Lou: What do you say to a person who says “Look, I just want to take the Bible as it reads! I read in the Bible that ‘God’s ways are inscrutable. How can anyone know the mind of God?’ (Rom 11:33) Now why can’t I just accept that statement and say, ‘Why have conversations about God? How can we even know God? I’ll just believe the Bible.’”
Graham: Depending on the person who is saying this, one might reply differently. Let’s assume this is a very devout person who really accepts the Scriptures. I would want to make the most of that. I would say, “Well, what about these other places in the Bible? Do you accept those too? Or do you just accept this one? ”
Lou: What other places?
Graham: Places like Romans 1 that say God can be known. In fact, this individual is accepting one verse in Romans and skipping another one. If that doesn’t work, then I might turn to a place that says “Give wine to the poor, that they may forget their misery” (based on Proverbs 31:6-7), and verses like that. Hopefully this individual will realize that you can’t simply “take the Bible as it reads.” Maxims like “here a little and there a little” (often taken out of context from Isaiah 28:9-13) are not sufficient for accurate understanding of the Bible.
When you say that you accept the Bible, you need to accept it all the way through. And probably that’s what the questioner meant in saying “I accept God’s word– if it says it, I believe it.” Then I would want to point to these other verses that say that God can be known. After all, if He can’t be known, why do we have all this content about Him in Scripture? Why did Christ come to make His Father known? The use or misuse of one little verse can lead us down all kinds of pathways I’m sure the questioner wouldn’t want to go.
Lou: So you are saying that the basic attitude of “I want to accept the Bible as it reads,” is a good attitude provided it takes the Bible as a whole, all sixty-six books, the total message of Scripture.
Lou: James 2 makes reference to how Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac demonstrates that he was a “man of faith.” Couldn’t you call it “blind faith” when Abraham set out to obey God’s request for him to “take your son and offer him as a sacrifice?”
Graham: Remember Abraham’s relationship with God. They were two of the best friends in all of history! Abraham knew God well. He had had a long experience with God. When God had asked him to do things before, it had always worked out well and it made sense in the end. So on Mount Moriah there was no blind faith on Abraham’s part. God asked him to do something that puzzled him a great deal. At the moment he couldn’t understand. But he said, “God, if it is You saying it (and I know You so well) I know that this will make sense at some point and you will provide some kind of solution, so I’m on my way.”
This is the kind of faith that says, “God, I’m on my way, but may I ask You why?” And as Abraham thought it through, he said to himself, “The One who gave me this son miraculously is able to resurrect him as well (Heb 11:19). Or maybe He will provide a substitute at the last minute (Gen 22:8).” So instead of the sacrifice of Isaac being blind faith, I would say he knew God well enough to go, and to know that God would provide a solution that made sense. And so it did.
Lou: But there was in that experience an element of uncertainty and pain. Would all this work out in the end? How would it all work out?
Graham: Abraham certainly wondered and questioned. Faith can include that kind of thing. And when we have found God to be trustworthy in the past, we are willing to obey Him when He asks us to do something beyond our present understanding.
Lou: I want to come back to James 2 again. James seems to be saying that faith alone is not enough. Does that mean that we also have to have works? And isn’t that getting back on dangerous ground?
Graham: I guess it depends on what we mean by “works.” Remember that the word for obedience means “a willingness to listen.” God does not expect perfect performance. Suppose I have just gone to my physician with an advanced case of arthritis, will he ask me to run the four-minute mile on the way home? Of course not! Instead, he helps me down the steps into my wheelchair. He says, “Walk a little further this week, take your medication, and be sure to come back.” What the doctor is really asking of me is “a willingness to listen and cooperate.”
I think to picture God as our Physician is the best model we could have. As with the physician, the performance God really desires of us is the willingness to listen. I might die the next day, but I’m going to die his trusting patient. And at the resurrection I will arise his trusting patient and all will be well. He knows we are too weak to perform perfectly. He wants us someday to be perfect: not just spiritually, but physically, mentally, socially, all those things. But He knows it is going to take a little time. What He wants right now is a sincere willingness to listen, without reservation. Then the healing is guaranteed. God has the ability to perfectly restore every one of His children. He has never lost a patient, except the patients who are unwilling to listen. But when we are willing to listen, Our behavior becomes more and more like God.