How do we know who god is?

Hi I am new to this forum, I have been roaming around here for the past few months and found a lot of interesting and aspiring conversations about god. But unfortunately I don’t understand how can people know god and how do they know it. For example I understand that the flood is something that likely happen in the area of messopotamia and so all different stories emerge from that event, but all the ANE stories show their own perception of the concept divinity as a way to understand what happened. The same goes for the creation stories. How do we know who god is if it’s created by the mind of ancient people? Taking in consideration that probably the ancient people make god as a personification of reality, and that the Bible acknowledges the existence of other gods for example (1 Sam 26:19)
" For they have driven me out today from sharing in Yahwe’s estate, saying: “Go serve other gods!”
And that monotheism could have began aprox 7 century BCE. Also that few passages such as ( Ps 74:13-14), (Isiah 51:9), ( Job 9:8-13) and (Ps 74:13-14) shows that god is fighting some creatures, where the later 3 passages could indicate the demythologization of other stories such as Enuma Elish.

It will help me a lot if somebody could shed light to this or direct me to some sources to read.

1 Like

One of the reason why there are so many different answers to what God is like is because there are so many different answers to the question of how we know. For example, my immediate knee jerk reaction to your question was to quote Jesus saying “when you see me you see the Father.” Thus I see Jesus as the human window to what God is like. But built into that reaction is the presumption that we would even look at the Bible for an answer to that question and not everybody does that or accepts that as a way of knowing.

2 Likes

I wouldn’t start from there kev.

Where do you suggest?

Jesus. That’s how we know God.

4 Likes

Is the only way to know who god is through Jesus. There are those who say that Jesus isn’t god. If i assume that position I would have to go back to the OT to find god(Yahweh) since Jesus refers to him. But when you go back there seem to be a little bit of a mess.

I’ve been having an interesting discussion with a friend about “who is the referee?” for our questions and proposed answers. Catholics have the pope. Many protestant denominations (that deliberately will have no pope … because … the reformation) will claim “sola scriptura” (the bible alone is our ‘creed’ or our ‘referee’). And while an easy answer to all this is … “well, Jesus or God or the Spirit is our final authority”, it is still a way of not answering the question since many disagreements are found about what God is supposedly telling us. Hence the need for the more intermediary authority to help arbitrate between views in the meanwhile.

Scriptures themselves tell us the story of a people wanting to know who God is, or more often yet of a people running away from a God who is determined to cultivate a relationship with them. So you are right … it’s a mess - and doesn’t stop being one in the New Testament either. We are never excused from the necessity of taking the views of others into account to form a check for our own individualistic whims, and nor are we excused to always ignore that still small voice in our own heads as it may be a calling to heed despite the messages of surrounding community and culture. And we rightly also consult scriptures (especially the gospels) as a ‘referee’ too. And usually the answers given for what I need to do here and now between me and God or between me and neighbor are clear enough if my spirit will just receive it. It gets less clear when we want to use it to build elaborate objective systems of rules to universally apply to everyone else.

So you are asking the right question: How can I know God? One short answer to that is: “through obedience to God’s will.” Jesus informs us that he is the way, the truth, and the life. So at least we know through whom and with whom it is that we can undertake our journey toward such knowledge as we haltingly learn to obey that which we are given to know for each moment.

If we can’t know God through Jesus, then we can’t know Him at all. No NT? Then no OT either.

Mervin is correct, it is only through Jesus that we can know God.
Isa 48:5 Therefore I told you these things long ago; before they happened I announced them to you so that you could not say, ‘My idols did them; my wooden image and metal god ordained them.’

We know that Jesus is the promised deliver as God foretold through the prophets. From Genesis on He foretold that one would come to deliver us from our enemies (sin and the Devil). So since He is The God who knows and directs the future we can trust in Him. He has given very precise prophecies, things that when they are fulfilled there can be no doubt as to who the true God is.( A quick Google search will lead you to some.) Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecies of the coming deliver. So since the Father is the One True God, we can trust in what he says.

As we read Jesus words and obey them, we begin to know Him. We know Him because we are walking in His footsteps; we are experiencing the things He experienced. As we obey Him we will know the Father, John 14:23 Jesus replied, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.”

The Father and the Son will actually live inside of us, leading teaching and revealing themselves to us. The one and only true God is the Living God. He will reveal himself to us. He will do it. Our trust is not in ourselves or other people; it is in God and the Son of God.

Call out to Jesus and He will answer.

That is an answer, but if I limit myself only to the OT how do I know God’s will when a lot of the stories there have parallels enfacizing in proverbs and the instruction of amenemope, which sounds like a complete direct dependence of the literature. Where is the divinity or the inspire word?

As a Christian, I’m particularly ill-equipped to give answer to that. Jewish friends among us could perhaps elaborate in their own way and with their own confidences, but since I lean heavily on the younger testament to understand the older one, all of what I choose to pull and emphasize from the original testament (like the prophetic imperatives to ‘do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God…’) are motivated by what I have learned from the more recent testament. So it’s not really fair for me to pretend that what I think I know of God comes entirely from that original testament alone. Without Christ, I am simply lost in more ways than one.

I did not understand the remainder of your post as it uses terms with which I am unfamiliar. For what it’s worth, it doesn’t bother me that many accounts from the original testament have much in parallel with other ANE accounts or writings. I don’t see that being as problematic as perhaps others here do.

If you want to know God, trust and obey Him and He will reveal Himself to you. That is a real as you can get it.
You don’t want to be like some of the religious leaders when Jesus was here that He said this to,
John 5:36 "For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, 38 nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. 39 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life."

You can spend a lifetime reading the scriptures and never come to know God, that’s what happened to some of the religious leaders of Israel all through their history. They read the words of God but did not love, trust and obey Him, so they never came to know Him, so the very words they read will be the words that condemn them.

You say you want to know God through the OT but it appears to me that by saying this, you act as if the history of God’s interaction with mankind completely changes when Jesus appears. His interaction with mankind is one continuous flow from creation to now. God has always required mankind to look to Him, seek, hunger and thirst for Him, trust and obey Him. From the Garden of Eden where God expected Adam to believe what He said and to obey Him out of love, to Abraham who trusted the Lord and it was accounted as righteousness, to God speaking the Law to Moses as a shadow of the reality that would be fulfilled in Jesus. God spoke through the prophets, He dealt with Israel and the nations around them, using the prophets to express His will to them. They foretold of the coming of the Messiah so that when He came, mankind would put their trust in Him. Jesus spoke the very Word of God and did the works of God to prove He was the one. He taught His followers that the scriptures were about Him. He taught them the nature and ways of the Kingdom of Heaven and told them that when He went to be with the Father, He would send the Holy Spirit to remind them of what He said and to lead them into the truth. After He ascended to Heaven He called Paul to be His ambassador and revealed to Him the Kingdom of Heaven and who He is. From there the Spirit has continued to reveal the Father to all who humbly and with a pure heart look for Him.

You want to know who the divinity of the scriptures is, you must go to Him as He declares Himself to be; the Creator Of All Things, The Author Of Life, The Almighty God, The One Who Reveals The Future, The One Who Fulfills Prophecy, The True And Living God. Seek Him, love Him, obey Him and He will reveal Himself to you. Don’t say, “that’s not good enough, show me how the scriptures are different than the wisdom of mankind, or why should I trust the scriptures more than other writings in history”. The fact is that all people have already experienced in real time the wisdom of mankind. All have experienced both good and evil in their thoughts, words or actions and they should have come to realize that in itself, mankind’s ways and wisdom is death. There is no salvation from sin through whatever mankind has to offer. All of God’s revelation of Himself points to the Kingdom of Heaven and the Christ, the Son of the Living God, our Salvation.

You will not find Him if you only seek Him as a scholar comparing one writing to another.
You will find Him if you allow Him to show you His Holiness, Righteousness, Justice, Mercy and Love. Then you will see your depravity and then if you cry out to your Creator with all your heart to reveal Himself to you, He will, unless you have hardened your heart, your own conscience convicts you that you have sinned. He by His Spirit, will open your understanding of the scriptures, and by Him personally and actively moving within you, will bring you into His Kingdom.

Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life and no one comes to the Father but by Him. If you have seen (known) Jesus, you have seen the Father.
What I have said to you, is the way to know the God of the scriptures.

Hi Kev,

Your question is a very good one to ask. As you might guess the answer to it can become extremely complex. I will answer your question with a short and a long answer. Both of which will only be fragmentary and incomplete in themselves given the format of the current discussion and my lack of knowledge as to your current perception of various issues. In addition to the short and long answer, I will also give a short bibliography for you to pursue as you desire.

Short Answer
Being a Christian myself I will echo those who point to Jesus. I think Jesus is ultimately how we know God today.

In a response to this basic answer you say this:
“Is the only way to know who god is through Jesus. There are those who say that Jesus isn’t god. If i assume that position I would have to go back to the OT to find god(Yahweh) since Jesus refers to him. But when you go back there seem to be a little bit of a mess.”

Here is my initial response: You have to first decide who Jesus is or isn’t for yourself. You mention people who say Jesus isn’t god. True, there are people who say Jesus isn’t god and there are people who say Jesus is god. The question is not a matter of what people say but rather WHY they say it and whether you think they say it for a good reason.

Once you are able to make a determination as to who you think Jesus is then other questions can be followed up on. Let’s say you think its reasonable that Jesus could be god. You then can follow up with what you bring up “If i assume that position I would have to go back to the OT to find god(Yahweh) since Jesus refers to him. But when you go back there seem to be a little bit of a mess.”. This then opens up discussion of the OT. You state that it is a little bit of a mess. This implies your current thoughts on the OT aren’t particularly positive. This is understandable, the OT is an ancient document that can be difficult for moderns to understand. I know that there are popular conventional Christian views you are likely to be aware of but there are also interpretations that might make a lot of sense as to what it is we are dealing with in regards to the OT.

So in summary my short answer goes like this:

  1. You need to make some kind of determination as to what you think about Jesus.
  2. If you don’t think its reasonable that Jesus is god or would be a path for you knowing who god is then you don’t have to worry about the OT.
  3. If you think Jesus might be an avenue to knowing who God is then you can pursue questions about the OT in more depth. This may affect how you then further assess Jesus.

The Long Answer

Your question is complex and touches on many possible issues. Here I will give a brief outline of the issues I think are most salient and sketch some of the ways I approach them.

The Issues:

  1. Epistemology
  2. Biology
  3. Jesus
  4. The Bible

Epistemology and Biology go together as I see things.

Epistemology is a topic in philosophy about how we know things.
Biology is about understanding organisms. We humans are biological organisms and to better understand ourselves we have to understand our biology.

With this idea we can state two simple statements about our being human,

We reasoning organisms.
We are biological organisms.

All humans are biological organisms and most fully developed humans are reasoning. These are basic characteristics that we can use to develop a general model for how humans navigate reality.

Our tools for interacting with the world can be summarized with the traditional five senses: Sight, Touch, Hearing, Smell, and Taste.

These are the basic tools that we as biological organisms have to interact with our world. We as humans have the ability to synthesize the data gained from these tools with our ability to reason.

Reason and the data gained from our senses stand in constant reciprocal relationship to each other. No single aspect of the human toolkit is infallible.

We know that all of five senses can be unreliable at times.

Sight: Objects get distorted when submerged in water. The further away an object is the more different it will appear than when viewed up close. Et Cetera.

Hearing: We can misunderstand what we hear: what it was we heard, what direction it came from. Et Cetera.

And so on.

We are able to understand all these things with our ability to reason. However, not even our ability to reason is without problems. We can make mistaken inferences, misinterpret the data gained from our senses. Et Cetera.

From this several things seem the most reasonable to me.

Fallibility: Because none of our tools for interacting with reality are infallible we have to acknowledge that practically any belief we have is possibly incorrect in some way, human knowledge is defeasible knowledge.

Tractability: Any analysis of human knowledge has to work within the limits of human capabilities. This has two sides to it: (1) It limits the kind requirements we can have for knowledge “certainty” is usually best described as a psychological state. If someone thinks infallibility should be an aspect of our beliefs then they are requiring something that is an impossibility for us as humans. (2) The other side of tractability is that all our beliefs should be able to work within our toolkit as humans. If someone says to ignore or suppress our basic tools for interacting with reality then we are being told to ignore how we actually interact with reality.

Summary: Here are fundamental facts about every human we are (a) biological organisms and (b) we reason. Every human shares these things. Whatever else we may be, do, believe, we are at least biological organisms that reason. In accordance with this fact, some amount of Philosophy and Biology is necessary to help us come to terms with what we are. In accordance with this whatever else we do will be enlightened by philosophy and biology.

In accordance with this basic fact we can state the following about how we might think about the ‘Bible’,
Whatever else may be said about the Bible and it’s contents, the one thing we know is that it is the product of humans. Because it is the product of humans, philosophy and biology can shed light on its production and contents.

What this means is that when we try to understand and evaluate who Jesus is/was we do so as we would any other figure in history.

The ‘Bible’ we have today as a single bound volume is not what Jesus would have had nor the earliest Christians. It is in our interest as seekers of truth to understand what exactly the ‘Bible’ is or isn’t.

Here are brief statement of my current beliefs:

  1. Jesus is God and it is through Jesus that we primarily know God.
  2. The ‘bible’ is not the “word of god”. It is set of ancient documents wherein each document needs to be evaluated on its own terms, it is not a single work and all documents are not equally important or reliable.
  3. The OT is not nearly as “messy” as many people think it is. The OT interpreted properly has some surprising things to say and it makes a lot of sense.

Bibliography
Note: I do not fully endorse everything contained in the books I am recommending. I think they are important works that have some important insights in one way or another.

Epistemology

Alvin Plantinga
-Knowledge and Christian Belief (Easy)
-Warrant and Proper Function (Medium/Hard)
-Where the Conflict Really Lies (Medium)
-Warranted Christian Belief (Hard)

Nicholas Rescher
-Epistemology (Hard)
-Objectivity (Medium)

Thomas Reid
-Inquiry into the Human Mind (Hard)
-Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man (Hard)

Bernard Lonergan
-Insight (Hard)

Biology

Robert Sapolsky
-Behave (Medium/Hard)

David Sloan Wilson
-Does Altruism Exist? (Easy)
-This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution (Easy)

Samir Okasha
-Philosophy of Science (Easy)
-Philosophy of Biology (Easy)

Jesus

Mark Allan Powell
-Jesus as a Figure in History (Medium)

Dale Allison Jr.
-Resurrecting Jesus (Medium/Hard)
-Constructing Jesus (Hard)

James D.G. Dunn
-Jesus According to the New Testament (Easy)
-Jesus Remembered (Hard)
-Beginning from Jerusalem (Hard)
-Neither Jew nor Greek (Hard)

NT Wright
-History and Eschatology (Easy/Medium)
-Jesus and the Victory of God (Hard)
-The Resurrection of the Son of God (Hard)

The Bible

Peter Williams
-Are the Gospels Reliable? (Easy)

John Barton
-A History of the Bible (Medium)
-Holy Writings, Sacred Texts (Medium)
-Reading the Old Testament (Medium/Hard)
-Ethics in Ancient Israel (Hard)
-The Nature of Biblical Criticism (Medium)
-People of the Book? (Easy)

Lee Martin McDonald
The Formation of the Bible (Easy/Medium)
The Origin of the Bible (Easy/Medium)
The Biblical Canon (Hard)

Other

John Dickson
-Is Jesus History? (Easy)
-Doubters Guide to Jesus (Easy)
-Doubters Guide to the Bible (Easy)

John Goldingay
-Biblical Theology (Medium/Hard)
-Old Testament Theology 3 vol. (Hard)
-Models for Scripture (Medium)

Christopher J.H. Wright
-Knowing God Through the Old Testament (Medium)
-Old Testament Ethics for the People of God (Medium)
-The Mission of God (Medium)

Scot McKnight
-King Jesus Gospel (Easy)
-The Blue Parakeet (Easy)

William Webb
-Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals (Medium)

Thanks for posting the question, Kev.

If you have any question or would like to dialogue further I would be happy to do so.

3 Likes

Kev,

I didn’t address this statement in my larger reply:

“That is an answer, but if I limit myself only to the OT how do I know God’s will when a lot of the stories there have parallels enfacizing in proverbs and the instruction of amenemope, which sounds like a complete direct dependence of the literature. Where is the divinity or the inspire word?”

Briefly, from my perspective this contains flawed perspectives.

I wouldn’t necessarily say to “limit” yourself to the OT.

The fact that OT literature “copies” or “resembles” other ideas or documents doesn’t necessarily mean anything in itself. If you read Proverbs a lot of the proverbs can be figured out solely from life experience. To ask a question like where is “the divinity” or “the inspired word” is to misunderstand what Proverbs as an ancient document was meant for.

If we take an approach as I outlined in my larger email I think we can end up interacting with the biblical documents in a more authentic way rather than assuming that they are meant to be the “word of God” or whatever. Rather than assuming what the bible is or assuming what it should be, the idea is to try and use our tools as reasoning organisms to figure out what it is and what we think about about.

I’m going to “cheat” a bit, and include the same video link here (start about 5:30 in) that I used to start another thread last night - but I think it might get more attention here since Catholic Bishop Barron addresses this issue head-on, and I think ties together all these very same questions in a very compelling and faithful manner by pointing us to the overall narrative of scripture.

And BTW - welcome the the forum, Shekar! What a wealth of resources you have on tap - many of them I’ve not read personally. But given what I read in your posts here, you sound to be very well-informed and scripturally wise.

-Merv

2 Likes

Thanks for the welcome, Merv.

I’m not entirely sure what you are fishing for with the video, but I’ll venture a few words.

Barron’s general ‘story’ approach is well founded. I think it is the primary approach that the Biblical authors take, but not the only approach.

I guess one thing that comes to mind, given the original post of this thread, is “How do we know that that is the story?” That Barron’s version of the story is faithful to how Jesus and the biblical authors would have thought about it.

This is where I like think about approaching the Bible as ancient documents that tell us about how ancient people thought and saw the world. So if we look at how the earliest Christians thought about things and ask questions about them like “What did they think was the most important thing?” Or some similar question I think the answer we come up with is the gospel. (I think 1 Corinthians 15, Galatians 1 are the most explicit on this particular point)

Ok so what is the gospel? In a single sentence the gospel is the story of Jesus (which is why the written documents called ‘Gospels’ are called Gospels).

As Barron stated in the video ,what see intimately tied with the gospel is “the writings” what we refer to as the ‘Old Testament’. Also as Barron stated in the video, what becomes clear is that in order to truly understand Jesus and the gospel is that we must understand the Old Testament.

Here is where we run into a kind of problem. The Old Testament is vast compared to the NT. How does one get their bearings in trying to understand it? Here is my current way of approaching this issue,

  1. What kind of literature do we have in the OT? The bulk of the OT is narrative, just as the bulk of the NT is narrative. I think it is reasonable that we can take this as clue that narrative has great importance in how we understand Christianity (I would say Judaism as well but it is complicated, I suggest reading John Barton’s History of the Bible for discussion on Jewish approaches to the Bible).

  2. Ok so narrate seems especially important. But that still doesn’t narrow things down really for the Old Testament because of large amount of narrative it contains. This is where I point to summaries within the Bible itself as to its basic narrative focus.

Psalms 78, 103, 104, 105
Acts 7

With this kind of strategy what we can get is a kind of foothold within the biblical authors’ way of thinking about things.

I’m not saying Barron’s presentation is wrong, in fact I found it quite good. What I’m suggesting here is we think a step further back than Barron’s brief narrative presentation.

“How might we get to something like Barron’s presentation and have some confidence that Barron or ourselves are on the right track?”

That’s the kind question I find important to tackle.

So a simplified flow might be something like this,
Early Christians —> Gospel —> Jesus—> OT

This progression represents how one might go about coming to terms with Christianity through a more stepwise critical manner.

An analogy I can think of is how modern sciences have had to start and progress. When doing early stratigraphy geologists didn’t have a good idea as to the age of the earth or necessarily of what all the processes were involved in creating all the layers. Plate Tectonics wasn’t really a thing until the 1960’s and it altered how we understand earth’s geologic history.

The point I’m trying to make is this: Sometimes our knowledge has to latch onto things imperfectly at first and we learn more and more we can build on that knowledge and when necessary revise it once we run into something that causes us to look at things in a different way than when we started.

What are your thoughts on Alvin Plantinga’s reformed epistemology? It seems to me to be immune from this problem

Briefly, I think Plantinga’s Reformed Epistemology is too disconnected from certain aspects of reality. In particular I don’t think it takes humans seriously as biological organisms.

I think Plantinga makes important contributions to how we should think about epistemological issues, but there’s is a reason he doesn’t incorporate discussion on the historical reliability of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s life or about whether Jesus’s resurrection is reasonable to accept on the basis of historical analysis.

Also, I’m not sure exactly what “problem” you are referring to. If you want to elaborate I’ll try and elaborate as well.

1 Like

Amen to that! - and much else that you wrote as well.

It wasn’t so much a response to you as to Kev from before in a post where it is noted that the old testament is “a bit of a mess” - and that echoes wider conversations from other past threads around here as well debating about the place the O.T. may or may not have in contemporary Christian thought. The narrative that Barron shared (I’m sure he’d be flattered if you called it ‘his’ - but it would have deeper origins - but nor will I contest your point that it isn’t necessarily the only version of the narrative) … but it does remain a solid answer to those of us (including myself) who have sometimes leaned heavily toward letting the original testament recede into the shadows of the new covenant.

2 Likes

I don’t really see what the issue is. I think he is right that Christianity is a faith that is, according to it’s scriptures (Romans 1:20-21) self-evident, and not based on ‘finding evidence’.

1 Like

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

This is a place for gracious dialogue about science and faith. Please read our FAQ/Guidelines before posting.