Conversations About God (4:4)
Even within Christianity, many suggest that God expects us to trust Him without evidence. They then call that faith, for “faith is believing without evidence.” Such blind faith is even called a notable virtue. Then religion goes on to suggest that the use of such methods (that is, to expect our faith and trust without evidence, just based on His claims and authority) is God’s perfect, sovereign right! And it should not be regarded as arbitrary, for He can do whatever He wants to do. And that’s the method He chooses. He expects us to trust Him without evidence and call that faith.
No! I believe with all my heart that God is infinitely powerful. He is the Sovereign. And He can run His universe any way He wishes—and He will, as Romans 9 makes very plain. But as we open up the sixty-six books of the Bible and ask God “How do You run Your universe? Do you ask your children to believe You without evidence?” I find precisely the opposite. I find Him warning us against believing mere claims.
Let’s look at some examples of these warnings. First, Deuteronomy 13:1-3, (RSV):
If a prophet arises among you, or a dreamer of dreams, and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder which he tells you comes to pass, and if He says, “Let us go after other gods” which you have not known, “and let us serve them,” you shall not listen to the word of that prophet or to that dreamer of dreams.
Then look at the extraordinary story told in 1 Kings 13. It’s about a young prophet, called the “man of God,” who was told by God to deliver a message to the king. After delivering the message, He was not to accept hospitality, and he was to go home by different route than the one he came. But as the man of God was heading home, an older prophet heard of what had happened between him and the king. And he asked his sons to saddle his donkey, got on it, and chased after the man of God. When he caught up with the younger man, notice what happened next:
The old prophet said to him, “Come home with me and eat bread.” And he (the man of God) said, “I may not return with you, or go in with you; neither will I eat bread nor drink water with you in this place; for it was said to me by the word of the Lord, ‘You shall neither eat bread nor drink water there, nor return by the way that you came,’ And he said to him, “I also am a prophet as you are, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the Lord, saying ‘Bring him back with you into your house that he may eat bread and drink water.’ But he lied to him (1 Kings 13:15-18, RSV).
The younger prophet believed the older prophet, and he went home and ate with him. And as he proceeded on his way he was met by a lion that slew him. The story warns us that people who make claims that God has spoken through them may be lying to us. And it’s God Himself who warns us of that.
You see, God seeks to convince us, not by authority or power, but on the basis of truth and evidence. The most impressive illustration of that was provided by Jesus Himself on the road to Emmaus. Two disciples were walking along that road, having a conversation about God. Luke 24:17-19, 27, 31-32, RSV:
But while they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them “What is this conversation which you are holding?” And they stood still, looking sad. . . . And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself. Later, when he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him.
Why did He not reveal who He was at the beginning? Then He could say, “What are your questions? You know that I will give you authoritative answers, and I will expect you to believe them.” Instead, He did not reveal who He was until He had led them to an intelligent confidence based on the unquestionable evidence of scripture. It was only then that He revealed who He was. If the Infinite One works like that, how dare we presume to take any shortcuts?
But hasn’t God often used a show of power? Among many other occasions, we could list the Flood, the thunder on Mount Sinai, the fire from heaven on Mount Carmel, and the plagues of Egypt. Each time He shows His power, we need to inquire very closely—“Why?” In Egypt, we understand why He showed His power. The ten plagues of Egypt were needed to demonstrate the impotence of those Egyptian gods. In those days, you judged the effectiveness of particular gods by the earthly condition of their worshipers. The Egyptians were in charge at that time and the Israelites were slaves. So obviously, to the ancient mind, the god of the Egyptians was more powerful than the God of the Israelites. Even the Israelites had come to believe it. But each of the plagues demonstrated the impotence of yet another Egyptian deity. For example, how can you revere a frog when you have been stamping on them all day and sweeping them up into stinking piles? One by one, through these plagues, the Egyptians got the message. They began to think that the God of the Israelites must be more powerful than their own. Some of the Egyptians even went out with the Israelites. And the Israelites began to think, “Maybe our God is not so weak after all.”
Now that is a very elementary perspective on God. But if you need reassurance of His power He will provide it. In fact, that’s the easiest thing for him to do, to show His power. And as we have seen, even the devil admits that He has it (Jam 2:19). Peter also deals with this issue in one of his letters. In 2 Peter 3 he tells his readers about people who think that the second coming is delayed because God doesn’t have the power to do what He has promised. To counter that view, Peter reminds them that God created the world in the beginning and that He drowned it in a flood. No one should draw the conclusion that God is waiting because He is weak (2 Pet 3:3-10).
It’s too bad that God ever has to reassure us of His power. But if we need such reassurance, He will do it. But while it is easy for Him to do, it is also highly dangerous! God has been accused of abusing His superior power. So every time that God uses His power, there is the hazard that we will misunderstand.