Unity In Times of DisagreementWe actually began the study of this section of Scripture last week by taking a look at the wrath of God. If you will remember God’s anger, or His wrath, is not like our anger. Our anger is oftentimes impulsive and explosive. God’s wrath is purposeful. God’s wrath is an expression of His love. God’s wrath is just. His wrath is being revealed from heaven against godlessness and wickedness. We learned last week that a holy God cannot stand by and approve, or turn a blind eye, towards godlessness and wickedness.
This week I want us to move further into our study of Romans 1 by recognizing that we have been given more than enough evidence of God’s existence. If we will pay attention to the evidence that God has placed before us then it should lead us to seek Him. God’s wrath is just because He has made His truth known to us. He has demonstrated His power and His divine nature to us through what has been made and yet we have turned away, we have suppressed the truth that is as plain as the nose on our face, and we have done this so that we can live however we want to live. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today. Paul writes,
18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities– his eternal power and divine nature– have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:18-21 NIV)
Paul says that God has revealed Himself to us, through what He has made, and yet we claim that we just don’t see it; we don’t see any evidence of what Paul says God has made plain to us.
Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist. He is also the professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. He has written many books from his atheistic perspective. Dawkins latest book is called, The God Delusion. In the book, Dawkins says that a supernatural creator most likely does not exist and that belief in a “god” is simply delusional. Dr. Dawkins defines, “delusion,” as a “persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence.”
I would say that Paul and Dr. Dawkins have diametrically opposed views on the evidence before us. In Dawkins book, The God Delusion, he begins his first chapter with a story. Let me read it to you.
The boy lay prone in the grass, his chin resting on his hands. He suddenly found himself overwhelmed by a heightened awareness of the tangled stems and roots, a forest in microcosm, a transfigured world of ants and beetles. Even though he wouldn’t have known the details at the time of soil bacteria by the billions, silently and invisibly shoring up the economy of the micro-world, suddenly the micro-forest of the turf seemed to swell and become one with the universe. With the rapt mind of the boy contemplating it, he interpreted the experience in religious terms, and it led him eventually to the priesthood. He was ordained an Anglican priest and became a chaplain at my school, a teacher of whom I was fond. It is thanks to decent liberal clergymen like him that nobody could ever claim that I had religion forced down my throat.
In another time and place, that boy could have been me under the stars, dazzled by Orion, Cassiopeia and Ursa Major, tearful with the unheard music of the Milky Way, heady with the night scents of frangipani and trumpet flowers in an African garden. Why the same emotion should have led my chaplain in one direction and me in the other is not an easy question to answer. (Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Bantam Books, 2006)
Why would one man, when he saw such beauty and order in God’s creation, be moved to devote his life to serving God? Why would another man, when he saw such beauty and order in God’s creation, turn away from God and see nothing? Dawkins says it is not an easy question to answer, and yet, if we stick to Scripture, and what Paul writes in Romans 1, it is an easy question to answer isn’t it? Richard Dawkins is suppressing the truth of what is plainly before us.
When Paul says that we “suppress the truth by our wickedness” he uses a very descriptive word. The word, “??????” (katecho) is the Greek word translated “suppress” and the word can mean, “to hold or to hold back.” The word is sometimes used in a nautical sense like if you were to talk about “steering a ship towards something.” You hold fast your course. Dawkins and others who see the same thing that you and I see hold fast their belief that there is no God. In spite of the evidence, they suppress the truth, and hold their belief. In spite of what God’s Word says, they hold their belief. God’s Word says,
1 For the director of music. A psalm of David. The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. 3 There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. 4 Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. (Psalm 19:1-4 NIV)
David saw what you and I see and what did he conclude? He said, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” Please don’t be led to believe that the difference between David and Richard Dawkins is merely a difference between a “scientific” mind and a mind of “faith.” That is not the case at all. Let me give you an example of what I am talking about. How many of you have ever heard of Dr. Francis Collins? Dr. Collins is the leader of the Human Genome Project, one the greatest undertakings of modern science, the mapping of the human genetic code. Dr. Collins has written his own book, The Language of God, in which he tells about how he became a follower of Jesus.
Dr. Collins talks about growing up in a family in which religion “just wasn’t very important,” as he says. His mom and dad sent him to church when he was young to sing in the choir, but they also told him that he shouldn’t take the church’s theology too seriously.
In high school, Francis learned about the intense order of the universe. He went to the University of Virginia at the age of sixteen to study chemistry. While in college he met a couple of passionate atheists and came to the conclusion that no religion had any foundational truth.
Francis loved the mathematical beauty of physics and that led him to study physical chemistry where he studied quantum mechanics and second-order differential equations. He became convinced that everything in the universe could be explained by equations and physical principals. Francis also discovered that one of his heroes, Albert Einstein, didn’t believe in the God of the Jews, so Francis slowly shifted from agnosticism to atheism.
Francis was working on his doctorate at Yale when he took a class in biochemistry and became enamored by DNA and proteins. Francis decided to switch his course of study and go to medical school. It was in medical school that his atheism took a hit. Francis says that the relationships he developed with sick and dying patients was overwhelming. He saw the strength they gained from their faith and it impressed him. His most profound moment came when an older woman, suffering from a rare and untreatable heart problem asked him what he believed. Francis writes, “I felt my face flush as I stammered out the words ‘I’m not really sure.'”
That encounter caused him to realize that he had dismissed faith without ever examining it. He was given a copy of Mere Christianity, a book by C. S. Lewis, and reading the book gave Francis some great insights. Francis agreed with C. S. Lewis that God is not a part of the physical universe and therefore cannot be perceived by the methods of science. Yet God speaks to us through His creation.
Isn’t it interesting that such a brilliant man like Dr. Francis Collins can come to faith through the evidences he witnessed from physics and studying creation. What he saw in creation was not enough to lead him to saving faith, but it certainly was enough to cause him to seek God more fully. The same evidence that leads some to suppress the truth causes others to pursue the truth of God. Paul said,
20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities– his eternal power and divine nature– have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:20-21 NIV)
Sam Harris is another outspoken critic of religion and an atheist. Sam has written several books, one called, The End of Faith, and he says that the evidence is obvious that there is no God. What does Sam base the obvious on? His experiences in life. Sam writes in an article entitled, There Is No God (And You Know It), published in The Huffington Post,
Somewhere in the world a man has abducted a little girl. Soon he will rape, torture, and kill her. If an atrocity of this kind is not occurring at precisely this moment, it will happen in a few hours, or days at most. Such is the confidence we can draw from the statistical laws that govern the lives of six billion human beings. The same statistics also suggest that this girl’s parents believe — at this very moment — that an all-powerful and all-loving God is watching over them and their family. Are they right to believe this? Is it good that they believe this? No.
The entirety of atheism is contained in this response. Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply a refusal to deny the obvious. Unfortunately, we live in a world in which the obvious is overlooked as a matter of principle. The obvious must be observed and re-observed and argued for. (Harris, Sam. There Is No God (And You Know It) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-harris/there-is-no-god-and-you-_b_8459.html)
Did you hear how many times Sam Harris used the word, “obvious?” He says that atheism is simply a refusal to deny the obvious. Paul says that a refusal to deny the obvious will lead you and me to fall on our faces and worship God, not deny His existence. Who is delusional?
The illustration that he uses about a little girl being abducted, raped, tortured, and killed is not evidence that there is no God–it is evidence that we are not following God.
Paul says that God has revealed Himself to us through His creation. This is called natural revelation. There are some things we can learn about God through coming to a better understanding of what He has made. Paul says that we can come to understand more about God’s power and His divine nature. Stop and think about the vastness of the universe, the delicate intricacy of a baby being formed in its mother’s womb, and the unbelievable complexity of the human body and other aspects of God’s creation. It is truly remarkable. Let me give you just a few examples of what I’m talking about so that hopefully you can get a glimpse of God’s power and His divine nature.
I’m sure many of you have heard of the Hubble Space Telescope. The telescope is able to see into deep space, not the deepest space, but as deep as we’ve ever been able to peer into God’s creation. The first picture I want to show you is the most detailed image of a spiral galaxy ever taken. This spiral galaxy is called the Pinwheel Galaxy. The galaxy is 170,000 light years across–nearly twice the size of our own Milky Way galaxy. That’s big! The galaxy is 25 million light years from our planet, about ten times as far as our nearest neighbor, the Andromeda galaxy. If you are like me then you can’t even imagine what 25 million light years looks like. If you say that something is about the distance of Oklahoma City to Dallas or Memphis or Orlando then I can understand what you mean. I can get my mind around that. When you say the Pinwheel Galaxy is 25 million light years away, you just overloaded my feeble mind.
The second picture I want to show you was also taken by the Hubble Telescope. This is a picture of the Orion Nebula. The picture gives us a peek into one of the nurseries of our universe where thousands of stars are forming. More than 3,000 stars of various sizes appear in this one picture. Some of them have never been seen in visible light. These stars reside in a dramatic dust-and-gas landscape of plateaus, mountains, and valleys that scientists say are somewhat like our Grand Canyon. The Orion Nebula is 1,500 light-years away, the nearest star-forming region to Earth.
Can you “see” the power of God? The vastness of space, the beauty of its design, and the mystery that surrounds it testifies to the power of God. Do you hear a lesson in the universe? Is there a message coming through to you this morning? There certainly was for Jeremiah as he stood looking at what appeared to be a hopeless situation. In Jeremiah 17 the prophet was watching the mighty Babylonian army bear down on Jerusalem. There was seemingly no hope for God’s people, but in the midst of that hopeless situation God instructed Jeremiah to buy a field in Anathoth, just outside of Jerusalem. What in the world was God thinking? Instead of reasoning his way through the instructions, Jeremiah looked up. In Jeremiah 32:17 he writes,
17 “Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you. (Jeremiah 32:17 NIV)
The vastness of the universe shows us that nothing is too hard for God. Can God restore Jerusalem? Let me ask you a more difficult question–can God create a nursery in the skies that we call “Orion,” where newborn stars come into being? Can God spin a giant Pinwheel deep, deep in the heavens? You bet He can. He is doing it right now as we sit here in this sanctuary! The glory and vastness of God’s creation shows us that nothing is too hard for God. He did restore Jerusalem and He can lead you and me through any trial.
God is not simply “seem” in the vastness of His creation. His Word tells us that He is intimately involved with His creation. He knows you and me better than we know ourselves. The Psalmist said,
1 For the director of music. Of David. A psalm. O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. 5 You hem me in– behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. 7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. 13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. (Psalm 139:1-13 NIV)
I watched a special on the National Geographic Channel one time called, “Inside the Living Body.” It was truly amazing. Doctors are now able to go inside the human body with a high definition camera and take pictures of how the body functions. I wish all of you could have seen the beauty and design that was evident during each frame of the two hour special. Let me give you an example of what I’ve learned about our body.
Do you know that all of the information needed for the replication of an entire human body, with every detail described is stored in the double-helix DNA. Our DNA is found in the nucleus of each of the hundred thousand billion of cells in our body. Think about this: Each of us came from a single fertilized cell within our mother’s womb. All of the different kinds of organs and tissues, everything that makes you who you are, has come from that one single fertilized cell. That is mind boggling!
I also learned from watching the special that the timing of how everything works within us is astounding and beyond our control. Before we were born, when we were in our mother’s womb, our lungs were full of amniotic fluid, we didn’t have to breath oxygen while we were in the womb. Once we are born we have to have our lungs, but they are full of fluid. As a baby we certainly aren’t able to do anything to clear our lungs, but God has so designed us so as to take care of this problem. Once we are born the body sends a message to our adrenal gland and it sends adrenaline surging around our body. The adrenaline shocks our lungs into life. Muscles that we need to breathe suddenly start to spasm and we take our first breath. The most important breath we will take, the first of 700,000,000 breaths we will take, during our lifetime.
I could go on and on describing the marvel of the function and design of our bodies, but suffice it to say that the Psalmist was right, we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Paul would go even further and point out for you and me that God provides us with everything we need to sustain the life He has given to us. He spoke to the people of Lystra and said,
16 In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy. (Acts 14:16-17 NIV)
Paul didn’t come up with that idea on his own. In Matthew 6, Jesus told the crowd that God takes care of all of His creation. Look at verse 26 with me.
26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matthew 6:26 NIV)
You and I have been given eyes to see the beauty of the canvas of God’s creation in the mountains of Montana or Colorado. We can see water as far as the eye can see as we stand on the beach and dream like a little child as to what lies beneath the surface. We have been given ears to hear the mountains, trees, rivers, wind, birds and insects praise His glorious majesty. We have been given the gift of touch to feel the tender petals of a flower, the rough skin of an elm, and the soft skin of a newborn baby. We can taste the sweetness of honey and the bitterness of a persimmon. What do we do with all of this information God has given us? Do we see, hear, taste, and touch all that God has given and simply walk away? That is our choice.
God has created all of these things to lead us to Him, to make us hungry to know Him more, to stir within us a desire to know Him more and more. What will you do? If we choose to walk away then we need to know that we are without excuse. The evidence is plain, it is clear, so clear that we are left with no excuses.
For us to experience what we are experiencing and then to say to God, “I just don’t see it” is utter insanity. We have no excuses. You would have a better chance of getting off by going to court and telling the Judge that you didn’t see the red light or the speed limit sign then you will have on that day when you stand before God after living your life as you want and telling Him that you just didn’t know. You do know. I know. We all know, deep in our hearts, that there is a God. There is Something, Someone, bigger than us who has done all of this. We know this deep in our hearts, but we don’t want anyone telling us what to do with our lives. We want to live apart from any outside authority dictating how we should live our lives. I understand this. I’ve lived a good part of life in rebellion against authority. That is not an excuse; it is only further evidence that I am guilty as charged. I knew better, but went ahead and turned away from God anyway. This is not a new phenomenon among people. In Jeremiah’s day, God said,
24 They do not say to themselves, ‘Let us fear the LORD our God, who gives autumn and spring rains in season, who assures us of the regular weeks of harvest.’ 25 Your wrongdoings have kept these away; your sins have deprived you of good. 26 “Among my people are wicked men who lie in wait like men who snare birds and like those who set traps to catch men. 27 Like cages full of birds, their houses are full of deceit; they have become rich and powerful 28 and have grown fat and sleek. Their evil deeds have no limit; they do not plead the case of the fatherless to win it, they do not defend the rights of the poor. 29 Should I not punish them for this?” declares the LORD. “Should I not avenge myself on such a nation as this? 30 “A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land: 31 The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end? (Jeremiah 5:24-31 NIV)
“What will you do in the end?” When we choose to turn away from God there will be consequences. There are both long term and short term consequences. The long term consequence is that we will stand before God in our sin, condemned because of our defiance, condemned because of our refusal to acknowledge the obvious and fall on our faces in worship. Next week we will take a look at some of the short term consequences for our refusal of God, but I want to urge you this morning to not let another day go by. Cry out to the Lord and confess your sin, the hardness of your heart, and invite Jesus into your life as your Lord and Savior.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
April 23, 2013