Every worldview worth its philosophical salt must address the question of metaphysics, that is, what is the nature of reality? Followers of Jesus need to be able to know both what the Bible teaches and how that teaching interacts with the popular view of the culture.
What is ultimate reality like? Is it the universe? Is it God? Are these just two different words for the same concept?
The Pop Culture Answer: All is One
“The Universe has a plan, kids.” So went a line from the sitcom “How I Met Your Mother,” about a young man Ted and his quest to meet the mother of his children. Over nine seasons, the “Universe” guided the cast through signs and clues to the inevitable outcome of Ted meeting his future wife.
Over the last few decades. countless TV shows, movies, books, and blogs have relied on and promoted the idea that the universe is guiding humanity.
One famous former-pastor-turned-TV-host even recently proclaimed that, “The Universe is rigged in your favor.”
This way of thinking about the universe is rooted in a worldview (scholar Peter Jones call it One-ism) that says “all is one.” The universe is all there is — or at least all that can be known — and any meaning, purpose or value must be found inside it.
Therefore the universe becomes “The Universe,” taking on a personality of its own with the ability to pilot our lives. It reaches the level of deity, yet unlike other ideas of God, the creator in this case is identical to the creation.
The Bible’s Answer: All is Two
The Christian worldview based on the Bible tells a very different story than One-ism. Rather than being identified with his creation, God is separate and distinct from the universe. God is the Lord, the “I Am”, the creator and sustainer of all there is. Meaning, purpose and value do not flow from within the universe as in One-ism; rather, they are injected into the universe by the Lord.
In the Christian worldview, reality is therefore twofold, consisting of God and creation.God is separate and distinct from his creation but at the same time is also present everywhere in the universe, able to interact with the creation and sustain it by his power.
God is the Lord
The Bible calls God the Lord (Deut. 6:4, Ps. 23:1; Zeph. 3:17, to name a few). Theologian John Frame expounds on God’s “lordship attributes” as being characteristics that describe what it means for God to be Lord.
The first lordship attribute is God’s authority. The word authority, of course, contains within it the word author. God, as creator of the universe, is its author. And he has not given up his intellectual property rights over his creation.
God is the rightful ruler and lawgiver. To the extent that his creatures obey his commands, we are living rightly under his authority. He makes commands and gives laws that express his will, according to his righteous character. When we disobey God’s law, we disrespect his authority.
The second lordship attribute is God’s control. This is crucial for us to understand. It’s not as though God commands his will but is unable to carry it out.
On the contrary, God is able to accomplish his entire will. He is in complete and unchallenged control of everything that happens. Nothing in this universe can occur or exist without his causing it or allowing it to happen. (This truth has led to all kinds of great questions about the existence of evil in the world, which, God willing, we will dive into in future post).
While God allows his creatures the freedom of choice, in the end no choice we make can throw off his plan or contradict his control in any way. He is Lord, and we are not.
The third lordship attribute is God’s presence. God is present everywhere in the universe. We might say that, to God, everywhere is “here.”
There is no place in his creation that God does not enjoy immediate access to. The Lord is not a distant king, ruling from afar. Unlike in some religious schemes, God is not wholly other and unknowable. He is Lord everywhere, and he even holds everything together (Acts 17:28; Col. 1:17). If God were to withdraw his sustaining presence from any of his creation, it would simply cease to be.
God is Triune
It is no coincidence that we see three attributes expressing God as Lord. The Bible teaches that, while God is one, his divine nature is also three: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The church has developed the term, “Trinity,” meaning tri-unity (or “three-fold oneness”) to describe the divine nature. Each divine person is fully God. However in the Bible, each of the lordship attributes seems to be especially associated with one of the three divine persons, as he works together to accomplish his plan.
The Father is the divine lawgiver. He is the authority over all. If you will excuse the terribly inadequate governmental metaphor, the Father is the “legislative branch” of the Trinity.
He expresses his authority in sending the Son into the world (John 7:16; 12:49). The Holy Spirit likewise comes into the life of the Christian, from the Father at the request of the Son and in his name (John 14:16, 26).
It is the Father who chose, or elected, those who would belong to the Son (1 Pet. 1:2). For the follower of Jesus, God is our authority in a special way. We pray to him as “Our Father in heaven” (Matt. 6:9). He loves us and “rewards those who seek him” (Heb. 11:6).
The Son is the embodiment of God’s control in the world. He is the “executive branch” to the Father’s “legislative branch”; he carries out everything the Father has commanded.
Throughout the years of his ministry on earth, Jesus repeatedly demonstrated his control over both the natural world and the physical world (cf. Matt. 8:23-27; 15:21-28; John 2:1-11; Acts 2:22). By suffering and dying on the cross, he conveyed his extreme self-control (just imagine how you or I would react to the kind of insults, abuse, and injustice Jesus suffered during his trial and execution!).
By rising from the dead, he conveyed God’s control over the strongest thing in all nature, namely death.
Scripture teaches that he is currently enthroned in heaven, reigning with absolute control over the universe, even over his enemies (Ps. 110:2). For Christians, it is “the love of Christ” that “controls us” (2 Cor. 5:14, ESV).
The Holy Spirit is depicted as being present at the dawn of creation, hovering over the primordial waters in Genesis 1:2. The Spirit was present to God’s people in various ways in the Old Testament. In a kind of call-back to the creation story, the Holy Spirit was present again at Jesus’s baptism, hovering over the waters of the Jordan River (Luke 3:22).
And while the Holy Spirit is certainly present everywhere in the universe (there are some incredible stories of astronauts experiencing a strong sense of God’s presence even in outer space), he indwells Christians in a unique way.
If the Father is the “Legislative” and the Son the “Executive,” then the Holy Spirit is the “judicial branch.”
He convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment.” The Holy Spirit leads sinful people like you and me to the point of trusting in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. It is the Spirit who gives believers new life, making us “born again.” (John 3:7).
An Answer With A Command Attached
What is reality? The word on the street (and on our screens) is that reality is “all one,” but the Bible’s answer is better. Whereas One-ism leaves us guessing at what the will of the impersonal “Universe” might be, in Scripture God reveals himself to be the sovereign, powerful and intimately caring Lord.
The nature of reality is not “one” but “two,” consisting of God and his creation. God is distinct from his creation, but the two are not eternally distant.
Though we his creatures have rejected his authority, denied his presence, and tried to substitute his control with cheap substitutes like “The Universe,” God has loved us to the point of entering his creation and becoming one of us.
As Scripture says, “the Father has sent his Son as the world’s Savior.” God the Son became a human being. Filled with the Holy Spirit, he perfectly humbled himself before the authority of the Father, even to the point of death on the cross (Phil. 2:7-8).
The Son conquered death and reigns over the universe.
So the Bible’s answer comes with a command attached. The Triune God now commands “all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:31)–to submit–not to “the Universe,” but to God’s authority. We need to acknowledge our need for Christ’s control, and embrace the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
For Further Study
- Ravi Zacharias on the four questions of a coherent worldview
- Cornelius Van Til on God’s Transcendence and Immanence
- A helpful diagram of God’s Lordship Attributes by Neil Robbie
- “One or Two?” by Peter Jones
- “What We Believe,” by Park Community Church
- “The Universe Has A Plan, Kids” – a blog post by Virginia Pasley that helped inform this post.