A god who let us prove his existence would be an idol

A god who let us prove his existence would be an idol. — Deitrich Bonhoeffer

I recently came across this quote on someone’s Facebook wall. I don’t remember whose wall, but what it said surprised me. One reply said something like “so now God’s non-existance is evidence that he exist?” presumably with as much sarcasm as possible. Well I thought that needed a response. Then a word about the role of natural theology.

Thinking afterwards I should have said Bonhoeffer was not giving an argument for God’s existence, but was making a statement from within a theistic world-view about the practice of using arguments for God’s existence. Now I think this particular statement does not bear scrutiny in the light of God’s word. But I will get to that.

Immediately I thought of Gordon Clark and Cornelius Van Til who argued that arguments for God’s existence ultimately describe a lesser being than the God revealed in the Bible. For example certain cosmological arguments arrive at a transcendent, omnipotent, immaterial, omniscient, personal God, but not an omni-benevolent or holy and righteous God. Therefore, in Clark’s view, the argument created an idol. 

To presuppositionalists like Clark I would say we don’t need to argue for the full revelation of God. Also, no argument purports to disclose the fullness of the God of the Bible. If we can establish a transcendent, omnipotent, immaterial, omniscient, personal being with one argument, that will go a long way to achieving the apologetic goals, and then we can move onto other attributes with other arguments later. Perhaps omni-benevolence with the moral argument. This type of cumulative case is in vogue today, especially with William Lane Craig, J. P Moreland, Norman Geisler and more. With a cumulative case such as this, if successful it would be sufficient evidence to refute atheism, and to build up a Christian world-view. 

I then thought it more likely that Bonhoeffer is an existential philosopher like Søren Kierkegaard and is making a statement to support Fideism. A viewpoint that scripture clearly contradicts (See 1 Peter 3:15; Jude 3; Titus 1:7, 9). Suffice to say I am not a fideist, but am in fact the exact opposite – an apologist. We should always be ready, as scripture commands, to “tear down misleading arguments and every high place [fig., arrogance] lifting itself up against the knowledge of God, and bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” 2 Cor 10:5. 

Moreover, I think Romans 1:20 and 2:15 (that God has revealed himself in nature and conscience) opens a door to a natural theology (meaning we can argue for God’s existence from the evidence he has left in nature). We cannot see the invisible God, but we can see the visible work of his hands. In so doing we follow the long-standing tradition, from Paul in Acts 17 to Augustine to Aquinas, of defending the faith and giving reasons why we believe to all who dissent or ask why.

It turns out that Bonhoeffer is liberal/neo-orthodox, which means I was pretty much right on. Disillusioned somewhat with liberal theology and influenced by Karl Barth he was a leading figure in the Confessing Church – most famous for subverting the Nazi regime. He was involved in plots planned by members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office) to assassinate Hitler. He was arrested in March 1943, imprisoned, and eventually executed by hanging. An interesting fellow no doubt, but mistaken here in this quote. 

What I wanted make clear was the role of Natural Theology and how it should be used. I would say it confirms the witness of the Holy Spirit to our spirit, and provides supplementary support for belief in God. The Holy Spirit is God’s primary evidence or testimony of His existence, to us and to other non-believers, but the Holy Spirit can use the arguments of Natural Theology in order to draw men to Himself. As Blaise Pascal said, God has placed the correct balance of evidence of Himself in the world; enough to draw men freely to himself, but not enough to compel people to believe on Him who would not trust or love Him. 

Some of Natural Theology’s arguments for God’s existence includes Cosmological, Teleological, Moral and Ontological.

That is what I really wanted to say.

Stuart McEwing

2 replies
  1. Aaron
    Aaron says:

    It seems to me the Pascal quote and the Bonhoeffer quote are of the same ilk. The “compelling” is the issue.

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