Monday, July 08, 2019

Anonymous Asks (48)

“Why doesn’t God interact with us today the way he did over the periods covered in the Bible?”

It is important to notice that God did not always interact with men and women in exactly the same way over the periods covered in the Old and New Testaments. In fact, he revealed himself at many different times and in many different ways. There were also long periods in between these self-revelations — sometimes ten generations or more — during which God appears to have been silent, and no new word from heaven was forthcoming.

All the same, I think we have a good idea what’s being asked here, and that is this: Why does it appear there is no longer any absolutely categorical, personal, undeniable, back-and-forth interaction with God available to us?

Two Answers

I mean, sure, we can pray, we can read the Bible and seek answers there. Some Christians even rely on strong emotional or (hopefully) spiritual impressions and act on those. But can we really say of anything we are doing today, “God TOLD me to do this — me, personally, and only me”? Can we say, “I asked God a direct question, and he answered it”? If we’re absolutely honest, I don’t think we can.

There are at least two good reasons this is the case, and both are found in the book of Hebrews. That is understandable: the Hebrews were the people to whom God uniquely and specially revealed himself in the Old Testament and the early part of the New. Thus, when he was about to stop doing so for a couple thousand years at least, it makes sense that it would be the Hebrew Christians, above all other people in the world, who would most need a satisfying answer to the question of why that might be.

The Only Possible Way, Part 1

The first answer is faith. Without faith, Hebrews tells us, it is impossible to please God. His great delight is when men and women trust him and step out in the confidence that God will behave toward them as he always has: lovingly, justly, reliably and truthfully. When God speaks, he wants to be believed; not because he has produced incontrovertible technical evidence that even the most hardened atheist would be compelled to accept, but because he has demonstrated himself over the course of history to be worthy of man’s trust.

Now, faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” If, like love, faith is one of those exceptional, precious qualities God delights in, then it makes perfect sense for him to minimize the sort of direct and incontrovertible personal interaction you are talking about. Because if evidence for God may be conjured at will, faith is no longer required. It vanishes whenever God unmistakably reveals himself. Just as hope that is seen is not hope, so also sight is not faith. Direct interaction with God was necessary at one time in mankind’s spiritual development, but anyone seeking a real, deep, mature relationship with God does not petulantly demand that he endlessly prove and re-prove his existence and goodwill toward us.

Why Faith?

Why is faith so pleasing to God? Well, imagine the alternative for a moment.

Suppose you marry a woman who simply cannot trust your word. She spends her life hiring private detectives to follow you, checking your cell phone for texts from imaginary girlfriends, and accusing you of things you haven’t done and motives that have never occurred to you.

Now, if you are a good-natured sort, and thick-skinned, initially you might be inclined to have some sympathy for her, thinking that perhaps she has been hurt by other people whose lies she unwisely believed, and that she needs time to get to know you before she can really put her confidence in you. You might graciously hand over your phone to be inspected, leave your email un-password-protected, or overlook her attempts to interpret the GPS data in your car. You might not mention that you know about her constant phone calls to your secretary to confirm where you really are when you say you are going to the office.

You Never Knew Me

However, if, despite your persistent faithfulness and love to her, your wife never demonstrates some level of increased confidence in you as the years go on, you would have to conclude that something is seriously and perhaps fatally wrong with your relationship. Sure, the marriage may exist on paper, but it is obvious that your wife does not know you at all, and she very likely never will.

So, while all relationships start with some sort of direct revelation, in order to develop, they must progress to include the element of trust. If they do not, they are not relationships in any meaningful way.

God’s dealings with mankind over the course of history are like that. Even in the case of Abraham, who had direct revelation from God thousands of years ago, his trust in the character of God was strenuously and deliberately put to the test more than once. Why? Because without faith it is impossible to please him, and the relationships God values most are the ones in which trust is most absolute. “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”

The Only Possible Way, Part 2

The second answer to your question is Christ. The writer to the Hebrews starts his book with this:
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.”
Christ is the pivot-point on which all of human history turns. Every bit of God-given revelation prior to his coming points forward to him in some way, and everything we find in scripture after his coming points back to it, demanding we stop and look; or else points forward again to the fact that he is one day returning. In Christ, all God’s purposes toward mankind are consummated, and in him God is most perfectly and completely revealed.

This is the message of the first few chapters of Hebrews: that God wanted to make himself known to mankind, and he did it once and for all in Christ. There is no other message. There is no better message. If you want to understand who God is, look closely at Jesus. There is nothing useful to be known about God that cannot be understood through and in him, or that can be properly understood apart from him.

Show Us the Father?

When his own disciples suggested “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us,” their Master replied, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”

The answer was gentle, but there is a little bit of reproach there too, I think: How could you not know by now?

Because God has spoken once for all in the person of Jesus Christ, he has nothing further to say to mankind at present. “No one comes to the Father except through me,” Jesus taught. There will come a day when God speaks once more when he judges the world in the person of his beloved Son. In the meantime, he has only three words for humanity: “Listen to him.”

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