The Certainty of God and the Uncertainties of a New Year
M. Louise Haskins (1908) captured the uncertainty of a new year in words that were quoted to the British Empire in the 1939 Christmas radio broadcast of King George VI. Haskins wrote:
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, “Give me a light, that I may tread safely into the unknown,” and he replied, “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way” (Bartlett 881).
At this time, we are reminded of the element of the unknown that can result in apprehension as a new year dawns. Although it is the case that there are numerous uncertainties as one faces a new year, God is not one of those uncertainties! Biblical revelation declares: “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the [E]arth!” (Psalm 46:10, ESV). As Dick Sztanyo has so effectively set forth in Graceful Reason, a recently published textbook on apologetics, the certainty of the case for God does not mean the case is so “psychologically compelling . . . that one could not reject the evidence. This would be an abuse of free will” (20). Sztanyo powerfully demonstrates the error of the current trend among numerous evangelical apologists who “formulate the case for God on the basis [of] strong probability rather than logical certainty,” apparently confusing “psychological certitude with intellectual certainty” (86). Thomas B. Warren, for whom Warren Apologetics Center is named, offered the following additional explanation of these matters:
. . . [I]n order for man to be free, he would have to live in an environment in which there was neither an overwhelming “tug” (persuasion) in the direction toward God nor one in the direction away from God. Two extreme situations would have to be avoided: a situation in which man lived directly in the presence of God, and a situation in which he did not have an adequate manifestation (or evidence) of God’s existence. The environment which man needed would have to be one in which man would be at an “epistemic distance” from God yet not so far away as to preclude his freely making his own decision to come to God in love and submission (to live truly as a son of God). This means that for man to be truly free in relation to God, his environment must be one which makes it possible for man to consider the world without immediately and automatically deducing the existence of God from that consideration. Yet, at the same time, we assume that it must be an environment for which it is possible to deduce correctly that God does exist. For one man, the world may veil God; for another man it may reveal him. This is as it must be—if man is to be truly free. He can feel the “tug” to choose the world (by becoming self-centered) rather than the “tug” to choose God (by becoming God-centered—and, to some lesser extent, brother-centered). At the same time, however, he lives in a world which declares (to him who will allow himself to see it) the glory of God. This declaration is at least part of the “tug” in the direction toward God. (Atheists 47-48)
The Loss of Religious Certainty
The major problem facing human civilization today is the loss of certainty concerning God. Huston Smith, internationally recognized writer on world religions, has argued in his book, Why Religion Matters, that the loss of religious certainty is the crisis facing the world. Smith says, “The crisis the world finds itself in [is] something deeper than . . . political systems and economies” (1). Smith calls this crisis the loss of belief in “transcendence” (i.e. God). Such a loss results in a materialistic and relativistic understanding of existence that holds to the view that dead matter, not consciousness, is the ultimate foundation of the universe.
This loss of certainty concerning transcendent reality has far-reaching moral implications. Smith asks, “Are values deeply ingrained in that [‘there whether human beings exist or not’] world as are its natural laws, or are they added to it as epiphenomenal gloss when life enters the picture?” (71). In other words, Smith is asking whether value is simply a function of the human mind, and nothing more. If values exist, then values either existed before the first human being existed or sometime after the first human came into existence. If value did not exist before the first human being existed, then value is only a function of the human mind. If value is only a function of the human mind then values are subjective (i.e. they depend solely on the mental state of the human who holds such values). However, if it is false that moral values are subjective, then moral values must be objective. If moral values must be objective, then moral value must have foundation outside (independent of) human beings. If moral value must have foundation outside (independent of) human beings, then moral value must have foundation in transcendent reality (i.e. God). If moral value must have foundation in transcendent reality (i.e. God), then God exists.
Blanchard is correct when he affirms,
God has ensured that those who question [H]is existence, along with those who reject [H]im out of hand, have not a shred of moral integrity in doing so. When they try to argue rationally, they are admitting that there is such a thing as transcendent reason. When they make moral assessments, they are forced to lean on a transcendent basis of morality. (484)
We Can Know God Exists
Rather than being an agnostic leap into the dark, true Christian theism entails knowledge. The affirmation of the theist is: “I know that God exists.” In considering these crucial matters a basic question underlying the question of whether the existence of God can be known is: Can one know anything at all? If it is possible to know anything, then it is possible to know that God exists! And so I ask, “Is a normal human being capable of being certain of anything?” And, if not, then I ask, “Is it possible for one to be certain that it is impossible to be certain of anything?”
It is the knowledge of the existence of God that serves at the most basic level to equip one to properly face the uncertainties of a new year. I am not speaking of assumptions, guesses, speculations, or even probabilities when I speak of knowing that God exists. I am speaking of the conclusion demanded by the evidence. And, I am affirming that it is the case that this conclusion demanded by the evidence is a matter of knowledge. It is knowledge that is as certain as that knowledge which is gained through sense perceptions although the knowledge of God’s existence is proved by the application of a different procedure. The certainty of God is not proved in the same way that one proves a book weighs three pounds or a certain vehicle is blue. However, because it is the case that one cannot know God by an empirical observation of God does not mean God cannot be known!
The question of God must be decided upon the basis of evidence. It is not the purpose of this brief article to set forth, in depth, how we can know that God exists, but rather to declare emphatically that it is the case that we can know that God exists. True Christian theism is not some kind of blind agnostic trust. From the available evidence one can come to know that God exists and also come to know that God is worthy of our trust. This does not mean that one can know all the details concerning one’s life. There are many uncertainties in life. In fact, biblical revelation challenges us to give careful thought to the uncertainty of human life as we might be making plans for a year.
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15, ESV)
We do not know what tomorrow is going to bring, much less what the entire year of 2013 will bring. However, because of the adequate evidence we find in (1) the general revelation in ourselves and outside ourselves in the non-living physical universe as well as other living things—plant life, animal life, and human life and (2) the special revelation of the Bible, and within its pages the presentation of the person and work of Jesus Christ, we can know that God exists. We further can know from this evidence that, whatever the new year brings, God will be there! (Psalm 90:1-2; Hebrews 1:12b; 13:8).
“Safely Treading” the New Year
How does one “tread safely” into the uncertainties of a new year? Not by a leap into the darkness of atheism or agnosticism, but by knowing God. In his essay, We Can Know That God Is, originally published in 1976, Dr. Warren concludes by saying,
. . . [I]t is surely the case that we can know that there is objective right and wrong as surely as we can know anything! As surely as I know of my own existence and the existence of other human beings (composed of both body and mind—with rational, moral, and spiritual capacity) I know that there is ultimate objective good (God)! . . .
Let every man who affirms that there is no God face up to the implications of affirming such a proposition: If there is no God, then there are no absolutes. If there are no absolutes, then there is no objective morality. . . . As for me, I say (1) that there is ultimate objective right, (2) that God exists, and (3) that I and all other men have the obligation to do what is right, in harmony with the will of God. It is clear to me that every man who rejects this affirmation is, as a matter of fact, rejecting truth that is before his very eyes. . . .
While there are many other evidences of the existence of Almighty God, from the fact that we all know that we ought to act in a certain fashion, and from the knowledge that there is the ultimate objective standard, each of us should deduce that God does exist. No man can logically and consistently acknowledge that real right and wrong does exist and then deny that God exists. (11-12)
As one faces the uncertainties of a new year, the knowledge of God provides certainty. It is certain that God is light and there is no darkness or uncertainty in Him (1 John 1:5; cf. Revelation 22:5). He is the known way (Romans 1:19-32). The Lord God is a sun and a shield (Psalm 84:11). “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). Knowing God is the way to a truly Happy New Year! Far beyond that, knowing God is the way to eternal life with God.
The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)
Bartlett, John. Familiar Quotations. 13th Rev. Centennial ed. Boston: Little, Brown, 1955.
Blanchard, John. Does God Believe in Atheists? Auburn: Evangelical, 2000.
Smith, Huston. Why Religion Matters. New York: HarperCollins, 2001.
Warren, Thomas B. Have Atheists Proved There Is No God? Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1972.
- - -. We Can Know that God Exists. 1976. Vienna: Warren Christian Apologetics Center, 2010.