Weekend Broadcast

Self Existence

A Message by R.C. Sproul

God has always existed. He has neither beginning nor end. Such a concept may seem incomprehensible to our finite minds, yet as Dr. Sproul explains in this lesson, God’s self-existence is a logical necessity for anything to exist.

From the series: Defending Your Faith

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    The Great I AM

  2. blog-post

    In the Beginning God

  3. devotional

    God's Self-Existence

The Great I AM

Though Shakespeare’s Hamlet asked, “What’s in a name?” as if a person’s given name is wholly unimportant, we must keep in mind that a person’s name can be significant. We often can tell much about someone’s history from his name. A last name, such as “Carpenter,” for example, likely indicates the family profession involved woodworking at one time, even if the occupation was abandoned long ago.

In Scripture this is also the case. For instance, Abraham names the son of promise “Isaac” because the name means “laughter,” recalling the time his parents laughed at the idea of having a son (Gen. 17:17; 18:12). Yet not only are the names of men important in the Bible, God’s name also reveals much about His nature.

Today’s passage recounts the Lord’s encounter with Moses at the burning bush. Having heard the cries of His people (Ex. 2:23–25), our Father appoints Moses to lead Israel out of Egypt. When Moses asks Him to reveal His name, God replies “I AM” (3:1–14).

“I AM” is in Hebrew Yahweh, otherwise known as the tetragrammaton because of the four consonants (yhwh) that make up the phrase. It is the holiest name for God in the Old Testament, and it is for use by the covenant people. That the Lord has a name at all indicates He is personal and has a real relationship with mankind.

God’s name is in the present tense; He says “I am,” not “I was x, but am now y.” Our values or knowledge change, but the Lord remains the same (James 1:17). He is never inconsistent; we can therefore count on His wrath for sinners and His mercy for the repentant.

As we have seen, the difference between our life and the Lord’s is in how He exists. It is in God that we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). Today’s passage confirms this. If the universe were to cease to exist, the Lord would live on; He does not need the universe, for He Himself upholds all things (Job 34:14–15). God is not contingent or derived; He has the power of being in Himself. He is self-existent, depending on nothing else for His life. This is known as the doctrine of aseity.

In the Beginning God

R.C. Sproul

When Genesis speaks of a beginning, it is referring to the advent of the universe in time and space. It is not positing a beginning to God but a beginning to the creative work of God. One of the most enigmatic questions of philosophy and theology relates to the nature of time. Was the universe created in time, or was it created along with time? Did time exist before creation, or did it come into being with creation? Most classical theologians affirm that time correlates with creation. That is, before matter was created, time, at least as we know it, did not exist. How one approaches this question of the origin of time is usually bound up with how one understands the nature of time. Some see time not as an objective reality but merely as a category or construction of the mind.

However we conceive of time, we can agree that the ordinary manner by which we measure time requires a relationship between matter and motion. A simple clock uses hands that move around the face of a dial. We measure time by the motion of these hands. Or we may use an hourglass, which measures time by the passing of sand through a narrow aperture in the glass. The sundial measures time by the movement of a shadow. There are many devices to measure time, but in the final analysis they all rely on some sort of motion relative to some type of matter.

If there is no matter, we cannot measure motion. If we cannot measure motion, we cannot measure time. However, just because we cannot measure time without matter does not mean that without matter time does not exist. Genesis merely asserts that the universe had a beginning. It does not explicitly declare that time began with the universe. That concept is derived via speculative philosophy. The philosophical concerns are usually linked to our broader understanding of the nature of God. Especially when we declare with Scripture that God is eternal, the question of His relationship to time arises. Does His eternality mean that He is somehow outside of time, that He is timeless? Or does His eternality mean that He exists in an endless dimension of time?

If there ever was a time when absolutely nothing existed, all there could possibly be now is nothing. —R.C. Sproul

However we answer this question, we conclude that God Himself never had a beginning. He exists infinitely with respect to space and eternally with respect to time. His existence has neither a starting point nor an ending point. The dimensions of His existence are from everlasting to everlasting. This means that He always has been and always will be.

In the Beginning God

Because God Himself had no beginning, He was already there in the beginning. He antedates the created order. When we affirm that God is eternal, we are also saying that He possesses the attribute of aseity, or self-existence. This means that God eternally has existed of Himself and in Himself. He is not a contingent being. He did not derive from some other source. He is not dependent on any power outside Himself in order to exist. He has no father or mother. He is not an effect of some antecedent cause. In a word, He is not a creature. No creature has the power of being in and of itself. All creatures are contingent, derived, and dependent. This is the essence of their creatureliness.

In the Beginning God Created

Thinkers hostile to theism have sought every means imaginable to provide a rational alternative to the notion of an eternal, self-existent deity. Some have argued for an eternal universe, though with great difficulty. Usually the temporal beginning of the universe is granted, but with a reluctance to assign its cause to an eternal, self-existent being. The usual alternative is some sort of self-creation, which, in whatever form it takes, falls into irrationality and absurdity. To assert the self-creation of anything is to leap into the abyss of the absurd because for something to create itself, it would have had to exist before it existed to do the job. It would have had to be and not be at the same time and in the same relationship. Some speak of self-creation in terms of spontaneous generation, which is just another name for self-creation. This would involve the logically impossible event of something coming from nothing. If there ever was a time when absolutely nothing existed, all there could possibly be now is nothing. Even that statement is problematic because there can never be nothing; if nothing ever was, then it would be something and not nothing.

Excerpt from God's Love by R.C. Sproul. Available now from the Ligonier Store.

Copyright 2012 R.C. Sproul. God's Love published by David C Cook. Publisher permission required to reproduce. All rights reserved.

God's Self-Existence

We conclude our study of the relationship between science and theology with an examination of aseity — the doctrine of God’s self-existence. Aseity is the view that God is entirely self-sufficient and not dependent or contingent upon anything else. In other words, He is the eternal, independent, and personal cause of the universe.

Some thinkers appeal to self-creation in order to account for reality while denying God’s existence. As self-creation is illogical, others attack the concept of causality itself. An appeal to the philosophy of David Hume is often made to prove that uncaused effects do exist.

Using his famous illustration of a pool table, Hume stated that we never perceive the immediate cause of anything that happens. True, we strike a cue ball with a pool stick and believe the ball moves because of the impact. However, this does not prove striking the ball causes it to roll across the table. All we have seen for sure, Hume said, is a relationship of contiguity ­— a relationship where one event follows another in sequence. We assume the cause behind the effect but cannot be certain that something else did not cause the ball to move. Perhaps an unseen force was the actual cause of movement (as Christians, we answer Hume’s skepticism by saying both the cue stick and the unseen force of God’s decree make the ball roll).

In any case, Hume did not deny that causes exist, he just believed we cannot determine what they are. The law of causality still holds true: “Every effect must have a cause.”

In order for anything to exist, an uncaused something, or someone, must exist. It is not an uncaused effect that must exist, for there can be no such thing. Self-creation, an uncaused effect, may be an illogical contradiction, but a self-existent, “uncaused cause” is not.

This “uncaused cause” must have the power of being within itself — it must exist in and of itself. This cause must be eternal, for that which does not exist cannot later bring itself into existence. Moreover, this cause must be personal for an impersonal one could not create personal beings. Only a personal, self-existent God can answer the question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?”

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