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THE RATIONAL GOD
Does God Make Sense?
by John Clayton
This is the kind of book that drives theologian and philosophers crazy. It is written by a man with no PhD after his name, no training in philosophy, and no credibility in the academic community. His training and experience have been in secondary education, and his professional career was spent in a public school system that has not been held up as exemplary by anyone. His education was in science at a state university with further training in physics, chemistry, and earth science under the guidance of the National Science Foundation.
So why would I, a man whose career has been involved with science and teaching in an American inner city high school, write a book about believing that what God has done and is doing is logical, rational, and understandable? I grew up as an atheist, taught by my parents to reject the concept of God. However, my studies of science convinced me that there is intelligence and design in the creation, and my study of world religions led me to a personal relationship to the God of the Bible. For most of my adult life as a Christian I have been teaching people that science and faith in God are compatible, rational, and reasonable. God can be known through the things he has made (Romans 1:20). This book is a response to those who maintain that you just have to accept or reject the God of the Bible on blind faith. I have heard it said that “If I can know the mind of God, then God isn't God.” Atheists like Richard Dawkins put it like this:
God … is arguably the most unpleasant character in all of fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. 1
So do we accept all of this as accurate descriptions of God and how God acts, and assume that, as the old hymn suggests, “Farther along we'll know all about it, farther along we'll understand why; …”? This book responds to that assertion by saying, “No, we can understand much of why God does what he does.” 2 God is not irrational and illogical. Even with our limited human capacities to understand, we can see reasons for God's actions and we can reject the kind of characterization that we see people like Dawkins bring against God. Religious people side with the atheists in this approach by quoting passages like Isaiah 55:8 – 9. There God says “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, … As the heavens are higher than earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Does this mean we can never understand why God does what he does, and that trying to understand or justify why things happen as they do is an exercise in futility? People do not read what precipitated that remark by God. In the verses right before these, God talks about having mercy and pardon for the wicked and evil man who returns to God. Immediately after the statement God talks about the fact that his actions have a purpose by saying “… so is my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” I am writing this book to look for the purposes of God in what he does. Passages like Micah 4:12 tell us that those who oppose God “… do not know the thoughts of the LORD; they do not understand his plan … .” The suggestion would be that those who do not oppose God CAN know the thoughts of the Lord and CAN understand his plan.
This book comes from life. There have been many times that I have yelled at God because I did not see any reasonable explanation of why I was enduring the conflict that I was enduring at the time. As I look back at those events which were tragedies at the time, and which I thought were irrational responses on God's part, I can now see how God used the events to accomplish his will and to also help me mature as a person and grow spiritually. Christians quote Romans 8:28 a great deal when we are in the throes of inner conflict. The apostle Paul precedes this great verse by saying that “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God” (verses 26, 27). With that having been said, Paul goes on to the verse we quote often: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
If we know God and if our lives are intimately and deeply immersed in him, we will have more understanding of him. This is not to say we will always have the right understanding, or that our understanding will always be, in fact, what is correct. What we can do is avoid viewing God as Dawkins does — as a bully that abuses and manipulates for his own selfish reasons. I heard Mark Lowry on a Gaither music show some years ago, in speaking of the denomination of which he is a member, “We may not be right, but we are definite.” I may not be right in some of my understandings, but I am definite that God is a loving, rational, caring, wise God who does things with purpose, with love and with care in mind. Jesus prayed in John 17:20 – 23:
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. … so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
We sing “I Come to the Garden Alone,” and I wonder if we really mean the chorus to that great song “And He walks with me, and He talks with me, And He tells me I am His own, And the joy we share as we tarry there, None other has ever known.” 3 Have you ever seen a beautiful sunset and spontaneously spoke to God about the beauty he has just given you? It is my hope that as we look at various things that happen in life we may come to understand God better, grow closer to him, and have that “oneness” that Jesus prayed for to a greater degree.
One final comment needs to be made about the approach of this book. There seems to this author to be two basic approaches to the question of how God operates. One approach views God as a magician. Those who quote Isaiah 55:8 – 9 mentioned above, frequently seem to believe that everything God does is magical, miraculous. This view maintains that God “speaks” things into existence in passages like Genesis 1:3 and that it happens in a miraculous way. The passage says, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” Over and over God says “Let there be” and there was (see Genesis 1:6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26). To many people this is a “rabbit out of the hat” type of magic trick.
The second view is to understand God more as a engineer than as a magician. Those of us who have a physics background know that light is produced by the acceleration of an electric charge. We do not understand “let there be light” as a magic trick but as a conscious design of God. God is giving commands in “let there be light,” but there are agents which make these things happen in an engineered way. This is not to say that God does not sometimes miraculously do something that is not possible naturally, but that is the exception and not the rule. It is also not to say that man can or ever will be able to explain all the natural things that God does, but that is only because of our ignorance and physical limits, not because God functioned in some mystical way.
In Proverbs 8:1 – 11 we find wisdom and understanding speaking to us.
Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice? … To you, O people, I call out; I raise my voice to all mankind. You who are simple, gain prudence; You who are foolish, set your hearts on it. Listen for I have trustworthy things to say; I open my lips to speak what is right. My mouth speaks what is true, for my lips detest wickedness. … Choose my instruction instead of silver; knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her.
In verses 22 – 23 we are told “The LORD brought me [wisdom] forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old. I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be.” Our new discoveries in quantum mechanics are showing us more and more the complexity involved in just forming the basic elements of matter — of charge and mass. This is not a series of magic tricks. Proverbs 8 goes on to describe God's wisdom in forming water, mountains, fields, dust, oceans, the celestial sphere and man's world. Wisdom says, “Then I was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence” (Proverbs 8:30). Wisdom goes on and says “Blessed are those who listen to me, … For those who find me find life and receive favor from the LORD. But those who fail to find me harm themselves; and all who hate me love death” (Proverbs
8:34 – 36). In Appendixes A (A Help in Understanding What God Is) and B (Who Created God?) we have a supplement to this discussion, explaining what God IS and how our understanding of dimensions has enhanced our ability to visualize some of God's actions and techniques.
This book makes no claim to have all the wisdom needed to build a successful life, but the question of how God operates in our life and in creation is fundamental to our faith in God. It allows science to co-exist with faith. When we are told that God formed man of the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7), the Hebrew word used is yatsar, a word normally used to refer to what an artist or artisan would do. Genesis 2:8 tells us that “God had planted a garden,” not that he miraculously zapped a garden into existence.
Viewing God as an engineer and not a magician means we can look for understandable meaning and purpose in everything we see and experience. God's ways are certainly higher than our ways and his purposes far beyond our own selfish motives. That does not preclude some understanding on our part, and that is what this book is about.
- Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2006), page 51.
- “Farther Along,” Praise for the Lord (Nashville, Tenn.: Praise Press, 1997), song 138.
- “I Come to the Garden Alone,” Praise for the Lord (Nashville, Tenn.: Praise Press, 1997), song 805.
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I would like to thank Cynthia Clayton, Linda Glover, Julie and Karl Marcussen for their assistance in completing this book.
Continue to the Chapter 1: THE WAR WE ARE IN