Otsego Festival Question Series: Is it Possible to Know God?

If the word “exists” was tacked on to the end of the question, my answer would go an entirely different direction.  But it isn’t.  My answer, then, presupposes the existence of God.  There are at least two levels at which one can know a person.  The first is the level of facts.  The second is the level of relationship.  Let’s explore both the factual and relational levels.

Is it possible to know God at the factual level?  The answer is yes.  In fact, many people do.  We might call this the Wikipedia level.  You can open your internet browser, type in “God” and you will get a link to a Wikipedia article on God.  It will provide all kinds of information (not all correct, I might add) about God including general conceptions of God, His attributes, and so on.  You could compile all of these facts about God and then be able to answer a few trivia questions.  However, at the end of the day you would only know God at a factual level.  This is looking at God more as an object than a subject.  One author illustrated the difference between knowing a person as an object or subject this way:

A young man could try to get to know a young woman by gaining access to her medical records, her academic transcripts, and her bank statements. He could compile lists of the places she goes and the people she sees. When she hears from his friends that he claims to know her, however, and she discovers the personal details that he has amassed, she is not likely to feel flattered. She is more likely to feel violated, and she would have every right to say, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” She might even take legal action to prevent his stalking (Kevin Bauder, “Knowing Facts and Knowing Persons,” “In the Nick of Time,” August 19, 2011).

Many people know God at the Wikipedia level, which is a great starting point—assuming their facts are right—but insufficient.  It is not uncommon for people who have been confirmed or who attend church regularly to have only a superficial, factual knowledge of God.  If facts are the measure by which one knows a person, then I can say I know Barack Obama.  The reality is that we all know there is more to knowing a person than merely gathering information about them.  This leads us to the second level at which we can know God.

We can know God at the relational level.  We cannot dismiss the importance of knowing facts about a person as entirely irrelevant.  It is an important starting point—again, assuming the facts are accurate.  For instance, it is quite prudent for a husband to know his wife’s date of birth; her likes and dislikes.  But for a relationship to blossom it must go deeper.  As a husband and wife disclose more about themselves to each other, trust develops and intimacy deepens.  This is what knowing someone at the relational level looks like.  The Bible teaches us that God desires to have a personal relationship with you and me.  Listen to Revelation 3:20:

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

Wow!  God desires to enjoy time together with us!  So much so that He has initiated the invitation!  He seeks and invites people to commune with Him (Revelation 3:20), to delight in Him (Psalm 37:4), and to find their satisfaction in Him (Psalm 73:25).  There are few places where this is clearer than in the well-known verse, John 3:16,

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Notice that God’s love initiated a relationship by acting first: He sent his only Son, Jesus.  God intended to provide a means of reconciling us to Him by sending His Son into the world.  Reconciliation is a relationship term, which signals that there was once strife, animosity, and severe tension but now they are no longer looming over the relationship.  Reconciliation leads to peace, which is not merely the cessation of hostility but the reconciliation of two parties who were once enemies.  Our sins have separated us from God according to Isaiah 59:1-2.  They were immoral grenades we cast at heaven, as it were.

Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; [2] but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.

But when God sent His Son, He provided a means of reconciling us to Himself, even though we were His enemies.

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life (Romans 5:10).

Reconciliation and peace with God didn’t come cheap.  Jesus died a cruel death to pay the penalty our sin required.  The good news is that Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from the dead three days later accomplished the payment for sin.  Thus reconciliation with God is possible.  Two passages in the Bible support this:

For in him [Jesus Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, [20] and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. [21] And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, [22] he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him (Colossians 2:19-22)

And

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:12-13).

If we are going to move beyond a shallow factual knowledge of God to a genuine, deep relationship with Him we can only do so through His Son, Jesus Christ (see John 14:6-7).

So in summary, we can know a person at two levels: factual and relational.  While facts are a good starting point, we inherently recognize the deficiency of knowing someone merely at the factual level.  We were created relational beings.  The most important relationship that any person can enter into is a relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ.  We do this by repenting of our sins which separate us from God and placing our trust in Christ’s death and resurrection as our only hope for reconciliation with God.  If you’re interested in learning more about having a personal relationship with God, please view this five
minute video
.

Otsego Festival Question Series: How Do You Know God Is Real?

In January of 2005, Bobby Henderson, an Oregon State physics graduate, sent an open letter to the Kansas School Board. This was when the school board was debating over whether or not intelligent design should be taught in science classes. He wrote:

We have evidence that a Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe. None of us, of course, were around to see it, but we have written accounts of it. We have several lengthy volumes explaining all details of His power. Also, you may be surprised to hear that there are over 10 million of us, and growing. We tend to be very secretive, as many people claim our beliefs are not substantiated by observable evidence.

The school board did not respond to the letter, but when he posted it on the internet, it became an instant hit with some 350 million hits since it was posted. It was intended to be a spoof; a tongue-in-cheek response to claim that Intelligent Design (ID) is not science. Whether one can lay claim that ID is science, I am not qualified to say but I have a sneaking suspicion that there is a problem with the claim that the Flying Spaghetti Monster is the creator of all things. Henderson’s point is that if it lacks evidence, it cannot be taught as science and should be disallowed. What this means is that if God lacks evidence, creationism should also be discredited and not taught.

The line of reasoning for Flying Spaghetti Monsterism seems to be:
1. There is no evidence for the existence of God.
2. There is no evidence for the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
3. Therefore, belief in the Judeo-Christian God and belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster are on equal epistemic grounds. (This means the evidence through which we verify their existence is equal).

The problem is that the first premise, there is no evidence for the existence of God, is an a priori rejection of any evidence, were it given. I contend that God is real and there is evidence for the existence of God. If we could find forensic evidence that would support the existence of God, the fingerprints of God, as it were, in the world, we can list at least three: God’s creation, God’s word, and God’s Son

The Bible assumes the existence of God. What this means is that the Bible is not an apologetic for the existence of God, rather it reveals who God is and how He works in the world. It is like a person’s biography. The biographer does not take the first chapter to provide proofs of the individual’s existence. The biographer clearly assumes the existence of the person about whom he is writing.

While the Bible assumes the existence of God, there are some places where evidences of God’s existence are found. It may be that these proofs are incorporated throughout the Bible because God Himself is invisible (Exodus 33:20; 1 Timothy 1:17; Hebrews 11:27).

1. God’s creation
The first fingerprint of God in the world is creation. Personally, I find this to be a compelling argument for the existence of God. To observe (what we can observe) about creation points us to the intricate, artistic mind of a Creator. This is, in fact, intentional according to Psalm 19:1.

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

It is the height of folly to credit evolutionary chance with the order of the natural world and its beauty.

The microscope and the telescope have given us entry into whole new worlds and universes. Yet before we had these, all we had to do was look up with what we can see with the naked eye. So the Apostle Paul says to the men of Athens

Yet God is actually not far from each one of us (Acts 17:27).

How could Paul say this?  Because of creation!  According to Romans 1:20, no one can plead ignorance concerning the existence of God when they have the gigantic canvas of creation to behold.

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

Michael Newdow, known for suing to have the words “under God” removed from the pledge of allegiance, argued that if he could not see, hear, touch, or smell God he does not exist (Hal Seed, The God Questions, 23).  While creation is not God, it lets us know that a Creator exists.

2. God’s word
The second fingerprint of God in the world is the Bible. Hebrews 1:1 make the clear statement: “God spoke!”

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke . . .

God’s word provides us what we know about God. The Bible is the collection of what God has revealed that He wants us to know,

All Scripture is breathed out by God . . . (2 Timothy 3:16)

When you consider the time span as well as the number and diversity of authors of the Bible, the internal consistency is flawless and difficult to explain other than attributing it to its Divine Author.

To be sure, its accuracy does not prove the Bible to be divine—human beings are also sometimes quite accurate—but it is what we should expect if the Bible is the result of God’s effort (James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, 59).

3. God’s Son
The third fingerprint of God in the world in Jesus Christ. There are very few who would deny that Jesus of Nazareth existed. In fact, even the most liberal of scholars seek to disprove His claims more than His existence because His life is so well documented. But throughout history people have longed to know what God is like.  In fact, if one could not see God one wanted to make a representation of Him, which God forbids in the second commandment in Exodus 20:4.  Remember Philip’s question to Jesus in John 14:8,

Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’

There is a desire for something greater in every person (incidentally, we call this “the image of God”).  Also consider Colossians 2:9.

For in [Jesus] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.

This means that Jesus was fully God and as such He can truly manifest God to us.

No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known (John 1:18).

And

He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation (Colossians 1:15).

Not only has God spoken as I mentioned above, but He has spoken to us through His Son according to Hebrews 1:1-2,

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, [2] but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

In conclusion, there are at least three fingerprints of God in the world: God’s creation, God’s word, and God’s son. To reject the existence of God has several severe consequences:

  • To reject God’s existence and authority over us is the height of folly.

The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’ (Psalm 14:1).

We could add “for me” at the end of the fool’s statement, “There is no God” to express the idea of the statement.

  • To reject God’s existence is to reject for that which we were made, we exists for Him (1 Corinthians 8:6).

yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist.

  • To reject God’s existence is to reject the creative power of salvation and spiritual renewal He provides in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17-18)

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. [18 ] All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;

I’ll conlcude my answer to this question with an anecdote.

In The Dust of Death Os Guinness makes this point [that the key to knowledge of God eludes us if God does not exist or if the failure to know God is God’s fault] by describing a comedy skit performed by the German comedian Karl Vallentin. In this routine the comic comes onto a stage illuminated only by one small circle of light. He paces around and around this circle with a worried face. He is searching for something. After a while a policeman joins him and asks what h has lost. “I’ve lost the key to my house to my house,” Vallentin answers. The policeman joins the hunt, but the search eventually appears useless.
“Are you sure you lost it here?” asks the policeman.
“Oh no!” says Vallentin, pointing to a dark corner. “It was over there.”
“Then why are you looking here?”
“There’s no light over there,” answers the comic.
(Os Guinness, The Dust of Death (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 148 in Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, 28-9).

God does exist and He has revealed Himself so that we can know Him. But we must look where He can be found. Those places are creation, the Bible, and Jesus Christ. Each of these cast a brilliant light on the existence of God.

Otsego Festival Question Series: When You Die Where Does Your Spirit Go?

This question is related to what theologians call the intermediate state, the time after death but before the resurrection.  The Bible describes this condition as an intermediary state when the spirit is without the body.  After death the physical body is normally placed in a grave where it will decay, i.e. “return to dust.” 

By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return (Genesis 3:19).

Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. [39] Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days’ (John 11:38-39).

For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption (Acts 13:36).

That the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God (Romans 8:21).

Though the body decays, the spirit lives on.

and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7).

For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead (James 2:26).

The Apostle Paul also affirms the division of the spirit from the body at death in 2 Corinthians 5:8 and Philippians 1:23-24,

Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord

I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. [24] But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.

When a person’s spirit leaves the body at death, it departs to one of two destinies. Catholics hold to the doctrine of purgatory as a third possible destiny, but this is not supported anywhere in the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testament. According to Catholic teaching purgatory is a place for,

all who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven (Catechism of the Catholic Church [New York: William H. Sadlier, Inc., 1994], §1030). 

This is based on the tradition of the councils and the Apocrypha in 2 Maccabees 12:46,

Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin. 

Evangelical Christians reject the doctrine of purgatory because the Bible is clear in presenting two destinies, not three.  In any case, the spirit of an unbeliever goes to Hades to suffer conscious torment according to Luke 16:22-24 until the second and final death as found in Revelation 20:13-14

The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, [23] and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. [24] And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame’ (Luke 16:22-24)

And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. [14] Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire (Revelation 20:13-14). 

Hades or Hell is a place of outer darkness (Matthew 22:13), fire (Matthew 5:22; Jude 7), where the worm does not die (Mark 9:48), conscious torment (Matthew 13:40-42; Luke 16:23, 28; Revelation 20:10); it is eternal (Matt 25:41, 46), and worst, it is irrevocable separation from God (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9).  This is a horrific and terrible place—it is dreadful.

The spirit of a believer, on the other hand, goes to Paradise in the presence of God.

And [Jesus] said to [the thief on the cross next to Jesus], ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise’ (Luke 23:43).

And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows (2 Corinthians 12:3).  

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. ‘To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God’ (Revelation 2:7).  

Paradise is an Edenic and idyllic place—it is glorious!  

Ultimately, there will be a resurrection of both the just and unjust,

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt (Daniel 12:2).

Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice [29 ] and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment (John 5:28-29)

But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, [15] having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust (Act 24:14-15).

For one to understand what the Bible says about where one’s spirit ultimately ends up is incredibly important for two reasons.  First, it reminds us that though our bodies die, our spirits lives on forever.  So we need to be ready for the life to come.  The Bible does not teach that we simply cease to exist after we die, known as annihilationism.  Second, it sets before us the sober truth that if we reject Christ, God will reject us forever. Jesus said in John 12:48,

The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.

On the other hand, those who humbly receive Christ can claim the same promise the thief on the cross obtained when Jesus said,

Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise (Luke 23:43). 

In conclusion, death is biblically defined as separation, when the spirit departs from the body.  One’s spirit departs to one of two final destinies.  The spirit of the unbeliever goes to Hades—a horrific and terrible place—it is dreadful!  The spirit of the believer goes to Paradise—an Edenic and idyllic place—it is glorious!  Following the final resurrection of the righteous and the unrighteous, both soul and body will continue in their final destiny forever.  Be ready!

Otsego Festival Question Series: What is it Like in Heaven?

To begin with the word “heaven” or “heavens” is used in two ways in the Bible.  First, “heaven”/”heavens” is used in the sense of the expanse of space above the earth: the blue sky above us and the black sky even further above us (e.g., in Genesis 1:1; Psalm 19:1; Matthew 5:18; 11:25).  Second, “heaven”/”heavens” is used in the sense of the eternal dwelling place of God and the final destiny of all believers.  I am assuming that the question uses the word “heaven” in the second sense.

So what is heaven like?  There is no place more magnificent than heaven.  The notion of heaven is almost universally embraced—and understandably so.  It is the hedonist’s paradise.  But why is it so glorious?  We want to be careful about confusing the benefits of heaven with the sine qua non of heaven.  For instance, Revelation 21:4 explains that tears, death, mourning, crying, and pain will be no more in heaven.  These, as precious as they are, are the benefits of living in a reality where the presence of sin is banished.  But what makes heaven heaven?  The Bible gives a clear answer to this question.  Heaven is heaven because God is there.  God is the sine qua non of heaven.  God is heaven’s Temple and God’s glory provides heaven’s light according to Revelation 21:23,

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. [23] And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.

Without God, there is no heaven.  Just as physical death is separation of the spirit from the body (Ecclesiastes 12:7; James 2:26), so spiritual death is eternal separation from God (2 Thessalonians 1:9).  Heaven is delighting in the presence of God for all eternity.  Believers will live in unspeakable bliss in the presence of God forever (1 Thessalonians 4:7).  Heaven also offers believers the assurance that they will be reunited with infants and believing loved ones who died before them.  Jonathan Edwards, the 18th century American pastor and theologian wrote,

The progress of time does but bear them on to its blessedness; and us, if we are holy, to be united to them there.  Every gem which death rudely tears away from us here is a glorious jewel forever shining there.  Every Christian friend that goes before us from this world, is a ransomed spirit waiting to welcome us in heaven.  There will be the infant of days that we have lost below, though grace to be found above.  There the Christian father, and mother, and wife, and child, and friend, with whom we shall renew the holy fellowship of the saints, which was interrupted by death here, but shall be commenced again in the upper sanctuary, and then shall never end (Jonathan Edwards, Heaven—A World of Love, 18).

The only way we can authoritatively know what heaven is like is by discovering what the Bible says about it (not by interviewing people who’ve had near-death experiences or even someone who has spent 90 minutes there, as intruiging as this might be).  There is no better place to turn to for this information than Revelation 21-22:5,

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. [2] And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. [3] And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. [4] He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” [5 ] And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” [6] And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. [7] The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. [8 ] But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” [9] Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” [10] And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, [11] having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. [12] It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed— [13] on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. [14 ] And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. [15] And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. [16] The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. [17] He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement. [18] The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, clear as glass. [19] The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, [20 ] the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. [21] And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass. [22] And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. [23] And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. [24] By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, [25 ] and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. [26 ] They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. [27 ] But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.[22 :1] Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb [2  through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. [3] No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. [4] They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. [5] And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. 

Finally, it is absolutely critical that we understand one final point.  Jesus is the only way to heaven! Jesus said in John 14:1-6,

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. [2] In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? [3] And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. [4] And you know the way to where I am going.” [5] Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” [6] Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (emphasis added).

Who would not want to go to heaven based on what the Bible says about it.  But there is only one way to get there—through Jesus Christ.

Otsego Festival Question Series: Can Some People Receive the Love of God Without Being Aware?

The question is only partially provided on the post title.  Here’s the entire question: “Can God forgive someone who hasn’t ‘accepted him into his/her heart’ (not really a Biblical phrase, correct?)?  Can some people receive the love of God without being aware?”

I’d like to answer this question in two parts.  The first part will deal with the secondary question, is ‘accepting God/Jesus into your heart’ Biblical terminology.  The second part will deal with the primary question which is, can someone receive the benefits of salvation unknowingly? 

First, is ‘accepting God/Jesus into your heart’ Biblical terminology?  I will deal briefly with this because it’s a secondary matter to the question at hand but something worth briefly addressing.  The ‘accepting God/Jesus into your heart’ terminology is not Biblical.  You will not find the phrase employed in the New Testament to describe the new birth.  We are converted when we “repent and believe” not “accept Jesus into our hearts.”  The phrase captures the ethos of revivalism—Jesus meekly waiting, knocking, just hoping we will come to Him.  This sentiment is reflected in song written by Will Thompson, “Softly and Tenderly,”

Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,
Calling for you and for me;
See, on the portals he’s waiting and watching,
Watching for you and for me.

Refrain:
Come home, come home;
ye who are weary come home;
earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
calling, O sinner, come home!

Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading,
pleading for you and for me?
Why should we linger and heed not his mercies,
mercies for you and for me?
(Refrain)

Such phrases communicate (or wrongly communicate, as the case may be) the nature of conversion.  “Accepting Jesus into your heart” is theologically vapid and should be avoided.  We should use Biblical terminology such as “repent and believe.”

and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’ (Mark 1:15)

testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21)

As I said, I wanted to deal briefly with this.  If you’re interested, you can read some additional thoughts from Al Mohler, the President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.   In short, you are correct in saying that “accepting Jesus into your heart” is not a Biblical phrase. 

Okay, onto the second part which deals with your primary question, which I believe can be summarized by, “Can someone receive the benefits of salvation unknowingly?” You phrased your question this way, “Can some people receive the love of God without being aware?”  The answer to this is that in a sense everyone is a recipient of the love of God whether they know it or not according to John 3:16,

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son . . .

When God gave His Son for us (cf. Romans 8:31-32), in a sense, every person (in “the world”) received the love of God.  But this is one piece of the puzzle.  That Jesus died on the cross for the world (1 John 2:2) does not mean that the entire world is a recipient of the saving benefits of the cross.  In this way, the love of God is similar to the grace of God.  Theologians have made a distinction between common grace and special grace.  God’s sustaining care is grace common to all according to Hebrews 1:3,

. . . he upholds the universe by the word of his power.

Every person benefits from God’s natural provision of sun and ran as stated in Matthew 5:45,

For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

While God’s common grace is bestowed upon all, special grace is not.  Special grace is the grace by which God saves His people. 

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
(Ephesians 2:8).

No one becomes a child of God without knowing it.  God grants the believer spiritual life and the gift of faith (Titus 3:5; Ephesians 2:8-9).  The notion of a universal “Divine Spark” is impersonal while Christianity is about an active and volition personal relationship with God through Jesus.  John 1:12 affirms, 

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,

In conclusion, the phrase ‘accepting God/Jesus into your heart’ is not Biblical terminology.  It is better to employ the language of the Bible which is “repent and believe.”  Concerning the question, “can someone receive the benefits of salvation unknowingly?”  The Bible says no.  Conversion entails a work of God in supplying us spiritual life and the gift of faith so we actively believe in Jesus.

Otsego Festival Question Series: If Eve Didn’t Have a Belly Button How Did Her Baby Survive?

Hmmm.  The question presupposes that Eve did not have a belly button so it goes beyond the more common inquiry, “Did Adam and Eve have a belly button?”  The problem is that the question as stated is not how things work physiologically.  Eve’s baby would have developed like any other baby whether or not Eve had a belly button.  So when Cain was in Eve’s womb (Genesis 4:1) he had an umbilical cord connected to the life-giving placenta until after birth.  Since this is family friendly blog, I’ll leave it at that.  But in case you feel robbed because my answer is so short, let me leave you with this little tidbit.  If it’s true that Adam and Eve did not have a belly button, then it turns out that one of mankind’s most nagging suspicions has not been without merit after all—belly button lint is indeed a result of the fall.

Otsego Festival Question Series: Are There Rainbows in Heaven?

There are two Bible verses that mention rainbows in heaven.

Revelation 4:3 mentions a rainbow around the throne of God.

And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.

Revelation 10:1 mentions a rainbow over the head of an angel. 

Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire.

So based on these verses, the answer to your question is: maybe.

You’ll notice that in both verses there is a singular reference “a rainbow,” not a plural reference, “rainbows.”  And yes, these verses clearly use the word “rainbow.”  So here is why my answer is maybe.  I don’t think it’s a stretch to understand your use of the word rainbow as a multicolored arc we see in the sky.  Here’s the rub.  The word “rainbow” in these two verses comes from the Greek word iris.  This is where we get our English word “iris,” such as the “iris” of the human eye which defines our eye color or “iris” as a plant genus with many colorful species under it.  According to an authoritative Greek lexicon the word iris means, “an arc or circle of light, whether colored or not” and could also be translated “halo” or “radiance” (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Christian Literature, 480).  So do the rainbows mentioned in Revelation 4:3 and 10:1 refer to the colorful rainbows we’re used to seeing in the sky or are they a halo of light without color?  Well, the reference in Revelation 4:3 seems to include color because it says that the rainbow “had the appearance of an emerald” suggesting that it is green.  As for the rainbow over the head of the angel there is simply no mention of color. 

I will offer one final note on the significance of rainbows.  Rainbows have more than mere sentimental value.  The rainbow is significant because it is the sign of the covenant the Lord made with Noah in the Old Testament after the worldwide flood.  Genesis 9:8-17 provides the details of this covenant,

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, [9] ‘Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, [10] and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. [11] I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’ [12] And God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: [13] I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. [14] When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, [15] I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. [16] When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.’ [17] God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.’

It appears that the rainbow mentioned in Genesis 9 is the same rainbow, a multicolored arc, we’re used to seeing in the sky.  Every time we see a rainbow, then, it is God reminding us that He will never destroy the world by a flood again.  God is gracious in dealing with mankind and faithful to keep all His promises.  The rainbow is therefore a reminder of the graciousness and faithfulness of God.

In conclusion, there are two verses in the Bible that mention rainbows in heaven though it is difficult to determine if they are the same multicolored rainbows we’re used to seeing.  However, the significance of the rainbow is important.  It is a sign of God’s promise to deal graciously and faithfully with mankind.  Now that’s something that adds color, even to rainbows.