Chapter OneTough Questions about God
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My daughter Ruth, a pastor's wife, told her oldest son, Samuel, who
was then about four years old, "Go ask your grandfather." A moment
later I was confronted with this tough question: "Grandpa, where is the mind
in the brain?" This question is easy enough to answer for a college or seminary
philosophy student who knows what a category mistake is, but how
do you explain it to a four-year-old?
As parents and church leaders who have ministered to small children
know, the toughest questions typically come from the youngest members of
the congregation. Often these are about God-such as, "Daddy, who made
God?" More than a few parents have heard this question before, but only a
few can answer it.
We must be prepared to give an answer (1 Peter 3:15) to every sincere
question we are asked (Colossians 4:6). Here are some of the toughest ones
I've been asked over the past fifty years of ministry. I will try my best to
answer them so that even young boys and girls can understand.
WHO MADE GOD?
Who made God? No one did. He was not made. He has always existed.
Only things that had a beginning-like the world-need a maker. God had
no beginning, so God did not need to be made.
For those who are a little older, a little more can be said. Traditionally,
most atheists who deny the existence of God believe that the universe was
not made; it was just "there" forever. They appeal to the first law of thermodynamics
for support: "Energy can neither be created nor destroyed,"
they insist. Several things must be observed in response.
First, this way of stating the first law is not scientific; rather, it is a philosophical
assertion. Science is based on observation, and there is no observational
evidence than can support the dogmatic "can" and "cannot"
implicit in this statement. It should read, "[As far as we have observed,] the
amount of actual energy in the universe remains constant." That is, no one
had observed any actual new energy either coming into existence or going
out of existence. Once the first law is understood properly, it says nothing
about the universe being eternal or having no beginning. As far as the first
law is concerned, energy may or may not have been created. It simply asserts
that if energy was created, then as far as we can tell, the actual amount of
energy that was created has remained constant since then.
Further, let us suppose for the sake of argument that energy-the
whole universe of energy we call the cosmos-was not created, as many
atheists have traditionally believed. If this is so, it is meaningless to ask who
made the universe. If energy is eternal and uncreated, of course no one created
it. It has always existed. However, if it is meaningless to ask, "Who made
the universe?" since it has always existed, then it is equally meaningless to
ask "Who made God?" since he has always existed.
If the universe is not eternal, it needs a cause. On the other hand, if it
has no beginning, it does not need a cause of its beginning. Likewise, if a
God exists who has no beginning, it is absurd to ask, "Who made God?" It
is a category mistake to ask, "Who made the Unmade?" or "Who created
the Uncreated?" One may as well ask, "Where is the bachelor's wife?"
WHY COULDN'T THE WORLD ALWAYS HAVE
Christians naturally believe there must be a God because the world
had a beginning. And everything that had a beginning had a beginner. But
the tough question to answer is how we know the world had a beginning.
Maybe the world always existed.
Famous agnostic Bertrand Russell presented this dilemma: Either the
world had a beginning, or it did not. If it did not, it did not need a cause
(God). If it did, we can ask, "Who caused God?" But if God has a cause, he
is not God. In either case, we do not arrive at a first uncaused cause (God).
The answer to this tough question is that it, too, asks a meaningless
question: Who made God? To put it another way, it wrongly assumes that"everything must have a cause" when what is claimed is that "everything that
had a beginning had a cause." This is quite a different matter. Of course, everything
that had a beginning had a beginner. Nothing cannot make something.
As Julie Andrews once sang, "Nothing came from nothing. Nothing
ever could." So God does not need a cause because he had no beginning.
This being the case, we need only to show that the universe had a
beginning, to show that there must have been a cause of it (i.e., God). Two
strong arguments will be offered as evidence that the universe had a beginning.
One is from science-the second law of thermodynamics. The second
is from philosophy, namely, the impossibility of an infinite number of
According to the second law of thermodynamics, the universe is running
out of usable energy. But if the universe is running down, it cannot
be eternal. Otherwise, it would have run down completely by now. While
you can never run out of an unlimited amount of energy, it does not take
forever to run out of a limited amount of energy. Hence, the universe must
have had a beginning. To illustrate, every car has a limited amount of energy
(gas). That is why we have to refuel from time to time-more often than
we like. If we had an unlimited (i.e., infinitely) large gas tank, we would
never have to stop for gas again. The fact that we have to refill shows that
it was filled up to begin with. Or, to use another example, an old clock that
gradually unwinds and has to be rewound would not unwind unless it had
been wound up to begin with. In short, the universe had a beginning. And
whatever had a beginning must have had a beginner. Therefore, the universe
must have had a beginner (God).
Some have speculated that the universe is self-winding or self-rebounding.
But this position is exactly that-pure speculation without
any real evidence. In fact, it is contrary to the second law of thermodynamics.
For even if the universe were rebounding, like a bouncing ball in
reverse, it would gradually peter out. There is simply no observational evidence
that the universe is self-winding. Even agnostic astronomers like
Robert Jastrow have pointed out: "Once hydrogen has been burned within
that star and converted to heavier elements, it can never be restored to its
original state." Thus, "minute by minute and year by year, as hydrogen is
used up in stars, the supply of this element grows smaller."
If the overall amount of actual energy stays the same but the universe
is running out of usable energy, it has never had an infinite amount-for
an infinite amount of energy can never run down. This would mean that
the universe could not have existed forever in the past. It must have had a
beginning. Or, to put it another way, according to the second law, since the
universe is getting more and more disordered, it cannot be eternal. Otherwise,
it would be totally disordered by now, which it is not. So it must have
had a beginning-one that was highly ordered.
A second argument that the universe had a beginning-and hence a
beginner-comes from philosophy. It argues that there could not have been
an infinite number of moments before today; otherwise today never would
have come (which it has). This is because, by definition, an infinite can never
be traversed-it has no end (or beginning). But since the moments before
today have been traversed-that is, we have arrived at today-it follows
that there must only have been a finite (limited) number of moments before
today. That is, time had a beginning. But if the space-time universe had a
beginning, it must have been caused to come into existence. This cause of
everything else that exists is called God. God exists.
Even the great skeptic David Hume held both premises of this argument
for God. What is more, Hume himself never denied that things have a
cause for their existence. He wrote, "I never asserted so absurd a proposition
as that anything might arise without a cause." He also said that it was absurd
to believe there were an infinite number of moments: "The temporal world
has a beginning. An infinite number of real parts of time, passing in succession
and exhausted one after another, appears so evident a contradiction that
no man, one should think, whose judgment is not corrupted, instead of
being improved, by the sciences, would ever be able to admit it." Now if
both of these premises are true, it follows that there must have been a creator
of the space-time universe we call the cosmos-that is, God exists.
HOW CAN GOD MAKE SOMETHING OUT OF
If God and nothing else existed prior to the creation of the world, the
universe came into existence from nothing. But isn't it absurd to say that
something can come from nothing? It is absurd to say that nothing caused
something, because nothing does not exist and has no power to do anything.
But it is not absurd to say that someone (i.e., God) brought the universe
into existence from nonexistence. Nothing cannot make something,
but someone (i.e., God) can make something out of nothing.
In fact, if the universe had a beginning (as demonstrated earlier), then
there was once no universe and then there was-after God created it. This
is what is meant by creation "out of nothing" (Latin, ex nihilo). It does not
mean that God took a "handful of nothing" and made something out of it,
as though "nothing" were something out of which he made the world.
There was God and simply nothing else. Then God brought something else
into existence that had not existed to that point.
Or to put it another way, creation "out of nothing" simply means that
God did not create out of something else that which already existed
alongside himself, as in certain forms of dualism in which there are two
eternal substances of entities. This is really creation ex materia, that is, out
of some preexisting matter outside of God. The Greek philosopher Plato
held this view.
Neither did God create the world out of himself (i.e., ex Deo). That is,
God did not take part of himself and make the world out of it. In fact, the
orthodox Christian God has no parts. He is a simple whole that is absolutely
one. Thus there is no way God could have taken part of himself and made
the world. God is infinite and the world is finite. And no amount of finite
parts can make an infinite, since no matter how many parts or pieces one
has, there could always be one more. But there cannot be more than an
infinite. Hence, no amount of parts would ever equal an infinite. So God
could not have created the world out of part of himself (i.e., ex materia).
The world came from God but is not of God. He was its cause but not
its substance. It came into existence by him, but it is not made of him. However,
if the world was not created out of God (ex Deo) or out of something
else (ex materia) existing alongside God, it must have been created out of
nothing (ex nihilo). There is no other alternative. God made something that
before he made it did not exist, either in him or in anything else.
The only place the world "existed" before God made it was as an idea
in God's mind. Just as a painter has an idea of his painting in his mind before
he paints it, so God had an idea of the world before he made it. In this
sense, the world preexisted in God's mind as an idea before he brought it
WHAT WAS GOD DOING BEFORE HE MADE
Another tough question often asked about God is this: What was God
doing with all his time before he created? The famous fifth-century A.D.
Christian teacher Augustine had two answers to this question, one humorous
and one serious. The first answer was that God was spending his time
preparing hell for people who ask questions like this! The serious answer
was that God didn't have any time on his hands, since there was no time
before time was created. Time began with creation. Before creation, time
did not exist. So there was no time for God to have on his hands. The world
did not begin by a creation in time but by a creation of time. But, you may
think, if there was no time before time began, what was there? The answer is, eternity.
God is eternal, and the only thing prior to time was eternity.
Further, the question implies that an infinitely perfect being like God
could get bored. Boredom, however, is a sign of imperfection and dissatisfaction,
and God is perfectly satisfied. Thus, there is no way God could be
bored, even if he had long time periods on his hands. An infinitely creative
mind can always find something interesting to do. Only finite minds that
run out of interesting things to do get bored.
Finally, the Christian God has three persons who are in perfect fellowship.
There is no way such a being could get bored or lonely. There is
not only always someone to "talk to," but someone of perfect understanding,
love, and companionship. Boredom is impossible in such a being.
HOW CAN THERE BE THREE PERSONS IN
How can God be three and yet one? Isn't this a contradiction? It would
seem that God could be one and not three, or three and not one. But he
cannot be both three and one at the same time. It would be a violation of
the most fundamental law of thought, namely, the law of noncontradiction.
First of all, the Christian belief in a Trinity of three persons in one God
is not a contradiction. A contradiction occurs only when something is both
A and non-A at the same time and in the same sense. God is both three
and one at the same time but not in the same sense. He is three persons but
one in essence. He is three persons but only one in nature.
It would be a contradiction to say that God had three natures in one
nature or three persons in one person. But it is not a contradiction to claim
that God has three persons in one nature. God is like a triangle. At the same
time it has three corners and yet it is only one triangle. Each corner is not
the same as the whole triangle. Or, God is like one to the third power ([1.sup.3]).
1 x 1 x 1 = 1. God is not 1 + 1 + 1 = 3, which is tritheism or polytheism.
God is one God, manifested eternally and simultaneously in three distinct
God is love (1 John 4:16). But to have love, there must be a lover
(Father), a loved one (Son), and a spirit of love (Holy Spirit). So, love itself
is a tri-unity.
Another illustration of the Trinity is that God is like my mind, ideas,
and words. There is a unity between them, yet they are distinct from each