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Self-Existence

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
June 13, 2024 12:01 am

Self-Existence

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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June 13, 2024 12:01 am

What did God mean when He said to Moses, "I AM who I AM"? Today, R.C. Sproul contemplates the Lord's aseity or self-existence.

Get R.C. Sproul's Teaching Series 'Defending Your Faith' on DVD and the Digital Study Guide for Your Gift of Any Amount: https://gift.renewingyourmind.org/3391/defending-your-faith

Meet Today's Teacher:

R.C. Sproul (1939-2017) was known for his ability to winsomely and clearly communicate deep, practical truths from God's Word. He was founder of Ligonier Ministries, first minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew's Chapel, first president of Reformation Bible College, and executive editor of Tabletalk magazine.

Meet the Host:

Nathan W. Bingham is vice president of ministry engagement for Ligonier Ministries, executive producer and host of Renewing Your Mind, host of the Ask Ligonier podcast, and a graduate of Presbyterian Theological College in Melbourne, Australia. Nathan joined Ligonier in 2012 and lives in Central Florida with his wife and four children.

Don't forget to make RenewingYourMind.org your home for daily in-depth Bible study and Christian resources.

Renewing Your Mind is a donor-supported outreach of Ligonier Ministries. Explore all of our podcasts: https://www.ligonier.org/podcasts

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The existence of God, if anything exists, is rationally necessary. That is, if something exists now, reason demands that we come to the conclusion that something has always existed, that something somewhere has the power of being within itself, or we simply could not account for the existence of anything. Again, I remind you, if there was ever a time when there was nothing, absolutely nothing, what could there possibly be now, except nothing? As irrational and illogical as it is, I did grow up believing that billions of years ago there was nothing, and then it exploded and created everything. I didn't think about it.

I didn't question it, and your neighbors likely don't either. So how do you have a conversation with someone and help them realize, as R. C. Sproul just said, that if there ever was a time when there was nothing, there would be nothing here today? You're listening to the Thursday edition of Renewing Your Mind, and this week you're hearing messages from Dr. Sproul's very popular series, Defending Your Faith, which is his overview of apologetics. Well, because there is something here today and not nothing, we know that there must be something or someone who is self-existent and eternal.

Here's Dr. Sproul to explain. As we continue now with our study of apologetics, we recall that what we've been examining in the past lectures are the options and the alternatives to give a sufficient reason to explain reality as we encounter it. And we've looked at the first option that it is an illusion, and we have eliminated that possibility. Then the second one, we looked at in great detail, was that reality is self-created. And when we examined that, we saw from an analytical perspective, from a logical analysis, this is a self-defeating idea.

That is, it is absurd by definition because it's rationally impossible. Then the third alternative we looked at was that the universe is self-existent or created by something ultimately that is self-existent. Now, with the concept of self-existence, we understand immediately that of the four alternatives, already we've established that there must be something, somewhere, somehow that's self-existent because we've eliminated the others by the impossibility of the contrary. Now, then we're going to have to discuss where and what it is that is self-existent. But first of all, I want to just look at the concept of self-existence. And the first thing we want to ask is this question, is it possible for anything actually to be self-existent? We've seen that it's logically impossible for something to be self-created, again, because for something to create itself, it would have to exist before it was, and it would therefore have to be and not be at the same time in the same relationship. And so logic eliminates this as a rational possibility. Now I'm asking the question, is the idea of something's being self-existent and eternal a rational possibility? Now, there have been times in the past in the history of philosophy when some people have gone so far with reason that they have actually argued that if anything can be conceived of rationally, it must in fact exist in reality.

That's not what we're going to be trying to demonstrate now. For example, I can conceive of the existence of a unicorn. We have the ability to abstract, combine and relate ideas and disassemble them and then reassemble them, putting horns on the noses of horses and that sort of thing, borrowing from the rhinoceros where we do see a horn on the nose of an animal, and we can transfer that to a duck if we want to, and conceive of a duck with a horn on its nose.

Or you maybe have been in certain sporting goods stores where you will see on the wall the heads of deer with their antlers, and then alongside of them you'll see a rabbit's head with antlers coming out of the top of it, because some taxidermist came up with the idea to implant deer's horns in the skull of a rabbit, as if somebody had actually shot a rabbit with a wonderful deer's rack on its head. That is, we can conceive by taking apart certain aspects of animals and reconfiguring them and coming up with ideas of rabbits with horns or with the horse with the horn in terms of the unicorn. But just because it is rationally conceivable to have a unicorn does not mean that such animals exist. But you can't deny the possibility or the reality of unicorns on the grounds that they are rationally impossible. We've denied self-creation on the grounds that it is rationally impossible. So now we're asking now, is self-existence a rationally possible idea? Now, when we put together or side by side these two ideas, self-creation and self-existence, they seem so similar that some people will respond and say, well, if self-creation is rationally impossible, so self-existence must also be rationally impossible. And if we're going to account for reality, we're going to have to make a choice here between two rationally impossible or inconceivable ideas. And so what difference does it make whether you go to self-creation or self-existence?

Well, here's the difference. There is nothing illogical whatsoever about the idea of a self-existent eternal being, that is, of a being that is not caused by something else. Remember we said at the beginning that one of the problems we have in the discussion of the existence of God is that some people misunderstand the idea of the law of cause and effect, saying that it means that everything must have a cause.

And I said, no, the law of causality says every effect must have a cause, because an effect by definition is that which has been produced by something outside of itself or beyond itself. But the idea of an uncaused being is perfectly rational. Now, just because we can conceive of an uncaused being, something that exists in and of itself from all eternity that is not caused by something outside of itself, does not mean that it would indeed have to be, just because we can conceive of it. But all I'm saying at this point is that we can conceive of the idea of a self-existent eternal being without violating rationality. So I'm saying that reason allows for the possibility of this, while it does not allow for the possibility of self-creation. Now, I just said a moment ago that just because I can conceive of the rational possibility of a self-existent being does not mean that it in fact exists, because theoretically we could say that it is rationally conceivable that nothing would ever exist.

Let me say it again. It is rationally conceivable that nothing exists now and nothing ever existed. However, once we take that step that we took at the very beginning of this construct, that if something exists, then that changes everything. Because if something exists, then the idea of self-existent being becomes not only possible, but necessary.

Let me say it again. If there is anything that exists, now the idea of something that is self-existent becomes not merely a rational possibility, but it becomes a rational necessity. And so let me explore that idea in a little bit more detail by, again, putting the idea of self-existence, which in theology we call the attribute of aseity, that is that something exists in and of itself.

It is uncaused. It is uncreated. It differs from everything in the universe that has a cause that is dependent or derived. And so this idea of a self-existent eternal being that has the power or aseity means it has the power to be in and of itself. Or another way of saying it is that it has the power of being in and of itself. It doesn't gain its existence or its being from something antecedent to itself, but it has it inherently.

And because it has it inherently, it has it eternally. There was never a time that a self-existent being did not exist. If it did, then it would be not self-existent.

It would have to have been created by something else. And so a self-existent being is by definition one that always has been. So in any case, as we look at this idea of self-existence, we're now saying that it exists not only, possibly from a viewpoint of reason, but also necessarily. Now when St. Thomas Aquinas was arguing for the existence of God in his day, one of his five arguments was an argument for God from the principle of necessary being, so that in theology God has been called the ends necessarium, that being whose being is necessary. Now there can be a little bit of confusion at this point.

It gets a little bit complicated, so we're going to have to think carefully now and closely. When philosophers and theologians speak about God as necessary being, there are two distinct ways in which God is described as a necessary being. The first way He's described as a necessary being is that He is necessary by virtue of rationality, or to say that the existence of God, if anything exists, is rationally necessary. That is, if something exists now, reason demands that we come to the conclusion that something has always existed, that something somewhere has the power of being within itself, or we simply could not account for the existence of anything. Again, I remind you, if there was ever a time when there was nothing, absolutely nothing, what could there possibly be now? Accept nothing, because ex nihilo, nihil fit, out of nothing, nothing can come unless it comes by itself, creating itself, which is a rational impossibility. Now, I realize at this point that there are going to be people who say, wait a minute, science now shows you that you can have, through quantum physics and quantum mechanics, something coming from nothing. Science shows no such thing. Science shows things that are mysterious, things that you can't fit into your present paradigms.

I'll agree with that. But to argue for something from nothing is not only not good theology, not good philosophy, it's not good science either, because it's manifestly absurd. But we know that something exists now. So that means there could never have been a time when there was absolutely nothing.

There's always had to be something. Now, so far we haven't demonstrated that it's God, but we're only arguing at this point that there must be something that has the power of being within itself and has always been there. And because that is a being whose being is necessary logically, it's a logical necessity that we postulate such an idea of self-existent being. Again, we began with the rational possibility of self-existent being, but given the thesis that there is something that exists now rather than nothing, then that takes us to the next step that there must be a self-existent being through rational necessity. So that when we talk about God being a necessary being, in the first instance what we mean by that is that His existence is a necessity of rational postulation. Reason demands the existence of a self-existent, eternal being. And that's very important for the Christian who's trying to defend their faith, because let me just say as an aside right now that the guns of criticism against Judeo-Christianity are aimed and focused almost exclusively at the idea of creation and the idea of a Creator. Because if you can get rid of creation and get rid of a Creator, then the whole concept of God collapses. And so people are trying to argue that if you're going to be rational and scientific, then you have to believe in a universe without God.

What we're trying to do is turn the guns around and say to the people out there that are saying that they need to turn the guns in on themselves and realize that what they are postulating as an alternative to full-bodied theism is manifest irrationality and absurdity. That reason demands that there be necessary being. But that's only one way in which we define the idea of necessary being.

That is, it is rationally necessary. Now, the other way in which we define necessary being, as St. Thomas Aquinas did, is that this being has what we call ontological necessity. Now, here it gets a little bit more abstract, a little more difficult if you're not a student of philosophy. I've already defined this term ontology before, but we're going to take the time to go over it again.

Ontology is the study or the science of being. So when we say that God is ontologically necessary, we mean by that that He exists by the necessity of His own being. He doesn't exist because reason says He has to exist. He exists eternally because He has the power of being in Himself in such a way as that this being cannot not be.

That's the difference between us and God. We say that God is the Supreme Being, and we say that we're human beings, but the difference between the Supreme Being and the human being is being, is that my being or my existence is creaturely existence by which I am a dependent, derived, contingent creature. I cannot sustain myself forever. There was a time when I was not. There is a time when my life and the form in which I'm living it now will undergo some kind of transition.

I will in fact die. Right now for me to continue to exist in my present state, I need to have water, I need to have oxygen, and I need to have a heartbeat and brain waves and so on. I am dependent upon all of these things in order to continue to exist. A hundred years ago, there was no R.C.

Sproul. I did not exist. Now I exist. I have a beginning in time, and my life can be measured in terms of time. And not only that, but the whole process or progress of my life is a life of constant generation and decay, of change, of mutation, which is the supreme characteristic or attribute of contingent beings or creatures.

They change constantly. Whereas that which has self-existent eternal being is changeless because it is never losing any of the power of its being, nor is it gaining anything in the scope of its being because it is what it is eternally, and it's not that it borrows or adds something to itself after five hundred years of eternity. It has being itself within its own power. That's what we mean by a self-existent eternal being whose being is ontologically necessary.

That is, it cannot help but be. Pure being is dependent upon nothing for its continuity of existence or its origin of existence. It's not in a state of becoming, as Plato understood. It's in a state of pure being, and pure being cannot not be. That was behind, by the way, in shorthand thinking Anselm's ontological argument that reflect an attribute only of one being, the most perfect being conceivable. Can it be said of that being that it cannot not be?

It must be in reality as well as in the mind, but that's another story. But in the meantime, this is the link we have with biblical theism. This is how God reveals Himself with His sacred name to Moses in the Midianite wilderness, when God calls Moses out of the burning bush and sends him on this mission to Pharaoh to liberate the people of Israel. And Moses now, in his amazement, watching this bush that is burning but not being consumed and hearing this voice speaking to him out of the bush, calling him by name, saying, Moses, Moses, put off your shoes from off your feet, for the ground where on your standing is holy ground. Moses' first question he asks God is, who am I that I should do these things?

That's the first question. He didn't want to know who he was. But then very quickly he moved to the big question when he says to God, who are you? Who shall I tell the people of Israel has authorized me to ask them to go on this act of rebellion against Pharaoh? Who shall I say to Pharaoh, says, let my people go? And God answers him by giving him his sacred name, his memorial name, the name by which he is known from all generations, by saying to Moses, Yahweh, which being translated means I am who I am.

I am is sending you. You see, not I was or I will be or I'm in the process of change or becoming, but I am who I am. He uses the verb to be in the present tense. This is the name of God, the one whose being is always present, eternally present, and eternally unchanging, without whose being nothing else could possibly be.

That was R.C. Sproul on the great I AM, the self-existent one. You're listening to Renewing Your Mind, a daily outreach of Ligonier Ministries. With Christianity under attack from almost every walk of life, it's important that Christians not only stand firm, but that we know how to defend what we believe. Dr. Sproul's 32-message series Defending Your Faith was designed to help you do just that, and we'll send you the 11-DVD set, plus give you lifetime digital access to the messages and study guide when you give a donation of any amount at renewingyourmind.org, or when you call us at 800-435-4343.

The study guide includes study and discussion questions to help you apply what you learned, so visit renewingyourmind.org or click the link in the podcast show notes to request your copy of this series with your donation of any amount. As R.C. Sproul has argued for the existence of a self-existent and eternal something, there are some who will nod along at this point, but they'll argue that this something is the universe and not God, and that's the view that R.C. Sproul will respond to tomorrow, here on Renewing Your Mind. you
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-06-13 03:40:10 / 2024-06-13 03:47:46 / 8

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