Confirmation 2018-19: Session One

Posted by on Sep 19, 2018 in Confirmation | No Comments

It is probably obvious but at Confirmation we talk about God. Confirmation exists because we believe that how we talk and think about God has a profound impact on how we live our lives and what future there might be beyond this life. We have a fancy word for talking about God: theology. It comes from the Greek word Theos (God) and logos (Word, reason, study). Geology is knowing about the earth. Biology is knowing about life on the earth. Theology is knowing about who made and sustains life on the earth. Back in medieval and renaissance times theology was called, “The Queen of the Sciences” because to know about God would shine light on all the other things in this world.

But theology isn’t easy. In zoology there are animals we can observe, touch, and capture to study. In geology there are rocks that can be mined, refined, and examined. But in theology, we speak about something we cannot see or touch (John 1:18). So before we speak too much about God, perhaps we need to give some attention to the question, “Does God even exist?” Its not a new question. People have always had their doubts about the existence of a supreme being beyond our sight. There are good reasons one might be skeptical of the existence of God. But it’s also true that some of humanity’s greatest minds have made compelling cases for God’s existence. Here are six classical Philosophical arguments:

  1. Cosmology: Creation, Motion, Cause and Effect–everything has a source. Nothing is set in motion on its own (cause and effect). What is the “first cause”? Everything we know came from somewhere, but there be something that is “uncreated”. Philosophers call this an “unmoved mover”. Like the dominos that fall in sequence, something must have started it.(See philosophers Aristotle or St. Thomas Aquinas)
  2. Morality: We were given a sense that there is a perfect ideal that must exist somewhere. A sense of right and wrong must come from a source beyond us. “If there is no God, then everything is permissible”. (Russian Novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky, or philosopher Immanuel Kant)
  3. Practical: Play a game. Flip a coin. Heads means you win everything. Tails means you lose nothing. Heads=God exists and you believe. Tails=You believe but God does not exist. Nothing is lost if you believe God exists and he doesn’t, but everything can be gained if you believe God exists and he does! (This is called, “Pascal’s Wager”, named after French Mathematician Blaise Pascal).
  4. From Multiple Authorities: Most people in human history, in every age, in every culture, in every place have believed in some kind of “higher power”. True atheism is very rare. Either the human race suffers some kind of mass psychosis, or something of God’s existence is revealed to most people.
  5. Design (or “Teleology”): Because the makeup of the universe is incredibly complex, it seems unlikely that the universe came together by chance or randomness. Rather, the complexity points to a mind that designed the universe. “You can’t put pieces of a watch into a box, close the lid, shake it up, and expect a Rolex to fall out.” (Physicist Isaac Newton, Philosopher Plato)
  6. Emotion and Desire: Human desires correspond to real objects like food, friendship, health, sex, shelter, etc. Human beings have a near universal desire for heaven, and likewise, God. If all other desires are related to real objects, why would heaven be the exception? Human beings believe in beauty, and what is beautiful points us to a creator who makes beauty with purpose. (Novelist C.S. Lewis, theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar).

Contemporary philosopher Peter Kreeft has compiled an even larger list of major philosophical arguments for God’s existence, see here.

Beyond philosophical arguments for God’s existence, even more important for Christians are the spiritual signs that God does indeed exist. Many people will say they experience or encounter God’s Spirit through worship, prayer, or devotion. Sometimes we examine the course of our lives and come away with a profound sense of God’s activity in it. This is a mystical case for God’s existence. “Mystical” doesn’t mean “less-real”, its just something we’re not able to analyze in the same way as a logical argument.

Then finally of most importance to us is the Biblical case for God’s existence: how has Jesus Christ been raised from the dead? As a matter of real history, real people made the claim that Jesus of Nazareth was killed yet three days later was dead no more. If this is true, how can it be? This is the most important case for God’s existence to a Christian: that Jesus lives again because the power of God triumphs even over death.

Over the last few hundred years many people have thought that science and Christian faith contradict each other; that scientific discovery discredits the claims of the Bible. In reality many of the greatest scientific minds have also believed in God (Isaac Newton, Heisenberg, Galileo, Francis Collins, et al). But here we need to say that  you cannot put God under the microscope to examine God. You won’t find God somewhere out in the universe with a telescope. There is not a piece of scientific evidence that beyond a shadow of a doubt can really prove or disprove that God exists.  Yet at the same time, the universe is full of clues that there is more than what we see. This is what faith is (Hebrews 11:1, John 20:29).

So we use the tools we have to try and do theology and “Speak of God”. But what our are tools for theology? How do we learn about God? Christians have traditionally named four sources for knowledge of God:

  • Nature or Reason: Humans can observe the world and see that it is made with design and care. The human mind can perceive that life has an order to it and there is a superior mind behind that order.
  • Church Tradition: From the very first Christians on through the centuries, tradition and practices have been handed on from generation to generation. We benefit from the insight and experiences of hundreds of millions of Christian believers who have gone before us.
  • Experience: Whenever we seek God in prayer or worship, we have the possibility of sensing God’s presence or purpose. Sometimes we look back on our lives and with hindsight see that something more than chance was at work to bring us where we are.
  • Most importantly, Protestant Christians believe that the Holy Scriptures are our most important source of knowledge of God. The 66 books of the Old and New Testaments are the place we learn the most important thing about God: that in Jesus Christ God has revealed himself to humankind. The books of the Bible are the story of the people Jesus came from and the testimonies of those who new him in his life. Since the earliest centuries of the Christian faith, Christians have believed that God’s Holy Spirit inspired the writers of the Bible to speak truthfully of God, by passing along the story of Christ. We’ll spend more time next week unpacking what the Bible is and what we believe about it.

Ultimately Christian Faith is about more than traditions, experiences, ideas, or even sacred writings. It is fundamentally about knowing God through Jesus Christ. In the first chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus is described as “the Word” and that:

“the Word was with God, and the Word was God… Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth… No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” –John 1:1-18

What our english Bibles render “Word” in this passage is the Greek word, “Logos”. Its the same greek word that appears in theology. Jesus is God’s word to us. So for us to speak and think about God, we need to listen to Jesus. That’s our goal in Confirmation: to hear from Jesus, speak to Jesus, trust in Jesus, and live like Jesus. It is the most important thing you’ll ever do in this life.

Confirmation Journaling Questions this Week

Read Psalm 1:1-3

  1. According to the psalmist, people who delight in God’s law and meditate on it are like what?
  2. Who are the people you listen to the most?
  3. If your mind is like a houseplant, what are you watering it with? What kinds of things do you fill your mind with?
  4. How might your life be different if you put more of God’s word in your mind and less of other messages?