Are Knowing Facts about God Enough?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Since I write an apologetics blog where we frequently discuss theology, doctrine, philosophy, science, and reasoning, it may seem like my view is that all a person needs is the facts about God, and that is all. Let me straighten this misconception out: I believe facts are not enough.

God, as a personal being, as THE personal being, is not satisfied with someone who knows a bunch of facts about him. That’s nice, but more is needed. If your spouse knew several important facts about you, but didn’t love you, would you be satisfied with that relationship?

David Baggett and Jerry Walls describe Paul Moser’s insightful views on this subject:

God both reveals and hides himself, and Moser argues, consistent with Christian theology, that the reason for this is that God’s purposes aren’t just to generate propositional knowledge of his existence, but a more deeply personal sort of knowledge. God is a loving Father who, in his filial love, speaks to us all but in different ways and at different times, in an effort to invite us into a loving personal relationship with himself.

Moser argues that a relational God of love is not content merely to provide discursive evidence of his existence in order to elicit cognitive assent or function as the conclusion of an argument; rather, God desires to be known for nothing less than this robust end: fellowship and morally perfect love between him and human beings.

So what are the implications for a person who believes that mere facts or evidence should suffice in their search for God?

Moser . . . suggests that evidence for God cannot be mere spectator evidence, but something both more authoritative and volitional than that. God, on Moser’s view, hides from those who do not desire a relationship or life-changing knowledge of him. God conceals himself from those who do not recognize the existential implications of belief in God, whereas he does reveal himself to those who recognize and desire to live with the implications of knowing God.

Baggett and Walls add:

A theistic conception of reality fundamentally alters everything. For if God is the ultimate reality, our quest for wisdom is a quest for him, a personal being, not just principles or platitudes. And if the context in which we find ourselves involves God drawing us into loving relationship with him, then a logic of relations more than a logic of propositions reigns.

As C. S. Lewis put it, “If human life is in fact ordered by a beneficent being whose knowledge of our real needs and of the way in which they can be satisfied infinitely exceeds our own, we must expect a priori that His operations will often appear to us far from beneficent and far from wise, and that it will be our highest prudence to give Him our confidence in spite of this.”

Your search for God must not only include facts about him, but a relationship. At the very least, while you’re collecting facts about God, you must be genuinely open to having a relationship with him. God will reveal himself to you if that is your approach. If not, he may stay hidden.

  • qwertyuiop

    I have a serious question about God. Let’s just pretend there are two identical universes where one has God in charge, and in the other, Satan is in charge, but he is so good at lying and pretending to be God that no one in his universe notices. If you were in one of these universes, how can you tell which universe you are in? Remember, whatever God does might just be Satan pretending to be God because Satan is probably a very good liar.

  • Evil is a perversion of good, so ultimately Satan, as an evil being, will expose himself as evil and do things that pervert the good (which is what God is).

    If he never does anything evil, then he is not Satan. If he does everything that God would do, then he is not Satan.

  • Andrew Ryan

    How would you know the acts of Satan were evil? If you’re defining the good as whatever God is or God does, then you’d accept Satan’s evil acts as being good acts, because you’d think they were God’s.

    Theists argue all the time among themselves about whether any given act is moral or immoral. If the Christian God as envisioned by many liberals appeared to you, some of his beliefs would seem quite evil to you. Similarly, your God would appear quite evil to many Christian liberals. So how would either of you know whether it was God or Satan?

  • Andrew Ryan

    I read those blog posts already – I commented on at least one of them. I don’t think there’s anything there that invalidates my point above.

    Again: if the Christian God as envisioned by many liberals appeared to you, some of his beliefs would seem quite evil to you. Similarly, your God would appear quite evil to many Christian liberals.

    Which part of that don’t you agree with?

  • OK, so what beliefs would a liberal Christian God have that I would find evil?

  • Andrew Ryan

    Bill, I’d guess at least one out of the following: pro-choice and pro-gay marriage, pro-gays raising children.

    Certainly if you see abortion as being murder, then you pretty much SHOULD see a pro-choice God as being evil, no?

  • Andrew Ryan

    To put it another way – you said Satan would expose his evil. If a being appeared to you with demonstrable power, claiming to be God, so you knew it was either God or Satan, and said that you should be pro-gay marriage, pro gays raising children, and pro-choice, wouldn’t you assume it was Satan?

  • Let me first make clear that a liberal Christian and I would agree on about 95% of moral issues, so in picking these one or two controversial issues, it makes it seem like we’re miles apart when we’re not. I don’t even think you and I are miles apart about most moral issues.

    On these kinds of controversial issues, where there are a small minority of Christians who disagree with the majority traditional views, I look first at natural law arguments. In the case of abortion and gay marriage, the natural law arguments are over-whelmingly weighted against both of these.

    In addition, I will consult the final word on any moral issue, the Word of God contained in the Bible. Again, the text of the Bible is unequivocal on both issues.

    So, if the liberal Christian “God” appeared to me and claimed to be in support of abortion and gay marriage, I would be highly suspicious that this is the true God, since he is contradicting both reason (embodied in natural law arguments) and His words that were captured in the Bible.

  • But this doesn’t really work, because Satan was created by God and is therefore finite and limited in ways that God is not. I just don’t think Satan could pull off such a ruse for very long.

    In fact, the Book Revelation very much gives this scenario. Satan pretends to be an enlightened and divine being who will bring the world together, but he is exposed pretty quickly.

    Throughout the Bible, the prophets give tests that believers can apply to see whether a person claiming to represent God is really from God. This is recurring theme.

  • Andrew Ryan

    “So, if the liberal Christian “God” appeared to me and claimed to be in support of abortion and gay marriage, I would be highly suspicious that this is the true God”

    Exactly – so you agree with my point.

    In the same way, if the ‘Bill Pratt “God”‘ appeared* to many liberal Christians, they’d be equally suspicious of Him. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said “I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place. I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this.”

    * Apologies for using what I understand may come across as disrespectful terminology. Obviously to you this is simply ‘God’, not ‘The Bill Pratt God’; and obviously there is either a God or there isn’t – not God X or God Y. I say ‘The Bill Pratt God’ simply to mean God as you envision Him.

  • Andrew Ryan

    “and is therefore finite and limited in ways that God is not”

    In qwertyuiop’s thought experiment Satan was in charge of a whole universe, and capable of deceit. I was just running with the scenario qwertyuiop set up. It’s a hypothetical.

  • I completely agree with Desmond Tutu, and so would virtually every other Christian, so I’m not sure his statements are a good illustration of the divide between liberal and conservative Christians.

  • Understood, but I’m pointing out that Christian theology precludes such a hypothetical, so his scenario doesn’t really apply to Christians. It might apply to Mormons, however.

  • Andrew Ryan

    Bill, it’s not hard to find Christians disagreeing very strongly with Tutu’s position on gays. I can’t cut and paste on this iPad when on your site, but google ‘Tutu takes a step backward on biblical truth’ and have a look.

  • Andrew Ryan

    That’s the whole point of a hypothetical, Bill!

    Imagine I said: “If you could click your fingers and instantly be in any country in the world, where would you go?”, that would be a hypothetical. You don’t reply: “That’s impossible, precluded by my worldview”!

  • If the point of his hypothetical was to pose a challenge to Christian theology, then it fails to do so. If he had no point to his hypothetical other than a thought experiment, then OK. But I don’t think that was his purpose.

    He seemed to think he was throwing a wrench into how Christians view God, but the wrench turned out to be made of silly putty.

  • I was reacting to your quote. I have no idea what Desmond Tutu thinks beyond what you quoted. God is certainly not homophobic, but I’m assuming that you think Tutu is going beyond this uncontroversial position.

  • Andrew Ryan

    “He seemed to think he was throwing a wrench into how Christians view God, but the wrench turned out to be made of silly putty.”

    Without a further post from him then I guess we don’t know. But you can’t say it was silly putty after effectively saying you can’t engage with the hypothetical situation he suggested.

  • Andrew Ryan

    “I completely agree with Desmond Tutu, and so would virtually every other Christian”

    Bill, do you think he gave this speech in a vacuum? Even if you’re unaware of the context within which he made it – the severe homophobia in countries such as Uganda, justified as being in line with the wants of God – it shouldn’t need pointing out the the only context that makes sense is if Tutu is separating his own view of God from those of others. Otherwise, why should he point it out at all?

    In short, the meaning of Tutu’s speech is to say he couldn’t worship the version of God that some of his fellow Christians hold to be the true one.

    For you to reply that the God he is referring to is not one (virtually) any other Christian believes in is to ignore the whole point of what he was saying. Enough Christians very much DO believe in the God he feels differs enough from that in his own faith, that he felt the need to make that speech. It was enough to get laws made in Uganda that he finds abhorrent.

    You may feel compelled to clarify that you find them abhorrent too, and further to clarify that you agree that God wouldn’t condone such laws. But that’s beside the point either way – I wasn’t putting your own views on trial. I wasn’t even putting those of any Ugandans on trial. To clarify:

    My only point was to give an example of two groups of Christians who disagree enough on what acts would be considered evil that one would say they couldn’t worship the other’s God.