I was just a boy when one lazy afternoon I lay down on the couch, closed my eyes, and starting thinking, “What if there was nothing?” I focused on that thought, n o t h i n g. What would that mean? I mentally removed things as I worked toward nothing. Then suddenly a chill came over me as I came to one final thing to remove. If I did I would lose my mind. I quickly opened my eyes and went to find something to do. Aristotle said that “Nothing is what a rock dreams about.” That afternoon I almost became a rock.
Wondering what was before is part of being human. Trying to imagine nothing is trying to imagine what was before what is. The problem is in that premise. If something was before what is then we still must ask what was before what was etc. until we find the ultimate, the absolute. In a conversation with two Mormon missionaries I interrupted them to ask about their doctrine of the god of the planet earth. “As I understand it, this god is actually the son of another god of another planet, who is also the son of a god of another planet, and so on. Where did the first god come from?” They hesitated, then said, “Those are complex things that we cannot get into.”
In contrast to the refusal of the Mormon missionaries to explain to me their doctrine Dr. Oliphant takes us boldly into the heart of Christian doctrine of God. I am listening to a course from Westminster Seminary by Dr. Scott Oliphant titled, The Doctrine of God. This is a study of what was before, the absolute. In the first class Dr. Oliphant warned us that it would be very challenging to our thinking and might even make some in the class angry. I recall it was either during the class on the Communicatio Idiomatum or the class on The Extra Calvinisticum, one of the young men questioning Dr. Oliphant on the divine and human natures of Christ was clearly upset. He had hit the wall, the divine ceiling, beyond which neither he nor Dr. Oliphant could go.
Lest we think this is a problem unique to religion we must stop a moment and realize the atheist faces the same challenge. Years ago a neighbor boy loaned my son a movie called Contact a movie conceived by Carl Sagan. The plot centered on a young scientist using SETI to make contact with a higher life form than us. There it was Dr. Sagan was looking for a god too. Yet I expect that ultimately Dr. Sagan and most atheists believe in the eternality of matter. Matter may cycle from one big bang to another but inert, impersonal, matter is all there is or ever was, “In the beginning there was matter.” Naturally this means that for humanity there is no more meaning in life than there is in the dreams of a rock. I believe it was Christopher Hitchens who said, “We must get over this childish idea of purpose.”
Purpose comes from meaning which can only come from an absolute being, the one beyond which there is not. The list of what is beyond us, beyond our understanding, beyond our ability to grasp, is without limit so we are clearly not any kind of an absolute. We can learn and become more knowledgeable but God cannot. Cornelius Van Til put it this way, “God thinks what He is and He is what he thinks.” Dr. Oliphant added this from Aristotle who said the Highest Thing is thought thinking itself but since this thinking could not be on things outside itself or it would not be the Highest Thing then the only thought the Highest Thing could think is itself. Wow! You might want to think on that for a bit, I still am. There is that heavenly ceiling again, “bam!”
So we have just thought about the omniscient God which leads always to worship:
42 Then Job answered the LORD:
2 “I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted;
3 you asked,
‘Who is this who darkens counsel
But I have declared without understanding
things too wonderful for me to know.
4 You said,
‘Pay attention, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you will answer me.’
5 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye has seen you.
6 Therefore I despise myself,
and I repent in dust and ashes!