Yesterday’s message …
- Started a series called “The Problem Of God,” inspired by Mark Clark’s book of the same name;
- Included one of the few “pulpit” admissions that I went to college at, ahem, Princeton;
- Talked about the rising influence of atheism;
- Explored the issue from the perspective of humanity and astronomy;
- Landed at a preliminary bottom line and an emphatic one as the end of the sermon had a “Keller-esque” turn toward Jesus: Mind before matter (preliminary) … The mind who was before matter is the mind who became matter (final).
Some of you are familiar with the phrase MIND OVER MATTER. It’s the understanding that if you train your brain in certain ways you can alter your body processes in such a way that you can do things that otherwise seem impossible. You can use your invisible mind to bend visible reality. It’s like Free Diving (AV), which is diving as far as you can beneath the surface of the ocean without any SCUBA gear. And with a combination of altered breathing techniques and muscle development, Herbert Nitsche of Austria (huh? No beachside property there!) set a world record by diving 702 feet deep. That’s 70 trips to the deep end! Mind over matter indeed!
Or it’s like those folks in other lands who have trained their minds to ignore the heat in their feet and walk on hot coals as a form of bonding. Mind over HOT matter! And since most of you aren’t going to dive 700 feet or walk on hot coals this week, the most common MOM has to do with sports and visualization, where an athlete in his or her mind SEES the great pass, shot, or run before it happens. And then it happens. It’s most common in golf, where I imagine a lot of you have experience visualizing that putt going going going GONE right in the hole! Mind. Over. Matter.
And it is precisely the relationship between mind and matter – the visible & the invisible – that is a the heart of The Problem Of God and our launch pad today, “The Prob Of God’s Existence.” Because a lot of people – even, I’m sure, some of you – have trouble with the existence of God and as a result, atheism is having a real resurgence these days. Influential books by names like Richard Dawkins & Christopher Hitchens have forcefully explained that we’d be better off if we’d move beyond 1st century superstition and into 21st century rationalism. These works have gone a long way from in moving atheism beyond the caricature of Madelyn Murray O’Hair and into the mainstream of thought.
It’s kind of interesting. As some of you know, for college I went to Princeton in NJ. And it was started back it the 1700s as a training ground for Pres ministers. The sole purpose. Well, as things have evolved and changed, that’s not really its purpose anymore. But Princeton’s LAST president, a molecular biologist, is an avowed atheist. She is brilliant in her field, did a fine job as president but it shows you both the irony and the clout that an institution founded to train pastors is now led by one who denies the validity of their work. But it really is enough to make you think that all the smart people, all the cool kids at school, are now atheist.
That may include some of you this morning. You’ve red the books, heard the arguments, and it makes sense. Others of you are BORDERLINE atheists – living a life free of some of the restraints that faith puts on you is awfully attractive indeed. And still others of you, you are now or are headed into an environment where atheism and its first cousin agnositicism are prevalent. And then some of us here today are NOT atheists, at least officially, but we live as if we are, giving precious little thought to God when it comes to daily decisions and daily morality.
And as we consider the problem of God’s existence, you know what is helpful to remember? That we are all atheists toward something. None of us here believes in Zeus or Venus or any of the other gods of Greek mythology. I am an atheist when it comes to them. I don’t believe in Vishnu or Shiva from Hinduism, nor do I believe in the Allah of the Koran. I don’t believe in the book of Mormon. Nor do most of you. And it’s helpful to remember that atheists take what most of us Xns feel about all the other gods of the world and simply add one name to the list of gods they don’t believe: the God & Father of our Lord Jesus.
And if that’s you today – you are an atheist or you want to be one – I am so glad you’re here today. You are an answered prayer & we hope you’ll see me and us wrestle with this well. Because, in general, people who are atheist tend to believe that all we are and all we see – MATTER – is the result of natural processes; the development and evolution of cells and zygotes and life forms and species. The brutal tale of survival of the fittest and we at the top of the chain – humans – got here physically & naturally, emerging from life forms not quite has fit or smart as we.
Yet there are a couple of things to consider as we dig in to this. If we are simply the result of natural processes, if we just the most fit in the survivor series, if there is no inviable maker or unseen moral compass, then why do we have this thing called a conscience. If we’re just the result of cells and processes, think about this. You meet a people group from a different land. You travel there with your sister. And their custom, when meeting a guy and his sister, is to eat the sister. They EAT YOUR SISTER! Is that wrong? YES! But why? An answer BECAUSE WE DON’T EAT SISTERS isn’t sufficient. It’s right for THEM because their culture developed that way.
Or think of this: so many of the things that ALL PEOPLE take for granted – like LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR is good and ADULTERY is bad. You don’t have to be Xn to think those things, do you? Everyone is like that. Yet BOTH OF THOSE are counterproductive to the survival of your species. You don’t love your neighbors in the animal kingdom; you dominate them. And adultery? In a purely physical, mechanistic view of the world, adultery is good (chimps, tigers!), it ensures you gene pool, it’s the way you thrive. So again, why do we recoil at sister eating or adultery spreading? Or even senior citizen killing? Why do we have a conscience? And, except for certain sociopaths, virtually every one does. Why?
Ah, Romans 2:14-15 might tell us why:
14 Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.
Oh, so people who don’t know ALL, who don’t have the Word, still know SOME because God has written it on their hearts. The very fact that “everyone” agrees on certain levels of right and wrong that are beyond the merely physical and even counterproductive to survival suggests that someone higher, better, and stronger has written it into our code. As if our DNA has morality in addition to skin color.
And then something else to consider. We’ll leave HUMANITY for a moment & look to ASTRONOMY. Most experts tend to agree that all that mass & matter of the universe was condensed into one atom 15 B years ago. And the Big Bang then FLUNG all that matter and made space, where it has been expanding ever since. Over 120 physical laws – involving gravity, light, speed, mass, density, and physics – had to be perfectly aligned for the Big Bang to “work.” There’s a reason it’s not called the Big Dud!!! But … where did those laws COME FROM? How could the Big Bang operate according to laws that didn’t exist? Or did the BB create the laws by which it worked? That’s not even possible. Laws have to exist prior to their working.
And all that matter in that one atom? What was its source? Atheism asks you to believe some rather remarkable math: NOBODY X NOTHING = EVERYTHING. I ultimately don’t have enough faith to believe that; it requires a level of superstition that is simply beyond me. The matter matters.
Because remember how we began? MIND OVER MATTER? Well the real answer to the problem of God’s existence puts a twist on that. It’s Mind before matter. That, for matter to exist, a mind had to create. For laws to operate, a lawgiver had to establish them. For the result to exist, there had to be a first cause. Mind before matter
It’s like if an alarm goes off in your house, what does that mean? Someone set it! Alarms don’t just ‘go off’! If you find a tennis racket in the middle of a forest, what does that mean? Someone put it there! If you have a book, what’s that mean? Someone wrote it? There has to be a singer before a song, an architect before a house, a judge before a verdict. Even, even, there has to be an alpha-BET before alpha-BITS. Because what atheism ultimately asks us to believe is that this is possible (pour Alpha Bits on table) and what emerges spontaneously from all these letter is: THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD, I SHALL NOT WANT. Nope. No way, no how. Mind before matter
I suppose all this is why I love the assumption, the PRESUPPOSITION of the biblical library’s first sentence: In the beginning God … As if to say, “we have gone to the limits of human knowledge and that exposes how much we don’t know.” There was a beginning and then there is ONE WHO HAD NO BEGINNING. God never STARTED. He simply was. Is. Will be. You can either fill those gaps with conjecture or with absurd math or with God. I don’t have enough faith for the former, so I am going to settle for the latter. Before that was all this matter that we receive, there was mind that conceived. Master Mind, indeed. Mind before matter
I think the reason I land where I do is because the goal of atheism – known or not, named or not – is to make people into their own gods. That’s what happens. People deny there is a god, perhaps as an intellectual choice but more often to justify a series of behavioral decisions, and the result is that they assume God’s place on the throne of their hearts. And chaos ensues because each of us is a really bad god. You are terrible at it and so am I. Mind before matter
And if I can move from the general affirmation that the existence of matter requires the PRE-existence of a mind to the very much more specific faith in Jesus. And that includes a thrilling truth. The mind who was before matter is the mind who became matter. The mind before matter (noun) decided that YOU MATTER (verb) so he became embedded in his own creation. Invisible God assumed physical creation as Jesus Christ and he did it not for his safety but for your salvation. You are a priority to him. You are worth it to him. You and you and you – no exceptions – are the apple of his eye, the object of his affection. So the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world (Mind before matter!) decided to rescue you from the delusions of atheism and the destruction that comes when you serve as your own god. He who was before all became one of us because he adores all of us. He is anthem and ballad, immense and intimate, intergalactic and microscopic.