Servants or Friends: Chapter 5


Recent polls have reported that the most trusted people in our society are ministers and physicians.
The least trusted are politicians and used-car salesmen—though some think attorneys should be at the bottom.
I once saw a T-shirt displaying a hungry shark with the accompanying message, “Sharks don’t eat lawyers: professional courtesy!”

All of this may be quite unfair to these professions. It is certainly unfair to representatives of these professions who actually
are models of trustworthiness. And the fact that a person has chosen to be a minister of the Gospel does not guarantee that he is
perfectly trustworthy. All too frequently, tragedies in the news are evidence to the contrary.

Polls have also been conducted to measure recent trends in people’s opinions about the trustworthiness of God. It appears that even
in many parts of the so-called Christian world, trust in God has been seriously eroded.

God must be sad to see these trends. But not for the more obvious reason, that people seem to be trusting him less. Are people rejecting
the friendly God of Abraham, Moses and Job, the God who is just like Jesus, the God who wants us to be his friends?

It could even be a cause for hope that thoughtful people are finding it impossible to trust a god who is indeed not worthy of their trust.
What must bring great sorrow to God is that so many of his children don’t really know what he’s like.

During trips around Britain I often asked people who professed little or no faith in God, if there had ever been a time in their lives when
they did believe.

“Oh, yes,” was a not infrequent reply. “I used to believe when I was little.”

“Tell me what you thought God was like back then.”

When they had finished their description, often I would have to agree that if God really was like that, I wouldn’t trust him myself.

Our first goal was to learn of their views, but—when it seemed appropriate—I would venture to suggest that there was,
perhaps, another way of looking at God. “Is it possible,” I would sometimes ask, “that God has been misrepresented or

Sometimes, the kindness of that English, Irish, Welsh or Scottish face, would lead me to presume to add, “What would you think if God
should actually be an infinitely powerful but equally gracious Person who values nothing higher than our freedom and individuality, a God who
prefers to treat us not as servants but as friends?”

“I wish I could believe that,” was one wistful answer.

“If I could be sure that was the truth, I suppose I’d become a believer,” was the essence of other replies.

Does It Make Sense to “Believe by Faith”?

How can God convince his children of the truth about himself?

“That’s something one accepts by faith,” is the traditional response of many a devout believer.

“By faith in what?” you might inquire.

“No, I don’t mean by faith in something or somebody,” the believer replies. “I mean there are some things you can only
know by faith itself.”

This is using the word “faith” to describe a way of knowing something in the absence of sufficient evidence, or any evidence at all.
There’s even a legend that a schoolboy once defined faith as “believin’ wotcha know ain’t so.” Surely few believers would go
that far. But some have explained that “faith is believing when common sense says you shouldn’t.” Could this be why many find it
hard to believe in God? Is it because they are simply unable or unwilling to do something that goes against their common sense?

All their lives children hear their parents and teachers urge them to please use more common sense. Should we tell them that when it comes to the
question of trusting God, they should feel safe to abandon this guide?

“I Just Know that It’s True!”

After high school, I had the privilege of attending a small Christian college. There I met the girl who has been my wife and friend for nearly
50 years. As was the custom at such institutions, the men’s and women’s dormitories were prudently located at opposite ends of the campus. By
today’s standards, the rules for social behavior would be considered impossibly old-fashioned and strict.

In the beguiling warmth of spring each year, when a certain peach tree in the center of the campus began to bloom, friendships would blossom around
the school, and the faculty would redouble their efforts to protect the academic interests of the students in their care.

When it appeared that a young man was in danger of making a premature or ill-advised commitment, the much-revered dean of women would invite him
into her office for some earnest consultation.

“Young man,” she would begin with kind solemnity, “you really have not had much opportunity to become well acquainted with this young woman.”
(Under the regulations, this was unavoidably the truth!)

“Don’t you think common sense suggests that you should come to know her much better before making a final decision? Perhaps you could visit her at
home next summer, see how she treats her parents and offers to help around the house.” (As I said, things were quite old-fashioned in those days!)

“I don’t need to know her any better,” the student might politely demur. “I’ve even prayed about the matter, and I have a warm feeling of conviction
that she’s the one God wants me to choose as my wife.”

“We know, young man, do we not, that it isn’t safe just to trust one’s feelings—especially at this time of the year. You can
never be too careful in choosing the person with whom you will spend the rest of your life.”

“But didn’t you tell us, dean, in chapel the other day, that when it comes to deciding about giving our hearts to God, we should not be so
doubting and ask so many questions, the way we do in science or history? Are you telling me that when it comes to choosing a life companion,
we cannot investigate too thoroughly? But when it comes to choosing the God with whom we shall spend eternity, we can safely trust our hearts
instead of our heads?”

“Young man, that’s the difference between secular knowledge and religious faith. When it comes to spiritual things, we must never let our heads
get in the way of our hearts.”

“Thank you, dean, for your advice. But I’ve already made up my mind. In fact, she’s already accepted my proposal and you’re invited to the wedding.
But don’t worry, it’s going to be all right. I just know in my heart that she’s the one for me.”

I recently heard a preacher loudly affirm, “I believe God can be trusted because by faith I know it’s true. Do you want to know how I
can be so sure of the truth? I just know that I know that I know that it’s true!” (Actually he went on for several more “I knows!”)

“Where does such faith come from?” you might further inquire.

“It’s a gift of God, a fruit of the Holy Spirit.”

“Then why doesn’t everyone have this gift?”

“Oh, God only gives faith to the ones he chooses. And if this should tempt you to think of God as arbitrary and unfair, remember Paul’s warning in
Romans 9:20 about not questioning God’s inscrutable ways.”

But many have dared to question this apparent arbitrariness and, failing to find a better explanation, have been turned away from
trusting such a God.

Can One Reject the Gift of Faith?

There is another way of explaining why everyone does not possess the gift of faith. It has been argued that for God to give faith to
some and not to everyone violates two other precious gifts of God—freedom and the power of choice. They believe that God indeed offers his gift
of faith to everyone, and everyone has the freedom and power to accept or reject. Unfortunately, some choose to refuse.

Many who take this position, however, still understand faith to mean a God-given ability and willingness to believe without
supporting evidence. That still leaves the question: On what basis does one make the vital decision to accept or reject the gift of
faith? Is the acceptance of God’s gift of faith an act of faith itself—a faith which is not yet received? Does this appeal to your common
sense? Recalling that earlier description of faith, I find it impossible to believe when common sense says I shouldn’t.

What Is the Difference Between Belief, Faith, and Trust?

Frequently the attempt is made to draw important distinctions between faith, belief and trust. In reading what the New Testament has to
say about these subjects, one needs to be aware that the three English synonyms, faith, belief and trust, are all translations of the same
Greek word pistis. Since many English versions of the Bible use these words interchangeably, one must beware of making distinctions between
the meanings of these terms as if there were three different words in the Greek.

For example, when the jailer in Philippi asked Paul and Silas what he had to do to be saved, they gave a reply that has been the subject of many
serious sermons. But what exactly did they say?1

“Believe on the Lord Jesus,” are the familiar words of the 1611 King James Version.

“Put your faith in the Lord Jesus,” says the 1989 God’s New Covenant translation.

“Put your trust in the Lord Jesus,” reads the 1989 Revised English Bible.

Belief, faith, trust—they’re all essentially the same. Whether the faith and trust are genuine, and the belief more than just opinion
or hope, must be determined from the context. The book of James observes that even the devils can be said to have faith in God. Or, when
speaking about God’s enemies, should it be translated belief? The Greek word is the same. In the context, James explains what it is about
God that they trust, and it makes them shudder with fear.2

Is Trust in God a Leap in the Dark?

God wants our trust, or we can never have the friendship of John 15:15. But he does not ask us to trust him as a stranger.
To trust someone we do not know could indeed be a hazardous gamble, a dangerous leap in the dark. God would not encourage running such risk.

Think of the lengths to which he has gone to make himself well known. “In many and various ways, he has spoken to us by the prophets.”
More than that, he has “spoken to us by his Son”—the one who could say at the end of his matchless life, “If you have seen me, you have
seen the Father.”3

The way Jesus lived, the way he treated people, the things he taught about his Father, and most of all the unique and awful way he died,
were the clearest revelation of the truth about the trustworthiness of God the universe will ever see or need.

This assumes, of course, that one has confidence in the Biblical record. To trust the Bible does not require an uninformed leap in the dark. There are
other religious documents that invite this “leap of faith.” But the Bible itself urges a careful look at the evidence before making
the decision to trust.

An Old Accusation

According to the story in the book of Genesis, the first to argue that God should not be trusted was the serpent in the garden of Eden.
The book of Revelation, the last of the sixty-six, identifies the accusing serpent as “the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.”
He is described as the leader of the rebellion in heaven that resulted in his being “thrown down to this earth, and his angels were thrown down
with him.”4 The names Devil and Satan both mean slanderer, adversary. Even Jesus, who was so gracious with the worst of sinners,
called him “a liar and the father of lies.”5

“God has lied to you,” Satan insinuated to the first parents of the human race. “How can you trust a god who doesn’t tell the truth?
If you eat of the forbidden tree6 you will not die. Actually, eating the fruit of that tree will make you more like God. How could he selfishly
deprive you of something so beneficial? And how could he be so heartless and unforgiving as to threaten you with death on just the first offense?
A loving god would at least give a second chance. ‘Obey me, or you’ll die!’ How can you worship someone so vengeful and severe? Such a demanding
and arbitrary god is not worthy of your worship and trust.”

If God really is the kind of person Satan has made him out to be, the Adversary is right that it would make no sense to trust
such a tyrant. And there certainly could be no possibility of establishing the freedom and friendship offered by Jesus to his disciples.

But the one against whom Satan levelled his charges was friendly Jesus himself. For the one who came to bring us the truth is the Creator of the universe.7

God’s Reply

Has God responded to these accusations? Do we find his answers a sufficient basis for our trust?

Mere denials are not enough to meet such charges. Even if the denials come from God himself, how would we know if his claims are true?
Satan has also made his claims, sometimes with great show of authority and force.

But neither claims nor display of superior power can establish integrity and trustworthiness.
Jesus himself warned against believing mere claims, even when apparently supported by supernatural power.

He spoke of religious leaders who would arise, making all kinds of false claims—even claiming to be Christ! They would perform great miracles
and wonders to prove the truthfulness of their claims. “But don’t believe them,” Jesus said.8

“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.”9

“My dear friends,” the apostle 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.”10

In his description of Satan’s effort to sweep the whole world into his camp just before the second coming of Christ,
John speaks of the Devil’s use of authority and power 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 loyal few.11

Prophets, Too, Can Lie

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.”12

In the Old Testament, the story is told of a prophet from Judah who was sent by God to deliver a message to
King Jeroboam. Upon completion of his mission, he was to refuse any offer of hospitality and return home by another way.

This “man of God” was a faithful servant of the Lord and accustomed to obeying without question the voice of authority.
“God said it! I believe it! That settles it!” was his humble but vulnerable way of determining truth.

The prophet delivered his message. And when the king invited him to stay and eat, there was no hesitation in the reply.
“ ‘Even if you gave me half of your wealth, I would not go with you or eat or drink anything with you. The Lord has commanded
me not to eat or drink a thing, and not to return home the same way I came.’ ”13

The sons of an old prophet, who lived nearby, told their father about the messenger from Judah and what he had said to the king.

“Which way did he go?” the old man asked.

They showed him the road. “Saddle my donkey,” he ordered his sons, then set out to follow the obedient younger
man. He found him sitting under an oak tree on the way.

“Are you the prophet from Judah?” the old man asked.

“I am.”

“Then come home and have a meal with me.”

“I can’t. God has strictly forbidden me to stop and eat with anyone on this trip. And when God says what to do, that settles it for me.”

“No problem,” said the older man. “ ‘I, too, am a prophet just like you, and at the Lord’s command an angel told me to take you home with me
and offer you my hospitality.’ But the old prophet was lying.”14

“You mean God has changed his mind? Well, as I always say, ‘If God said it, I believe it.’ ”
Thoroughly deceived, the trusting man from Judah went home with the older prophet.

The story has a sad ending and one might fairly ask, “Why is this story included in the Bible at all?”
The younger prophet had no reason to suspect that the old man was lying. It would have been rude to suggest it.
But he also had no reason to accept without question the contradiction of God’s previous command. If only he had
politely reserved his right to further investigate.

How often in these modern times we hear the claims of religious teachers that God, by his angels or his Spirit, has told them
this or that. It would be rude to deny it. Besides, God has often spoken in this way. But God has also advised us to beware.
Prophets, too, can lie.

Would You Buy Medicine from This Man?

An exciting moment in the frontier life of nineteenth century America was the arrival of the top-hatted traveling
salesman with his wagon full of magic medicines. “Tell me what your ailment is, and I guarantee this will cure it!”

The testimonials of those who had been miraculously healed, coupled with the gullibility of the people, made the outlandish
claims of the persuasive peddler seem quite believable. Surely his tonics were worth every penny that he asked!

But these claims are no more astounding than the ones made in the section on drugs in the Sears,
Roebuck catalog of 1902. Quick relief is offered for ailments that modern medicine is still struggling to remedy.
All come with Sears’ absolute guarantee.

There is Sure Cure for the tobacco habit, the liquor habit, the opium and morphine habit, and obesity.
There is Mexican Headache Cure, “positively guaranteed” to relieve splitting headaches within fifteen minutes.
There are Dr. Rose’s French Arsenic Complexion Wafers, “perfectly harmless” and guaranteed to make anyone beautiful,
“no matter what your disfigurements may be.” Dr. Hammond’s Nerve and Brain Pills, “positively guarantee” to cure an
endless list of ills, even poor memory. “No matter what the cause may be or how severe your trouble is,
Dr. Hammond’s Nerve and Brain Pills will cure you.”

The hesitant customer is assured that all Sears’ drugs have been prepared from prescriptions furnished by “the world’s
highest medical authorities,” and he is warned to “beware of quack doctors who advertise to scare men into paying money for
remedies which have no merit.”

Sears, Roebuck would be the first today to urge its customers not to believe these incredible claims!

All around us, in the realm of religion, in the market-place, on the television screen, we are constantly confronted with
competing claims. Obviously all of them cannot be true. We would do well to follow the apostle Paul’s advice:
“Test everything. Hold on to the good.”15

No Shortcuts to Trust

The fact that the Bible invites inquiry, urges careful investigation and warns against being too easily persuaded—even by miraculous signs
and wonders—speaks well of the trustworthiness of that book. Of course, even the Sears, Roebuck catalogue warns customers to beware of unreliable
“quacks.” But I could not trust a religious movement, teacher, or book that discouraged—or worse, forbade—sincere and thorough questioning of
basic beliefs.

When a teacher of religion seems threatened by respectful but penetrating questions in his class, becomes increasingly defensive, even angry,
as the students continue to press, there may be reason to suspect that the teacher’s own positions lack adequate evidence—and all this undermines trust.

Trust can be quickly destroyed. And there are no shortcuts to its restoration. Claims of trustworthiness prove nothing. Hitler
claimed he could be trusted. When Satan questioned the genuineness of Job’s faith, God did not settle the matter by divine pronouncement.
Instead, he permitted the painful demonstration of the facts in the case. This is God’s way of establishing the truth.

Even though God has been falsely accused of being unsafe to trust, there is only one way to meet the charge. Only by the demonstration of
trustworthiness over a long period of time and under a great variety of circumstances—especially difficult ones—can trust be
re-established and confirmed. The Bible—all sixty-six books—is a record of that demonstration.

The Authority of Truth

On the Sunday after Jesus was crucified, as two of his discouraged followers were walking home to Emmaus, trust was being severely tried.
They were confused by the death of their Leader, for they “had hoped that he would be the one who was going to set Israel free.”16

Jesus joined them on the way, but somehow they did not recognize him. The two men had serious questions that surely deserved
the Lord’s answers. But he did not reveal who he was. Instead he took them through the Old Testament, the record of
the “many and various ways” in which God had spoken “by the prophets.” I wish I could have heard the stories and
statements he chose. Finally the two men recognized that their questions had been answered—all without knowing that
it was the Lord himself who was leading them through the Scriptures.

Why didn’t Jesus tell them who he was? In their reverence for him, they would gladly have accepted his every explanation.
“If Jesus says it, we believe it, and that settles it!”

I believe that’s why Jesus remained disguised. He did not want them to run the risk of accepting what he said,
just on the authority of his personal testimony. He could have been Satan in disguise, the one who “masquerades as an angel of light.”17

Not until the two men had been led to an intelligent confidence based on adequate evidence
was Jesus satisfied. Then, and then only did he reveal who he was.

Evidently God does not want us to believe what he says just because of who he is, the sovereign Creator of the universe.
He wants us to trust him because of the kind of Person we have found him to be. He wants us to trust him in the light of the truth.

Crown with a rose

1. See Acts 16:25-34.

2. See James 2:19.

3. Hebrews 1:1,2; John 14:9.

4. See Revelation 12:7-9.

5. See John 8:44.

6. See Genesis 3.

7. See John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:16.

8. See Matthew 24:23,24.

9. Matthew 24:4,5, GNB.

10. 1 John 4:1, GNB.

11. See Revelation 13:8,12-14, GNB.

12. Deuteronomy 13:1-3, GNB.

13. 1 Kings 13:8,9, GNB.

14. 1 Kings 13:18, GNB.

15. 1 Thessalonians 5:21, NIV.

16. Luke 24:21, GNB.

17. 2 Corinthians 11:14, REB, NIV.

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