How Can I Be Sure God Exists

 

Week of January 26, 2014

 

Focal Verses:Psalm 19:1-14.

 

The Point:God has given us ways to know Him.

 

Godís Glory in His World: Psalm 19:1-6.

 

[1]The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. [2]Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. [3]There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. [4]Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun, [5]which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. [6]Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat.[ESV]

 

[1-6]ďThis psalm contains a profound and moving statement of the doctrine of divine revelation. It divides this revelation into two main categories: general revelation, which refers to the revelation of God in nature, and special revelation, in this case the revelation of God in Scripture. The first of these is discussed in verses 1-6, the second in verses 7-11. General revelation is the term theologians most often use to refer to the revelation of God in nature, which is where Psalm 19 begins: The heavens declare the glory of God [1]. Here the psalmist is teaching that the sun and stars witness to the existence of their Creator. But more than that, they also witness to His glory. The verbs declare and proclaims express the continuous revelation of the heavens, and could be translated: keep on declaring Ö keep on proclaiming. The stars and the sun are so glorious that the One who made them must be more glorious still. Clearly, this is a limited revelation. Glory here does not testify to Godís moral qualities Ė attributes like justice, mercy, love, wrath, goodness, grace, compassion. But the creation certainly testifies to Godís existence and power [see Rom. 1:20]. Psalm 19:1 speaks of a revelation of Godís existence and power so great that it should lead every human being on the face of the earth to seek God out, to thank Him for bringing him or her into existence, and to worship Him. But that is not what mankind does. What Paul says in Romans is that, apart from Godís special intervention in our lives to save us, all human beings actually suppress the truth of Godís general revelation, either denying His existence altogether or else erecting a lesser god, an idol, in the true Godís place. As a result of this, the wrath of God has been revealed against man and his truth-suppressing cultures. Psalm 19:2-3 says three things about general revelation. Verse 2 emphasizes that this revelation is continuous. The skies reveal the glory of God every single day and night: day to day Ö night to night. And this revelation is abundant. Pours out speech, in the Hebrew, refers to an image of a gushing spring that copiously pours forth the sweet, refreshing waters of revelation. This is true in two ways. First, every individual part of nature testifies to its Creator, so that whatever part you happen to be looking at will pour forth knowledge. If you look at the stars, they testify to a God of great power who made them. If you study the human body, you will find that the body testifies to an all-wise Creator. Moreover, this revelation is quite plain, almost self-evident. The witness lies on the surface. It does not require extensive technical investigation to see it, as Paul writes in Romans 1:19-20. However, there is a second way in which the heavens pour forth abundant revelation. Whenever we do investigate them by scientific or other means, we soon find the testimony of nature even stronger than we at first surmised. In other words, the more one looks, the more the heavens gush forth knowledge. The third thing this Psalm says about general revelation is that it is universal: their voice goes out through all the earth [4]. This truth is the basis for the universal ascription of guilt to humanity by Paul in Romans 1. For although everyone in every land and of every human language has seen this general revelation, none have of themselves followed up on it in order to seek the true God out and worship Him. Instead they suppress the knowledge of the true God and make idols of a lesser god more to their liking. It is because of this general revelation (and not a special revelation which, of course, numerous peoples and cultures do not have) that God is just in punishing the heathen as well as those who, having the special revelation, also sin against their greater light. David describes the sun in verses 4b-6. A tent for the sun is probably to be understood as the darkness into which the sun retreats each night and from which it emerges boldly each new day. David compares the sun to a vigorous young man in two aspects: a bridegroom and a strong man. In each case, the image conveys the ideas of youthful strength, energy, and physical joy. From the perspective of this earth, the sun rises and makes its circuit with radiance and vigor, so that it warms the earth. The sun also reveals Godís glory, power, and wisdom. One does not have to listen for words, because the effect of the sun is evident, as there is nothing hidden from its heat.Ē [Boice, pp. 161-167].

 

Godís Glory in His Word: Psalm 19:7-11.

 

[7]The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; [8]the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; [9]the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. [10]More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. [11]Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.[ESV]

 

[7-11]ďIn the second half of the psalm, David is going to move abruptly to talk about Godís revelation of Himself in Scripture. The two revelations appear together so naturally in this psalm that a few observations are called for. First, there is no conflict between natural and special revelation, nor can there be, since they have the same author. Second, nature, like Scripture, points to God but is not itself God. While this Psalm brings God and nature into relation, it also separates them. What makes and what is made must be two, not one. Third, if we value creation, as many in our day obviously do, we should cherish the written revelation of God in Scripture even more. That is why David goes on to speak of the value and beneficial functions of Godís law. If we value nature, we should value the Bible even more, and equally important, we should make it the object of our most careful, searching, devout, thankful, and obedient meditation every day. In the first chapter of 2 Peter there are verses that have bearing on Psalm 19. Peter is an old man at this point [1:14], and he has been reflecting on the time he and two other disciples saw the Lord Jesus Christ transfigured before them on the mountain. It was a great experience [1:16-18]. Nevertheless, in spite of having seen the Lordís glory and having heard the very voice of God from heaven, Peter says that there exists an even greater witness to the truth. We have something more sure, the prophetic word [1:19]. These verses in 2 Peter 1 are a New Testament equivalent of the transition from verses 1-6 in Psalm 19, which talk about the general revelation of God in nature, to verses 7-11, which talk about the special revelation of God in Scripture. The revelation of God in nature is glorious, just as the visible transfiguration of Jesus and the heavenly voice were glorious. But glorious as it is, it cannot compare to the written revelation. It is that more sure revelation that concerns David in the second half of this Psalm. This second, specific revelation is so superior to the first or general revelation that the style of the poem quite naturally changes. The name used for God changes. In the first half, the name is ďelĒ, which is the most generic of all names for God. It is an appropriate name for One made known by the general revelation. In the second half of the Psalm the name used for God is Jehovah (or Yahweh), which is the covenant name revealed to Moses at the burning bush. It is appropriate for the special and specific revelation of God in Scripture. This name occurs seven times, and the frequency serves to heighten the emotional tone of the poemís second half. The length of the lines also changes. In the first half the lines are longer, which is appropriate to the continuous, abundant, and universal witness of the heavenly bodies to Godís glory. In the second half the lines are much shorter, as David begins to throw our descriptive epithet after descriptive epithet and adjective after adjective to capture the wonder of the written revelation. The link between the sections is the final clause of verse 6. David says of the sun, there is nothing hidden from its heat. But the same could be said of the pervasive, life giving law. It too embraces all of life and is as necessary for the life of the human soul as the sun is for the life of the body. It would be hard to discover in all the Bible a more perfect example of Hebrew poetic parallelism than verses 7-9. There are six parallel statements in these verses, and each contains three elements that are likewise parallel. There are six terms for the written revelation, six adjectives to describe it, and six statements of what the Bible does. Letís look at the nouns first: law, testimony, precepts, commandment, fear, rules. These describe the Bibleís multiple facets, just as Psalm 119 does. The word law, literally Torah, is the most embracing term. It is not limited to specific legal commands, as our use of the word law is. The root meaning of Torah is instruction. It has to do with everything God has revealed or says. Our best equivalent would be Scripture or the Word of God. Testimony means an aspect of truth attested by God Himself, perhaps with the idea of this being a reminder. Precepts together with the word commandment means ďorders,Ē indicating the precision and authority with which God addresses us. Fear is not strictly a synonym for law, though it is used as such. It describes the Scriptures by the effect they produce in those who respond to the revelation. Verses 12-14 are an example of this godly fear or reverence. The final noun, rules, means judgments or verdicts, that is, the divine evaluation of our thoughts and actions. What is the one characteristic that these six terms have in common, despite their slightly different shades of meaning? The answer is that they all portray the Bible as words to be obeyed. That is how David viewed the Bible, as the Word of God to be obeyed. Because it is the Word of God, it was to be received by him as authoritative, inerrant, and absolutely binding. It is because the Bible is Godís law, testimony, precepts, commandment, fear and rules that it is perfect, sure, right, pure, clean and true. Thus David says the law of God does six things. First, being perfect, it revives the soul. Being perfect means being so complete as to cover every aspect of life. It means that the Bible is not deficient in any way. It is an all-sufficient revelation. Therefore, no matter what our sins may have been or our problems are, the Bible is able to turn us from our sins, lead us through our problems, and both feed and enrich us so that we are able to enjoy the full benefits of spiritual life. Second, being sure or trustworthy, the law of God makes the simple wise. The reason why the statutes of the Lord are worthy of our trust is that they correspond to reality. If we follow the directions of the Word of God, we will find salvation, contentment, joy, and eternal life. The one who is open enough to Godís instructions to do that will become wise. On the other hand, the one who thinks himself too wise to adhere to Godís wisdom will show himself to be a fool. Third, being right, the law of God makes the heart rejoice. Right does not mean correct as opposed to being wrong; that idea is seen more in the word sure or trustworthy. Right means straight as opposed to being crooked and is linked to the idea of righteousness. Verse 8 teaches that walking in a straight path or in an upright manner brings joy. Fourth, being pure, the law of God gives light to the eyes. Metaphorically, anything that illumines a right life path enables us to walk in it without stumbling. This is the idea here, though the passage probably also carries the idea of purging darkness out of us and thus enabling us to see clearly and without distortion. Psalm 119:105 embraces these ideas when it says, Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Fifth, being clean, the law of God endures forever. Corrupt things decay. That which is clean or pure endures. Since the Word of God is entirely clean, being without any deficiency, error, fault, or inadequacy, it, along with the God who spoke it, is the most enduring of all things. People have a relative idea of truth today, believing that truth changes from generation to generation and from one individualís perception to another individualís perception. Nothing is certain. But by contrast, the Bible teaches that truth is absolute and unchanging and that it is grounded in the character of God, who is likewise unchanging. Therefore a wise person will build his or her life upon it. Sixth, being true and altogether righteous, the law of God warns the servant of God against sin and provides him with great reward. Here David introduces a personal evaluation of the ordinances of God: more to be desired are they than gold [10]. After this evaluation of the worth of Godís Word, David provides two things the Scriptures do: by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward [11]. In other words, because the words of God are true and righteous, the servants of God are warned by them and the keepers of them are rewarded. First, the one who knows the law is warned by it. Against what? Against sin and its harmful effects. And against the lies and errors of this world. We need such warnings, because the world about us is clever and pervasive, and there is nothing except the Bible to stand against its deceptions. John Bunyan had it right when he said of the Bible: ĎThis Book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this Book.í Second, the keeper of the law is rewarded. Though the ungodly do not think so, the upright are actually blessed in their uprightness. Goodness is itself joyous. To be holy is to be content.Ē [Boice, pp. 169-174].

 

God: Our Rock and Our Redeemer: Psalm 19:12-14.

 

[12] Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. [13]Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. [14]Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. [ESV]

 

[12-14]ďThese final three verses form a climax to the Psalm. For in them the psalmist applies what he has been learning to himself. They show that he has been learning. His response to Godís self-revelation falls into two categories. The first is prayer that God will forgive his sin and deliver him from additional transgressions. Sometimes we treat forgiveness lightly, asking God to forgive us but not really thinking that we are sinners, at least not serious sinners, and treating forgiveness almost as a basic human right. It is clear that David does not do this. He is aware of sinís subtle nature and complexity, dividing it into categories: errors, which are wrongs innocently committed; hidden faults, that is, faults unknown to himself because so deeply ingrained in his personality, certainly not hidden to God; and willful sins, which are sins of deliberate presumption. The latter are probably equivalent to great transgression in verse 13. David also knows that he can never be fully aware of these sins in order to seek forgiveness unless God reveals their presence to him by the written law. The second part of Davidís response to Godís revelation of Himself is an appeal to God as his Rock and Redeemer. We are not only led to see ourselves as sinners when we study the Bible. The Bible also leads us to the One who is our only deliverer from sin. And, wonder of wonders, He is the same one who has revealed Himself gloriously in the heavens. The heavens tell us that He exists and that He is all-powerful. The Bible shows that He is our Redeemer from sin, that is, the one who is able to break sinsí bonds and set us free, and that He is the Rock upon which the redeemed man or woman can build and be kept from transgressions.Ē [Boice, pp. 174-175}.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.†††††††† What is general revelation? What do we learn from general revelation? What do we not learn from general revelation? Why is it not possible for general revelation to teach us these truths?

 

2.†††††††† What is special revelation? Focus on the six terms used by David for special revelation; the six adjectives he uses to describe it; and the six statements he makes concerning what special revelation does.

 

3.†††††††† Psalm 19:12-14 form a climax to this psalm because in them David applies what he has been learning to himself. How does he do this? Seek to follow his example and apply the teaching of this psalm to your life. Memorize verse 14 and make that verse your prayer this week.

 

4.†††††††† The relationship between general and special revelation is often misunderstood by Christians today as we deal with science (which deals with general revelation) and faith. If you are interested in reading further about this topic, there is an excellent, new book produced by Ligonier Ministries titled The Reformed Approach to Science and Scripture, written by Keith Mathison. Ligonier is currently offering this book as a free download in two different formats: ePub or Mobi (Kindle). You can download the book at www.ligonier.org. Select ďStoreĒ, then ďBooksĒ from the top menu. Then search for the book and download. Or if you have a Kindle, you can download the book at Amazon.

 

References:

Psalms, volume 1, James Boice, Baker.

Psalms, William VanGemeren, EBC, Zondervan.

Psalms 1-50, Peter C. Craigie, Nelson Reference.