>The God of the Bible: Real or Imaginary?

>Two weeks ago I decided to take a few days off from blogging in order to concentrate on grading final exams, reading papers, and preparing for the end of the academic year. Those who are involved in teaching know that the end of the academic year is very busy. I am not finished with my academic responsibilities yet, but I decided to return to blogging one week earlier than I expected.

I missed blogging. By this I mean, I missed receiving emails from my readers reacting to what they read. I missed the dialogue with other bloggers and I missed the give and take with those who have comments about my posts.

During my time off I discovered several things. First, I discovered that several people have linked their blogs to my blog. I discovered this fact by accident. If you have linked your blog to my blog, please, let me know and I will be in contact with you by email.

Second, I discovered that two months ago, a blog called Salto sobrius reached the top-10 list of archaeology blogs on Technorati. I discovered this because Martin Rundkvist, from Stockholm, Sweden, someone who describes himself as “a skeptic and an atheist,” in a post titled Racing Claude, wrote:

“Two months ago, Salto sobrius made it onto the top-10 list of archaeology blogs on Technorati. It’s currently at number 8 and rising. The reason I bring this up now is that I’ve just made it past Claude Mariottini of the Northern Baptist Seminary, the current number 9.”

Martin introduces some material I posted on my blog from James Kennedy about The Da Vinci Code with some of his personal evaluation to what he misunderstood to be my rebuttal. He wrote:
“You can see where this guy’s at. Code is a crappy novel full of clichés, and you have to be severely ignorant to believe any of it is historical truth. But being a skeptic and an atheist, I find it really amusing to see a tenured academic argue (as a “rebuttal” of an “error”!) that if someone is willing to die for a piece of religious writing, then it must be historical truth. And also, that an author’s sexual habits, as described posthumously by his enemies, are a good indicator of his truthfulness.”

Martin then concludes with a shout of victory:“Well, Claude amigo, keep up the good work! You started blogging on 16 August last year, so you’ve got exactly four months’ head start on me. And you’re supported by an Almighty Imaginary Friend. But still my stuff seems to be more relevant to other bloggers than yours.”

Martin’s description of God really caught my attention. Is the God of the Bible “an Almighty Imaginary Friend?” This description of the nature of God has deep implications for those who believe in God and even for those, like Martin, who do not believe that there is a God. Let me explain.
It is easy to say that God is “Almighty,” even though this is not the best way to explain God. Those who call God “the Almighty” have the wrong idea that God can do everything. This view is derived from Greek philosophy, not from biblical revelation.

Those who accept this Greek idea of God wonder whether God can make the past not to have existed or whether God can create a stone so heavy that not even God can lift it. What the Bible teaches is that as the Creator, God has supreme power and authority over his creation.

However, God’s power as the Creator does not eliminate the independence of human beings to make choices. Divine power does not take away human freedom to believe or not to believe. Not even God can force skeptics and atheists to believe in God. This self-imposed limitation of God comes out of God’s love for the humans he has created.

It is also easy to say that God is a “Friend.” A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. Those who understand these words will also understand the words of Christ: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” [Ingen har större kärlek, än att han giver sitt liv för sina vänner] (John 15:13).

The word “friend” focuses on God’s love for us. Friendship finds its realization in sacrificial, self-giving love. And this is what people discover when they establish a personal relationship with God. God is always present, God is always love. No one can discover God’s love just by reading about it; they have to experience that love through Christ.

To call God “Imaginary” is another matter. The God of the Bible is not an imaginary God; he is a real being. The evidence for the existence of God is everywhere: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1).

Or, as Paul wrote: “From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see his invisible qualities– his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God” (Romans 1:20).

The fact is, people chose to believe that God is an imaginary being. “Yes, people knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. The result was that their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they became utter fools instead” (Romans 1:21-22).

Human wisdom will never lead an individual to a personal knowledge of God. This is what Qoheleth, the writer of the book of Ecclesiastes, discovered. He tried by human wisdom to understand the mysteries of life, and in the end he concluded that his attempt to understand everything was in vain.

The book of Ecclesiastes tells the story of a skeptic in search of God through human wisdom. The book presents the struggle of a man who had tried everything and in the end found that nothing satisfied him and that nothing was of value. He concluded that God has nothing to do with what happened in the world. His skepticism led him to deny the existence of God.

In his commentary on Psalms 1-59 (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1988), p. 221, Hans-Joachim Kraus wrote:

“The assumption that God exists is the Old Testament’s greatest gift to mankind. In the Old Testament God’s existence is entirely a foregone conclusion, always presupposed; reference is continually being made to it; it is never denied or questioned.

The Psalmist said: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1). The words of the fool are the words of people who are practical atheists. As Kraus wrote: “They speak like that not in order to deny God but in order to evade His judgment and His claims upon them.”

So, Martin, my vän! God is Almighty and a Friend but he is not imaginary. He is real and he has a claim on you. I congratulate you for reaching number 8 on the Technorati list (In fact, I linked you in this blog to help out!), but what counts is being number one with God.

“Ty så älskade Gud världen, att han utgav sin enfödde Son, på det att var och en som tror på honom skall icke förgås, utan hava evigt liv” (John 3:16).

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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2 Responses to >The God of the Bible: Real or Imaginary?

  1. >Greek philosophers, if anything, had a lower view of God than the biblical view. They didn’t think God could change the past or make something that is simultaneously a square and circle in exactly the same way. The Christian philosophers later on did consider such issues, but they rejected such a view of God very clearly. Aquinas defines omnipotence as the ability to do anything possible, in contrast to the ability to do whatever you can put words to (such as making a rock too big for God to move). But no one really seriously held such a view beforehand. It was just an objection against omnipotence that didn’t understand what anyone ever believed omnipotence to be.This view of God is still higher than the Greek picture, according to which God doesn’t know the future, can’t ensure a comprehensive plan of providence, and isn’t the creator of all things. For the Greeks, God is either some abstract principle and not personal or some limited person with serious limits.

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  2. >Dear Jeremy,I agree with your comments. Christians have rejected the Greek views about God precisely because these views do not reflect the teachings of the Bible.The God of biblical revelation is not like the God of the philisophers.Claude Mariottini

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