Tag Archives: Maxwell

How We Got the Sixty-Six

Conversations About God (5:3)

To orthodox Jews, the ones who had the Bible first, the Scriptures consisted of only the thirty-nine books that make up the Christian Old Testament many of us are familiar with. Sometimes the thirty-nine were combined together and counted as twenty-four or twenty-two. It all began with Moses and the first five. When Moses came down Mount Sinai, carrying the Ten Commandments, his face was shining so brightly they couldn’t even look at him. It’s no wonder that when he said, “I am giving you some dependable messages from the Lord,” there was every reason to take those messages seriously. So they built up a collection of the first five books. These became known as The Law or The Law of Moses. These five became a standard or rule among the Israelites, like a miniature canon.

Later on other prophets wrote books, and they were all measured by the first standard: The Law of Moses. By and by a prophetic collection developed and we had The Law and the Prophets. And then other books came along known as The Writings, or The Psalms. These were compared with The Prophets and with The Law until finally there were thirty-nine books, divided into three canons: The Law, The Prophets and The Writings; or The Law, The Prophets, and The Psalms, (since Psalms was the first book in the third canon).

The New Testament consistently recognized these three canons without any question as to their dependability. Look at what Jesus told His disciples in Luke 24:44: “Everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled” (RSV). There are times in the New Testament when writers shortened The Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms down to just The Law and The Prophets. Sometimes they shorten it clear down to simply “The Law.” So sometimes in the New Testament “The Law” means the whole Old Testament.

Look at some examples of these. First of all, in Matthew 5:17, 18 “the law and the prophets” means the whole Old Testament:

Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I’ve not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished (RSV).

Sometimes we make the mistake of assuming that “the law” in verse 18 must be the Ten Commandments. But Jesus is actually talking about the whole Old Testament under the name of “The Law.” Another illustration of that is the reference in John 10:34: “Jesus answered them, `Is it not written in your law, “I said you are gods?”‘” (RSV). Jesus was quoting Psalm 82:6 here, but He called the Psalms “your law.” And He goes on to declare His confidence in the Old Testament: “Jesus answered, . . . ‘We know that what the scripture says is true forever’” (John 10:35, GNB). It seems to me that Christ’s confidence in the Old Testament should be of great significance to a Christian.

You can see these three canons of Scripture; The Law, The Prophets and The Writings, developing already in Old Testament times. Look at Isaiah 8:19, 20:

When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony, if they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn (NIV).

“The law and the testimony” is another way of referring to the five books of Moses and to the prophets. Bit by bit, the canon of the Old Testament was developing. Each book was tested. Does it measure up to the rule? Zechariah 7:12: “They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets” (NIV). Eventually the New Testament was measured by the same canons and the same rules.

Note the books that are in these three canons. The Law includes Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The Prophets include Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, and all the twelve so-called Minor Prophets up to Malachi. And then the Writings, or the Psalms, include the Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah and Chronicles. Yes, to our surprise, Daniel was included by the Jews in the Writings rather than the Prophets.

You add to these thirty-nine the twenty-seven in the New Testament canon and you have the sixty-six books of the Protestant Bible.

Inspiration and the Sixty-Six

Conversations About God (5:2)

First of all, let’s briefly consider the question: Do we have the right collection of sixty-six books? Some Bibles, particularly those used by our Roman Catholic friends, have many more books than that, and these books together are usually called the Apocrypha. In Catholic Bibles the dozen or so books of the Apocrypha are often not collected in the middle, but scattered throughout the Old Testament. Now what do you do when you are visiting a friend who has a Bible with these extra books and that individual has confidence that his or her Bible is the inspired word of God? Are you going to say, “Well, your version is not inspired but mine is?” Would using 2 Timothy 3:16 clear up the question of whose Bible is inspired? “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching. . . .” (2 Tim 3:16, RSV). Does that settle the question? What books are being referred to as “all Scripture?”

In the King James Version 2 Timothy 3:16 is familiar to many, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God. . .” But the early editions of that same Bible contained all those extra books that are in the Roman Catholic Bibles. In fact the Apocrypha remained in King James Bibles until 1827. And the reason it was left out in 1827 was that the British and Foreign Bible Society decided that it didn’t have the funds to continue circulating those Apocryphal books along with the sixty-six books of the Protestant Bible. So quoting 2 Timothy 3:16 in the KJV won’t settle the question.

Luther was the first translator to gather these extra books together and put them in the middle, between the Old and New Testaments. His influential German Bible version had much to do with the rise of the Reformation. As a Roman Catholic translating from the original, he had to decide whether or not to include the extra books that were scattered throughout his Old Testament. So he gathered them together and put them in the middle with the following notice: “These books are interesting and useful to read, but not for doctrine.” Then when he turned his attention to the New Testament, you may remember, he came to four books that he couldn’t fit in there too well either. He didn’t call them Apocryphal, but saw in them less authority because they “didn’t teach Christ.” So he put Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation at the end, where they remain to this day in German Bibles.

If you are in a Roman Catholic home, of course, your Catholic friend may say, “Well, my Bible has that verse (2 Tim 3:16): ‘All Scripture is inspired of God’ and since this is my Scripture that verse proves the inspiration of the Apocrypha.” Before you answer, it is important to know that the Greek of 2 Timothy can be translated another way, and I believe the context dictates that it be so translated. Look at how the New English Bible puts it: “Every inspired Scripture has its use for teaching the truth. . . .” (2 Tim 3:16, NEB). That means there is such a thing as “uninspired scripture.” You see, it is very likely that Timothy’s Bible was the Greek Old Testament, which contained these extra books. And that’s why Paul had to say to Timothy, “Timothy, you have many books in your possession, but only that scripture which is inspired of God is profitable. . . .”

Notice the total context of what Paul wrote to that young pastor:

But for your part, stand by the truths you have learned and are assured of. Remember from whom you learned them; remember that from early childhood you have been familiar with the sacred writings, which have power to make you wise and lead you to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every inspired scripture has its use for teaching the truth and refuting error, or for reformation of manners and discipline in right living, so that the man who belongs to God may be efficient and equipped for good work of every kind (2 Tim 2:14-17, NEB).

Chapter 5: “The Record of the Evidence”

This blog begins chapter five of the book in process Conversations About God. It originated as a series of lectures by Graham Maxwell in 1984. After each lecture Maxwell took written questions from the audience mediated through the pastor of the Loma Linda University Church at the time, Lou Venden. This marvelous series has never been put into book form, so I am attempting to do so and sharing the results in progress here with permission from the Maxwell family. The words that follow are Maxwell’s oral presentation, edited by me.

This chapter is the fifth in a series that looks at our heavenly Father in the larger setting of the great controversy over His character and government. Without the Bible we would know nothing about this controversy. Neither would we know about God’s infinitely skillful and gracious handling of this conflict—this crisis of distrust in His family. We have been assuming all along that the Bible can be trusted. But there are legitimate questions that can be raised, and have indeed been raised, through the years. How do we know that we have the right collection of sixty-six books? How do we know that the words of those books have been accurately transmitted through the ages? How do we know that they have been adequately translated? Can you trust the versions of the Bible? And most important of all, can we have any confidence in our interpretation of these books and these words? When we have read it through can we say, “I really have seen dependable evidence about my God?”

Questions and Answers (4:4)

Lou: The question has come up in connection with Revelation 12, where it speaks about Michael and His angels. Someone wanted to know a bit more about Michael. Who was Michael?

Graham: It’s good to raise the question; because in the Apocrypha there are a number of suggestions as to who Michael might be. But in the Bible all the references to Michael the archangel point in one direction. For example, it says in Thessalonians that the dead will arise at the voice of the archangel (1 Thess 4:16), but the gospels say they will arise at the voice of the Son of Man (Christ—John 5:28). Jude 9, then, not only connects “the” archangel with Michael, it connects the archangel Michael with the resurrection of Moses. This combination of texts ties the archangel, Christ and Michael together as the same person.
But there is more to it than that. The name Michael means “who is like God,” or “the one who is like God.” And the name is only used of Christ in places like Daniel, Revelation and Jude, where the great controversy is involved. So when the leader of the loyal side is referred to, he is called “the one who is like God”: Michael. The leader on the other side would like to be like God, but is not (see 2 Thess 2:4 and Rev 13:4). So I like it that Jesus is called Michael when He is operating in the great controversy setting.

Lou: That’s an interesting play on words there. We now have two questions from different individuals about perfection. Let me read through them rather quickly. First. “You said that as trust in God grows, we behave more like God. That is, we move more toward being God-like or being perfect. Can we be perfect in this present world? If not, when can we expect to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect? If we can be perfect here, can we be recognized as being perfect, and will everyone have the same degree of perfection?” Let me add this one: “You mentioned that when we get to heaven we might possibly have a lot to learn. Does this mean that while we are sinless, or perfect, we can still make mistakes?” People want to know about perfection.

Graham: Fortunately we will deal with this at some length in chapter 14, “God Can Completely Heal the Damage Done.” Some may want to read ahead. I think these are important questions, because a misunderstanding of perfection is a heavy burden and puts God in a very bad light. Now I believe God can perfectly heal the damage done by sin. No question about it. And perfection also needs to be understood in terms of maturity and growing up. We will need to be so settled into the truth that we can survive the time of trouble. But as far as mistakes are concerned, a mistake is not a sin. In the hereafter, you could plant your pomegranate tree too close to where you are living, and the Lord may come by later and say “You know, you put it too close, didn’t you? You might as well move it.” That is not a sin. Sin is rebelliousness. Sin is distrust. Sin is not “making mistakes.”

Lou: But if God is waiting for us to grow up in Him, won’t He have to wait forever? Because there are always people being converted; is that why time goes on? When are we going to grow up?

Graham: It’s true that there will be conversions right along, and we might wonder how a child in the faith could grow up to this maturity that we talked about. If God is not going to allow the closing events to occur until He has a generation like Job, mature enough in the truth to pass through the time of trouble, He might be waiting a long time. But I think we have assumed it takes a very, very long time to grow up from rebirth to maturity. Yet when Paul wrote to the Ephesians, he suggested that they could have been grown up much sooner (Eph 4:11-16).
A few years later in Hebrews he said, “By now you should be teachers, but I see you are still babes in the truth” (Heb 5:12-13). I think that we should encourage people to believe they can grow up from rebirth to maturity much sooner; and it would be a much more exciting experience. You know, when we’re baptized, many of us think, “I’ve launched myself on sixty-five years of slow sanctification.” Instead, I’d like to think, “Why not grow up as quickly as possible and be settled into the truth?” But when we have an unreachable, forbidding conception of perfection, we think “Well, I’m not going to make it anyway.”
In my understanding, the biblical concept of perfection is when an individual is completely convinced of this truth about God. You don’t need to be sixty-five years old to be convinced, that could happen even at the age of twelve. If Satan came to a convinced twelve-year-old as an angel of light, or even as “Christ,” and said God is arbitrary, vengeful, unforgiving and severe; they would respond, “That’s not true and I will not believe it.” Perfection is being so settled in the truth about God that we cannot be moved. And it needn’t take a long time to happen. I think we have made the distance between the start and the finish line too great. Under the accelerating, energizing events of the close of time, God can produce a generation of grown-up Jobs of all ages in a short period of time.

Lou: It strikes me that when it comes to spiritual growth, we tend too easily to think of performance. But when you have the issues clearly in mind, growth is in terms of trust. And that could happen very quickly if you were willing to really examine the evidence.
One final question to conclude this chapter: “Was the thief’s trust developed only by the words and circumstances around the cross, or was it the culmination of years of searching and being prepared by the Holy Spirit?” What about the thief on the cross?

Graham: Oh, I like what that implies. We don’t know how much the thief knew about Christ, but he surely must have known some things about Him. Based on the rest of Scripture, you know the Holy Spirit was working on that man. Christ is the Light which enlightens everyone who comes into the world (John 1:9). But when the thief was hanging on the cross, he saw the most incredible evidence of what God is like. Though the man was cursing and swearing, the Holy Spirit was developing tenderness inside and a willingness to listen. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit his attention was pointed to the One in the middle, the one who said “Look after mother” and “Father forgive.” And that experience is what finally won him.
Lou: In the next chapter we’ll explore the Bible itself under the title, “Can the Evidence Be Trusted?”

Questions and Answers (4:2)

Looks like I skipped this part of the questions and answers to chapter 4 on how God rebuilds trust in the universe. Given the fluid nature of this discussion, being out of order should not impede reading—Jon Paulien

Lou: You talked about faith as a gift. I remember the man who was worried about his boy and said to Jesus, “Lord, I believe. Help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24, KJV). What does God do to help unbelief in a situation like that?

Graham: The father obviously did believe, or the healing wouldn’t have happened afterward. He did believe; he just wished he had more faith. Whether the man understood how God would increase his faith, the text doesn’t say. We have to look through the rest of scripture to fill that out. My understanding is that God strengthens faith by offering evidence, by helping us to think about the evidence, and by protecting us from the adversary who would becloud our minds and deprive us of our freedom to weigh the evidence. Sometimes the Holy Spirit even adds to our understanding directly. I don’t mind the Holy Spirit impressing me, God works in many and various ways. It’s just when I feel an impression, I want to make sure it’s the Holy Spirit, and not what I had for supper.

Lou: I hear you saying God doesn’t pop a pill into our mouth. Developing faith is a process that involves our thinking and our understanding.

Graham: We want shortcuts. I think that was the appeal at the tree in the garden, when Eve was told, “eat this fruit and you will be like God” (Gen 3:5). It was as if she said, “I thought sanctification was the work of a lifetime. And you can do it with one bite?” A similar approach happens sometimes in evangelism. “Go down to the front, and you will be saved.” We are always wanting shortcuts, busy people that we are. Instant salvation is rather attractive. So is instant faith. But things don’t actually work that way.

Lou: Here’s a question that takes us back to the great controversy perspective: the war in heaven. “Why doesn’t God take more firm control of the universe—even at the expense of a little freedom? Isn’t the price of freedom almost too much? With all the pain and the tragedy that happens in our world, couldn’t God have done a better job of protecting us from the consequences of freedom?”

Graham: I remember years ago a lady came up after a meeting, and she said, “I’d be willing to give up some of my freedom to have peace and security once again; to be safe. I wish God had not given me quite so much freedom.” Like today, to be safe from terrorists on the plane, we’re willing to stand in line and go through those electronic devices. We give up some of our freedom in order to be safe. Would we say to God, if we had the chance, “I know you’ve paid a great price for freedom, but I’d rather not be that free?”
I imagine God might say in return, “Well, I’m sorry. That’s one thing that is not negotiable. I will keep my universe free, or your trust and love will mean nothing. Yes, I could save everybody your way, but it would turn my universe into a penitentiary.” You see, if God locked us up in solitary confinement so we couldn’t hurt each other, He could save everybody. But instead God says, “I refuse to be a prison warden for the rest of eternity. Forgive me, but I would rather die than give up freedom.” And He has already died to show what freedom means to Him.

Questions and Answers (4:3)

Lou: Something you said reminds me of another question that I should ask. If God is all-powerful, why isn’t He able or willing to save everyone? You’ve mentioned how this approach might turn the whole universe into a prison house . But isn’t there a way God can lovingly save everybody?

Graham: Well, if salvation just meant admitting us into the kingdom, He could. He has the power to do that. He even has the power to put us all in terrorized subjection, and then have us grumbling for the rest of eternity. What human father would want that for his family? No matter how powerful a father is, he cannot enforce love and trust in his family. You cannot terrorize your children into a happy home. It just doesn’t work. They may behave as long as you’re around because you scare them so, but once they’ve grown up and gone their own ways, they will do what they wish. So I think people who have families and teaches of children are in a position to understand what God is trying to do. He is omnipotent, to be sure. But you cannot produce love and trust by force. It simply can’t be done; hence the length of the experiment, and the extent of the scriptures.

Lou: Here’s another question: “If Satan was the first creature to rebel, where did the idea of sin originate? Or was there sin before Satan sinned?”

Graham: Well, there’s no record of there being any sin before Lucifer. According to the Biblical record, the whole diabolical thing was created within the mind of the most magnificent of all God’s beings. It wasn’t that he lacked intelligence, or that he had a bent toward evil, or that he didn’t know God. He lived in the presence of God. He knew what God was like. In fact, I think he knew God so well that he dared entertain these thoughts without fear. He knew how gracious God was. That is what makes his rebellion so diabolical, so utterly rebellious. And of course it’s also insane, that a creature would think that he could be equal with God. He even asked his creator to get down on His knees and worship him. This whole insane thing was created in the mind of Lucifer himself. But maybe if we could explain sin, we could find some excuse for it, some rationalization.

Lou: When you say “created in the mind of Lucifer”; you don’t mean God created it there, do you?

Graham: No, Lucifer did it all by himself. We are quite capable of that too. But there’s something good in it. While God is not the author of sin, He has actually created us capable of thinking things like that up. When He made us free, He made us creative like Himself, and what a risk He took in doing that! Evidently freedom means everything to God. So even the terrible thing Lucifer did speaks well of God. In light of that, how could I say to God, “take some freedom back from me?”

Lou: This same person went on to ask, “Does Satan really think he’s going to win in the end? Or does he know he’ll lose, and he’s just trying to take down as many people as he can?”

Graham: I think that’s rather well said. When Hitler realized he had lost the war, he announced that he would take the whole Third Reich down with him. And the world said, “He’s mad. He’s a maniac.” I also believe that when Lucifer realized that he had lost the war—and Revelation says that he knows that he has but a short time left (Rev 12:12)—he dedicated himself to taking down with him as many as he can.

Questions and Answers (4:1)

In the original lecture series done in 1984 at the Loma Linda University Church, Graham Maxwell spoke for about a half hour each Friday night following by written questions and answers from Lou Venden and also from the audience. The next several posts contain questions and answers from the fourth presentation, “How God Restores Trust.”

Lou: I was struck by “the evidence is in the stories.” That’s an interesting way to look at the good book.

Graham: That’s why it isn’t childish to read the stories. Adults might ask, “Why read Samson anymore?” But most adults I meet don’t know what to do with Samson; yet they hope the children do.

Lou: That’s a strange way we’ve gotten things turned around. Another statement that you made, Graham; “There’s no shortcut to faith,” struck me as very important. You’ve talked repeatedly about trust and faith. But I think many of us still have the feeling that faith involves a kind of blind trust. You need faith when you don’t have enough evidence. You just go ahead and believe. I wish you’d comment a bit more about that.

Graham: Well, I wonder who’s given that idea such circulation. It seems to me that only the adversary would be pleased with us saying to God “I trust You, but I really don’t have any evidence for doing so.” I’d rather say “God, there’s so much evidence, and I’m still studying it. But the more I come to know You, the more I trust You.” One reason for the confusion on this issue is the use of different English words; trust is one thing, confidence is another, faith is still another. Yet all three English words translate the same original word in the Bible.

Lou: But still, some very sincere people have talked about faith as a leap in the dark. You go as far as you can on evidence, and then you come to that cliff where you just close your eyes and jump, and hope that you land safely.

Graham: Well that’s the trouble. I think history is strewn with the wreckage of those who have been leaping in the dark. Now God might ask me to do something I momentarily cannot understand, like He did with Abraham. But if I have full confidence in One I know very well, I move forward. I even know He won’t be angry if I question Him along the way. I wouldn’t call that a leap in the dark.
Many define faith in that way because they think they really are in the dark. Even some distinguished theologians believe that God has never really revealed Himself to us. Christ came as the light, yet they feel in the dark. They don’t really believe in a personal God who reveals Himself. We need to exercise blind faith because we have no other choice. Now I admire them for taking life so seriously in the dark. But I’m not going to say my faith in God is a leap in the dark. Faith is the most enlightened, intelligent, rational decision we ever make, and one for which we have the most evidence. I hesitate to say this, but I have more evidence for trusting God than I have for trusting even you, my friend. That’s true, isn’t it?

Lou: Well, I do think that’s true. Somewhat related to this is a question regarding Deuteronomy 13. That passage warns against signs and wonders. And yet when we look in the gospels and the story of Jesus, aren’t the miracles that He performed a basis for belief?

Graham: In the story about the wedding at Cana John says, “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee” (John 2:11, RSV). And these signs did say something, to be sure. His mother already trusted Him. She said, “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:4, NRSV). I think miracles do get people started on the road to trust sometimes. But they are not the best evidence, because miracles can be counterfeited, as happened in Egypt. In some ways a miracle is the poorest type of evidence. But if we’re susceptible to that kind of evidence, our God will run the risk, sometimes, of using miracles. Gideon’s wet fleece, and then the dry one, for example, doesn’t speak well of Gideon, but the whole story does speak well of God, who generously gave him those signs. God would rather Gideon had weighed the evidence. To summarize, God did not avoid using miracles in Bible times, but they are an elementary first step in developing faith, and a hazardous one.

Lou: So the Deuteronomy 13 passage is pointing out the hazard there.

Graham: Yes. Because at the same time false prophets are performing miracles, they are not telling the truth. When I’m watching television programs where there is a focus on miracles and faith-healing, I listen to hear what they are saying about God. And if they are not telling the truth about God, then never mind those miracles. But I notice that the audience is often being so swayed by the miracles, they are not prepared to open their Bibles and do some hard study of the truth. That’s the danger in miracles, they are so dramatic.

The Biblical Record Builds Trust

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!

The Importance of Evidence

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.

It’s Not About Power and Force

Conversations About God (4:3)

What methods did God use to answer the charges and accusations in heaven? As far as the heavenly angels are concerned, the war has been over for two thousand years. What did they learn that became a sufficient basis for trust in the heavenly Father? For the answers to these questions we go to the Bible and we ask, “God, why didn’t You take charge more vigorously and end the conflict? We would expect that of trustworthy leadership.” And I hear the answer coming back as I go through the sixty-six books of the Bible. If the great controversy were over power, God could have settled it in a moment. But the great conflict is not over who has the most power. If that were true, the devil would have been converted long ago. He knows that God has power superior to his own. In James 2:19, it says: “Do you believe that there is only one God? Good! The demons also believe, and tremble with fear.” (GNB). You see, they believe in God’s existence. They believe there’s only one God. They have great faith in His power, in fact it scares them, but that doesn’t move their hearts toward God.

A similar point is made in Revelation 12:12: “The Devil has come down to you and he is filled with rage, because he knows that he has only a little time left” (GNB). In other words, the Devil is so convinced of his helplessness in the face of God’s power that it makes him angry. The Devil is an Adventist, you know. He knows God is coming soon, and it terrifies him to think of it. So there’s a kind of faith that God is not looking for. It is the kind of faith that a show of power might actually produce. It is not enough.

For a dramatic illustration of how power can be misunderstood look at the story in Genesis 9 and 11. You remember in chapter 9 that after the flood: “God said to Noah and his sons. . . ‘I promise that never again will all living things be destroyed by a flood’” (Gen 9:11, GNB). What a demonstration of God’s power the flood was! Did it win people? Was everyone so convinced by that display of power that no one ever distrusted Him again? God continued saying to Noah, “As a sign of this everlasting covenant which I am making with you and with all living things, I am putting my bow in the clouds” (Gen 9:12-13, GNB). This was a gracious promise on the part of God, but the promise alone, in the context of the Flood, didn’t build trust in the descendants of Noah.

Let’s go now to Genesis 11. “At first, the people of the whole world had only one language. . .And they said to one another . . . ‘Now let’s build a city with a tower that reaches the sky'” (Gen 11:1, 3, 4, GNB) Did the inhabitants of Babel believe in God? Did they believe He had the power to drown the whole world in a flood? Did they believe His promise that He would never do it again? Their actions provide the answer. They didn’t build the tower because of disbelief in God, but because they did believe in God and it scared them that He has so much power. But instead of leading them to worship God, His use of power in the Flood resulted in even more rebellion on their part. So there is no need to promote God’s power unless someone doesn’t believe He has it. The great controversy is not over power, but over who is telling the truth. God has been accused of the abuse of power and of a failure to tell the truth. Such charges cannot be met by force. To resort to force would only worsen the matter, as if to suggest, “I don’t have evidence, so now I must intimidate you with power.” And so, even at the risk of appearing weak, God chose the long, painful, and costly way of teaching, explanation, and demonstration.

Finally He sent His Son. The way Jesus treated people, the things He taught about His Father, and the unique and awful way that He died; these were the clearest demonstration of the truth about God and His government that the universe will ever see or ever need. Sadly though, religion often fails to use God’s methods. Thus it is often religion that most seriously misrepresents our God. Religion through the centuries has resorted to claims and pronouncements, force, persecution, and a great deal of pomp and power–methods God does not use.