Developing a Biblical Worldview – Part Two: Prime Reality
Last week we started a new series entitled “Developing a Biblical Worldview.”
We started by defining worldview as
Sire’s definition: “a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true, or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic construction of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.”
So this sermon series is important because it will help us to sharpen up our worldview and define our beliefs, which will in turn have a huge impact on our decisions and actions on a moment by moment basis. How we believe affects how we behave.
A worldview seeks to answer 7 questions:
(1) What is prime reality? (ontology)
(2) What is the nature of external reality – the world and things around us? (cosmology)
(3) What is a human being? (anthropology)
(4) What happens to a person after death? (metaphysics)
(5) Why is it possible to know anything at all? (epistemology)
(6) What is right and wrong and how do we know? (morality)
(7) What is the meaning of human history? (teleology)
Each week we will spend some time on one question at a time. This morning we will focus in on the first. What is prime reality?
As we seek to develop a Biblical worldview, we find that the Bible’s answer to that question is God. God is the prime reality.
However, we are not alone. Many other worldviews would answer that the prime reality is God. Any worldview that says this is theistic. Worldviews that don’t consider God are “a” theistic. (Put an “A” in front of something and it means without – amusement)
Again, there are several worldviews that are theistic in nature; they would all say that God is the prime reality. But each worldview will define God differently, so the real question is what do we mean by God? Who is this God? Is he alone? Are there multiple gods as Greek mythology says? Is there one God? If so, who is he, what is he like?
Is he like a genie in a bottle who exists to grant us wishes and to serve us? Is he a mean and capricious god?
As we seek to develop a Biblical worldview, remember that our sources are revelation, reason, experience, and tradition.
I mentioned last week that our prime means are reason and revelation (the Bible itself and logical assessment of the Bible through reasoning). Tradition can be helpful in the following way.
When we are wrestling with a concept, we might say, “What did the early church fathers say about this topic or doctrine? What is the traditional view?” We might find that the answer is cohesive, coherent, consistent. We would then be safe to embrace the traditional view. On the other hand, if the traditional view is not cohesive, incoherent, inconsistent or contradicts scripture, we must reject it.
After all, this sermon series is entitled developing a biblical worldview, not developing a traditional worldview. You will find that as we explore these questions one by one some of the traditional answers are problematic and we will offer alternative answers that seem to be more cohesive, coherent, and consistent. We want to know the truth, so we will do as Jesus did.
But remember this: people like their traditions. And when you challenge tradition, you poke a very big bear. Remember when Jesus challenged the traditions of his day the religious elite replied…he said you nullify the word of God by your traditions.
This mornings question is not one of those. This morning’s question has a traditional answer that I currently adhere to; one that seems to be the best explanation as I currently understand the scriptures. So the answer I present this morning to question number one, “What is the prime reality” is consistent with tradition and most people will not want to crucify me or call me names in response. I can’t say the same for the rest of them, however.
BUT, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a tricky topic, that I don’t have questions of my own still, or that I am the expert on this. And it doesn’t mean that my view is not subject to change.
So let’s have some fun.
As we have already stated, God is the prime reality, but other theistic worldviews say that, so let’s sharpen up our answer and then answer a few other questions: who is god and what is he like?
YAHWEH – HE EXISTS
First of all, if we are going to define God as the bible defines him…no better yet, define sounds so impersonal. Let me introduce you to my God, the god of the Bible. His name is Yahweh.
The OT was originally written in Hebrew and uses three different Hebrew words for God. The first is Elohim, which is comparable to our word “god” although, as I understand it, it is the plural form, which has an interesting implication. I can’t speak for all translations, but when Elohim is used it is usually rendered as “God” in the NIV.
The second is Adonai, which is comparable to our word lord or master, and in the NIV it is rendered as Lord with a capital L.
And the third is Yahweh, which is God’s personal name. Wherever the Hebrew used God’s personal name Yahweh, in the NIV, it is rendered LORD in all caps.
Names mean something and especially in Bible times. Names say something about the individual and God’s name is no different. We can gain insight into this by the story of the burning bush. We have stressed the significance of the Exodus story in the bible.
In Exodus 3 we read of Moses’ encounter with God in the flames of a burning bush. This is where God first commissions Moses and sends him to Pharaoh, king of Egypt to tell him to let the Israelites go. Then in verse 13, we read, Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” 14God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob – has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.”
In this passage, God is giving the interpretation of Yahweh as I am who I am or I am that I am. In other words, “my name is the fact that I exist.” He is. He exists. He just is. He is self existent. He didn’t need anyone or anything to bring him into existence; for, he is the prime reality.
MONO – ONE GOD
As I mentioned, other worldviews are theistic, but for us as Bible believing Christians, not only are we theistic, but we are MONO-theistic. Mono meaning one. We believe in ONE God. Other worldviews may say that the prime reality is god but if they say there is more than one god, they are POLY theistic, meaning many gods.
Deuteronomy 6:4 is known as The Shema; it is one of, if not the most important verse in the OT to the Israelites. The verse says Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You will probably have footnotes in your bible, which offer other possible interpretations of the text as: The Lord our God is one Lord; or The Lord is our God, the Lord is one; or The Lord is our God, the Lord alone
Regardless of the interpretation you choose, they all seem to point to the oneness of God, that there is one God, Yahweh.
MONO BUT TRIUNE
But, revelation is progressive. As one moves through the Scriptures, more and more is revealed about reality. More and more is revealed about the prime reality. God revealed a lot about himself in the Law and the Prophets, but that revelation is furthered by the coming of the Messiah, Yeshua aka Jesus the Christ.
The book of Hebrews was written to the Israelites, the ones most familiar with Yahweh as theirs were the covenants and the scriptures. The book of Hebrews opens with the following words: In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son who he appointed heir of all things and through whom he made the universe. The son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.
So Jesus reveals God even further. It was through Jesus that all things were made and Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.
Colossians 1:15 He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.
Col 2:9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.
These passages sure do make Jesus sound like God. And there are a lot of passages that do that.
In fact, when we look at the words of Jesus, himself, on more than one occasion, the Jews picked up stones to stone him for statements that made him equal with God. Once in John 10:30 when he says I and the Father are one. Once in John 8:58 when he takes upon himself the name I AM, essentially calling himself Yahweh.
Furthermore, the Holy Spirit is identified as God (Acts 5:3-4).
Traditional Christian Theism, thus, defines God in trinitarian terms: one God who expresses Himself as three persons – father, son, and holy spirit. This concept is a longheld traditional view and one that I currently hold to, though I am open to change if a better explanation exists.
As Sire puts it, “That is, within the one essence of the Godhead we have to distinguish three ‘persons’ who are neither three gods nor three parts or modes of God, but coequally and coeternally God. The Trinity confirms the communal, “personal” nature of ultimate being. God is not only there – an existent being – he is personal and we can relate to Him in a personal way. To know God, therefore, means knowing more than He exists. It means knowing Him as we would our own father!”
TRANSCENDENT AND IMMANENT
God is transcendent.
Isaiah 55:8-9 8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
This means that God is beyond all, yet in all and sustaining all.
Yet God is not so beyond that He bears no relation to us and our world. It is likewise true that God is immanent, and thus He is with us. The Biblical story unfolds as a narrative about God in relationship with His people, pursuing them in order to make his dwelling with them and among them.
GOD IS PERSONAL:
This means that God is not an impersonal force or form of energy, though He is spirit (John 4:24). So he is not visible
God is personal in that He knows Himself to be (He is self-conscious) and he possesses self-determination (He “thinks” and “acts”). One implication is that God is not simple unity, an integer. He has attributes, characteristics. In fact, He is a unity, but a unity of complexity.
There are numerous attributes of God and we are going to barely scratch the surface in surveying these. I’m going to touch on some of the most foundational characteristics and attributes. We could spend weeks and weeks on these.
- God is omniscient. This means that God is all-knowing, the ultimate source of knowledge and intelligence. He is the alpha and the omega, knowing the beginning from the end (Rev. 22:13). God is omniscient (all knowing).
(Psalm 139:2-6; Isaiah 40:13-14)
- God is omnipresent (present everywhere). Jeremiah 23:24, Psalm 139:7-10/2, Is 57:15
- God is omnipotent (all powerful).
(Genesis 18:14; Luke 18:27)
God is sovereign. He is king. He is king of all kings and lord of all lords. There is no authority higher than him. It emphasizes the fact that nothing is beyond God’s interest, control, and authority.
Wouldn’t it be a shame if this one God who exists, who was all knowing, ever-present, all powerful was also a mean and capricious god who was unpredictable, ungracious, unloving, evil, unjust, unfair and unfaithful?
Good news is that this one God who exists and is all knowing, ever present and all powerful is none of those other things. Good news is that God is good. God is love. He is just and yet merciful. He is faithful and gracious.
Granted: as the prime reality, as God, he is free to do what he wants when he wants, however he wants. But, what he chooses to do and how he chooses to act is driven by his character and it is a most magnificent character indeed.
Let’s continue by exploring some of his other attributes.
GOODNESS – First God is good. Psalm 25:8 Good and upright is the Lord
As Sire puts it, regarding God’s goodness, This is the prime statement about God’s character and from it all else follows. There is no sense in which goodness surpasses God or God surpasses goodness. As being is the essence of His nature, goodness is the essence of His character. Although God is totally unconstrained by his environment, God is limited (we might say) only by his character. God, being good, cannot lie, be tempted, act with evil intent and so forth. But, God is free to do as He wills, and His will is in control of His character. God’s goodness is expressed in two ways, through His holiness and His love. God’s goodness means that there is an absolute standard of righteousness, which is found in God’s holy character. Also there is hope for humanity because God is love and will not abandon His creation.
HOLINESS – God is holy. Leviticus 19:2 – Holy is a word that means other, distinct, separate, different. God is the Creator, not the creation. He is different in that way. Additionally, the idea of God’s holiness carries with it his perfection; he is not flawed. He doesn’t sin. He has no stain, wrinkle, imperfection, blemish. He is altogether perfect.
GOD IS LOVE
1 John 4:8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
Psalm 144:2 He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me.
Rom 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
GOD IS RIGHTEOUS AND JUST.
Deuteronomy 32:4 4 He is the Rock, his works are perfect,
and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong,
upright and just is he.
God is wise. Romans 16:25-27 25 Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from[f] faith— 27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.
God is merciful. Deuteronomy 4:31 For the Lord your God is a merciful God
God is gracious. Exodus 34:6-7 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.
1 Peter 5:10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
What is prime reality? It is God. Biblically speaking, there is one God, whose name is Yahweh; as the name implies, he simply is. “He is the only self-existent being and is the be-all and end-all of existence. God is the one prime existence, the one prime reality, and the source of all reality.”
He is omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, and sovereign and we are fortunate that this God is also good, holy, loving, gracious, wise, and merciful.