Conversations About God (4:5)
Does God, then, expect us to trust Him as a powerful stranger? Someone whose power we fear, lest He abuse it? Is that the relationship that He wants? Paul, who wrote so much about faith, especially in Romans, is very clear that God does not expect us to trust Him as a powerful stranger:
For the Scriptures tell us that no one who believes in Christ will ever be disappointed. . . . Anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. But how shall they ask him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? So how welcome are those who come preaching God’s Good News! . . . Faith comes from listening to this Good News—the Good News about Christ (Rom 10:11, 13-15, 17, The Living Bible).
They didn’t have personal copies of the Bible in those days, so for them it was all about listening, whereas today we might say reading about or learning this Good News.
Now where do we find this Good News if not in the biblical record? But how does one read the Bible in order to learn the truth about God—to discover whether or not He is worthy of our trust? One way is to go through the Bible and collect statements, sometimes known as key texts, which can be very helpful. But key texts, or statements, are claims about God. And God does not ask us to believe mere claims. God is love. God is this. God is that. Those are claims. But where is the evidence? The evidence is in between the key texts. The evidence is in the stories. And we adults do a very strange thing. We collect the claims, but give the evidence to the children. We hope they will understand how Samson, filled with the Holy Spirit, could kill a thousand men with the jawbone of an ass! We ourselves may not know what that means, but we hope the little dears will be able to understand it clearly.
Children are willing to accept statements and claims. “My daddy says it, and I believe it.” But as adults we usually demand evidence. As the children grow up they too become more demanding of evidence. Why do we give the evidence to the children while we ourselves collect the claims? Let’s give the claims to the children, and take the stories back. It’s time that we read the stories that the children spend so much time with. The stories are the demonstration of the truth about our God. The key texts, on the other hand, are like summaries of what the stories mean. They really are more like claims. So to know God better, to determine whether he is worthy of our trust, adults have to read all sixty-six books and ask of every story, teaching, and event, what does this tell me about my God?
As I mentioned earlier, I have had the privilege of leading people through the sixty-six books more than one hundred times. It takes about a year each time. One book a week. And on the authority of the sixty-six books, I am prepared to say in any company that I believe God is an infinitely powerful, but equally gracious Person who values nothing higher than the freedom, dignity, and individuality of His intelligent creatures. He desires that their love, their faith, their worship, even their willingness to listen and obey, may be freely given. And I believe that is supported by a very great weight of evidence and demonstration.
Of course some may say, “That sounds like too much work, I don’t have the time. Besides, isn’t faith a gift of God anyway? I rather like that shortcut. Let me just go to bed not trusting God but praying, ‘please give me faith,’ and wake up trusting Him with all my heart.” But put in that way it doesn’t make any sense, does it? Now faith is indeed a gift of God. But that doesn’t mean there is some shortcut to faith! We need to understand the gift of faith in the larger context of Scripture. Look at Gal. 5:22, KJV: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith.” No question about it, faith comes with the Spirit. But how does the Holy Spirit do this? How does He lead us to trust in God? Look at 2 Peter 1:20-21:
But first note this: no one can interpret any prophecy of Scripture by himself. For it was not through any human whim that men prophesied of old; men they were, but impelled by the Holy Spirit, they spoke the words of God (NEB).
Here’s another translation, just to show the variation with essentially same meaning:
You must understand that in the first place, that no prophecy in Scripture can be understood through one’s own powers, for no prophecy ever originated in the human will, but under the influence of the Holy Spirit men spoke for God (Goodspeed).
The meaning of the word “prophet” is someone who speaks for God, But whether these prophets spoke for their own time or about the future, they couldn’t do it without the Holy Spirit.
Jesus Himself gives an explanation of the work of the Holy Spirit in John, chapters 14-16. The title He uses for the Holy Spirit has been variously translated Comforter, Counselor, Advocate and Helper:
I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, who will stay with you forever. He is the Spirit, who reveals the truth about God. . . . The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and make you remember all that I have told you. . . . The Helper will come–the Spirit, who reveals the truth about God and who comes from the Father. I will send him to you from the Father, and he will speak about me. . . . When, however, the Spirit comes, who reveals the truth about God, he will lead you into all the truth.” (John 14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26; 16:13, GNB)
It is clear from the above texts that all three members of the Godhead are involved in the same work. Jesus’ unique role in that work is the focus of John 5:39, which describes the purpose of scripture: “You study the Scriptures, because you think that in them you will find eternal life. And these very Scriptures speak about me” (GNB)! You see, Christ came to reveal the truth about God. The Holy Spirit comes for the same purpose. The record of Christ’s revelation is in the Bible. The Holy Spirit is the one who moved some of our fellow believers to write the record. And the Spirit helps us to understand the record. The Holy Spirit even helps us to pray as we read (Rom 8:26-27).
So if we desire to know God, and learn the answers to the questions in the great controversy; if we want to see Christ; if we want to be open to the work of the Holy Spirit; if we want to let Him lead us into truth; there is only one way, and that is to read the Bible. As we read all sixty-six books we will discover the truth of Hebrews 1:1. God was demonstrating His character in many and various ways over a long period of time and under a great variety of circumstances:
In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son (Heb 1:1, RSV).
You don’t find claims in there. You find demonstration, over many centuries of time and certainly under a great variety of circumstances. The very length of the sixty-six books speaks well of our God. The Bible itself demonstrates that God is not trying to lead us to trust Him without evidence. If God offered us only claims, the Bible would be just a paragraph long. But instead, the infinite One has chosen to win His family by being a humble teacher. He stoops to meet us where we are, speaking a language we can understand. He leads us no faster than we are able to follow and runs amazing risks of being misunderstood. A teacher like that can be trusted.
Of course all of this assumes that the Bible itself can be trusted. And there are legitimate questions one can raise about this book. Do we have the right collection of sixty-six books? Have the words of those books been accurately preserved? Have those words been adequately translated into all the versions that we have today? And most of all, can we be confident that we know the meaning of the Bible?
In the next chapter, we will look at that topic briefly. I’ve spent some forty years concentrating on that subject, trying to equip myself to use all the tools for determining whether the Bible can be trusted and whether we can confidently understand the meaning. All I can say is I am absolutely convinced. But don’t believe it because I say so. God wouldn’t want it that way! I can only bear my testimony. I believe that God can indeed be trusted, and not just in some general way. He can be trusted specifically in those areas where He has been accused. He can be trusted never to be arbitrary, vengeful, exacting, unforgiving, or severe. But He doesn’t expect us to come to that conclusion without evidence. His existence, His character, the truthfulness of His word, are all established by a great amount of evidence. And it is evidence that appeals to our reason. This is God’s way of restoring trust, and a God like that can surely be trusted!