A common objection raised against the existence of God is the existence of evil: How can there be a God since evil exists? Or if there is a God, then does not the existence of evil show that he himself must be cruel or evil? Both of these questions actually derive from a more basic question yet: Is existence itself good or bad? This is not an idle question, nor is it solely a matter for theologians. It has very practical and personal implications. I recently experienced one of those personal implications.I learned of the suicide death of a young man who had been coming to a local center for at-risk youth.
The news greatly saddened me. It always does. It also made me angry. I know that the enemy of life has deceived another human being into thinking falsely that existence is a bad thing. It made a possibly somewhat distant theological issue very real and very connected to everyday life. It also drove me to write the following article.
I cannot put forth here a complete and full treatment of what is a deep philosophical issue, but I can at least try to put down some basic truths about existence that might prevent other such tragedies as that which took place in that young man’s life. I do not apologize for the philosophical tenor of this piece, nor for what professional theologians or philosophers might think of it. It is just my attempt to express the deep truths which God has shown me through actual life events as well as intellectual teachings and through the Spirit speaking through Scripture. And what he showed me is this.
Existence is good. It is the most basic, most fundamental state from which all else is derived. How could there even be talk of whether existence is good or bad unless things first existed? If nothing existed, there would be no meaning to terms like good or bad–in fact, of course, there would be no discussion at all because nothing would exist to do the talking. There would be no meaning to anything–because there would be nothing in existence. For this reason alone, existence is good. For meaning is better than non-meaning. To those who would debate even that statement, I would say what Jesus said to a learned teacher of Israel who also did not understand the deep things of reality, despite his great learning:
“‘You are Israel’s teacher,’ said Jesus, ‘and do you not understand these things?'” (Jn. 3:10 NIV).
There are some things that are so foundational that they cannot be explained in terms of other things; neither can they be understood in terms of other things. They themselves are the foundation upon which the meaning of all other things depend. God is certainly the highest of all such foundational entities. Nevertheless, it may help to understand why existence is good by hearing what the One who claims to be the rock-bottom foundation of all existence says of himself regarding this issue.
“I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God” (Is. 44:6 NIV).
“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 22:13 NIV).
And that supreme existence which is the beginning and end of all other existence is good. “You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees” (Ps. 119:68 NIV).
Some of those decrees of him who exists and who exists forever were those decrees that brought everything else into existence: the decrees of creation. This also was good. The Genesis account of God bringing the universe into existence emphasizes that existence is good by saying after every phase of that creation that God saw that it was good. Existence is good. Not just part of what God brought into existence, but all of it.
“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Gen. 1:31 NIV)
God claims to be the most basic foundation for existence, the Beginning and End of all things. In order for this to be true, he must be eternal, complete and total within himself, with no dependencies on any other thing. For if he were, then he would not be the most fundamental basic building block of all else that exists; something else would be necessary for his own existence. But there is no such other thing upon which he is dependent. He is self-existent by his own eternal power.
That power which God possesses must also be infinite, without limit. This is not necessarily so easy to see. But we do see a hint of the reason why in our world where sin and evil reside. Here we see that all things decay in time; nothing is able to resist this universal force of decay unto death. This is a natural result of the fall into sin.
“Sin when it is full-grown brings forth death” (Js. 1:15 RSV).
That is why a major attribute of God is his holiness. If he were not totally and completely holy, he could not exist forever. For the nature of anything that is not perfectly holy is that it will eventually decay and die. Thus it is no accident that God describes himself as holy but also as one who has the power to control his power.
The mightier the power, the more necessary that the one wielding that power have self-control so that power is not used wrongly, to the harm of self and others. When the supreme level of power is reached, that being infinite power and God, it is absolutely crucial that God be able to control himself, for he has infinite power. Think of how awful it would be if God were like us when we get angry. We have a great deal of difficulty holding back our anger at times. How much worse it would be if God could not control his righteous anger. So we can only thank him and praise him that he does have control over his infinite power–for the glory of his name and for our own protection; otherwise, we would all fall beneath his righteous anger over our sin, and die. But God says:
“For my own name’s sake I delay my wrath; for the sake of my praise I hold it back from you, so as not to cut you off” (Is. 48:9 NIV).
2 Timothy 3:3 describes the horrible wickedness of people in the end times as “without self-control”, and Scripture frequently and constantly mentions self-control as one of the attributes needed by God’s holy people. Without it, sin will take over and people die.
Though sin is a spiritual concept and reality, it has physical consequences in the material universe. When mankind, through Adam and Eve, fell into sin, it was not just living things that felt the consequences, the physical universe itself fell into bondage to decay.
“For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay” (Rom. 8:20,21 RSV).
There is a wealth of profound truth in this short passage from Scripture. First, we see that, as mentioned, it is not just human beings and living things that decay but all of creation; all is subject to the bondage to decay. Shoes, dwelling places, cars–all wear out, fall apart, rust.
This bondage to decay is not in the control of those subject to that decay; they have nothing to say about it. We all die, even if we do not want to. We are subject to decay in our bodies by the will of him who subjected it in hope. That hope is Jesus Christ. Those who look to him for release from the bondage to decay and death will find it–if they look in faith. That faith is in the power of God to sustain a universe he created so that it will not fall apart until the time he has decreed for it to end.
“In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom 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, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Heb. 1:2,3 NIV).
That word of God which sustains the physical universe is the same word of God that created it. It is Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh.
“Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men” (Jn. 1:3,4 NIV).
Jesus is the light of men. He is the one who enables those subject to the bondage of decay to escape that bondage–and he is the only way it can be done (Jn. 14:6).
“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1 13,14 NIV).
Sin is the cause of the decay and death in this world. Through Jesus, this decay and death is conquered through the forgiveness of sins that causes decay. Through Jesus, through faith in him, we will not die.
“Whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (Jn. 11:26 NIV).
But many do not believe this. Instead, they see only the decay of life both in the outer world and in their own inner world. The light that would save them is not allowed to penetrate into their darkened souls. They do not believe the word of God that says that Jesus “has qualified (them) to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light” (Col. 1:12 NIV).
Because they have shut out the saving light of God, they succumb to the darkness–and believe that supposed non-existence is the only answer.
But it is impossible to escape existing; death is only a change from one mode of existence to another, not the end of existing. One reason for this is that all human beings are created by God–and this work of God, once created, will endure forever.
“I know that whatever God does, it shall be forever. Nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; and God has done it, that men should fear before him” (Eccl. 3:14 WEB).
We should fear before him who made us from the dust of the earth. When we die, it is only this body of dust that perishes; we return to the dust from which we are made. But when that happens, it is only the form, the body, which ceases to exist. The real person who we are does not cease to exist. Indeed, we must then stand before the only One who does have the infinite power required to keep this from happening to himself:
“All who go down to the dust will kneel before him–those who cannot keep themselves alive” (Ps. 22:29 NIV).
That is why God is God and we are not. (Well, it’s one reason, anyway.) He has that infinite power necessary to exist and to continue to exist. We do not. Surely it is right and fitting and proper that the lesser should acknowledge the greater in this matter. Is that not what worship is all about?
When Job cried out to God for understanding and also began to challenge God to give him meaning for his life in the midst of his sorrows, what was the first thing God said to him (after two brief preliminary statements to get Job’s attention)? God said to Job:
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand” (Job 38:4 NIV).
“Where were you? . . . The matter of existence is the first area God touches upon when addressing Job, because it is the foundational basis upon which all else depends. God has the power to have existed from all eternity; Job does not. He is a created being. God is uncreated and eternally existing. That is the difference between God and man. God lives, man must die
But why must man die? Is it only because God has said so (which would be enough, of course)? Or is there an additional reason why we mustdie? There is. That reason is the natural consequence of sin. God is the source of our life. He created us and gave us the power to live. His words are our very life.
“Obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you–they are your life. By them you will live. . . .” (Dt. 32:46,47 NIV).
But man sinned. Sin separates us from God, who is the source of our life.
“But your iniquities have separated you from your God” (Is. 59:2 NIV).
Separated from God, who is life, we die. We die not just because he is life in the abstract, but he is our life. Therefore, separation from God/life means, naturally, that we die. But though through sin we die, God provided a way for us to escape the consequences of sin. He did this through his Son:
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:21-23 RSV).
Jesus is the one through whom God gives us the goodness of existence. He is that eternal existence and life that only God possesses. That is why he said in all truthfulness, when questioned by the Pharisees just before they killed him, “‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!'” (Jn. 8:58 NIV).
“I am.” Existence. Being. It is the rock-bottom issue upon which all else depends. For until something or someone exists, there is no sense in speaking of any quality or deed of that thing or person. You cannot speak in any meaningful way of that which does not exist–unless you are God. God can do this because he knows what is going to exist before it exists, so even though from our viewpoint, they do not yet exist, their existence is as certain as though God had already spoken them into existence. He is the God who “calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Rom. 4:17 NIV).
That is part of what it means to be God. And that is why he says, “apart from me there is no God.”
No other thing or being or entity can claim this unique foundational status or unique power of creation and calling things into existence. There is only one such being, one God. If there were other entities claiming to be God, it would have to be asked, “What makes them different from one another?” God, by definition, is the totality of being, complete and whole in himself. To claim that there is more than one God is to claim that there is some dependency or deficiency in one or the other; they are not the totality they claim to be. By definition, there can be only one God.
Further development of this basic truth is found, appropriately, in the beginning lines of the first chapter of the gospel of John:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life” (Jn. 1:1-4 NIV).
John here speaks of Jesus, the Word of God. He says that he was with God, which could imply the inconsistencies mentioned above about the impossibility of there being more than one God. But then he adds that not only was Jesus, the Word of God, with God but that he was God.
This is the one eternal God who called into existence the material world, which is amazing in itself. That there should be life in that physical world, life capable of pondering that world and its own existence, is truly awesome in nature. We also catch a first glimpse here of what the creator of that world considers to be most important. The physical world, as mentioned, is amazing enough in its existence. But the fact is, that existence was never meant solely to be an end in itself: It was created as a place for life to exist. It’s existence is a lower existence for a higher existence: the life that lives there.
“For this is what the Lord says–he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited–he says: ‘I am the Lord, and there is no other'” (Is. 45:18 NIV).
Again, God emphasizes the fact that there is no other God–not only that there is no other but that there can be no other. It is impossible. There is only one God; there can be only one God. And that God must be of infinite power, otherwise, how could he continue to exist? From what source could he draw the power necessary to continue to exist? If there were such a power outside of himself, we immediately run into all the inconsistencies mentioned previously.
God exists. God is good. It is good to exist and to have meaning–better than not to exist and not to have meaning. Life and its meaning is all wrapped up in God, not ourselves. Our lives have meaning only as they are in God and his purposes for our lives. God is the basis for all meaning in life. When a human being fails to see this, or sees it but rejects it, it is all too easy to succumb to despair and seeing life, including one’s own, as meaningless. Existence becomes a bad thing instead of the good thing it really is.
God exists and he is good. Therefore existence is good. I pray that all who read this will never be deceived into thinking otherwise.
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse: therefore choose life, that you may live” (Dt. 30:19 NIV).