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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s communicable attribute of goodness.

Dr. Spencer, at the end of our last session, you said that we need a proper biblical perspective to understand how a completely good and omnipotent God can allow evil into his creation. How would you like to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to spend more time on the topic of evil and its relation to the goodness of God because it is an extremely important and difficult topic.

I noted last time that many people in history have argued that the existence of sin and suffering prove that God must either not be good, or not able to prevent evil, in other words, not be omnipotent. I also pointed out that that argument is wrong because it assumes the unbiblical, that is to say, incorrect, idea that the purpose of creation is, or should be, to maximize our pleasure in this life.

Marc Roby: Perhaps we should mention that a defense of God’s goodness and omnipotence given the fact that evil exists, that’s called a theodicy.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I think it’s good for people to know that term. And that is exactly what I want to do today. I want to explain, or justify, how it is possible for evil to exist in a universe ruled by an all-powerful, or omnipotent, and all-good, or omnibenevolent, God.

Marc Roby: You noted last time that a proper biblical perspective requires us to recognize that God’s purpose in creation is the manifestation of his own glory and that we also need to recognize that there is an eternal destiny for human beings. In other words, this life is not all there is.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right, this life is definitely not all there is and we’ll deal with that more in a minute. But first, let me say a little more about the first of those two points, God’s purpose.

Marc Roby: Please do.

Dr. Spencer: We spoke in both Sessions 2 and 67 about God’s purpose in creation, but it would be good to give just a couple of Scriptures at this time to support the claim that his purpose is the manifestation of his own glory.

Marc Roby: I agree, what Scriptures would you like to cite?

Dr. Spencer: Let’s begin with the prophet Isaiah. God spoke through the prophet about his redeemed people, meaning the church, and in Isaiah 43:6-7 we read that God said, “I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth—everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” [1] There are many other verses as well that tell us God’s purpose in creation and redemption is the manifestation of his glory. But to give just one more example, Psalm 19 famously begins, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (Psalm 19:1)

Marc Roby: I think it is also helpful to remember one other thing you said before, that there is no better purpose for creation than the manifestation of the glory of God. He chose the best possible purpose.

Now, returning to the second point, that this life is not all there is, it’s also pretty easy to come up with Scriptures that support the idea that human beings have an eternal destiny.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, the first one that pops into my mind is the 25th chapter of Matthew.

Marc Roby: Where Christ describes the final judgment.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And after separating the sheep from the goats and telling the goats that they must depart from him, he ends, in Verse 46, by saying, “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” And the same exact Greek word for eternal is used in both places in that verse, which makes it clear that it is exegetically impossible to believe in eternal heaven and deny the existence of eternal hell.

So, getting back to your statement that this life is not all there is, we can go further and say that that is, in fact, a gross understatement. When compared with eternity, this life is, quite literally, nothing. There really is only one important question to answer in life, and that is, “Where am I going when I die?” The Bible tells us that there are only two possible places. I will either go to eternal hell and suffer for my sins, or eternal heaven and live in bliss forever in the presence of the perfect God.

Marc Roby: Of course, not everyone is going to agree that those are the only two destinies.

Dr. Spencer: I’m well aware of that, but those are the only two destinies described in the Bible, which is the infallible Word of God, so I’m confident that that is the truth. And I would point out that even people who say they believe that we simply cease to exist when we die frequently speak and act in ways that make it clear they know it isn’t true.

Marc Roby: Yes, especially when someone close to them dies.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely, that is the most common time. You will often hear them say something like, “Aunt Mary will be very pleased to see you graduate” or whatever. But, of course, if Aunt Mary is dead, and if people simply cease to exist, then Aunt Mary can’t possibly know that someone is graduating, let alone be pleased by it.

Marc Roby: I’ve certainly heard people say many things that would indicate they know there is some mode of existence beyond the grave.

Dr. Spencer: And not only do they know that, but they also know there will be a judgment. That is one of the major reasons people fear death. They know they will be judged, and they aren’t confident it will go well for them in that judgment.

Marc Roby: Although most people flatter themselves and think they aren’t really all that bad. They might admit that they deserve a mild rebuke for some things they have said or done, but they don’t believe they have done anything deserving of real wrath.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. And there are two reasons most people think they will get a passing grade. First, they grade themselves on a curve, in other words, they compare themselves to other people. But God doesn’t grade on a curve. Jesus commands us in Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Marc Roby: That is definitely not grading on a curve. What is the second reason people think they will get a passing grade?

Dr. Spencer: It’s because they only consider external sins, not sins of the heart. So, since most people have never murdered, or raped or committed grand theft or anything like that, they assume that they are relatively good. And, of course, they may actually be good in a relative sense. But there are two problems with that view.

Marc Roby: What problems are those?

Dr. Spencer: First, as I mentioned, they are ignoring the heart. We are told in 1 Samuel 16:7 that “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” And in Hebrews 4:12 we read that “the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

Marc Roby: That’s a problem for us.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is a serious problem. And Jesus illustrated just how serious that problem is when he told the people in Matthew 5:27-28, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Now many men can truthfully say that they have never committed the physical act of adultery, but how many can say that they have never once looked at a woman lustfully?

Marc Roby: I’d rather not answer that question.

Dr. Spencer: I think you just did. And, of course, adultery isn’t the only sin for which this applies. We are also told that unholy anger is committing murder in the heart and so on. When you apply the true standard, even most law-abiding people do not do very well.

Marc Roby: Alright. You said that there are two problems with the view that we really aren’t all that bad; what is the second one?

Dr. Spencer: The second problem is even more serious. It is that we misjudge sin itself. The worst sin of all isn’t something I do to other people, it is my attitude toward God. If I don’t consciously give him thanks for life and material blessings, and if I don’t live to please him, I am insulting the living God, my Creator. Even if I murder someone, the worst sin involved is not what I did to that person. The worst sin involved is that in murdering the person I rejected God’s law and his authority to command me to not murder. And, even worse, if I live as though I am independent and he doesn’t exist, that is a huge insult to God. Rejecting the sovereign Creator and Lord of all is a very serious offense, it is an offence that deserves God’s wrath.

Marc Roby: That makes perfectly good sense. In fact, the Bible tells us that anything not done in obedience to God and for his glory is sin.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. In 1 Corinthians 10:31 we are famously told, “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” And the Greek verb in that sentence is in the imperative mood, so it is a command. And in John 14:15 Jesus told us that “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” We can conclude therefore, that any disobedience is a lack of love for God, which is most certainly a sin because Jesus told us in Matthew 22:37-38 that the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Therefore, anything that is not done in conscious obedience to God and for his glory, is sin.

Marc Roby: That is a very convicting, but true, statement. But we were justifying God’s goodness given the presence of evil. How does this all tie back into that topic?

Dr. Spencer: It ties back in in at least two ways. First, because there is an eternal destiny awaiting every human being, we can’t judge what is good in any meaningful ultimate sense by looking at what happens just in this short life. And secondly, if we recognize that the worst sin is not murder, or any thing like that, but rather is rejecting the sovereign God who made us, then we will understand that we all deserve punishment. And if we then receive what we deserve, that is certainly just and we must agree that is good. And when we consider those to whom God has granted repentance and saving faith, we see that they receive mercy, rather than justice, and spend eternity in heaven. And certainly we must agree that is also good.

Marc Roby: I think everyone would agree that bringing people to heaven is good. I’m not sure many people are willing to accept that hell is good, although the fact that guilty sinners deserve God’s wrath certainly argues that it is. But I suspect that many people would ask why God can’t simply show mercy and forgive. After all, God commands us to be merciful and to forgive others.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a great question, and we dealt with it in Session 24. I pointed out then that God cannot forgive sin without the penalty being paid because he is the judge of the universe. If I steal from someone who happens to be a judge, he can forgive me on a personal level. But, if the case comes before his court and I am found guilty of the crime, as judge he cannot simply say that he forgives me. Justice demands that I be punished and he must abide by the laws of the state and sentence me appropriately. As Judge of the universe, God must do what is just and right, and the just and right penalty for sinning against God is death—eternal death.

Marc Roby: That helps. And it is also important to remember the fact you pointed out in Session 72, that people in hell do not repent and seek God’s forgiveness, but continue to hate him and rail against him in their hearts, which actually increases their guilt every day.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. When you put all of this together, you realize that hell is good. It is not pleasant, but it is just and fair and right. And so, in a deep sense of the term, it is good.

Marc Roby: But, at the same time, God does show mercy to some and save them. And that brings up another problem for many people. It seems unfair for God to choose some people to be saved while leaving others to suffer for their sins.

Dr. Spencer: That is a very common complaint. You’re speaking about the doctrine of divine election, and we dealt with that doctrine back in Session 15, but we must say a few words again here. The basic problem is that we think we want to be judged based on our own effort. That somehow sounds fair to us because in terms of dealings with other human beings that is, in general, fair. But, as I noted a minute ago, when we consider the true nature of sin, and we judge the heart and not just the external actions, we find that we all have a serious problem. We are all sinners in need of a Savior. As Paul wrote in Romans 3:23, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. So, if we think more carefully, we will recognize that we don’t really want to be judged fairly, or justly, we want mercy.

Marc Roby: And, of course, by definition mercy is not something we deserve, so God is not under obligation to show mercy to anyone.

Dr. Spencer: No, he isn’t. It would be completely just and fair for God to send all of us to hell. The huge surprise, the great mystery and amazing demonstration of God’s love and mercy is that he chose to save anyone at all. Especially when you consider the cost.

Marc Roby: Which was the sacrifice of Jesus Christ himself.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And we find ourselves right back at John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” And this is good in the most profound possible sense of the word, even though perishing in this verse refers to eternal hell. And notice that it is only those who believe who will not perish. In fact, just two verses later, in John 3:18, we read that “whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

Refusing to believe in Jesus Christ is the most serious sin a person can commit it is, ultimately, the sin that sends you to hell. In 1 John 5 the apostle tells us about God’s testimony about Christ and he says in Verse10 that “Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.

Marc Roby: Calling the perfectly holy and just Creator a liar is a terrible thing. And I think we have made a good case for the fact that the existence of hell is actually good, given the fact that evil does exist.

We got onto this topic because of the importance of having an eternal perspective in understanding the presence of evil. Can we go back now and tie it all together somehow? Why is it good that God allowed evil to enter his creation?

Dr. Spencer: Because it allowed a more complete manifestation of God’s multifaceted glory. Without allowing evil to enter creation God would not have been able to demonstrate his just wrath against evil, nor would he have been able to demonstrate his astounding merciful love in redeeming some people. I don’t think we can understand it fully, but you have to consider the finished product so to speak. Years ago I read something very profound that is relevant to this topic in, of all places, a devotional my wife and I were reading with our children when they were young.

Marc Roby: What was that?

Dr. Spencer: The author used the analogy of a cake to illustrate Romans 8:28, which says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Now I don’t remember the story in detail, but it went something like this; a child had asked the mother about something that wasn’t good, and questioned whether God was good for allowing such a thing. The mother’s response in the story was great. She asked the child, “Do you like chocolate cake?” And, like most children, the child responded, “Of course.” And then the mother said, “Well, do you like to eat flour?” And he said, “No.” Then the mother asked if he liked to eat baking powder, and he said no. Then she asked if he liked to eat salt, and he said no. Then she asked if he liked raw egg and he said no. But she then told him that all of those things were used in making chocolate cake.

Marc Roby: That is a great illustration. The ingredients may not be good in and of themselves, but the final result is good.

Dr. Spencer: And so it is with God’s works. We do not know enough or have a wide enough perspective to properly judge his works. We know that evil exists and we know that evil is not good in itself. In fact, it is the opposite of good. But we know that God is not the author of evil and God is good. In fact, he is the standard of good. He is absolutely, perfectly and immutably good. And he is omnipotent. Therefore, we can conclude that the presence of evil was necessary for the accomplishing of God’s perfect eternal plan for creation, which is good.

Marc Roby: And I think that is a good place to end for today – pun intended. I want to remind our listeners that they can email any questions or comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We will do our best to answer.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s omnipresence, which means that he is present everywhere. We ended last time by reading a few verses from Psalm 139, in which the psalmist poetically expresses God’s omnipresence by declaring to God, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”[1] So, Dr. Spencer, how do you want to proceed with this topic?

Dr. Spencer: I want to begin by reminding everyone that we have to guard against thinking of God in terms of spatial dimensions at all. When we speak of God’s omnipresence, we aren’t saying that God is so huge that he won’t fit in this universe, what we are saying is that he cannot be described by spatial dimensions at all. God is a Spirit as we are told in John 4:24. And, as a Spirit, he is present everywhere in our universe in his totality all the time. We aren’t told exactly what spirits are, and we probably couldn’t understand it anyway, but they are not physical. They are not confined to the four dimensions of space and time that we experience, although they can certainly interact with us in space and time.

Marc Roby: God’s omnipresence is a concept that blows the mind, and Psalm 139 probably describes it as well as it can be expressed.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. Sometimes poetry can express a complicated idea better than simple prose. But, we are still to exercise our minds and to do the best we can to understand the nature of God as he has chosen to reveal it to us. It may help us gain a better understanding of God’s omnipresence to realize that it is related to his eternity and immutability, both of which we have already discussed.

Marc Roby: How so?

Dr. Spencer: We noted last time that God’s eternity can be called his infinity with respect to time and his omnipresence can be called his infinity with respect to space. And we noted in Session 58 that God’s immutability implies his eternity. One way to see that is to realize that we experience the passage of time precisely because we change. I have forgotten some things I used to know and I’ve learned some things I didn’t used to know. I don’t remember what happened in the past perfectly and I don’t know what will happen tomorrow and so on. If none of those changes and limitations were true, then we would cease to experience time the way we do now.

The English puritan theologian Stephen Charnock explains the connection between God’s eternity, his omnipresence and immutability well in his large volume called The Existence and Attributes of God. He writes, “As eternity is the perfection whereby he has neither beginning nor end, immutability is the perfection whereby he has neither increase nor diminution, so immensity or omnipresence is that whereby he has neither bounds nor limitation.” (English updated)[2]

Marc Roby: It is interesting that all three of these attributes are described negatively. Eternity is the lack of a beginning or end, immutability is the lack of change, and omnipresence is the lack of boundaries.

Dr. Spencer: That is interesting. When we are discussing God’s incommunicable attributes, we often have to use negative terms. It is easier to say what he is not than it is to say what he is because God is unique. We usually describe things in terms of other things, and when you have a being that is unique in his essence, you lose that ability to some extent. As God himself says in Isaiah 40:25, “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?”.

If a person is unique simply because he is the largest, or oldest, or smartest, or strongest or whatever, we can still describe him easily in terms of other people. Differences like that are only quantitative as we discussed last time. But God is unique in his essence, the difference is qualitative, not quantitative. And, as a result, we often end up using negative statements to describe his incommunicable attributes. When it comes to his communicable attributes, we can use positive statements and make comparisons, although we have to resort to superlative statements. So, for example, we have knowledge and God has knowledge, so there is a point of comparison. But God’s knowledge is exhaustive and perfect, and ours is not. The 19th-century theologian Charles Hodge has an interesting discussion about this in dealing with how we classify the divine attributes.[3]

Marc Roby: That is useful in understanding the problem inherent in trying to describe God. I also noticed that Charnock referred to God’s “immensity or omnipresence”, which seems to indicate that he uses those two terms synonymously.

Dr. Spencer: They are often used as near synonyms. The difference between immensity and omnipresence is one of perspective and I think it will help us to read what Charles Hodge said about this. He wrote that God’s “immensity is the infinitude of his being, viewed as belonging to his nature from eternity. … His omnipresence is the infinitude of his being, viewed in relation to his creatures. He is equally present with all his creatures, at all times, and in all places.”[4]

Marc Roby: That is helpful. The idea that God is equally present with all his creatures at all times and places reminds me of what Moses said to the Israelites just before he died, which was also just before they were to cross over the Jordon to take possession of the Promised Land. He wanted to encourage them and in Deuteronomy 31:8 he said to the Israelites, “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a great encouragement for God’s people. And that same idea, that God will never leave nor forsake his people, is stated twice by Moses in Deuteronomy 31 and is then repeated by God in speaking to Joshua to strengthen him in Joshua 1:5. It is also used as a request by King Solomon in his prayer of dedication for the Temple in Jerusalem in 1 Kings 8:57 and is then quoted in the New Testament in Hebrews 13:5. But we must also remember that God is not only present to bless his people, he is also present to punish his enemies, which is terrifying.

Marc Roby: And yet, hell is often portrayed as being a place where the sinner is shut out from the presence of God.

Dr. Spencer: It is often described that way. But what is meant is that those in hell are shut out from God’s merciful and beneficent presence. He is present in hell, but he is present there to pour out his wrath on those who have rejected him. We are told in Hebrews 10:31 that “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” And the reason why it is terrible is stated in Hebrews 12:29, where we read that our “God is a consuming fire.” Revelation is even more terrifying. In Revelation we read several times about a lake of burning sulfur. Now this is a figurative description of course, not a literal one, but sulfur burns at over 800 degrees Fahrenheit, so the imagery is certainly terrifying.

Hell is an unpopular topic, but the Bible is very clear in its teaching about hell because God wants to warn us about the eternal consequences of rejecting him.

Marc Roby: Of course, most non-believers would deny that they have rejected God. They would claim that either he has never shown himself to them or that he doesn’t exist, or something like that.

Dr. Spencer: I’m quite sure that you’re right about that. But the Bible tells us the truth in Romans 1. In Verses 18-21 Paul writes that “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

This truth is extremely unpopular, but it is simple. The Bible is telling us that everyone knows in his or her heart that God exists, but people suppress that truth and because of that God gives them over to futile thinking and foolishness, particularly with regard to the things of God.

Marc Roby: And Psalm 14:1 tells us that “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. To be a fool in the biblical sense does not mean that you aren’t intelligent in worldly matters, it means that you have denied the existence of God; your Creator, Sustainer, Judge and the only self-existent, necessarily-existent, completely independent being in existence. You can be a fool biblically and win a Nobel prize in physics.

That is why Paul goes on in Romans 2:5-8 to write, “because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God ‘will give to each person according to what he has done.’ To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.”

Marc Roby: A most terrifying thought. To experience the wrath and anger of God Almighty and to know that it will never end and there is no escape.

Dr. Spencer: It is absolutely terrifying. But I think it is important for us to discuss here because while God is present everywhere, he is not present everywhere to bless everyone. Stephen Charnock wrote that “there are several manifestations of his presence; he has a presence of glory in heaven, whereby he comforts the saints; [and] a presence of wrath in hell, whereby he torments the damned”.[5]

Marc Roby: And, as you noted earlier, he is a consuming fire.

Dr. Spencer: And he knows absolutely everything. So the people in hell will know that they are being justly punished. They will know that they did, in fact, reject God in this life. They chose to focus on earthly riches and pleasures rather than God. And, if they heard the gospel, they will have the added guilt of knowing that they rejected God’s offer of grace.

Marc Roby: We are told about that in 1 John 5:10, which says that “Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.”

Dr. Spencer: There is truth in the saying that the only people who go to hell are those who chose to go. But don’t misunderstand what that means. I’m not saying that anyone is given a simple choice between everlasting punishment and everlasting bliss with no other difference. If that were the case, I can’t imagine anyone choosing punishment.

But the choice is between standing on your own in the judgment, in other words, trusting in yourself, verses acknowledging that you are a wretched sinner deserving of wrath and acknowledging Jesus Christ as the only Savior and Lord, in which case you become a bond-slave to Christ. That is what it means for him to be Lord. He now has an absolute claim to your obedience in thought, word and action. So, although you cannot in any way earn your salvation, it is a free gift, it nonetheless costs you everything because receiving this gift makes you recognize that you are a dependent creature who is totally under the lordship of Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: We should point out that those who have not surrendered to Christ as bond slaves are not free, they are slaves of sin and Satan.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. The choice is not between autonomy and the lordship of Christ. Autonomy is an illusion. Those who think they are autonomous are being deceived. Paul tells us in Romans 6:16, “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?” When we are outside of Christ we can only sin, so we are slaves of sin. But, don’t think that Satan has to force people to sin. We all start off with a sinful nature, so that is our natural proclivity. All Satan has to do is provide the opportunities and make suggestions, we quite naturally take care of the rest ourselves. The paradoxical truth is that it is only when we surrender to become slaves of Jesus Christ that we experience true freedom.

Marc Roby: And what a glorious freedom that is! But it seems that we have once again gotten off topic. We were discussing God’s omnipresence.

Dr. Spencer: I’m not sure that we have been off topic. It is important to make the point that no one will escape God’s presence, his omnipresence is not always a pleasant thing. He will either be your Savior and Lord and, therefore, your greatest joy, or he will be your worst nightmare. But no one can avoid him. He created all things, he sustains all things and he will judge all things.

Marc Roby: OK, so we have been on topic then. What Scriptures can you adduce to show that God is omnipresent?

Dr. Spencer: The classic verse is Jeremiah 23:24, which asks a couple of rhetorical questions. We read, “Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?” declares the LORD. ‘Do not I fill heaven and earth?’ declares the LORD.” The obvious answers to these rhetorical questions are that no one can hide from God, there are no “secret places” he cannot see, and yes, God “fills” heaven and earth in the sense that he is present everywhere.

Marc Roby: That makes me think of Ephesians 1:22-23, which ascribe this incommunicable attribute of omnipresence to Jesus Christ. Paul wrote that “God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a great statement, which also provides evidence for the deity of Christ. Another good passage is Acts 17:27-28 where we read that God “is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being.” Which is again a poetic way of saying that God is everywhere. Also, in King Solomon’s prayer of dedication to the Temple in Jerusalem he asks and answers his own question about God; we read in 1 Kings 8:27, “will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!”

Marc Roby: That is a great verse. We need to remember that God is not some stone or wood idol. The temple in the Old Testament was not a place for God to dwell in the normal sense of that word, it was just a building. But its purpose was to remind the people of God and his law and to provide a place for them to come and worship him.

Dr. Spencer: Stephen Charnock makes an interesting comment on this verse, specifically about the statement that “The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain” God. He writes that as God’s “power is not limited by the things he has made, but can create innumerable worlds, so can his essence be in innumerable spaces; for as he has power enough to make more worlds, so he has essence enough to fill them, and therefore cannot be confined to what he has already created.”[6]

Marc Roby: All very true, and impossible to grasp fully. And I think we are out of time for today, so let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We look forward to hearing from you.

 

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God, Two Volumes in one, Baker Books, 1996, Vol. I, pg. 367

[3]Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, Vol. I, pg. 375

[4] Ibid, pg. 383

[5] Charnock, op. cit., pg. 370

[6] Ibid, pg. 376

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Mr. Roby:  Today Dr. Spencer is here to share with us his background and his personal testimony.  Hello Dr. Spencer, it is good to have you here.

Dr. Spencer:  It’s good to be here.

Mr. Roby:  We’ve known each other a long time, and I’m looking forward to the series you’re going to be teaching us.  But first, I think it would be helpful for our listeners to learn more about you and your personal testimony. Let’s start at the beginning – what was your childhood like?

Dr. Spencer:  I would describe my childhood as being one where religion played no significant role whatsoever. I don’t remember ever going to church as a family, other than for a wedding, and there were never any meaningful discussions about God, the purpose of life, or anything like that. I would describe both of parents as generally honest and hardworking, and it was expected that you would work hard and be honest, but there was never any serious attention paid to eternal issues. No discussions about what happens when you die or anything like that. I don’t remember my parents making specific comments about religion, or about people who believed in God, but I definitely grew up with the idea that a Christian, or any other religious person, was about 50 cards shy of a full deck, or had been brainwashed as a child, or had been through some terrible experience and used religion as a crutch to help them out. I had all these stereotypes in my mind. I went to church once with a friend in college, but it was a charismatic church with people jumping up speaking in tongues and it scared me. Other than that, I don’t believe I ever attended a church service outside of a wedding or funeral until I met Patti.

Mr. Roby:  It’s pretty amazing what God has done for you. Not only are you at church every Sunday now, but you’re an elder and minister here at Grace Valley.

Dr. Spencer:  It is definitely amazing, and I suspect that people who knew me when I was young would be shocked to say the least. I myself am shocked. The first time I ever attended Grace Valley Christian Center, after my wife started attending, I was so angry after hearing Pastor Mathew preach that I had the proverbial smoke coming out of my ears. I was extremely offended and angry. I would have gotten up and walked out on the sermon if it were way not too socially awkward to do so. He spoke as though he were preaching absolute truth, not just his opinion, and that is what offended me so deeply.

Mr. Roby:  How did you go from being offended and angry then, to real saving faith?

Dr. Spencer:  Well, the fall of 1991 was a time of great change in my life.  I had just finished working 75-hours a week, pretty much 52-weeks a year for five years to build up my research program at UC, and my application for tenure was submitted, which I was fairly confident it would be approved. So, I was at a point where I was re-evaluating my priorities in life. Patti had been attending Grace Valley Christian Center for a while, and I really didn’t like that.  My motive for examining my faith had nothing to do with seeking after God, it was nothing quite so noble. I wanted to be able to tell my children why the things they were being taught at Grace Valley were wrong and to decide whether or not I would continue to allow them to attend; I didn’t want them being brainwashed.

Mr. Roby:  Brainwashed is a loaded term.  So, what did you do?

Dr. Spencer:  Well, I started to do a lot of reading and thinking, and there were a couple of people in the church that I spoke with. At that time, I would have described myself as an agnostic but, like all agnostics, I lived as a practical atheist. I ended up spending the next nine months or so reading and thinking about God, the Bible and the gospel. I would have told you at the time that I was searching for truth, but I was really trying to convince myself that my agnosticism was the truth. I now realize that calling myself an agnostic was an intellectual smokescreen to avoid discussing, or even thinking about, God.  Fortunately, God used this time to cause me to see the glaring problems with agnosticism and atheism. In fact, by the summer of 1992 I had come to a very uncomfortable place. I was convinced that God must exist, but I was absolutely not willing to accept that he was the God revealed in the Bible. I had all sorts of arguments for why that God was unacceptable to me.

Mr. Roby:  So, you knew there was a God, but you weren’t ready to submit yourself to God as he has revealed himself in the scriptures.

Dr. Spencer:  Yeah, I think that describes it well.  But then, I received a letter from the man who had married my wife and I and with whom we had become good friends. I had had a number of conversations about God with him over the years, but these had always just been of intellectual interest to me. But that August, in 1992, as I was in this very uncomfortable place, my wife and I had visited his family and he and I had another one of our long conversations. I then sent him a letter with some of my questions and his letter was in response to mine. Anyway, the day after it came, on September 10, 1992, I read the letter first thing in the morning and it troubled me deeply, although I didn’t really understand why. He didn’t answer any of my questions about God directly, but just said that he sensed they weren’t the real issue. He spoke about who Christ is and what he did and confronted me with the question “Who do you say that Jesus Christ is?”  I didn’t know what to do about those thoughts, and I had a busy day ahead of me, so I set them aside and went on with my day.

Mr. Roby:  And I understand you had a life-changing experience later on that day.

Dr. Spencer:  That’s definitely a true statement. That afternoon I was driving across the causeway into Sacramento to run an errand, it was a beautiful fall day and I was driving along listening to music, and all of a sudden I got very cold and felt pressure all over, almost like when I used to scuba dive, especially if you went down to a 100 feet or so. At the same time, I had all of the questions I had been dealing with about God boiling around in my mind and, although I didn’t see any visions, it was as though Christ were standing in the middle saying “Who do you say that I am?” I was crying and wondering what was going on; I honestly thought that maybe I was going crazy. I also thought that I might get in an accident, so I pulled myself together and went on with my errand. Then, on my way home an hour or two later, again on the causeway, the same thing happened again. Much to my own surprise I found myself saying out loud – I would say against my own will, “Jesus, I want you in my life.” And the minute I said that, the pressure and cold stopped, the thoughts boiling around in my mind stopped, and I stopped crying. Now I really had no idea what had happened. I honestly thought that maybe I had just lost my mind.

Mr. Roby:  That sounds kind of like a Paul on the road to Damascus kind of experience. Then what happened?

Dr. Spencer:  When I got home that evening, I wasn’t sure what had happened, but I wanted to talk to my wife about it and go over the letter with her.  But I had firmly resolved in my own mind I was not going to say anything about what had happened on the causeway, because we had discussed Christianity a number of times over the years and I would challenge her faith and play devil’s advocate with her, so I didn’t want to get her hopes up that I had become a Christian. I was quite confident that I would come to my senses in a day or two.  However, I did want to talk with her about the letter I had received.

But, we went up and had dinner with my mother in Woodland that night and when we got home it was hard to get all of the kids to bed. It was one of those nights when as soon as you thought you had them down, someone would pop up and want some water or something. By the time we got them all down she was falling asleep. So, when I said that I wanted to talk, she didn’t really want to, but I said we needed to, so she said “alright”, and I told that I had received this letter. She said, “yeah, I know, I saw the envelope.” And I said, “well, I want to read it to you.” So, she said “OK”, but was expecting me to launch into an attack on Christianity I’m sure. So, I started trying to read the letter to her and started crying so hard that I couldn’t read. And she said, “I can read it”, and I said, “no, no, I need to read it”, so I pulled myself together enough to read it. And then, when I finished it, in spite of having firmly deciding not to say anything at all to her about what had happened, I even went further and found myself saying “I think I became a Christian today.” It was like the words popped out of my mouth in opposition to my own will. And she was kind of sitting there, waiting for the other shoe to drop, thinking that that was just the start of one of my attacks or something, and so she didn’t receive that right away the way you might expect. But, to make a long story short, we ended up spending the whole night talking and praying; it was as if we had never known each other before and were on a first date or something.

Mr. Roby:  The change you’re describing makes me think of Revelation 21:5, where God says, “Behold, I’m making all things new.” That’s what really happened, isn’t it?

Dr. Spencer:  It really is. And I think one of the things in this story that I always return to in my own mind because it clearly indicates the difference between somebody who has and has not been born again; is a few days before this experience, I had been reading a passage in the New Testament. I don’t remember which passage, I wish I did, but I remember thinking “This makes absolutely no sense, no thinking person could believe this.” And, the morning after this experience, which was September 11th, I sat down and read that passage over again and even though I don’t remember the passage, I distinctly remember the feeling; I thought, this makes perfectly good sense. I couldn’t even figure out why it didn’t make sense before.  It was just a complete mystery to me as to how it didn’t make sense before. It’s kind of like when you’re doing research and you work on a problem and work on it and you can’t quite figure it out, it just doesn’t make sense, and then something finally clicks, and now you can’t even reconstruct in your mind what it was that was so hard to understand before.

Mr. Roby:  That’s certainly one proof of a changed heart. Was there anything else you can recall that was a dramatic, immediate change after coming to faith?

Dr. Spencer:  Oh, absolutely. I was your classic Type-A personality faculty member and I would wake up, oh 2 or 3 times a week, at 3 or 4 in the morning with my mind boiling around with all the things I had to do that day, and then the mind spinning would turn into the stomach knotting and I would be forced to get up and go into my office at home and start working on those things. And, I still wake up early fairly often, but not once in the 25 years since that day have I awakened in that same state of anxious agitation.

Mr. Roby:  Well, speaking of Type-A faculty mentalities, a lot of your resistance to Christianity came from a settled atheistic viewpoint that stemmed, in part, from your scientific background. Tell us a little bit, please, about your education and professional background.

Dr. Spencer:  Alright, when I was a kid, my father had his own company, called Electro-Magnetic Filter Company, he was an electrical engineer, and I worked for that company from the time I was 13 or 14 on in the summers full time, along with some other jobs, like working at a gas station when I was in high school. When I finished high school, I actually didn’t want to be an engineer because I didn’t want to be like my father, who was a workaholic, so I started college as a history major. After a couple years of college however, I was working as an electronics technician to help pay for school, and it dawned on me that having a degree in history wasn’t nearly as good for a career as having a degree in electrical engineering, and that I liked electrical engineering even more, so I switched my major to electrical engineering. And then I worked as a technician and a non-degreed electrical engineer while I finished my bachelor’s degree at San Jose State, and then I went to work full time as an engineer in industry. But, after a few years of that I realized that I wanted to understand more, and the place I was working had a lot of PhD’s working there, and I also saw that they were doing things that were more interesting than the work I was doing, so I decided to go back to graduate school. And I was fortunate enough, actually through a miraculous intervention of God, to get into Stanford University and to go on to get my PhD there. I did some consulting during that time as well and, when I finished, I interviewed both in industry and academia, but my original reason for being a history major was that I wanted to teach, so it occurred to me that maybe I would like teaching. In fact, I had taught at a junior-college-level tech school for a while when I finished my bachelor’s degree, which was actually where I met my wife. And so, anyway, I accepted the job at UC Davis and started as a professor there in 1986.

Mr. Roby:  You’ve mentioned the job of professor at UC Davis, what, exactly, does that job entail?

Dr. Spencer: Well, I was a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, which means that I taught courses, both undergraduate and graduate, and also did research and supervised graduate students. My particular specialty, in case anyone is actually interested, was analog circuit design, mostly for digital communication systems. At any rate, I took that job in 1986 and worked there for a number of years. For a five-year period I held an endowed professorship, and I also served as vice-chair of the department for three years. In any event, looking back, I can clearly see how God providentially guided me to this position at UC Davis and then, eventually, to Grace Valley Christian Center.

Mr. Roby:  Amen. Having been saved in 92, how did you become an elder then at Grace Valley?

Dr. Spencer: Well, that again is a long story of course, and I don’t remember the exact year or anything, but certainly my first five or six years there I was just a young Christian and had an insatiable appetite I would say to read the Word of God and study it and so forth. And then, somebody at the church recommended that we bring in a particular person as a speaker, in what ended up being the beginning of what we called our Faith and Reason series. This person was going to come in and speak about scientific evidence for the existence of God, which we thought would be a good outreach to the campus, and I was kind of the spearhead for bringing this person, and then the elders came to me, in fact Associate Pastor Rev. Buddingh’ came to me, and said that the elders had decided it would be a good thing if I would teach an adult Sunday School class to prepare people for this guy’s coming. And so, I ended up teaching an adult Sunday School class that was really kind of on science, to prepare people for the sorts of things he was going to talk about. And then I think it was about a year or two after that I was asked to teach something else, and Pastor thought that he saw some ability there, and so I ended up teaching adult Sunday School and then eventually became an elder, and then through a longer sequence of events again, ended up retiring early from the university in order to work at the church as a lay minister and an elder.

Mr. Roby:  It’s truly incredible to see how God has used the same scientific background that initially helped you to suppress the truth, to now help you declare that truth. Thank you for sharing your conversion story and background with us. And I’m certainly looking forward to our future sessions, where we’ll have an opportunity to hear from you on What the Word of God says.

Dr. Spencer: Thank you, I’m looking forward to it as well.

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