Monday, February 27, 2017

Why does God require faith?

Why is it necessary to have faith in God? Since so many of us question whether God exists, wouldn’t it be simpler if He just showed Himself? In fact, if God would transport us to heaven and hell, we would have no more doubts, but would have the complete assurance to live a Christian life. Then, we would serve Him, obey Him, and love Him without wondering if we are wasting our time, right? The Bible informs, “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). Faith is by definition the “conviction of things not seen” (NASB), the “evidence of things not seen” (KJV), and involves being “certain of what we do not see” (NIV). But, why is it necessary to believe in someone we cannot see?

What if God showed Himself?
In fact, God has shown Himself to people previously and, on these occasions, some believed God and others did not:
·      Adam and Eve had no question of God’s existence whatsoever. The Bible states, “They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8). Clearly, they knew God was walking in the garden and other verses detail conversations between Adam and God. So, Adam was certain God existed, but still chose to disobey and rebel.
·      All of the Israelites who were led from Egypt by Moses saw very convincing displays of God’s presence.  For example, God “did not take away the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people” (Exodus 13:22). In addition, He supplied the manna miraculously every morning for 40 years (Exodus 16). The people believed in God, but even so, trusted Him only up to a point. They still grumbled, disobeyed, and failed to trust Him completely.[1]  
·      Many people saw the miracles performed by Jesus Christ as well as the greatest miracle – His resurrection from the dead – and yet some chose to reject Him. For instance, Judas Iscariot was a disciple of Jesus for three years, saw the miracles, and still decided to betray Him. Are we so sure we would make the right decision if we had no doubt of God’s existence? Jesus addressed this issue by stating, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31).

God has given some faith to all people.
The Bible states, “God has allotted to each a measure of faith” (Romans 12:3). And, every person knows there is a God, as Romans 1:20 indicates: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” Also, all people have a knowledge right and wrong (Genesis 2:9 and 3:22) as well as a conscience:  “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them” (Romans 2:14-15). So, every person instinctively has some understanding of God’s existence and of a natural moral law.

Why speak in parables?
Asking why God does not clearly reveal Himself is similar to a question the disciples asked Jesus: “Why do you speak to them in parables?” His response was:
“To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (Matthew 13:10-13).

Jesus indicated that truth will be revealed to those who truly desire to know, but that insight will not be revealed to those who have chosen to reject whatever truth they have. This principle is also evident in the parable Jesus told of the talents in which the master said, “’take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.' For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away” (Matthew 25:28-29). This may sound unfair, but the amount of truth we receive from God is based on our sincere desire for truth. God said to His people, “But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul” (Deuteronomy 4:29). Jesus indicated the same principle when He stated, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8). It is a Biblical principle that, if we act upon the small amount of faith we have, more will be given.

Why would God not show Himself?
In addition to Biblical reasons, there are also philosophical explanations that help us to understand why God seemingly remains hidden. If He unmistakably revealed Himself, that action would have the result of turning Him into a cosmic policeman, from whom we could never escape. In doing this, God would subject us to pervasive coercion. Michael J. Murray, Professor at Franklin & Marshall College, explains that coercive pressure undermines the ability of humans to experience morally significant freedom. He details five factors which lead to varying levels of coercion:
1.      The strength of the threat: that is, how bad the threatened consequence appears to be.
2.      The “imminence” of the threat. This factor has three elements:
a)      Probabilistic: the likelihood that the threatened consequence will actually be carried out.
b)      Temporal: how quickly the threatened consequence will be carried out.
c)      Epistemic: the extent of the “felt awareness” of the threatened consequence.
3.      Threat indifference: the extent to which the person threatened fells indifferent to threats.[2]

If we feel little or no coercive pressure from a God who sees our every move, we are then free to act as we wish and make free choices. As we tell our children, one of the highest virtues is to do the right thing even when no one is looking. 

Conclusion: choice.
Blaise Pascal said, “In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don't.” (Though he only lived 39 years, Pascal had many other insightful observations regarding belief in God.[3]) Most of those who have chosen unbelief do so not for intellectually honest reasons, but for moral or emotional ones. A non-believer may have been offended by someone in the church. Or, one may have had some faith, then a negative experience or tragedy destroyed that faith. Possibly the most common reason for non-belief is moral:  “If I believe in God, I must admit that some area of my life is sinful and I don’t want to give up that sin”. We owe it to ourselves to be honest about our true motives. Faith in God is ultimately a matter of choice and some simply refuse to believe regardless of the evidence, reason, or their conscience. As Neo and the Architect ultimately concluded in the Matrix, “The problem is choice.” If one does not wish to believe, he will find enough reason to doubt. On the other hand, if one’s mind is honestly open to the truth, there is sufficient evidence and reason to believe in God.

(Biblical references are from the NASB version.)

[1] “Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, ‘We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we will surely overcome it.’ But the men who had gone up with him said, ‘We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us’” (Numbers 13:30).
“Then all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night. All the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, ‘Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! ‘Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?’ So they said to one another, "Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt’" (Numbers 14:1-4).
[2] Michael J. Murray, “Why Doesn’t God Make His Existence More Obvious to Us?” Passionate Conviction, Eds. Paul Copan and William Lane Craig (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2007), 48.
[3]Those whom we see to be Christians without the knowledge of the prophets and evidences, nevertheless judge of their religion as well as those who have that knowledge. They judge of it by the heart, as others judge of it by the intellect. God himself inclines them to believe, and thus they are most effectively convinced. I confess indeed that one of those Christians who believe without proofs will not, perhaps, be capable of convincing an infidel who will say the same of himself. But those who know the proofs of religion will prove without difficulty that such a believer is truly inspired by God, though he cannot prove it himself. For God having said in His prophecies (which are undoubtedly prophecies) that in the reign of Jesus Christ He would spread His spirit abroad among nations, and that the youths and maidens and children of the Church would prophesy; it is certain that the Spirit of God is in these and not in the others. Instead of complaining that God had hidden Himself, you will give Him thanks for not having revealed so much of Himself; and you will also give Him thanks for not having revealed Himself to haughty sages, unworthy to know so holy a God. Two kinds of persons know Him: those who have a humble heart, and who love lowliness, whatever kind of intellect they may have, high or low; and those who have sufficient understanding to see the truth, whatever opposition they may have to it.”  Blaise Pascal, Pensees, Section IV, paragraphs 287-288, from Christian Classics Ethereal Library, <>

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