Last week, Ken Samples of Reasons to Believe was a guest on the afternoon radio program Issues Etc., which is hosted by Lutheran pastor Todd Wilken. This series, entitled “Answering Tough Questions About the Christian Faith,” aired on March 1-3.
The first program focused on questions about faith in God. Here’s the intro:
Wilken: I imagine that—although it’s not a majority position, it certainly is a popular one that has for some reason rather broad appeal—the position that even if there is a God, no one, not Christians, not anyone, could possibly claim to have definitive knowledge of who that God is. How do you answer that?
Samples: I think that there are a couple things I would want to say to that. I think the first point that I would want to bring up is that there’s a logical problem with that kind of idea. If people come along and say, “Look, nobody can really know God; nobody can really know definitively who he is, what he’s like, and what he wants from all of us.” In essence, you’re essentially saying, “I know so much about God to know that none of us can have access to him,” and that falls back upon itself; that’s self-defeating. When you say, “No one can really know God,” you are really saying, “I know so much about him that I know you can’t know this.”
In a positive way, however, I would say this: “Look, historic Christianity is a faith of revelation, and when we speak about revelation, we mean that God took the initiative to make himself known, to unveil himself, to reveal who he is. Of course, within historic Christian theology, we talk about two types of revelation, general revelation and special revelation. General revelation is before our eyes in the book of nature, as some within the Reformation would speak of, that nature reveals a God who is the Creator, that he is the one who stands behind human morality. So all of these cosmological and design-type arguments reflect God as Creator and Designer but even more important—and this is where I think Christians can really move the ball forward—we believe that God has become man in Jesus Christ. We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, took a human nature, and if we look at his resume, if we look at his qualifications, his claims, his character, not only fulfilling messianic prophesies but his incredible ability to speak and teach and sum up the great questions of life, and ultimately his resurrection, I think those are the kinds of things I would say to somebody who questions whether we can know God.
I haven’t listened to the entire series yet, but I am working on it. Samples does an excellent job of refuting common objections to Christian faith.
The three messages are available at the issuesetc.org website, or as a podcast from iTunes (Issues Etc).
Grace and Peace
10 thoughts on “A response to “No one can really know God””
op said: “When you say, “No one can really know God,” you are really saying, “I know so much about him that I know you can’t know this.””
I agree that “I know so much about him that I know you can’t know this.” is a self-contradictory route to the conclusion that “No one can really know God”.
This article provides a stronger arguement, and is persuasive to me.
Thanks for your comment. I found the article in the link you included to be rather unconvincing from the second sentence:
The article assumes that God has done nothing to make himself known. We cannot know much about God if he has kept himself hidden, but as a Christian I believe that God has acted to make himself known: in creation, in special revelation (the writings of Scripture), and most of all in Jesus Christ. He is not a hidden God.
The article’s argument doesn’t get any stronger as it progresses, and ends with a misunderstanding of what faith is. Faith is not a blind acceptance of something that doesn’t appear to be true. The article states:
God has left plenty of evidence of his existence for those who don’t shut their eyes. Here’s one: The universe exists, and we have only three options for explaining this fact. Either it has always existed, it created itself, or it was created by something outside of itself.
We know from cosmology that it has not always existed. There was a beginning to the universe. Most accept this as the Big Bang, 13-15 billion years ago, which is just a blink of the eye ago compared to eternity. To say that it created itself is absurd. This would be saying that the Big Bang had no cause; that there were not even laws or some sort of multiverse that caused it to happen. To posit a multiverse that spawns baby universes just puts the question back a step and doesn’t solve anything.
The Christian answer is that there was something outside of the universe that caused the universe to come into existence. This Cause gave it all of the laws (something the Big Bang cannot explain), energy, matter, space, and time it needed to exist in the way it does. This is not a blind faith, but one that is consistent with reason and reality.
Christian faith, therefore, is a trust or a confidence in One who has revealed himself. We certainly do not know everything about God through the creation, and not even through his more specific ways of revealing himself, but we do enough to have this trusting faith.
We use this definition of faith all the time in our conversations. I can say I have faith in Barack Obama—or I can say I have no faith in him—and everyone knows what I mean by this. The person with faith in President Obama has a confidence that Obama can do what he says he will do. Likewise, I can say I have faith in a certain airplane. By this, I mean that I believe that the airplane is well-built and can carry me from New York to Chicago.
There are those, on the other hand, who exercise a blind faith. These are people who believe in something despite all the contrary evidence. I would put the atheist/agnostic/skeptic/freethinker who believes that the universe has existed forever, or that it created itself, into this category. Such a universe defies observation, scientific theory, and logic, but that does not hinder them in their faith.
I hope this helps to explain the Christian perspective on faith a little better.
Your mentioning of the big bang reminded me of my college astronomy class. One day, a woman who seemed to ask a lot of dumb questions asked the prof “where did the planets come from?” (I guess she didn’t read the textbook.) The prof described how the planets were formed out of a disc of dust orbiting around the sun. Then she asked “where did the dust come from?” The prof then described how the dust consisted of elements cooked up in the interior of stars which went supernova long ago. Then she asked about where those stars came from and the questions and answers went further back until it came to the big bang. She then asked “what caused the big bang?” to which he replied “I don’t know – you’ll have to ask your theologian.”
“Look, nobody can really know God; nobody can really know definitively who he is, what he’s like, and what he wants from all of us.” In essence, you’re essentially saying, “I know so much about God to know that none of us can have access to him,” and that falls back upon itself; that’s self-defeating.
This quote is going about the matter from the wrong side. Its not that non-believers know so much about God to know that we cannot know him, it is that the rules, attributes, and constraints of God are set up so they cannot be known through any of the five human senses. You could argue that God speaks through us or that God has revealed himself to us in some other way, but that would just have to be taking your word for it. So I feel in this way we cannot know God.
I would also like to comment on your cosmological statement about God and the creation of the universe. You (Geochristian) and Tim both said that people who believe in the big bang get asked questions about the formation of something in the universe and always back up until they reach the big bang and have no idea what came before that. My answer would be that science does not know everything and will never have an answer to everything. From our limited amount of knowledge of the universe we are still asking questions and searching for how the universe began.
Now the Christian explanation put God at the beginning of the creation but how did God end up there? Even if he is outside of the universe. It seems to me that we all have a basic understanding of the laws of thermodynamics and that this poses a problem.
Let me know what you guys think.
Shambone, not to be pedantic, but you just did exactly what you said you weren’t doing – you declared that you know so much about God to know that none of us can access him.
At first you start with “Its not that non-believers know so much about God to know that we cannot know him,” but then directly contradict that by stating “it is that the rules, attributes, and constraints of God are set up so they cannot be known through any of the five human senses.”
In other words, you know what the “rules, attributes, and constraints of God” are, and you know that they are such that we can’t access God.
Am I missing something?
Shambone, I would have to guess that you have some sort of preconception as to what God is to you to think that you can not know about Him through any of the five senses. Science, the Bible, history, direct revelation these are all ways that you can use some of your senses to interact with and “know” God.
As to your reservations about the cosmological argument I would have to say that with the three arguments, if you accept that the universe had to have a beginning than that beginning, whatever it was, is God. For Christians God is the beginning, when God created the universe He put in the laws that it runs by, such as the laws of thermodynamics. It is a mistake to assume UNIVERSAL laws apply to extra-universal forces. Cosmologically God is the beginning that is necessary to a universe that science shows us has not always existed.
Folded mountains and graded bedding (http://www.nvcc.edu/home/cbentley/gol_135/billy_goat/readings.htm) refute uniformatarianism.
You comment would have been more appropriate at my “Six bad arguments from Answers in Genesis (Part 6)” post, which discussed folding.
When you said your posts would be fewer with your new position, I didn’t realize that they would stop altogether.
I miss you man!
Thank God for Jesus! Of course we cannot know God through our senses but we sure can look at Jesus and know “Oh that’s what He must be like”. We will have all eternity to immerse ourselves in God if we but believe in Jesus. I know it’s true because He said so.