Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Faithfulness beyond the spectacular

Sometimes you will hear people say that they would be more faithful to God, or perhaps they would believe in God in the first place, if only it were more obvious that he existed. Why shouldn't he give us a good number of signs, so as to make his existence perfectly clear and we would all happily go along with his plan? Wouldn't it be much easier this way?

Yet personal experience and the Bible suggest that this is not actually true. My professors have told us that they know of incidents, for instance, where a person will have something unambiguously miraculous occur in her life. This event, despite its fantastic character, still does not seem to change their life any; they do not suddenly become more faithful, or at least not in any lasting way, even though God has demonstrated his presence in and concern for their life in this obvious way.

The Biblical examples are suggestive as well. Consider the infamous case of Solomon, the third king of Israel:

For when Solomon was old, his wives turned away after other gods; and his heart was not true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of his father David. . . . Then the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, and had commanded him concerning this matter, that he should not follow other gods; but he did not observe what the LORD commanded (1 Kings 11.4, 9-10).

Here we have a wonderful example that the miraculous and direct contact with God does not entail faithfulness or glad obedience. The LORD had appeared to Solomon twice, and yet Solomon disobeys the LORD's commandment not to worship other gods.

The truth of the matter is that the human heart is fickle and readily disregards the straightforward demonstrations of God's goodwill for us. In Solomon's case, though God had appeared to him twice, he disregards that because his many wives worship other gods, and so he has to worship their gods and make altars for them as well. In our case, it may be a number of things: we love making money too much to obey Jesus' commands about the use of our wealth; we prefer the sexually loose life we live which allows us to obey the impulses of the body as they arise, rather than disciplining ourselves and limiting ourselves as God demands; we may prefer to insist on our right to be angry and hold a grudge, rather than forgiving and loving the persons who are inimical to us.

We may not actually be as willing to be faithful as we take ourselves. We might not have the goodwill we suppose. Let no one deceive himself on this issue: God demands faithfulness, even granting the evidence and the clarity of things as he has established them. For some persons, he provides a more spectacular and miraculous sign, and some are faithful (e.g., the apostles, including Paul) while others are not so much faithful (e.g., the Hebrews leaving Egypt, Solomon). In any case, the imperative remains: be faithful, exactly as things stand. God demands a faithfulness which goes beyond a dependence on the spectacular. And on this matter, God does not budge: either you are faithful, or else you are judged.