How not to know God – reason

Last time we made the claim that knowledge of God and salvation by God go hand in hand.  Only those who have been saved by God know God.  At the same time, coming to know God is another way of describing being saved by God.

Therefore all those truths we hold so dear about salvation are equally true for knowledge of God.  Knowledge of God is by God’s grace alone.  It is received by faith alone.  And it is given to us in Christ alone (the Christ of Scripture alone!).  We must receive the freely given truth about God by faith – that truth is in Jesus.  Christ alone reveals to us the true and living God.

Now at this point people generally have a few objections.

Objections

People will often say: “Hang on. Don’t people know lots of things about God? Aren’t there billions of people who may not trust Jesus, but they have plenty to say about God?”

Well of course that is true. People have lots of things to say about some kind of higher being – and many of them may even use the word “God”. But using the same name does not at all mean that they know the same person (or Persons)!

I share a name with my father which is very confusing for people who think they know Glen Scrivener. People may know my father very well indeed and be able to tell you all kinds of personal things about Glen Scrivener, some of them may even be true of me! But they are NOT describing me when they use those words. Any actual correspondence between their words about my father and my own situation would be utterly co-incidental. They do not know me at all.

The same is true of statements about “God”. A non-Christian may have plenty to say about “God”, yet however similar their descriptions may sound , they have no knowledge of the True God whatsoever.

Over the next few posts we’ll look at four areas where people have attempted to by-pass revelation in Jesus and come up with a knowledge of God:-

  • Reason
  • Other religions
  • Biblical religion
  • Creation

Reason

Perhaps we can use reason and logic to build up for ourselves a true picture of God. Certainly we won’t be able to get the whole picture – but basic truths about God as Creator, God as Intelligent, God as Powerful – surely these can be deduced without the need for revelation.

Descartes is a good example of someone who believed this. From the ‘unshakeable’ foundation of “I think therefore I am”, Descartes set out to build a picture of reality. This picture was based not on external revelation – he doubted all external sensory experience – but trusted instead the powers of his own mind to bring him truth. He used an age-old philosophical argument for God’s existence – the ontological argument – and came up with a definition of something he called “god”. At heart, this “god” was a being of infinite perfections (whatever they are).

What do we make of all this? Is that the God we worship? Well Matthew 11 has made us pretty dubious about a wise and learned approach to God! Those famous verses from Proverbs 3 are an age-old warning:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding… Do not be wise in your own eyes. (Proverbs 3:5-7)

Combine this with three verses from Paul’s epistles and we see that the human mind and its powers are not to be trusted:

Romans 8:7: the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.

2 Corinthians 4:4: The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Colossians 1:21: Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour.

Our rebellion against God alienates us from God. This, we know. Yet Paul says, strikingly, that the focus of this rebellion is in our minds. Our minds are not dispassionate observers, collating data and building logical pictures from assured foundations. Our minds are weapons used against God. Reason will never come up with the truth about God, it will only yield idolatry. Descartes’ so-called god is a philosophical idol constructed in opposition to the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

In Colossians 2:8, Paul warns us very sternly about the dangers of philosophy:

“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.”

All our thinking must be based on Christ – built from His sure foundation. The people who say they can get part of the way through reason are utterly wrong. You can’t even get off the ground without the foundation of Christ. We never reason our way towards Jesus, we must start with Him.

As the 4th century theologian Athanasius said:

“The only system of thought into which Jesus Christ will fit, is the one in which He is the starting point.”

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Posted on by Glen in revelation, theological method

About Glen

I'm a preacher in Eastbourne, married to Emma.

0 Responses to How not to know God – reason

  1. Bobby Grow

    Wow, so harsh on Descartes.

    I always thought of him as a Christian, in fact that is what He was . . . but maybe, you’re saying a “confused” one?

    Btw, I agree with you (I think of I Cor. 3:11); God is the initiate (cf. I Jn 4:19) in our knowledge of Him, and thus our knowledge of self (thanks Calvin ;-). If we don’t have knowledge of God as Redeemer, we certainly can’t have knowledge of God as Creator; if we skip to the latter, w/o the former we are doomed to worship ourselves (see Rom 1; Eph 4).

    I look forward to this series!

  2. glenscriv

    Descartes might have been a Christian. Just as people whose testimony is “I’ve always believed in God, then I was introduced to Jesus” are very often real believers, even when their picture of ‘God’ has basically remained unchallenged. But there’s a lot of confusion in there.

    To proclaim abroad ‘the god I’ve always intuitively known’ does not necessarily make the proclaimer a pagan. But I think the content of their proclamation is totally anti-gospel and should be opposed as such.

  3. Daniel Blanche

    Loving this – and really looking forward to “Biblical religion”! Thanks for the reminder to build *everything* on Christ…

  4. bobby grow

    I agree, Glen.

  5. glenscriv

    Hi Daniel, good to hear from you.

    I’m afraid my biblical religion post is probably not quite as blockbusting as you were hoping!

    Perhaps my interactions with Marc a while ago are more what you were anticipating?

    http://christthetruth.net/2008/10/07/too-far/

  6. wdp

    This is the kind of attitude that drives many thinking people away from Christ. The Bible tells us to not lean on our own understanding—and how could any Christian counsel otherwise? BUT the Bible does not tell us to not HAVE an understanding!!! Indeed, the lord counseld us to be as wise as serpents but as innocent as doves. And to disagree with this command is to lean on your own understanding.

    We make void the word of God by our traditions.

  7. glenscriv

    Hi wdp,

    Glad you stopped by. (I am I mean – not sure you are ;-))

    There’s not a word on my blog that would ward people away from “having an understanding.” Through this blog I try to think as deeply as I can about everything from christology to culture to science to humour – everything. All I’m saying is that the logic of this world is not the same thing as the Logos of God. Let’s make sure our understanding begins and ends with Him. Because *that’s* what will protect us from the traditions of men!

    I reckon I’m a thinker. I know that those who read and comment here are great ‘thinkers’. I honestly don’t know where your criticism is coming from. Happy to hear more from you if you have specific examples of how I’ve driven people away from Christ or ‘made void the word of God.’

    in Christ,

    Glen

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