FAITH IN GOD IS NO LEAP IN THE DARK
In one of the saddest chapters in the history of the United States, the president was publicly accused by some of his closest associates of willful dishonesty and deceit.
What a spectacle for the onlooking world to see! The highest officer of one of the greatest nations on the earth charged with selfish abuse of presidential power and violation of the trust placed in him by the people he had been elected to represent.
The charges were categorically denied. In dramatic appeals to the loyalty of the people, the accusations were dismissed as the fabrication of disgruntled enemies. And out of affection for the president and respect for the high office he occupied, many of us were willing to believe his earnest claims. As citizens of the land that stamps on all its currency, “In God We Trust,” we wanted so much also to honor our president as someone we could trust.
But now we know that mere denials are not enough. Though coming from the seat of highest authority and power, mere claims do not change falsehood into truth. The Creator of the universe has also been accused. By a disgruntled enemy he has been charged with selfish abuse of divine authority and willful distortion of the truth.
Mere denials are not enough to meet such accusations. Though coming from the Infinite One himself, how would we know if his claims are true? Satan has also made his claims, and with great show of authority and force.
But neither claims nor superior show of power can establish integrity or trustworthiness. Jesus warned against believing mere claims, even when apparently supported by supernatural signs. He spoke of religious leaders that would arise, making all kinds of false claims—even claiming to be Christ! And they would perform great miracles and wonders to prove the truthfulness of their claims. “But don’t believe them,” Jesus said (see Matthew 24:11, 23–26).
“Watch out,” he warned, “and do not let anyone fool you. Many men, claiming to speak for me, will come and say, ‘I am the Messiah!’ and they will fool many people” (Matthew 24:5, GNT).
“My dear friends,” John later advised, “do not believe all who claim to have the Spirit, but test them to find out if the spirit they have comes from God. For many false prophets have gone out everywhere” (1 John 4:1, GNT).
In his description of Satan’s effort to sweep the whole world into his camp just before Christ’s return, John speaks of the use of authority and force accompanied by the performance of great miracles, even making “fire come down out of heaven to earth in the sight of everyone.” As a result, “all the people living on earth” are deceived “by means of the miracles”—except God’s true people (see Revelation 13:8, 12–14, GNT).
Long ago Moses had warned the children of Israel not to be misled by the working of miracles. “A prophet or an interpreter of dreams may promise a miracle or a wonder, in order to lead you to worship and serve gods that you have not worshiped before. Even if what he promises comes true, do not pay any attention to him” (Deuteronomy 13:1–3, GNT).
The great controversy is not over who can perform the greatest miracles but over who is telling the truth. As the former Lucifer, Satan has seen the awesome power and majesty of God. And whenever he thinks of the One who hung the whole vast universe in space, he trembles with fear (James 2:19) and “knows that his time is short” (Revelation 12:12).
God has not been charged with lack of power but with its abuse. The controversy is over the character of God.
How can we know who is telling the truth?
When believers in Thessalonica were being misled by messages purporting to have come from Paul, the apostle warned them not to be deceived by such false claims but to “test everything; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
When God took his case into court, he was inviting the universe to test even his claims and to believe only what proved to be true. Since the truth was on his side, he had nothing to fear from the most searching investigation. Nor was there any need for him to tamper with the evidence or to intimidate his inquirers.
All that was needed for God to win his case was the clearest possible exposure and demonstration of the truth. The more openness and light the better! Only cheats and liars are afraid of being questioned.
“Here lies the test,” Jesus explained to Nicodemus. “Bad men all hate the light and avoid it, for fear their practices should be shown up. The honest man comes to the light so that it may be clearly seen that God is in all he does” (John 3:18–21, NEB).
God himself has come to the light. And the universe has clearly seen that the truth is with him. No lie has been found in the mouth of God. “How right and true are your ways!” all heaven agrees (Revelation 15:3, GNT: compare 16:7; 19:2). We can safely place our trust in him.
Surely such faith is no leap in the dark—unless one should believe that God has left us without light. And if God has really left us in the dark, without sufficient evidence of his trustworthiness, then Satan’s charges have not been met, and trust in God would indeed be an unenlightened risk.
The first angel of Revelation 14 calls on all men everywhere to make up their minds about God. But he does not ask us to trust a God we do not know. The angel comes first with the everlasting truth, the eternal Good News. In the light of this evidence, do we find God worthy of our faith?
This is the faith of which the Bible speaks, the trust in God that makes it possible for him to save and heal. This is the faith described in Hebrews 11:1 as having “full confidence in the things we hope for, it means being certain of things we cannot see” (Phillips).
In the familiar wording of the King James Version, faith is defined as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
The Greek word translated “evidence” occurs very rarely in the New Testament. In secular usage it often means “testing,” “scrutiny,” “cross-examination,” and the resulting “evidence,” “proof,” and “conviction.” The verb form of this word is much more common in the Bible. It is used to describe the work of the Holy Spirit when he comes to “convince the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). It occurs also in the explanation of the reluctance of a dishonest man to come to the light “lest his deeds should be exposed” (John 3:20). Paul uses the same word in his advice to the Ephesians to “take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Ephesians 5:11).
The Bible consistently associates faith in God with light, revelation, truth, evidence, testing, investigation.
Another term of special significance in the Hebrews definition of faith is the Greek word translated substance (meaning “substantial nature,” “essence,” “reality”), the choice of the King James committee here in chapter 11.
But a related meaning is “conviction,” “confident assurance.” And this was the preference of the King James committee when translating this same word in an earlier chapter of the same epistle. “For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end,” (Hebrews 3:14). Twice in his second letter to the Corinthians Paul uses this same term to mean “confidence” (see 2 Corinthians 9:4, NEB; 11:17). Many scholars agree that this is the more appropriate meaning in Hebrews 11:1.
Near the end of the last century, archaeologists working in the Near East began discovering ancient papyrus documents which were records of business transactions, bills of sale, title deeds to property, guarantees. And the common term for these documents was none other than this Greek word translated “substance.”
This discovery made it possible to understand Hebrews 11:1 to mean that faith is, as it were, a transaction entered into, a covenant, an agreement between the believer and his God.
God has much to offer us: forgiveness, healing, eternal life. But he never asks his intelligent creatures to believe anything for which he does not provide adequate evidence, and it is evidence that appeals to the reason. God does not expect us to have faith in a stranger. Instead, he first reveals himself. Through his Son, through the Scriptures, through the world of nature around us, in so many ways, he seeks to make himself well known.
If in the light of this revelation, this ample evidence about God, we should choose to trust him, to love him, to accept his gifts and direction, then we have entered into that transaction with God which the New Testament calls faith.
“To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see.” This is the translation of Hebrews 11:1 in the 1976 American Bible Society’s Good News Translation.
The 1970 Catholic New American Bible translates similarly: “Faith is confident assurance concerning what we hope for, and conviction about things we do not see.”
Long before the King James Version, William Tyndale, who was burned at the stake for daring to produce the first printed English New Testament, had the insight to offer this translation: “Fayth is a sure confidence of thynges which are hoped for, and a certayntie of thynges which are not sene.”
None of us has ever seen God. But this does not mean we cannot know him. “The only Son, who is the same as God and is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18, GNT).
Faith, as I understand it, is a word we use to describe a relationship with God as with a person well known. The better we know him, the better this relationship may be.
Faith implies an attitude toward God of love, trust, and deepest admiration. It means having enough confidence in him, based on the more than adequate evidence revealed, to be willing to believe whatever he says, to accept whatever he offers, and to do whatever he wishes—without reservation—for the rest of eternity.
Anyone who has such faith is perfectly safe to save. This is why faith is the only requirement for heaven.
A faith like this is far from blind. It is based soundly upon evidence. As Paul explains in Romans 10:17 (KJV), “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
The earlier manuscripts have the name “Christ” instead of “God.” Thus Goodspeed translates the same passage, “Faith comes from hearing what is told, and that hearing comes through the message about Christ.”
It adds meaning to this passage to read it in its larger setting in Paul’s letter to the Romans:
“Scripture says, ‘Everyone who has faith in him will be saved from shame’—everyone: there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, because the same Lord is Lord of all, and is rich enough for the need of all who invoke him. For everyone, as it says again—’everyone who invokes the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How could they invoke one in whom they had no faith? And how could they have faith in one they had never heard of? And how hear without someone to spread the news? And how could anyone spread the news without a commission to do so? And that is what Scripture affirms: ‘How welcome are the feet of the messengers of good news!’
“But not all have responded to the good news. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our message?’ We conclude that faith is awakened by the message, and the message that awakens it comes through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:11–17, NEB).
In Paul’s day there was little opportunity for a man to read this message for himself. If he wished to learn the truth about God, it was necessary for him to go to the synagogue or church and listen as the rare and costly manuscripts of the Bible were read out loud for all to hear.
This is why the introduction to Revelation says of John’s book, “This is his report concerning the message from God and the truth revealed by Jesus Christ. Happy is the one who reads this book, and happy are those who listen” (Revelation 1:2, 3, GNT).
In our own time, when Bibles are so readily available, Paul might have written instead, “Faith comes by studying the Word of God” or “Faith comes by reading the message about Christ.”
Those of us who have learned to read the Bible as an inspired account of God’s long and costly revelation of the truth find in its pages more than sufficient evidence for our faith. When God invites us to trust him, he is not asking us to take a chance, to risk a leap in the dark. Nor is he expecting us to accept mere claims or trust some inner feeling or some sign or miracle that Satan could counterfeit.
God is simply asking that we consider the evidence, so readily available, especially in his Word, and that we freely make up our minds whether or not we can regard him as worthy of our trust.
All this assumes, of course, that the Bible itself is true. How confident can we be that the books of the Old and New Testaments are telling us the truth? Is faith in the Bible a leap in the dark?