Encountering God

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“We sometimes encounter people, even perfect strangers, who begin to interest us at first sight, somehow suddenly, all at once, before a word has been spoken.” — Fyodor Dostoevsky

She never saw it coming, but she was about to encounter something powerful. Kim Heil-Smith was talking on her cordless phone one night, when she walked into her garage to get something out of the car. What she found was something few people would ever want to encounter, in their garage, or anywhere else.

A bear.

A black bear.

A black sow bear.

A black sow bear with her cub.

A black sow bear with her cub IN THE GARAGE!

“I opened the door and she was right there, between the car and the side of the house. She didn’t have anywhere to go, so she came at me,” said Heil-Smith, who lives on Devil Track Lake Road north of town.  “I tried to shut the door on her, but she was too strong. She wrapped her arms around me and I fell back.”

The big bear bit her head, shoulder and both thighs.  Heil-Smith suffered multiple puncture wounds and scratches that required many stitches at Cook County North Shore Hospital, said John Shenett, Cook County Sheriff’s Department deputy.

Heil-Smith, 37, who was home alone at the time of the attack, was amazingly calm and upbeat when describing the ordeal.  “I was pretty scared at first, I wasn’t thinking. Then I just got mad at this bear being in my house. I finally was able to get my knee up so she couldn’t bite me, and then I grabbed her nose and yelled, ‘Get out of my house!'” she said. “I think that must have startled her because that’s when she left.” (http://www.bear.org/website/bear-pages/black-bear/bears-a-humans/44-what-if-i-corner-a-black-bear.html, accessed 3/5/12).

What an encounter! An encounter of another kind!

Not many of us will ever have such a powerful encounter with a beast. I am sure that the encounter forever changed Kimberly Heil-Smith. I am sure it was powerful. I am sure it was life-changing.

Since I was a small child, the stories of the Bible have had a central place in my life. The stories of valor and failure, devotion and denial, holiness and sinfulness have captured my imagination. But one thing that has stood out over time, is that every time I read of a Bible character encountering God, it was a life-changing experience. Some were healed, some raised from the dead, others rebuked, forgiven, loved, saved, or called to a mission, but all were profoundly impacted by the encounter.

Now, you might be thinking, “It’s nice that the Bible has all these wonderful ‘stories,’ but is it really possible for me to encounter God? After all, isn’t He busy keeping the planets from colliding with each other, managing the weather and all that? Could He possibly step into my reality?”

I want you to learn to see that God is alive and at work in the world around you! Yes, modern enlightened YOU! He is alive and at work, and he wants to step into the midst of your everyday reality.  My prayer is that your eyes will be opened and that you will encounter God yourself.

From the very beginning, God has interacted with man. But before we launch into an exploration of these encounters, perhaps you have an even more basic question: “Does God even exist?”

The Bible begins with a simple declaration: “In the beginning God…” There are no attempts to justify, rationalize, or explain God’s existence. In Scripture, His existence is assumed, but through the ages, mankind has sought to defend or deny the existence of God through a variety of methods and arguments. But many are still left asking, “Does God Exist?”

But before we delve into that monumental question, let me pose to you another question: “Do you exist?” Are you truly here tonight, or are you simply an illusion? If you affirm that you truly exist, what is the source of your existence? Or perhaps an even more profound question demands to be answered: “Why does anything exist at all?”

Scientific knowledge has exploded over the last 85 years, opening the eyes of the world to things great and small. For example, it is generally accepted that all matter is composed of building blocks known as elementary particles. The Standard Model of particle physics says that everything that exists is comprised of tiny particles named “quarks” and “leptons.” The quark is generally considered to be the smallest of all the observable elementary particles. How small is it? To put it into perspective, Quarks have a mass of about 1/200 to 1/400 the mass of a proton! The Quark is miniscule, yet it is observable, and if it is observable, does it not exist?

But science has not only shed light on the miniature, it has exposed the massive as well. Scientists are continually trying to measure the massive expanse of the Universe. So just how big is the Universe?

“Space,” as Douglas Adams once so aptly wrote, “is big.” To try imagining how big, place a penny down in front of you. If our sun were the size of that penny, the nearest star, Alpha Centauri, would be 350 miles away. Depending on where you live, that’s very likely in the next state (or possibly country) over. Attempting to imagine distances larger than this quickly becomes troublesome. At this scale, the Milky Way galaxy would be 7.5 million miles across, or more than 30 times the distance between the Earth and the moon. As you can see, these are rather inhuman dimensions that are almost impossible to really get a sense of. (Adam Mann, “How to Picture the Size of the Universe,” Wired, December 06, 2011, accessed September 10, 2015, http://www.wired.com/2011/12/universe-size/.)

Some would even argue that the Universe is greater than what we can fully observe, and many believe it is still expanding. Some are seeking to answer the question of whether or not the Universe is infinite. The universe is massive, yet it is observable, and if it is observable, does it not exist?

If the Quark and the Universe do indeed exist, we are left to answer the question, what brought them into existence? Stated otherwise, why is there something instead of nothing? The most reasonable and rational response to this question is that a transcendent cause brought the quark and the Universe into being. How do we arrive at this proposition?

  1. Every part of the universe is dependent.
  2. If every part is dependent, then the whole universe must also be dependent.
  3. Therefore, the whole universe is dependent right now on some independent Being beyond it for its present existence.

Why is it proper to say that “every part of the Universe is dependent?” To understand why the Universe is dependent, it is necessary to understand the principle of infinite regressions. Infinity is a mathematical theory. Infinity cannot truly be measured, it is merely a concept. The absurdity of actual infinity is demonstrated by the child’s question, “What does infinity plus one equal?” “Infinity plus one” is a mathematical absurdity. Nothing can be added to or subtracted from infinity. Infinity exists in theory but not in actuality!

Our existence can be measured by a series of events. Before us there is a series of potential events. Behind us there are actual events. For example, you had breakfast this morning. You went to bed last night. You went to church yesterday morning. All these events can be counted backwards. And these events can be added to all the events in human history, and in fact the history of the Universe counting further and further backwards. But at some point, there must be a First Event since it is logically impossible for there to be an infinite series of regressions. The argument may be stated as such:

  1. An actual infinite cannot exist.
  2. A beginningless series of events in real time is an actual infinite.
  3. Therefore, a beginningless series of events in time cannot exist.

Since the set cannot be infinite, there must be a First Event, and a First Event requires a First Cause. Whatever is the First Cause must be God, for only God is an Independent Being, therefore God must exist! Since the set cannot be infinite, there must be a First Event, and a First Event requires a First Cause. Whatever is the First Cause must be God, for only God is an Independent Being, therefore God must exist!

David Hilbert, perhaps the greatest mathematician of the twentieth century, wrote, “The infinite is nowhere to be found in reality. It neither exists in nature, nor provides a legitimate basis for rational thought. The role that remains for the infinite to play is solely that of an idea.” But that entails that since past events are not just ideas, but are real, the number of past events must be finite. Therefore, the series of past events can’t go back forever. Rather, the universe must have begun to exist. (William Lane Craig, “Does God Exist,” Reasonable Faith, April 4, 2009, http://www.reasonablefaith.org/does-god-exist-craig-vs-hitchens-apr-2009, accessed September 28, 2015.)

Since the Universe began to exist, something, or Someone must have brought it into existence.

Though this argument may be logically sound, it does not prove the existence of the God of the Bible, simply that there is an Independent Being upon which the rest of the Universe depends. Christian Wolff strengthened the argument for the existence of the God of the Bible with a rather lengthy set of propositions. Wolff’s argument has become a pattern for many modern thinkers. Wolff’s progression is as follows:

  1. The human soul exists (i.e., we exist).
  2. Nothing exists without a sufficient reason for existence.
  3. The reason for our existence must be contained either in ourselves or else in another, diverse from ourselves.
  4. The reason for our existence is not in ourselves. Our nonexistence is possible or conceivable.
  5. So the reason for our existence must be outside of ourselves.
  6. One does not arrive at a sufficient reason for existence without reaching a being that has within itself the reason for its one existence. If it did not, then there must be a sufficient reason for its existence beyond itself.
  7. A being that has within itself the reason for its own existence is a Necessary Being.
  8. Therefore, there must be a Necessary Being beyond us that is the sufficient reason for our existence. If there is not a Necessary Being beyond us, we would be Necessary Beings, having the reason for own existence in ourselves.
  9. It is logically impossible for a Necessary Being not to exist. Self-existence or ascetic flows necessarily from the Necessary Being.
  10. Hence, this Necessary Being is identical with the self-existent God of Scripture. (Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1999), 163.)

Let me summarize these complicated progressions with three simple thoughts. I began by asking you, “Do you exist?” If you are in agreement that you do, in fact exist, I asked, “Why does anything exist at all?” The first thought is this, God is the best explanation for your existence, and the best explanation for the origin of the universe. The second thought is if there is no God, then life would be an absurd and meaningless chain of infinite regressions, and so there is a good reason to believe that God exists. Finally, since there is “Something,” does it not logically conclude that there is “Someone?” The abstract does not create the concrete, therefore, it is reasonable, logical, and intelligent to believe that there is a God Who was the First Cause, and the Sustainer of all that does exist.

There must be an explanation as to why there is “something” rather than “nothing,” and the best explanation is that there is “Someone.” This “Someone” has a name: it is God. He created you not to live a meaningless life spent spinning on a rock through an absurd universe. No! He created you so that you might encounter Him!

 

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