He is not Silent

Reading: John 1.1-18
In 1972 Francis Schaeffer published a book entitled, He is There and He is not Silent. Schaeffer, a Presbyterian minister from the USA, had gone with his family to Switzerland in 1948. A ministry which came to be known as L'Abri developed as disillusioned and puzzled young (and not so young) people came to wrestle with the ultimate questions of the meaning of life.

The title is responding to two important questions - "Is there a God?" and "If there is a God, how can we know him?"

These aren't just "religious" questions. They face everyone in the world. They are basic for the average Australian, whether watching the TV news or engaging in pub conversation.

There is a God!

Paul wrote, "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" (Rom. 1.20).

We can only know about someone when he chooses to reveal himself to us - in other words, by revelation. Do you know Queen Elizabeth II? There's excellent evidence that she does exist, that her parents were George and Elizabeth, that Philip is her husband... Those are well-founded and well-known facts. But to "know" her, of course, there would need to be a further stage of revelation - face to face!

Howard Hughes, the billionaire, hid himself away. Nobody but a very few had seen him for years. The only photograph of him that the newspapers could use when he died was grossly out-of-date. People could be pardoned for wondering, "Is he still alive? Is he still about?"

Paul is saying that the creation itself gives strong evidence that God is here - enough evidence to convict those who don't believe. It is the fool who says "there is no God" (Psalm 14.1). There are many "evidences" that point to the existence of God - what we call general revelation.

(1) In every race and every age people have had some kind of religion, have believed in gods, one or many. This belief has shaped the lives of individuals and societies. Human beings are incurably religious. Even folk who say they have no religion still end up believing in something. Much of what people have believed is grossly wrong and we see throughout history the effects of wrong belief. Nevertheless, the religious instinct itself bears witness to the existence of God.

(2) The world we live in bears witness to its creation by an intelligent Being. Science specialises in trying to understand the patterns by which things work - what we call the laws of nature. Historians of the modern scientific movement have noted that, historically, modern science arose among people who believed in the God of the Bible - people who believed that, if they studied the world about them, they would find order. The existence of design and purpose bears testimony to the Creator.

(3) As we look within ourselves, we are aware of a strange feeling of responsibility to an Authority beyond ourselves and beyond society. We call this feeling conscience. Conscience can be twisted and corrupted, so we can't simply call it "the voice of God". Even so, there's an awareness that there is a real difference between Right and Wrong and a feeling of obligation to do what we believe to be the Right, whether it suits us or not. The existence of conscience suggests that people naturally and instinctively recognise that there is a Moral Ruler.

He is not Silent!

The existence of these (and other) evidences about God (what Paul calls "his eternal power and divine nature") doesn't mean that people can of themselves come to an adequate knowledge of God and enter into a relationship with him.

Here's why. Firstly, we can only know God as he chooses to reveal himself. Already, the act of creation has broken the silence by "general revelation". God created people in his image (Genesis 1.26) - with a strong creative urge, with the responsibility of oversight and (most importantly) with the possibility of and need for relationship with God. Life in Eden before the Fall shows God walking and talking with Adam and Eve. That's "special revelation" - the specific unveiling of God's character and will in communication and personal relationship.

But, secondly, things were different after the Fall. The reaction of the guilty pair was to try to hide themselves from God. And since that time human beings have felt a problem in relating to God. On the one hand, we have this deep urge to reach out to God, to believe in and be submitted to something or someone beyond ourselves. But on the other, we have this urge to hide, to shut ourselves off from God. From God's point of view, there is a problem with the relationship too! He loves and wants to relate to the people of the world, yet their sin puts them under his judgment. So an important part of God's special revelation has to do with "Redemption", and we will look at that next week.

The Basis of Union of the Uniting Church (para.5) states that "the Church has received the books of the Old and New Testaments as unique prophetic and apostolic testimony, in which she hears the Word of God and by which her faith and obedience are nourished and regulated. When the Church preaches Jesus Christ, her message is controlled by the Biblical witnesses. The Word of God on whom man's salvation depends is to be heard and known from Scripture appropriated in the worshipping and witnessing life of the Church. The Uniting Church lays upon her members the serious duty of reading the Scriptures, commits her ministers to preach from these and to administer the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper as effective signs of the Gospel set forth in the Scriptures."

This statement clearly emphasises that the Bible is not just important for Christian growth, but is the foundation of all the Church believes and does. God hasn't been silent! And our task is to get out God's revelation of himself here in the Burdekin. Each week our newsletter says, "We aim to Preach, Teach and Practise the Good News of JESUS CHRIST". We can only truly do that as the Good News (or Gospel) is "set forth in the Scriptures".

John's Gospel begins "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning" (Jn 1.1,2). J.B. Phillips put it this way, "At the beginning God expressed himself. That personal expression, that word, was with God and was God, and he existed with God from the beginning".

God was revealing himself. He did it first in the creation itself. In Genesis 1 we read again and again, "And God said… and it was so". The Greek word in John 1.1 is logos. It speaks of reason and order. In English it is part of how we describe the sciences that seek to understand the laws behind everything - geology, biology, physiology…

But people looked at the world and began to make the sun, the moon, the rocks and plants their "gods" - failing to recognise the Creator of all.

So God chose a people, the Israelites, as the means by which he would reveal himself more directly and personally to the human race. Yet even when "he came to his own" - through the prophets and others - "his own did not receive him" (v. 11). Yet, even then there were those who believed the message and became "children of God" (v. 12) - people like Abraham, Moses, David…

Then at last, "the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth" (v. 14). That's Jesus, the Word incarnate, the Son of God.

In modern times, some scholars have focussed on the human element in the Scriptures - seeing them as discovery rather than revelation. This has led to a radical and tragic change in which they have set themselves up to make their own "picture of God". This is not the historic Christian faith which has strongly emphasised the Word of God written and the Word of God incarnate.

Thankfully, God is there and he is not silent!

© Peter J. Blackburn, Home Hill and Ayr Uniting Churches, 18 July 2004
The subject of this sermon is developed at greater depth in the first session of the Antioch School Christian Basics module He is There and He is not Silent
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

Back to Sermons