If we’ve always assumed God is something he’s not, how can we know who he really is?
- What is your reaction to the conclusion that Christianity isn’t rooted in blind faith, but in observable evidence? Do you agree or disagree?
- God is Spirit. In your opinion, is it plausible that God as “spaceless, timeless, and immaterial” could be the “first cause” that science is looking for?
- God is Father. Is it difficult for you to view God as a perfect Father? Why or why not? What is one thing in your life that might change if God became that personal to you?
- God is Love. Like Andy’s analogy of shade requiring sun in order to exist, do you agree that evil requires good? If so, does that help explain how God, in his essence, could be love, despite the existence of evil in the world?
NOTE: The following content is a raw transcript and has not been edited for grammar, punctuation, or word usage.
I want all the people who grew up in church and then left church, because they couldn’t figure out how to reconcile what they learned in school or what they experienced in life, with what they learned in church. And you decided, “You know what? It’s just irreconcilable. Science is irreconcilable with faith. Pain is irreconcilable with faith. Pain and suffering in the world is irreconcilable with faith. My life experience is irreconcilable with faith. Just what I’ve learned and what I’ve experienced as an adult is irreconcilable with faith. And so, there’s this tension. And I can either pretend that I believe something I’m not sure exists, or I can go with what’s obvious and with what’s undeniable.”
I want you to reconsider Christianity, because I think some of you… I’m guessing, a whole lot of you, but I don’t wanna judge. A lot of you, though, you left Christianity for reasons that really have nothing to do with the Christian faith. You left unnecessarily, so I’m inviting all of you to reconsider Christianity, not the Christianity of your childhood, but a grown-up faith with a grown-up God with a little bit different perspective.
So, I’m just trying to put their rungs as low as possible on the ladder to let you know, whatever your objection is to Christianity, and whatever your objection is or was to church, it may not be… And this isn’t meant as an insult. It may not be a valid objection. You might have left unnecessarily. And I don’t want you, in fact I don’t want any of us to stay stuck in this false dichotomy, this false tension of doubt and despair. You embrace religion and you have all these questions, you have all these doubts. You ask really good, fact-based questions, and you keep getting faith-based answers. And if the only answers you’ve gotten to your fact-based questions are faith-based answers, no wonder you have doubt, and no wonder you’ve turned your back on Christianity, or religion in general. But most of you, because you’re smart, most of you have not stepped into the realm of atheism. Because the whole idea of a godless universe, where somehow you’ve gotta mine and figured out how to come up with purpose, and morality, and absolutes, and all those things, you are smart enough to know there’s something in you that hesitates, and the very thought of a Godless universe, a creator-less universe, just leaves you and fills you with a kind of a sense of dread and despair.
And I’m not saying that all atheists live in despair, and all atheists live in dread, I’m not saying that at all. But most people kinda have this gut sense that if I check the atheist box, I’m not sure I can defend that, either. I’m not sure I just won’t have another set of doubts. So you just feel stuck in the middle. And so, for those of you who’ve kinda stepped away, but haven’t really stepped into anything else, you’re a none, you’re non-affiliated, you’ve just decided to check out. I want you to reconsider. And I want you to come back, because I think perhaps the church did a horrible job and I’m owning that. The people who have my job, pastors, did a horrible job laying a foundation for you. They gave you a childhood faith that never grew up and you outgrew it. And if I knew what you knew, and if I’d experienced what you’d experienced, I’m sure I would feel the same way. But I just want you to know, maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe there’s more. And I would love for you to come back.
One of our students said this after week two, when we talked about all the different kinds of gods, he said this, he said, “I thought I was an atheist. But I realize now, I don’t believe in boyfriend God.” Remember a couple of weeks ago, we talked about the gods of the no testament, the gods that don’t exist. Because what has happened, a lot of you have sort of lost… The big G God lost His appeal, or lost its appeal, depending how you view God. Big G God lost His or its appeal, because your world got cluttered up with a bunch of gods that we said, a few weeks ago, don’t even exist. And then also, there was another student, super smart guy, goes to a university not too far from here and he said this, he said, “I watched the first episode of the series.” He said, “I had no idea there was a way to reconcile science with faith. I thought you had to choose science, or you had to choose faith, but I thought they were totally irreconcilable. I’m so glad to know that at least there’s a category, there is a version of my faith, there’s a version of Christianity where those two things are not in conflict.”
And then last week, we did a little bit of a history lesson. We talked about a Bible-tells-me-so Jesus, where we made the point… And this is so huge. We made the point that Christianity doesn’t exist because of the Bible. Christianity does not exist because of the Bible, it is the other way around. The reason there is the Bible is because of Christianity. Somehow we’ve gotten the idea that the Bible is Christianity and as the Bible goes, so goes Christianity. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The point is this, Christianity does not rise and fall on the integrity or the verifiability of the entire Bible. The great news is, Christianity does not hang by the thread of the Bible, Christianity preceded the Bible. The reason we have the Bible is because of something that happened.
Now, here’s something kind of interesting, then I gotta move on. When Jesus was walking around the earth, He did the strangest thing, in fact, this got Him into trouble over and over. Jesus told Jewish people… Jesus was Jewish. Jesus told the Jewish people on the first century that their scripture… We call it the Old Testament, 130 years later. But the Jewish scriptures. Jesus went around saying, “Did you know that our scripture… ” Because He’s Jewish. “Did you know that our scripture is all about me?” He told the people, “Did you know everything in our scriptures points to me?” And this was blasphemy, “What do you mean?” He said, “Yes, I am the fulfillment of all of this stuff that we grew up as Jewish children hearing about. It is all fulfilled to me. I’m fulfilling all of it.” And it was like, “Are you kidding? Who in the world would say that?” And some of His closest followers, in the first century, they began to believe it. They’re like, “You know what? It kinda lines up. Our scripture says this and He did that. And our Jewish scriptures says this and He did that.” And they started believing, “Maybe this is the Messiah who is the fulfillment of all the Jewish scriptures.” And then he was crucified. Game over. Lights out. Obviously, he was wrong and we were wrong about Him.
And there were no Jesus followers after the crucifixion. And there was no one on planet earth that believed Jesus was the son of God when they saw Him die. And then He rose from the dead and the whole thing got started. And suddenly, all those Jewish followers went back to those scriptures that Jesus claimed predicted Him and they said to the Jewish community in Jerusalem, “He was right. We lost faith. He’s back. We’re back. Everything in the Old Testament, our Jewish scriptures points to Jesus.” The point of all that is this, Christianity preceded the Bible. Christianity is why we have a Bible. The Bible didn’t cause Christianity.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say this, if you never opened the Old Testament, if you didn’t own an Old Testament, if suddenly the entire Old Testament Jewish scriptures vanished from Christianity, it does nothing to undermine Christianity. Because Christianity began when Jesus rose from the dead and they recognized He was who He claimed to be. And this is a big deal. People follow Jesus after the resurrection because of the resurrection. People follow Jesus after the resurrection because of the resurrection and the evidence… I mean, think about this, the evidence was overwhelming. There was nothing religious. There was nothing religious about the faith of Jesus first century followers. There was nothing religious about the faith of Jesus first century followers. Christianity… This is so big. Christianity did not begin with people who believe something. Christianity began with people who saw something and then believed in the person they saw back from the dead. That’s very different than belief and believe and you just gotta have faith. Don’t miss this.
You become a Christian through faith, you should never become a Christian because of faith. It’s two very different things. Now, other religions demand you to have faith in faith. Christianity from day one never demanded anyone to have faith in faith. You just have to believe. It was overwhelming evidence. We saw Him die. We’d looked into an empty tomb. We had breakfast with Him on the beach. Who wouldn’t believe? Come on, how much faith does that take? Almost none. That’s how the Christian faith got started. That’s why I look up here, I’d say this, it is not near as fragile as you may think. It does not hang by the thread of some passages scripture or some miracle in the Old Testament or even some random miracle in the New Testament. It is much more sturdier than that. If it was that fragile, Christianity would’ve never survived the first century.
Now, that’s the introduction to today’s message. [laughter] But don’t be nervous because I have a clock, okay, hidden somewhere in this room that I normally pay attention to. So here’s the point, just as… And this is where we’re going today, just as what Jesus said about Himself turned out to be trustworthy. People believed it, then when He died, they quit believing it. And then, He rose from the dead, it’s like, “Oh, we believe you.” Just as what He said about himself was trustworthy and believable in the same way… This is where our journey moves forward. In the same way, what Jesus said about God can be trusted. And the gospel writers… This is so cool. The gospel writers documented what Jesus said about God.
So, if you are open to restarting your faith journey as an adult, just wipe the slate clean and just start all over. If you’re gonna begin that journey again, the place to begin, in terms of understanding God is Jesus. When reconsidering, Jesus is the place to start. In fact, we can believe that what Jesus said about God can be trusted because what Jesus claimed about Himself and because He rose from the dead and He said as much. This is what’s strange. Jesus said, “You can trust what I say about God, that nobody’s gonna give you a clearer picture of God than me.” And it drove… Again, it drove the Pharisees, and it drove the religious leaders crazy because that’s an extremely arrogant thing to say, unless it’s true.
Now, John, who is eyewitness of all this stuff, John who believed in Jesus, then after He died, he quit believing. Then after the resurrection, he started believing again. John, who is ultimately arrested by Emperor Domitian and put on the Isle of Patmos to rot because there had been so many Christian martyrs and every time they killed one of the close followers of Jesus, a thousand more Christians rose up. So they decided, “We’re not gonna kill John. We’re just gonna let him rot on an island.” John… And this is very important especially for next week. John who had seen more bloodshed personally than all the rest of us put together… Not all of us put together. John who had lost friends to acts of first century terror by the Romans and by the temple leaders, John who had lost friends, John who perhaps when he wrote what we’re about to read and documented what Jesus said was on the other side of having seen the entire temple burnt to the ground. John who had seen things we cannot even imagine. John was there when Jesus said the following. And John came to believe that Jesus knew exactly what He was talking about. Here’s what John said that Jesus said, he said, one day Jesus was talking to just the 12 and He said, “If you really know me, you will know my Father as well.” Now, that’s how, “Why are you here equating yourself to the Father?”
Jesus kept going, “From now on you do know Him and you’ve seen Him.” And they’re sitting like, “No, we haven’t seen Him. We just see you.” So Philip says what everybody else is thinking, one of the disciples, he says, Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us. We want to know what God is like. And you keep talking about God like y’all are on first name basis. So just show us the Father. Just could you ask God to just make an appearance. Just a quick appearance, just a boop. We wanna know what God is like.” And then Jesus says the craziest thing, he says, “Anyone… “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” It’s like, “Oh, you shouldn’t say things like that. That is so extreme. Who would say that? He continues, “The words I say to you, I did not speak on my own authority, rather that it’s the Father living in me who was doing His work.”
In other words, guys, He says this, “If you wanna know what God says, just listen to me. And if you wanna know what God is up, to, watch me. If you wanna know what God’s saying, just listen to me. This is as close as you’re gonna get. And if you wanna know what God is up to or what God would be up to in the world, watch me.” Then He says something that you may have missed. This is so huge. He says, “Believe me. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” “But why should we believe you, Jesus, I mean, that’s crazy man talk.” He says, “Alright, or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.” He’s going, like, “I realize this is extreme. I realize I’m sort of equating myself with God. I realize that only a crazy person would say this. I realize, guys, this is very difficult to believe. So, if you can’t believe it because I’m saying it, I want you to look at the… Let’s all say this word together, the…
Because I’m not asking you to believe in belief. I’m not asking you to create some new category of belief called religious belief or religious belief-ism, I don’t believe in that. I simply want you to watch and draw conclusions based on the evidence. So, as we kind of take the next step in this journey, here’s a question that you should ask, and I’m gonna give you a head start with some answers, what did Jesus say about God? In other words, if we were just to erase everything we learned as kids about God and how to view God, and he’s an old man, is he up in the sky? Just boyfriend God, bad things… Guard rail God, bodyguard God. If we just got rid of all those pictures of God, and said, “Okay, Jesus, we’re gonna give you a shot. What’s God like? What’s God like? Where should we begin this journey?” Jesus said this, “God is spirit.” He’s talking to a women who is… We call her the woman at the well, we’re gonna get to heaven, and she’s gonna go, “I had a name.” Okay, we didn’t catch her name, we’re just woman at the well. [laughter] He’s having a discussion… They’re actually having a debate because she’s a Samaritan, and their view of God was very different and sort of a spin-off of the Jewish view of God, so she’s arguing with Jesus about God.
Imagine that, it’s like, “Oh, I think you’re gonna lose.” But anyway, [laughter] he’s having a friendly conversation about her and it’s in the context of that conversation that Jesus, and he’s just showing extraordinary compassion to this woman. If you wanna know what God is like, watch what Jesus did, okay. Showing extraordinary compassion to someone, who is very different than he is, and he says to her, “God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.” Now, this is an amazing statement from 2000 years ago, and the Jewish people, the ancient Jews got this as well, that they believed God was immaterial, space-less, and timeless, but for sure immaterial, that’s why they weren’t allowed to have any image, no image to depict God. Why? You cannot depict God in an image. Why? Jesus would later say, “Because God is spirit, space-less, timeless, immaterial. This flew in the face of all the pagan religions because they all had idols, they all had temples dedicated to the idols, they moved their idols around, everybody had household gods. And forever the Jewish people, had said, “No, God is spirit.” Jesus comes along and says, “Let me tell you about God. Us Jews, we’ve had it right from the beginning, God is spirit.”
But the thing is… Here’s what’s so cool. That is exactly what us modern people would expect. In other words, we believe that once upon a time, but that’s not even the right terminology. We believe as science to say there was a singularity, there was an event. And from that event came all space, all time, all matter, the laws of nature, the laws of physics that you could suck it all back into this minuscule piece of nothing, and suddenly it all started. Christians have always believed there is an uncreated creator, that there is a necessary being, that there is a first cause. Tell us about that first cause. Well, we know it’s immaterial because material, everything that exists at one point didn’t exist. We know it’s timeless, we know whatever that first cause is, it’s space-less. And we know whatever that first cause is, it is above and beyond the laws of nature. You could say that the first cause was supra natural. Not super natural ’cause then we get all freaked out. Just above and beyond natural, supra natural.
Jesus comes along and simplifies that for first century people. He says, “Just think of it this way, God is spirit.” Exactly what we modern people would have to assume about an uncreated first cause. Now, the problem with spirit is, it’s spirit. It’s like, “Oh, that’s great, that’s super helpful, like spirit. [laughter] Wow.” So Jesus wasn’t finished. Jesus also said, talk about book ends, talk about extremes, talk about this is where you start, Jesus says, “God is Father, not… ” Louie Giglio said this many years ago, I’ve never forgot it, maybe you’ve heard him say this, “Not the reflection of our earthly fathers. The perfection of father.” So, Jesus is praying one day, his disciples watch him pray. We’ve talked about this before. This must have been one of those moments where they’re watching him pray, and they say to each other, “I don’t think we’re doing it right, okay. When he prays, it’s like one thing, when we pray it’s just not.” So they come to Jesus and they say, “Jesus, we’re not doing it right, would you teach us to pray?” And he turns to his closest followers and he says, he said to them, “When you pray, say… ” And I want us to all say this word together. Even if you’re watching at home by yourself, wherever you are, let’s just say together. “When you pray, say, Father.” One more time.
He said that is the starting place, now here’s what’s so great. God is not male, God is not a man, God does not have a gender, God is spirit. Jesus says, “God is personal,” the best I can do for you guys, the closest that your little minds can get around, the closest that you time creatures, you space creatures, you material creatures, you cause and effect, the closest that you’re gonna get trapped within this universe that you’re trapped in, the closest that you can get to understanding the personal nature of your creator is Father, so just go with that. Whenever you talk to God, you just begin with Father, it is the best relational picture that exists, so says Jesus.
In fact, if you’re just beginning your journey again or you’re willing to take a chance, I challenge you, maybe tonight laying in bed, just say it. “Father, I’m not sure I believe. At this I’m new, don’t… That’s all I got. Father.” Jesus says, “That’s enough.” He’s spirit, he’s Father. He’s faraway, he’s close.” Then, this is mind-boggling. Later, after the resurrection, after the ascension, John, the Gospel writer John, is writing a letter to some Christians and he’s thinking about what he learned about God from Jesus, his master. And he writes a statement that has just been imprinted… It’s not just imprinted on minds, it has been imprinted on our culture and a lot of people who claim this to be true have no idea where it came from, you might be one of them.
But John said, “God is spirit, God is father, and God is love.”
“God is love. Whoever lives in love, lives in God and God in them.” Don’t miss this, this is unbelievable. See? When Jesus was about to be crucified and he gathered his disciples for the first time, you remember this if you grew up in church. Now, think about the significance of this, based on what John just said after looking back on all this. Jesus gathers the guys together and says, “Okay, you’re probably gonna forget most of what I said, and John, Matthew, I hope you wrote it down. But anyway, I know you’re gonna forget most of it but here’s what I don’t want you to ever forget. This will be the distinguishing mark of those who follow me. Not what you know, not what you memorize, not what you do on Sunday morning. The distinguishing mark of those who claim to be my followers is that you love one another.” Why? Because that love for other people reflected the nature of God.
But, we shouldn’t be surprised as modern smart people. This should be no shock at all, because after all, shade, you know this, shade requires the sun. Okay, let me explain why I said that. Okay. [laughter] Shade requires the sun. Hey, look, look. As shade require… You can have sun with no shade but you can’t have shade without sun. You can have a sun without a shade all day long. You can’t have shade if there’s no sun. Just as shade requires the sun, evil requires good. Goodness must necessarily pre-exist, which means, this is so awesome, we should not be surprised at all by this. We get this stuff, we think in these terms, or we should. Love… This is such a big deal. Love must necessarily pre-exist un-love. You cannot have un-love first. You cannot have shade if there’s no sun. Love must pre-exist un-love.
John who has seen extraordinarily violence comes to the conclusion, “God is love.” This is why… We gotta move on. This is why God cannot be evil. This is why the Roman gods, the Greek gods, the gods that toyed with human beings, this is why we know they weren’t God. Because good pre-exists evil, God cannot be evil. And just as us modern people should not be surprised to discover that God is spirit in the same way, we should not be surprised to discover that God is in God’s essence love. You recognize evil and you recognize injustice because you know good and you know justice. Listen, and whenever you appeal to ought, and whenever you appeal to justice, “That’s unjust.” Whenever you appeal to love, you need to do the loving thing. Whenever you appeal to right, you need to do the right thing. You’re not doing this on purpose, you are declaring the essence and the existence of God.
When a person seeks shade, they declare the existence and the power of the sun. When a person looks for shade, when a person says, “The sun is too bright, I’ve gotta get out of it.” You have just declared the existence and the glory and the majesty of the sun. And every single time we seek good, every single time we seek ought, every single time we seek justice, without knowing it, us time bound, space bound, material bound creatures declare the glory and the existence of God. And here’s the thing, if you have ever in your life said, “Well, I’m not really Christian. I don’t know about the Jesus thing. I don’t believe the Bible. I just believe God loves everybody.” Do not miss this. That is a distinctly Christian teaching and it started with John after spending years with Jesus. Before Jesus, no one ever said the essence of God is love. People said the essence of the gods are a lot of things but it’s not love. John says, “I’ve been with the man who introduced us to the Father. And the best I can put it is, God is love.” That love pre-existed everything less than love.
Now, that begs the question that we’re gonna talk about next week. So, then, okay, if God is love, why is there evil in the world? I got a better question for you this week before we get to next week. Ready for this? Why do you know there is evil in the world? Why do you recognize the world is broken? And why do you recognize you’re broken? And why is it that you know what you ought to do? And you won’t even do what you ought to do. Forget what I think you ought to do. Forget what God thinks you ought to do. Come on. Let’s be honest. You don’t even do what you think you ought to do. How do you know what you ought to do? Where did it come from? Why is it that I’m so comfortable in the shade? It’s because I know that there’s a sun. Why is it that I ever feel guilt about anything?
That evil in the world, sin in the world, falling short in the world, whatever you wanna call it, declares the existence of the God that perhaps you’ve decided doesn’t exist. [chuckle] And why do we excuse it with this, “Well, nobody’s perfect.” [laughter] How do you know what perfect is? Where did you get that idea? John would say, “I’ll tell you where you got the idea. Because perfect love preceded all of us. God is love.” That’s in the New Testament. Who were these guys? [laughter] How can you live in a world just full of terror and pain and bloodshed and come to that conclusion? That’s why you don’t wanna miss next week. That’s why, come and look up here, I want you to reconsider your faith because you may have left unnecessarily. And if you left unnecessarily, it’s the church’s fault. I own that.
But don’t use me, and don’t use us, and don’t use that as an excuse to miss the God. Think of this, the God, who says, “I’m spirit. I’m behind everything that exists. But I’m not far away. You just approach me as Father. I’m accommodating to your capacity and you earth-dwellers, this is as good as I can… This is as close as I can get. Just consider me a perfect Father and understand this regardless of what you see and regardless of what you experience, I am the sunshine. I am the light of the world. I am love.”
When it comes to God, Jesus is our best picture. Jesus is the place to start. Jesus is the most reliable source.