The God who is There
It is hard to overstate the impact the late Francis Schaeffer has had through his writings, ministry and work of L’Abri, the study centre he and his wife established in Switzerland. He was a man for his times who provided a Christian response to the cultural mega shift that began in the Sixties and which he tracked right through until his death in 1984. He provided a God-centred response to the blatantly man-centred culture that was emerging and which came of age during his life-time. For those who benefitted so much from his writings, lectures and video materials (which were ahead of their time), we can see how so much of his insight and foresight have been proved true in today’s world.
Given the cultural challenges facing the church in our day – not only from the outside, but increasingly from within – it is appropriate that we remember some of the keynote truths at the heart of Schaeffer’s work.
The first major impact through his published works was the trilogy, The God who is There, Escape from Reason and The God who is not Silent. Together, they challenged a generation and laid down a thought-provoking response to the secular revolution that defined the 1960’s.
Not surprisingly, The God who is There laid the theological and philosophical foundation to this response. It was intentionally aimed at the epistemology that underpinned the moral and cultural revolution which was gathering momentum. It is the foundation the Bible itself provides from the very first assertion found in Genesis and one we must ever keep in mind. It provides the only reliable basis for knowledge, faith and hope in this world and for the one to come.
It gives us the starting point for all true knowledge by reminding us that knowledge is not limited to what is visible and tangible. In the science-obsessed world we live in, it is vital to be reminded there is a Someone behind the Something we observe. It isn’t just that, like peeling an onion, when science peels back the layers of what is observable, it is left with the great imponderables of ‘From what, from where and from whom?’ but, more than this, ‘How can we know what is beyond the reach of science?’ Or, in the language of Immanuel Kant, how can we know what belongs to the noumenal realm?
Genesis 1.1 provides the answer up front. We know because the One who belongs to that realm has chosen to make himself known. Even though the opening chapter of the Bible seems focused on the phenomena of this world, the ‘something’ we encounter, it repeatedly links it to the Someone who brought it into existence. The God who is and always has been there is the ultimate reference point for all we know and experience in this world and universe.
He is also the key to where to place our faith. There is no such thing as an ‘unbeliever.’ Not just in the sense that everyone believes something in the sense of having a world and life view; but, rather, everyone trusts in someone or something. For many in this present generation – focused as it is on the visible, tangible and controllable elements of life – they trust what they can see, touch and manage. (This explains why people in our day are so ill-equipped to cope with death.) But the Bible challenges this narrow focus of faith. It states from the outset the only meaningful focus of faith can be the God who not only is there, but always has been and always will be because he is eternal.
All of this flows through into the key component in life which is so glaring absent for so many today: hope. If hope is nothing more than bare optimism, then it is fragile and easily dashed. But ‘hope’ in the Bible is far more than the power of positive thinking. It is confidence – the kind of confidence that can withstand the worst of life’s storms and is able to look death itself in the eye with assurance of what lies beyond. And, as Schaeffer rightly points out, this hope flows from faith that rests in the knowledge of the God who is there.
In one sense, the opening verse of the Bible is enough in itself to provide the foundation for life that we so much need, but it is reinforced in the climax of God’s self-revelation through the incarnation. In that defining moment of history, the God who is infinite, eternal and invisible Spirit joined himself to our finite, visible humanity in space and time when the Son assumed our nature to become our Saviour. In that instant he became what he had not been in order that we should receive what we lost in Adam: restoration to fellowship with God in knowledge, faith and hope.