Wednesday, December 2, 2015

WORDS WITHOUT VOICES

This post is the first part of a 4 part series that I began to put up on this blog site on December 2. They are the sermons that I gave in our church for the four Sundays of Advent. The other sermons can also be found on this blog site. 

These four sermons of Advent are:

1 - Words Without Voices

2 - I AM and I WILL

3 - When God Fell Silent

4 - When God Speaks, the Universe Listens
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WORDS WITHOUT VOICES
 

Something Exceedingly Extraordinary

If we are able to stop our shopping and eating and traveling around in this Christmas season long enough to think about things for a moment, it may occur to us that it is quite an astounding event that we are celebrating with all of this activity.

I don’t want you to take this as though I am talking against all of these Christmassy things, but think about the immensity of fact that the creator of the universe, the creator of you and me, on one night long ago could be found in the arms of a young lady (little more than a girl really), who had just given birth to him. In some ways, this birth was much like every other birth of any baby. If we would have been present on that night, we no doubt would have said that there was a lot about this birth that was not out of the ordinary.

However, there were several things about it all that was very much out of the ordinary.  In fact, there are some things about this event that are even extraordinarily wonderful and quite remarkable. In ways never seen before that time and never seen since, God reached down to speak to us.
 
Natural and Scientific Responses

But for right now, I want to go back in time even before the birth of Christ and think about the lengths to which God has gone to in the past to communicate with us; what he has done to show us of his existence and that he wants to reestablish a lost relationship with us.

The first of these ways that God has been trying to communicate to us should be obvious every time we step out the door. Speaking technically and precisely, the Apostle Paul tells about this: “[God’s] invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, in the things that have been made ever since the creation of the world” (Romans 1:20 ESV).

What Paul means by this is that when we view the natural
world, the beautiful woods and lakes and streams of our northwoods, and when we lift our eyes to watch a sunset and then keep watching until darkness falls to allow our minds to attempt to understand the infinity of the starry heavens, there is something within us that tells us that all of this has been made by someone. We may not know who, exactly, but someone of great power and wisdom has done this.

That is our natural response. Some in the scientific community may say that this response may be our natural response, but it is not an educated response. It amazes me that these people have become so pleased with their own wisdom, as if any human mind will ever able to comprehend all that there is. I am not saying that this is not a worthy pursuit, but if its result is a growing pride in one’s self and one’s own abilities and intelligence, then it is misdirected. Properly directed, it should instead drive one closer to the notion that there is intelligence behind the design.

I am not a scientist, so I do not expect that what I say will have any bearing at all on the scientific community. I hesitate also to quote any scientist, because words and quotes can be misconstrued and taken without regard to context. But at least take this quote from Albert Einstein into consideration. He said this: “There is harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, yet there are people who say there is no God. But what really makes me angry is that they quote me to support such views” (1).

Here is another quote by Einstein that I agree with: “A legitimate conflict between science and religion cannot exist. Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind” (2).

I am not saying that I would agree with all that Einstein says or what he believed on spiritual matters, but I will say that these are two statements that I support with no reservations.

Concerning Einstein’s scientific beliefs, it is laughable that I should even have an opinion. His mind and comprehension of the universe was so high above my own that I have no worthiness to question his understandings. To do so would be prideful assumption on my part. 

Scientist Speaking as Theologian

And yet, the opposite should also be true. Some scientists today (not all) have become so proud of their own understanding of the cosmos that they arrogantly and hauntingly tell us that there is no God. How are they able to reach this conclusion? It is only a conclusion in their own minds. Actually, when you think about it, even this conclusion goes against the very scientific method that they purport to follow.

Here is the definition of the scientific method as found in the Oxford Dictionary: The Scientific Method is “a procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.”

The point is, scientific knowledge relies on empirical evidence. For this reason, science must always remain open to new insights and even contradictory information about theories and hypotheses that it draws out of its research. Once it closes the door to any conclusions that is contrary to what is purports and with what it does not agree, it seems to me that it can no longer call itself scientific. For anyone in science to conclude that there is no God, using only what they think is their own wonderful mind and understanding, this person has taken a step into a realm where he only speaks from ignorance.

That is what the Apostle Paul says in the same passage I quoted earlier. “They became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:22).
The Lawyer and the Shepherd

But that is enough on the scientific perspective. As for myself, I think I am more poetic in my thinking than scientific. “Poetic” is my term. You may have another. The president of an organization that I used to work for, in a staff meeting once called me a “mystic.” I did not know at first what to make of this moniker given to me, but he told me that he meant it as a compliment. He had been trained as a lawyer, so he approached his Bible study in that way. He told me that he appreciated the different insights that I brought to the table because they were things he had never before seen.
You need to look up the word to see what he meant.

I bring this up because many people in the Bible were mystics. King David was. No doubt, he had the natural predisposition toward contemplation, but I am sure that this natural inclination was enhanced in the hours and days and years that he spent in the pasture, tending the sheep of his father. Much different from the Apostle Paul, who had been trained in the Law of the Pharisees (Philippians 3:5), and in the book of Romans was laying out an orderly theological
line of reasoning, David described the knowledge of God from a different perspective.

Not surprisingly, in David’s case, he was not writing about the cosmos giving testimony about God to refute any argument or to lay out a logical line of pure reason. He was only contemplating the skies.

A Song of Testimony

This piece that I am about to quote was not written as a theological dissertation, but to the choirmaster. It is not an argument, but a song. It is a Psalm of David.

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.
(Psalm 19:1-4 ESV)

What David is saying that the testimony of God is all around us. The heavens above, the earth below, the light of the day and the dark of night all shout at us. We may not hear an audible voice, there is not speech, there are no words, but the testimony is so loud that all can hear.

“Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” 

From a Lawyer’s Perspective

It is just at this point that many people fail. It is not that they fail by mistake or that they miss the signs, but it is that their failure is a willful failure.

Getting back to Paul’s writing, he puts it this way: 

[God’s] invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools. (Romans 1:20-22 ESV) 

The Testimony of our Conscience

Then, of course, let me also mention the troubling existence of our own consciences. We all have that little voice inside of us that seems to tell us just what we do not want to hear. Very often, when we want to do something or not do something, it is our conscience tell us to do quite the opposite.

Why do we even have a conscience? It is not for our self-preservation, since it tells us things that do not seem to be for our own benefit. It actually usually tells us to do something that costs us monetarily or in another way, or it tells us to do something or that even might put us at a disadvantage or even in danger.

It is true much of what our conscience tells us and what we see as right or wrong depends upon the culture and society in which we live. It even can be altered with changing norms and the time in which we live. Nevertheless, much of what it tells us has nothing to do with any of these things. Our consciences appeals to a higher standard to which all men seem to agree, all men that is, except those who have had their consciences seared or twisted by madness or extreme ideology.

What is this “higher standard” to which all men look and why is it that we know that we should listen to it? To this, Paul says that those “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. 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” (Romans 2:15 NIV).

If this is so, if all men have a moral code written on their hearts, who wrote this law? It goes beyond culture and society. This higher moral law that is outside of ourselves and even outside of our culture should be an indication to all men that there is an authority that we all seem to have in common. 

Getting to Know You, Getting to Know All About You

In all of these things, those who will rightly read the signs will come to the recognition that there is a God. It is the created universe outside of ourselves and our moral code within ourselves through which God has sought to communicate with us to teach us who he is. 

When we think about getting to know another person, we can perhaps learn a lot about him from observing the things that he makes. For example, someone who only produces things of a strictly utilitarian purpose, such as tools or cooking utensils, is much different, say, than someone who
loves to paint landscapes or who chisels sculptures.

However, to be able to really know someone, that person needs to speak with us. God needs also to speak to us in order for us to get to know him. And this he has done. He had done it in the past and he is doing it now. For those who care to take the time, God is eager for you to get to know him in a way that is beyond a general knowledge about him. This is what we will talk about in the next installment, where we will see that God says, "I AM and I WILL." 
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Footnote 1: Einstein in a conversation with Hubertus zu Löwenstein, in Löwenstein’s book Towards the Further Shore (London Victor Gollancz 1968), p.156; Jammer, p.97
 
Footnote 2: Science and Religion, printed in A. Einstein Ideas and Opinions (Crown, New York 1954,) pp.44-49 quote on p.46; Jammer p.31
 

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