Religion Magazine

James Hein: God is Not Present (Christian Response)

By Samoluexpress @Oluwasegunsomef

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By Pastor James Hein

Mitchell writes:

He is not here. Telling our children to love a person they cannot see, smell, touch or hear does not make sense. It means that we teach children to love an image, an image that lives only in their imaginations. What we teach them, in effect, is to love an idea that we have created, one that is based in our fears and our hopes. Read complete post

What About This Statement Is Wrong?

What does it mean to be “here”? Mitchell clearly takes a materialist viewpoint.  Materialism has long been discredited as an all-encompassing explanation for the universe, since it’s so easy to disprove.  For instance, no one today would dispute the existence of gravity.  And yet, gravity is the result of matter, but not matter itself.  In other words, you cannot see, smell, touch, or hear gravity, but it’s still obviously there.  Therefore, sensory perception simply cannot be the final measuring stick of whether or not something is truly “here.”

Would anyone suggest that by teaching children about gravity, we’re brainwashing them into following along with our imaginations?  Of course not.  Material existence, one that can be perceived through the senses, does not equate to the whole of reality.

Materialism denies the existence of both deity and soul.  Everything is just that, a thing.  And so are you.  Consequently, consistent with a materialist mindset would be to treat you as a mere soulless thing.  But every human knows that would be inappropriate.  Most people would be terribly offended if you treated them as though they were just a sack of chemicals, soulless matter.  We know there’s more to us than the mere atoms that create our physical reality.  If there isn’t, then why do we care for humans or grieve the loss of humans differently than, say, a plant?

When you can acknowledge that a “physical existence” is too simplistic of an explanation for human life, then it’d seem natural that such a definition would not suffice for the God who many believe created such humans.

What About This Statement Is Truth?

If there is such a being as Creator God, which I obviously believe there is, it’d seemingly make sense that such a being would exist in ways that go beyond the comprehension of his creation (i.e. humans).  The Bible confirms this.

Granted, the presence of God is a fairly tricky thing for finite humans who operate primarily by sensory experience to nail down.  Nonetheless, the Bible says that God exists everywhere at once (Jer. 23:24), when believers gather together (Matt. 18:20), in the “Real Presence” of the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, 1 Cor. 11), inside of us by his Spirit (2 Tim. 1:14), and with each of us personally for support (Matt. 28:20).  How can one God have so many different forms of presence?  Perhaps the better question to ask is why do we assume that something can only have one presence?  The answer is that the natural laws of our universe seem to allow every creature only one local presence.  The problem with using that logic, however, is that we’re applying it to one who created the laws of nature, a supernatural being, not one who is bound by the laws of nature like you and me.  It’s necessary to keep this in mind when debating the presence of God.

Mitchell also suggests that when we teach kids about God, sometimes it’s just a matter of sharing with them a perception of God that is “based in our fears and our hopes.”  I think that’s a fair criticism for some.  I’m sure there are many parents today, for instance, who teach their kids that “a loving God would never send anyone to hell” or that those who go to hell simply “cease to exist” (called “annihilationism”).  That may be their own personal hope about God, but that’s all it is.  Because they find it difficult to reconcile the idea of a loving God with an eternal hell, they teach their children the doctrine of their imagination.  It’s a belief not grounded in Scripture whatsoever.  Whereas modernist thinkers tended to be painfully and divisively doctrinal, many postmodern thinkers tend to be overly non-doctrinal and form their beliefs through unsubstantiated imagination.  I think Mitchell correctly identifies that mistake.

How Is the Gospel of Jesus More Beautiful Than This Belief?

One of humanity’s greatest fears is to be alone.  While hard to measure, I think it’s a fair guess that more resources (time, energy, dollars) are poured into finding loving relationship, the intimate presence of another, in this world than any other pursuit.  And yet no matter what form of love, what relationship in this world, it can and does break at some point.

Deadbeat fathers leave.  Boyfriends and girlfriends come and go.  Husbands and wives cheat or check out emotionally.  Kids go away to college.  Friendships dwindle.  And even if all our relationships remain intact throughout life, the inevitable conclusion to loving human relationships is…….we all die.  Every purely earthly relationship ends.

But according to the Bible, relationships that are rooted in an eternal God remain forever.  “After that, we who are still alive and are left (i.e. believers on earth) will be caught up together with them (i.e. the saints) in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” (1 Thess. 4:17)  Since God is eternal, like the hub on an indestructible wheel, every spoke that is attached to him is subsequently linked to every other spoke forever.  Believers who die in Christ live forever in Christ – eternal, relational presence.

Furthermore, before Jesus ascended into heaven, he told his disciples, “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt. 28:20)  Is it possible to believe that without seeing it?  The Bible says such belief is the very definition of faith (Heb. 11:1).

Others in this world can, and some probably will, leave you.  But he will not.  Everyone else in this world invariably dies on you.  But he dies for you, so that you can live with him and those who die in him.  We might not always get the presence of God that we’d prefer from him here in a sinful world, but it’s precisely so that we can get his eternal presence in paradise.

Three Summary Points to Consider:

1) Just because I can’t see something (or taste, touch, hear, or smell it), does that mean it cannot be present?  If so, how do you explain things like gravity?  How do you account for things like love or thoughts or morals?  Are such things all not real because you cannot quantify their presence?  Are they perhaps merely the product of chemicals?  Or is it possible that there is more to this world than the physical?

2) Does it make more sense for a Creator God to only have the exact same local presence of his creation or that he would have a presence that transcends the merely local, physical, and visible?

3) According to the Bible, God is actually more present than any other person or thing in our lives.  If I adjust my definition of “presence” to include more than the purely physical, is the Bible’s claim so hard to believe?


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