by Bob Burridge ©1996, 2006, 2010, 2016


The Knowable God

(Logic and Proofs of God – Logic’s Limits and Faith’s Foundation)

The fallen human nature puts itself in the center
of everything, and as the test of everything.

The fallen mind looks for proof of things based upon what it already believes is a fair test. To determine if there is a true god, it looks to Science and Logic assuming them to be free of prejudices. Thankfully, we don’t have to rely upon these methods to be assured of the reality of the God who made all things, and to be confident in facts he tell us about his nature, plans, promises, and activities.

The disciplines of Science and Logic are not as powerful as some tend to think.
– Science observes things to provide the physical information we work with.
– Logic doesn’t create facts – it works with bits of information we accept as true.

The Science/Logic method has limitations, particularly when we deal with realities we ca not directly observe and measure such as the reality of a Sovereign and All-Powerful Creator, and our responsibilities and accountability to him.

1. There’s the problem of the facts we have to work with.
We don’t have all of them, and the ones we have are susceptible to error.
– Our sampling of information may be too small for reliable generalizations.

– Our observations may be effected by things we wrongly assume to be true. We are familiar with optical illusions where things appear to be something they are not. We all have assumptions even if we fail to be aware of them. These assumptions produce expectations which color our observations. We tend to see what we think should be there, rather than what really is there.

– Our fallen minds strip away the information about God in the things we observe. Psalm 19:1-4 tells about God’s revelation of himself in what he created.

1. The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.
2. Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge.
3. There is no speech nor language Where their voice is not heard.
4. Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their words to the end of the world. In them He has set a tabernacle for the sun,

The word “where” in verse 3 is inserted by the translators. It is not present in the inspired Hebrew text. The testimony of God in creation is clearly displayed, but it’s not heard by the fallen human mind.

Romans 1:18-20 tells us that the declaration of God’s glory, handiwork, and information is suppressed.

18. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,
19. because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.
20. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,

1 Corinthians 2:14 explains this inability of our perceptions, “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

We don’t have sufficient data (quantitatively or qualitatively) to support a proof of these spiritual matters by Science and raw Logic.

2. The way we assemble ideas about God is suspect.
Since our data is neither complete nor accurate, we are not able to put together absolutely reliable ideas. The fallen mind cannot be unaffected by the expectations of its fallen nature. It tends to build a Theology that is shaped around self-centered needs and desires.

3. Our methods of drawing logical inferences are not reliable.
The methods of logic fall into two categories: the deductive and inductive methods.

Deductive logic directs us to better understand the informaton we already have. It produces no new information. If properly conducted the results are inescapable. They necessarily follow. For example, consider these syllogisms:

– All natural descendants of Adam are sinners who come short of the glory of God.
– John Calvin was a natural descendant of Adam.
– Therefore John Calvin is a sinner who comes short of the glory of God.

– Persons possessing the unique attributes of God are God.
– Jesus possesses the unique attributes of God.
– Therefore Jesus is God.

Deduction is not able to create new ideas. It can only help us apply general facts to specific situations.

Inductive logic makes generalizations from accepted bits of information. There may be facts or situations we have not considered, or that we did not know about. There is no way to rule out other possible generalizations that did not occur to us. Induction only produces a degree of certainty. It does not produce absolute truth, and is always subject to error depending upon how the generalizations are made. For example:

– The Bible records some occasions where angels took on human appearances.
– In cases where the gender of the form they take on is mentioned, they appeared as a male.
– Therefore angels always appear in a male form.

This is obviously an invalid conclusion. It generalizes beyond what the facts tell us. Since gender is not always mentioned in their appearances recorded in the Bible, we cannot rule out that angels may sometimes appear in a female form.

In rationalistic attempts to prove the existence of God, the method is inductive. The Deductive method canno’t be used because it only analyzes informaton we have already established as true. We are left with Induction, but that can only yield a likelihood rather than a compelling absolute conclusion. All it can establish is the possibility or probability that such a God exists.

Thomas Aquinas formulated several rationalistic arguments
intended to “prove” God based upon inductive reasoning.

There is the argument of “first cause“: Since everything is admitted to have a cause before it, if we extend backwards from every event, we will come to one original cause which therefore must be God.

There is the argument of “design“: Since order and design are found everywhere in the universe, there must have been some rational being behind all things since pure chance would produce chaos. Therefore that ultimate rational being behind all things must be God.

The problem is that “order and design” are perceptions. Randomness often produces orderly patterns. For a simple example: the more you flip a coin, the more heads and tails will tend to occur equally.

There are other similar rationalistic arguments produced by the Thomian school of thought. While they are consistent with what God has revealed in his word, they do not in themselves offer convincing proof to those remaining in the fallen estate of humanity. There are many alternatives to each argument once it is assumed that there is no Sovereign Creator. Still undiscovered complexities in the laws of physics could be presumed to account for what we observe.

They may convince people that belief in God is not contrary to reason, but they do not demonstrate anything with absolute certainty.

Critic Bertrand Russel in “Why I am Not a Christian” said that pure logic does not, cannot, demand that we believe in God. Such proofs only prove the poverty of our own imaginations to come up with other explanations.

The best these arguments can do is to demonstrate the rational possibility that a god exists who is at least greater than that which we as humans can conceive.

Mystical proofs of God

The Mystic appeals to our awareness that there are things beyond our ability to comprehend. Some things are unknowable. It’s always safe to presume the possibility of things that are not materially measurable. Reality is seen as subjective rather than objective. They say we generate reality out of we choose to believe.

For example: Norman Grubb wrote in, “Once Caught, No Escape” (on page 182), “If God is an illusion, He is so wonderful and so satisfies all I can conceive He should be, that if He is the great illusion, I will remain a little illusion along with Him.”

This is purely existential. It has no concern to determine if a matter is independently true or not.

Mystics dare to hold to the possibility that God is just an illusion. But they say it doesn’t matter. It’s what we individually believe that forms our reality. They reason that it’s best to accept an illusion as truth rather than to imagine it necessary or even possible to find an absolute foundation for truth. Faith in this school of thought is just a “leap in the dark”. It’s not a “firm and sure knowledge of the divine favor toward us, founded on the truth of a free promise in Christ, and revealed to our minds and sealed on our hearts by the Holy Spirit.” (Calvin Institutes: book 3, section 3.2.7).

Atheism has a harder logical barrier:
you can’t prove a negative.

Logic and science are not really at the heart of Atheism. It’s mostly driven by presumption. God is a spirit being. He is not physical. Since realities in a non-physical world can’t be observed or measured, Science can’t address the issue. Without the observations of Science, Logic has no objective facts to reason with.

The most honest unbeliever in God is one who admits he just doesn’t know if there is such a being. According to his own rules of reason, he must remain an Agnostic, one who just doesn’t know.

But the Atheist just assumes there isn’t a God. His unbelief is a presupposion that can’t be supported by observations.

Most proclaimed Atheists blame human invented religions for people believing in a god of some kind. They tend to become very intolerant of those who base their thinking upon different presuppositions. Many are very active in trying to silence the freedom of believers in God to tell others what they believe. No group appears to fight harder against something they say doesn’t exist.

There is sound evidence for the existence of God.
Logic’s Limits and Faith’s Foundation

The rationalist attempts to work from within a closed system of truth. He presumes that all the facts worth accepting are those we gather through our five senses. He may enhance the range of his senses by using sophisticated equipment. He may enlarge his own experience by information gathered by others. However, he still only accepts observations made within our limited human experience.

God is spirit, and is infinite in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth. He is not directly observable with our finite physical senses. Therefore the rationalistic investigator must reason by induction only. The best he could hope for is to show the reasonableness of belief in a god slightly greater than himself.

When the thinker establishes the rules for thinking, he has engaged in the most clear case of circular reasoning.

Christianity holds to an open system of truth. Information comes into our experience by another means than just our own use of our physical senses. We can know truth by revelation directly from God. Since this data comes from outside our world, it comes with the validation of the God who gave it. For us to validate what God says presumes more confidence in our own limited and corrupted thought processes than we have in the Creator.

We say that we know God by faith. Faith is not just an irratinoal choice to believe something by taking a “blind leap in the dark.” It’s not based upon scientific knowledge based upon evidences of things we have seen or have been told.

The blind leap in the dark idea is more a form of existentialism. To believe in anything without any reason to do so, would be a meaningless if not an insane act. Certainly not reflective of the virtue attributed to faith in the Bible.

The scientific approach to faith considers reports of modern miracles and personal testimonies. But our senses and information gathering can be mesleading.

We often hear illustrations which are based upon these false understandings of a biblical faith. Some say, “Trust in God the same way you trust a chair to hold you up when you sit on it.” But that’s just a misuse of a scientific form of trust. We trust chairs because they look like they will hold us up based on our past experience with chairs. There are some chairs I would not sit in because they look like they won’t support me.

Some say, “Trust in God the way you trust a road while the end of it is still out of our view.” But that’s just an existential leap in the dark. I’ve taken roads only to have to turn back because they didn’t get me to where I wanted to go.

These are only judgments based upon the best information we have, and personal experiences. Faith is not just a decision based upon an irrational choice or previously gathered information.

Biblical faith is something certain.

Faith according to the Bible is exercised and made certain not by our own investigation, and not by an irrational choice. It’s the result of a supernatural work. God the Holy Spirit works upon the individual as the completed work of Christ is applied. The offense of our sin is removed restoring us to be able to see what the fallen mind strips away. In Christ we are able to perceive the truths of God displayed around us and explained in his written word.

Attempts to validate truth about God by something other than God revealing himself, introduces uncertainty and doubt. It puts the investigator over God as a greater and more reliable source of information.

God created us with the capacity to know him: made in his image, but damaged by the fall into sin. He remains responsibly able to see God in Creation, Providence, and in his Conscience. But he suppresses the part that points to God as Creator, Redeemer, and Lord. God redeems some to be able again to accept truth. That capacity is restored in them. The Holy Spirit works by means of the written word to communicate real truth from God.

Scripture declares the nature of God, the content of his decrees, and the ways of his providence. It does not appeal to things created as if they should be more trusted than the word of God.

The doctrines of the work of the Holy Spirit, of fallen man’s ability or inability to reason, and of the nature of faith as something bestowed by grace alone, are covered in detail in other chapters of the Westminster Confession of Faith. They will be taken up in later lessons in this course of study.

Questions for Review and Thought
1. Why are we naturally concerned with knowing what is true?
2. How does the way God knows things differ from the way we know them?
3. What biblical reasons justify men explaining the Scriptures to others?
4. What text in the Book of Acts lays a foundation for church leaders writing statements of faith and practice to guide and help the church?
5. If the Bible is our only way of knowing what is true, then why is it helpful to have a confession or a catechism?
6. What is the danger of a church not having a written creed or confession?
7. What makes the Westminster Confession and Catechisms good statements of faith?
8. Why is it important that every family have and use a copy of the Bible?
9. Why is it helpful for every home to have a copy of the Westminster Standards?

(Bible quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (1988 edition) unless otherwise noted.)

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