Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Seeing is not believing

kw: biblical interpretation, faith

The following is a summary of remarks I made a few days ago in a church meeting.

Imagine you are a Hebrew in the desert encampment with Moses, some 3,500 years ago. You happen to awaken in the middle of the night, step outside the tent, and make your way to the latrine area just outside camp to relieve yourself. Looking back toward the center of the camp, you see the fiery pillar in the sky that shows God's guidance. In the morning, after gathering your daily ration of manna, you glance upward again when you hear a rising sound of people speaking and moving about. The cloud that shows God's guidance by day has lifted. Everyone knows it is time to pack up and move out. You finish eating, store the rest of the manna for preparing later, and help your family pack up the tent and your belongings. The cloud will show the way to the next encampment.

This was a portion of daily life for the Hebrews for a long generation; the Bible tells us, 38 years. During that time, clothing, tents, and materials in general didn't wear out. Sandals or shoes did not need repair. People didn't fall sick until they were old and ready to die, or if they committed one of a long list of sins that are now detailed in the book of Leviticus.

Yes, people did sin. They did so in large numbers. The book of Numbers, in particular, tells story after story of these people, who lived in the presence of frequent miracles, including their daily manna and the guiding pillars of cloud and fire. At every opportunity, many of them committed idolatry and other awful sins (we are not talking about arguing with a spouse or getting into a fistfight here). Those who sinned died or were killed by the bunches, but others took up their perverse ways. They sinned in such numbers and with such intensity that on a few occasions, God spoke to Moses that he "wearied" of the people and desired to extinguish them. Moses would talk Him out of it.

Fourteen centuries later, people had two reactions to seeing and hearing Jesus. Some few believed, and a larger number were offended. At times, Jesus marveled at the level of unbelief. He "went about doing good," and the leaders plotted to kill him. They eventually carried out that plot.

There is a more contemporary example. In the 1930s to the 1960s the "Kentucky Prophet", William M Branham, healed many. I got to know some people who had known him, about 15 years after he died in 1965. He had done amazing things. He could go into a hospital and just about empty it out. A few people, though, he would say, were not going to be healed because their time had come. They would die. He visited South Africa for a time, and at the end of his speaking campaign in Pretoria, the mayor of the city had several trucks driven by his hotel, full of crutches, wheelchairs, and other medical devices discarded by people he had healed. He consistently taught the primacy of Jesus Christ. Yet, the people I met in 1980 had made a strange turn. They were beginning to worship him. Some who are now following his son Joseph are claiming he is an incarnation of God. Many of these people who lived through a generation of miracles—for I think Branham was a genuine prophet—have turned to idolatry.

People say, "Seeing is believing." We have the example of the apostle Thomas, who said, "Unless I see the nail prints in his hands and feet, and put my hand in his side, I will not believe." Jesus confronted Thomas and asked him to probe His wounds. Thomas replied, "My Lord and my God." The Jesus declared, "You have seen and have believed. Blessed are those who do not see, and believe." Jesus knew that Thomases are rare.

In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul prayed that "the eyes of your heart be enlightened." He did not trust our bodily eyes. We have spiritual eyes, and only what they see is reliable. But this kind of sight is hard to come by. You'd think it ought to be easy, because God wants us to see. But, just as He did with Elijah, God may show us the wind and the fire, and if we are willing, we will realize that He is not there. Only then will He come as a quiet voice. Barely detectable. It tests the heart. We want certainty, but He only gives us "today's bread today." We don't know what tomorrow holds, and He isn't about to tell us. He wants us to trust Him, not our checklist, nor some poorly-understood prophecy.

God cares nothing for religion. Religion is a checklist, and you can't follow it faithfully anyway. A properly programmed robot would be more faithful at your religion than you are. God wants a relationship. He wants to answer us directly. Our arrogant claim that we know "what the Bible says" is so much empty words. Jesus said to some, "You search the scriptures, for you think that in them you have eternal life, but you will not come to Me that you might have life." It is good to search the scriptures, but do not forget their Author. Come to Him.

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