(Ash Wednesday, March 6. 2019)

Keith Ward in his Why There Almost Certainly Is a God (Lion: 2008) critiques the views of Richard Dawkins and others on the question of the existence of God.

A highly respected philosopher and theologian, Professor Ward raises questions about the dubious nature of materialism. ‘Most of us (philosophers) do not want to deny that material things exist,’ he writes, ‘but we are no longer sure of what matter is. Is it quarks, or superstrings, or dark energy, or the result of quantum fluctuations in a vacuum?’ (p.14) ‘What is the point of being a materialist when we are not sure exactly what matter is?’ he asks. ‘It no longer seems to be a set of simple elementary particles… What this means is that materialism no longer has the advantage of giving us a simple explanation of reality’ (p.15).

He also raises questions about the problem of consciousness, namely, ‘how conscious states – thoughts, feelings, sensations and perceptions – can arise from complex physical brain-states …’ (p.16). He further asks, ‘Do we know that no consciousness could exist without being tied to … a physical process? … There might be a consciousness that came into existence in some other way’ (apart from a physical process) (p.17).

Following a carefully developed analysis of a scientific and materialistic explanation for our existence, he observes, ‘But perhaps materialism is the greater delusion. Consciousness is the most evident sort of existence there is, and it is not necessarily bound to matter. It will then be very natural for finite consciousness to have an affinity with the spiritual consciousness of God, and sharing in the divine awareness is their most natural form of existence.’

‘Immortality is not a fiction invented to compensate for an unhappy life,’ he comments. ‘It is the perception that our conscious lives are not bounded by space and time, and that they find fulfillment in union with a supreme spiritual reality that seems, even during this life, to take us beyond the limits of time’ (p.96).

It is this spiritual reality that the Lenten readings from John’s Gospel open up for us.


John 1:1-5, 9-14, 18

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…

9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…

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


With his opening verses, the gospel writer John introduces us to ‘the Word’. He tells us who the Word is and from where he comes; we learn that he is truly God (1:1), eternal (1:2), the creator of all things and the source of our existence (1:3); he opens our eyes as well as opening the way to the spiritual dimension of life (1:4). He was God, and yet with God – by himself the Word is not the full complement of the Godhead. With such a philosophical preamble, verse 14 is alarmingly and shockingly tangible!

The Word of God, whose very nature and existence is eternally divine, has taken on human form. John is telling us that he and his fellow apostles saw what Moses only glimpsed, namely, the glory of God personified. For the first time in history, God had revealed himself in person (1:18). The grace and truth of God had become incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ.

But there is an ironic tragedy: left to ourselves we reject the Word and his light. We prefer to live in the darkness of our own egos. We need God’s work of grace within us to open our eyes to the truth (1:5-13).

In his opening section (1:1-14), John introduces us to a counterintuitive idea: there is more than one Person who makes up the One God of the Bible. Throughout eternity God exists in relationship and, in that relationship delights in giving life and light. Christianity we begin to see is not a religion of works but of relationship – one that is grounded in the surprising grace of God.


Blessed Lord, you have caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning: grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, that, encouraged and supported by your holy Word, we may embrace and always hold fast the joyful hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. (1662 Book of Common Prayer, Advent 2)

Daily Reading Plan

Read John 1:1-18