Consider this quotation from one of the most popular sitcoms of the late 2000s. "You see, the universe has a plan kids, and that plan is always in motion. A butterfly flaps its wings, and it starts to rain. It's a scary thought but it's also kind of wonderful. All these little parts of the machine constantly working, making sure that you end up exactly where you're supposed to be, exactly when you're supposed to be there. The right place at the right time." In this monologue, the writers have attributed a theological principle (providence) to an impersonal thing, the universe. It is a transcendence without personality.
Why does the world choose this way of thinking? The world is squeezed between two desires. They must reject the Biblical concept of God. He demands obedience of them. On the other hand, without God, they are alone in the universe. Things are bigger than they and these bigger things scare people. We want something bigger than us to take care of the bigger scarier things. This thinking appears in the movie, Signs. Consider this quotation from this movie. "I'm sure the people in group number two are looking at those fourteen lights in a very suspicious way. For them, the situation is a fifty-fifty. Could be bad, could be good. But deep down, they feel that whatever happens, they're on their own. And that fills them with fear."
What do you do if you want something like God to protect you from the big baddies of the universe, but don't want the rules? You create an impersonal deity, a power without personality. Personality means relationship. You don't have a relationship with a rock. You don't really have a relationship with the universe. The universe doesn't make demands of you. You may construct a morality based on karmic principles (do good to get good), but that morality is defined by a subjective idea of good and evil.
Christianity understands that you cannot have a transcendence to hope in without personality. An impersonal power which has no relationship with you also has no interest in your welfare. God, as the Bible reveals Him to be, loves His people and relates to them in a close and personal way. Any conception of life in the universe He created must begin with Him.
Before we move on to the principles by which we calculate the Christian response to the changing evils of the world, we must deal with the nature of God. We will be delving into the various attributes, so far as they impinge upon the nature of our question (How to live Christian in an unchristian world?) later. We need to form an overall vision of God before we analyze the various attributes. Without the broader strokes, the particulars will loose their focus. In proverbial terms, we will lose the forrest for the trees.
For a good basic understanding of God, we turn to that functional summary found in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. "God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth." Of this definition, we will address the attributes of wisdom, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth later. Here we want to remember those adjectives that modify those attributes along with God's nature (being) as Spirit.
"God is a Spirit..."
The spiritual nature of God can be expressed simply, but not exhaustively. The children's catechism can accurately express it in the simple phrase "and has not a body like men." The Westminster Confession of Faith adds little: "invisible, without body, parts, or passions." From this, we learn that God is not physical since He created physicality through His word. We learn that any scripture that speaks of God's physicality, (arms, hands, nose, etc.) must be understood as an anthropomorphism. This figure of speech allows us to understand what must in some sense be incomprehensible, the activity of a non-physical being in a physical universe.
We must address the issue of the emotional component of God's being. As those who are made in His image, we possess an emotional life. The Bible speaks in emotional language about God's relationship with His creation. We then must function as if God has some component of emotional life at least with regard to His relationship with His people. The Westminster confession does not deny this when it says that God has no "passions." They do not deny that God has strong emotions. They deny that God has uncontrollable emotions. All God's emotions are just responses to His creation.
"...infinite, eternal, and unchangeable..."
We can attempt to explain the infinity of God with the theories of physics and natural sciences. If we take the universe as a closed system of time and space, God exists without it, yet operates within it. If we think of time as a progressive line, God looks at it all. In the end, however, we have no language to describe God's relationship to the universe He created. We are bound by our language necessarily to describing things in the known reality. All we can say with certainty is that God is not bound to time in the way we are. He has declared the end from the beginning, ordaining everything that comes to pass in a way beyond human understanding.
In the way that the catechism uses these words, "infinite" refers to size and "eternal" refers to time. They were not thinking of Einstein's space/time theories. They were simply thinking of the Bible's reference to the bigness and endlessness of God. The greater our understanding of the physical world grows, the larger idea of God we develop. Since the Bible describes the being of God as greater than His creation, we must always understand Him always better than we could ever imagine.
The writers of the Catechism chose this word from the prophecy of Malachi. (Mal. 3:6. For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.) What can we conclude about a God who does not change? This concept was revealed to assure God's people that their relationship with God was not susceptible to the ravages of time. God would not get bored of them or tire of their repeated retrograde morality. They sinned often and often God's wrath appeared against them, and still the people of God remained in the world. His promises were sure and not changeable as creation. He never changed His mind about what He would do or who He chose to save.
Broadly speaking, the unchangeableness of God locally proceeds from the relationship God has with time discussed previously. It denies the working of time on God bur affirms that God works on and in time. The appearance of change in God's relationship to man must be understood as another anthropomorphism. How this works can be illustrated by analogy, but we will not do so.
The cause of this hesitance comes from the importance of the relationship between man and God revealed as dynamic. Our relationship with God changes because we change. Yet to relate to God, we must do so in a dynamic way, because that is what makes sense to us. The unchangeableness of God gives us assurance that we will never be excluded from God's love, but extended over the entirely causes great confusion due to our finite perspective. How do we whose whole language and perspectives flow in the stream of time hope to confidently describe the relationship of God to time who is not caught in the stream?
We now approach a critical division in our conception of God. We can apprehend concepts about God's nature, but we cannot comprehend them. One has put it this way. We can describe elements about God but cannot scientifically explain them. We can grasp the unchangeableness of God, but cannot exhaustively explain it. To attempt to do so leads to more problems than it solves.
Here we end with the block on the human intellect in the concept of God's "being." This refers to the nature of God. The answer to the question, "What God is made of?" To this answer, man must understand the limits of his mind. The Bible sets that limit for us. "The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law." (Deuteronomy 29:29) There are elements of God's nature that He has not revealed to us. There are element of God's nature that He has revealed that further investigation leaves us confused and puzzled. We profess that God is triune: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We also profess that God is one. We can express this but any attempt to scientifically, philosophically, or precisely to explain it has historically, inevitably led to heresy.
We are to accept the revealed nature of God. He is who He declares Himself to be an no other. We accept that He has a personal relationship with His creation. He has revealed that He loves His people, those He chose from before the foundation of the world to set His love upon. He has called them to a different way of living. He has revealed that pattern of life in the scripture. This pattern directs how we are to live Christian in an unchristian world.