Tuesday, May 7, 2019

What Caused God?

The internet can be a wonderful thing for connecting people. Case in point, this question was sent in by someone living in West Africa:

How did God come into existence?

As you may have noticed in some of my previous answers, I like to start with philosophy. There is a biblical answer to this question, and I will certainly present it. But not everyone has a background in the Bible, or believes it at face value. Reason is (at least potentially) a more common currency. By starting with some rational descriptions of the nature of God, we can then build on it to more readily understand the biblical description of Him.

Philosophical Speculation

This question is sometimes restated as, “If God made the universe, who made God?” It shows the difficulty we have of grasping the concept of an infinite being. But such a Creator is a logical necessity.

It can be thought of in terms of causation. Each of us has a cause, something that brings us into being. As we observe the world around us, we notice that everything else has a cause, too. Nothing in creation exists on its own, of itself. This is the natural view of the world, which our minds naturally apply to the idea of God. We all come from somewhere, and so we assume He must have come from somewhere, too.

There is a problem, though. If you start from right now and move back in time, going from effect to cause, then to its causes, and so on, you will eventually run out of space to move backward. There cannot be an infinite string of finite causes. Eventually, there must be something that serves as the start for everything. But that thing cannot have a cause of its own. It must always exist, not having a beginning, or else the chain of causes would continue on behind it. For the universe to have come into existence, it needed a source that has no other source.

Philosophers call this source the “Unmoved Mover” and the “First Cause.” It sets everything else in motion without having been given motion by anything else. It causes the rest of what is without having its own cause, making it first. It is truly eternal. It never came into existence, but instead has always had existence and has given it to everything else.

Hopefully, no one will be offended by my calling the First Cause “It.” I know very well the right word is not “It,” but “He.” Still, I did this because understanding the personality of the First Cause is a bit downstream. We first have to understand there is an eternal force that serves as the source of all things. Then we can realize that this force made a decision to make all things. The ability to choose is a function of intellect, which allows us to recognize the First Cause as having personality.

This, then, is what bare reason can tell us. Nothing causes itself. There is not enough time or space for an infinite chain of causes, so something had to serve as the First Cause for everything else. This cause cannot have a cause of its own, or else the chain would continue. And this cause must be a person because He had a choice of whether to make everything or not. Such an infinite being is a logical necessity to understanding the universe as we see it, and this is who we can recognize as God.

That essentially brings us to the limit of what philosophy can tell us, though. Of course, I do not mean I have covered the entire subject, books have been written on it for centuries. But the essentials are here, and for all that has been said about them throughout the years, the details are fairly scant.

Because we are finite, our reason is limited. According to Christian belief, it has been further weakened by our fall from our original creation. We are therefore not capable of fully comprehending God, and we cannot reach up to observe Him. If we are to know anything more, He must reach down.

Biblical Revelation

This is precisely what He has done through His prophets and apostles, and especially through His Son, Jesus Christ. God has been gracious enough to reveal Himself, showing what we cannot know on our own and confirming what little we have figured out (and of course, the ability to do even that much also came from Him).

In regard to God’s existence, Scripture is abundant and clear. He is eternal. He never began, but has always existed. This understanding starts with the very first verse of the Bible, which tells us that

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1). 

Psalm 93:2 praises the Lord by saying,

Your throne has been established from the beginning; you are from eternity.

Likewise, Ps. 102:25–27 explains,

Long ago you established the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will endure; all of them will wear out like clothing. You will change them like a garment, and they will pass away. But you are the same, and your years will never end.

God also says of Himself,

I am the Lord, and there is no other; there is no God but me (Is. 45:5).

The New Testament continues this teaching and explains how it applies to Jesus, through whom

all things were created…, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created (John 1:3)

 and how

everything was created by Him, in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and by Him all things hold together (Col. 1:16–17).

Lastly, some of the final words of the Bible are,

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end (Rev. 22:13).

Scripture ends as it began, with a statement of the preeminence and infinity of God. The Christian Bible, therefore, is in agreement with and further develops what we know rationally. God has always existed. He will never cease to exist, and everything else exists because of Him. He has no beginning. He is the beginning.

Understanding the Incarnation 

While I would love to stop there, something else did come up in conversation when I was asked this question and it is worth mentioning here. There is potential for some confusion. It could be wondered, if God has no beginning, then how can Jesus be God? After all, the Bible devotes a considerable amount of space to describing His birth. How can He then be eternal?

The Incarnation of Jesus is not something we can fully comprehend, but analogies can help us to begin to picture it. I am fond of citizenship as such a depiction. Imagine that you were to move to, say, Texas. There might be a few steps to the process that will vary for everyone, but eventually, you will be able to work there, drive there, and vote there. You will become a citizen, a Texan. Now, you already existed elsewhere first. You came from another state or country, and you will probably still always identify with that place. But that does not make you any less of a Texan.

We can envision the Incarnation as something like that. The Son of God already existed beforehand, and had always existed. But at a particular moment in time, He decided to “emigrate” and become a citizen of humanity. He continued to be God but also became human.

We should all be grateful that He did so. Living as one of us made it possible for Him to die for all of us, the perfect sacrifice for sin who took our place. And death could not destroy Him, for He can have no end. Instead, He defeated death by returning to life. Having claimed victory for Himself, He also offers it to all those who believe in Him. He is the human Savior and divine Lord. Those in Him have nothing to fear, because nothing can be greater than “the one who is, who was, and who is to come” (Rev. 1:4).

Have a question about the Bible? Want to share this article on Facebook or Twitter? Interested in becoming a patron of Quest Forums? Check out the links in the sidebar!

No comments:

Post a Comment