Unknown God

From the Dean

A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.

Originally Published:
3rd September 2007

Tagged: atheism creation


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Last Tuesday night Sydneysiders were enthralled by the moon. Slowly it seemed eaten away by the shadow of the earth. Then it turned red as it basked in the dispersed light of the Sun.

The Bible says that “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19) and that “the eternal power and divine nature” of God can be perceived in what he has made (Romans 1).

Certainly many people stared in wonder and awe as they saw the beautiful and eerie transformation of the moon. But yet did they think of God?

One journalist described it: “The curtain went up at 6.51pm sharp, exactly as the laws of celestial mechanics had predicted long ago.” Such understanding of the mechanics used by God can obscure the knowledge of God.

The prediction of “laws of celestial mechanics” is a wonderfully ambiguous phrase. Does it refer to our laws that predicted for us what was about to happen? Or does it refer to the laws that not so much predict but determine what happens?

Space, stars, moons—the heavens—do operate in a consistent and understandable manner. Like earth, all has been created by God to work in an orderly fashion. As creatures made in his image, humans have the great privilege and pleasure of understanding some of the mechanics God uses to operate His universe.

But we must not confuse the understanding of these “mechanics” with knowledge of truth. There is more to any machine than how it works. “Who made it?” and “for what purpose?” are also important questions to ask.

Nor should we fall for that other intellectual fashion of doubting the existence of truth itself. All truth claims are not simply “human mind games”—telling us about how we think while telling us nothing about reality itself. Facts are facts whether we know about them or not. There is a great divide between fact and fiction that must not be blurred.

The secularist atheists of today display these two forms of humanist hubris. Some think that by knowing the mechanics they know everything. Others recognize more easily that we do not know everything but then limit reality to what we know.

Amongst the responses to Tuesday's eclipse there was one more humble yet plaintive plea. A letter to the Sydney Morning Herald read: “Whoever or whatever made the moon, stars and earth—heavens what a glorious sight. Thanks.”

If it was a “whatever” there is nobody to thank. If it is a “whoever” they indeed should be thanked. But how can you thank a “whoever” that you do not know?

In Athens Paul found an altar marked “to the unknown god”. Here is an example of the ancient world feeling after the “whatever” or “whoever” to thank.

Paul was quick to declare: “What …you worship as unknown, …I proclaim to you.” He then proceeded to tell them of God the father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He knew the God whose glory is revealed in the heavens that He made. So Paul declared God's plans for this life and the world to come which have been revealed publicly in the death and resurrection of his Son.

Paul knew about people that: “although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Romans 1)

Because of sin humans are like the moon in the eclipse. The earth obscured the clear sight of the sun. The moon only had the red glow of the light waves dispersed through the earth's atmosphere. Similarly many people only know of God, they do not know God. They sit in a penumbral glow of God's creation and worship the creation instead of the creator.

They know enough to wonder, worship, and give thanks, but sin has eclipsed whom to worship and to thank. How marvellous that this eclipse has come to an end with the bright rays of God's Son rising!