by Stan Smith
"Choose to believe." That's what they tell us. We need to "choose to believe" in Christ. It is a matter of our will. Frankly, this baffles me. I have never had the freedom to choose what I believe. If I did, I could choose to believe in all sorts of cool things like unicorns and faeries. (I specifically chose that spelling to avoid any correlation to the slang use of its alternative spelling.) But ... I don't.
How do we believe? If you look around, you'll find a host of "believers" -- ways in which people believe whatever they believe. There are the immensely accepting conspiracy buffs who see conspiracies around every corner. They argue that the total lack of evidence is proof of the conspiracy. There are the skeptics who look at you with slitted eyes when you suggest that all animal life needs oxygen. Then look at, for instance, a debate. Which side won the debate is almost always determined by which side you were already on. You see the reasonableness of the guy arguing for your side and can't even figure out how that other guy can even tie his shoes given the complete irrationality of his thinking processes. Okay, I'm exaggerating, but you get the idea. We believe what we believe and it isn't really accurate to suggest that we choose what that will be.
Lots of things determine why we believe what we believe. It might be personal experience. "Last time I walked into that room I ran into a table. That room is dangerous." It might be from hearing someone you trust. "My dad says ..." and heaven help the kid that disagrees with what my dad says. But when this same kid comes home from school and Dad says, "No, that's not what happened in history," the standard response will be, "Yes it is! My teacher said so!" Some people determine what they believe by studying the evidence and coming to a conclusion. Some have conclusions to which they hold and around which they will happily bend the evidence to make it fit. Some prefer not to think at all and just "go with how I feel". The latter can easily believe A today and not-A tomorrow based on their feelings. For some, "expert opinion" makes all the difference and for others, "Those aren't experts." We believe for lots of reasons, but we do not choose what we believe. We may choose to reinforce what we believe, but we don't actually get to choose what we believe.
The opposite question, however, is actually expressed in Scripture. We naturally wonder how one comes to believe in Christ. We read, "Faith comes by hearing and hearing through the Word of Christ" (Romans 10:17). But why do people notbelieve in Christ? I wonder sometimes. I mean, I can trot out all the evidence, all the historical data, all the logic and reasoning, all the anecdotal support, all of this, and still people don't believe. I feel like I said "2 + 2 = 4" and they didn't believe me. So I pull out all the math rules and demonstrate on fingers and oranges and count it out carefully and still they don't see it. How can that be? Did you know that question is explicitly and directly addressed in the Bible?
Remember the story of the feeding of the 5,000 (John 6)? Afterward, those people who miraculously got fed chased Jesus down to get fed again. They couch their hunger in spiritual terms. "What must we do to be doing the works of God?" (By which they certainly meant, "How do we pull off this neat trick of getting fed from nearly nothing?") Jesus answers. Pay attention to His answer. "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent" (John 6:29). It is God's work for you to believe. But that's not the question we're examining here. Why do people not believe? Jesus continued to aggravate the crowd with things like "I am the bread of life" (John 6:35), "No man can" (universal negative) "come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him" (John 6:44) and "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you" (John 6:53). Not a crowd-pleasing speech. The text goes on to say that "His disciples were grumbling about this" (John 6:61) and "Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe" (John 6:64). So He told them "There are some of you who do not believe" (John 6:64) followed by "This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father" (John 6:66). Note, first, another universal negative -- "No one can come to Me". One thing and one thing alone changes that negative. "Unless it is granted him by the Father." Thus, the reason that Jesus said people do not believe is that it is not granted by the Father.
Over in John 8 Jesus offers another reason for people not to believe Him. The Pharisees were dueling with Him and again Jesus fails to give them conciliatory conversation. They claim to be children of Abraham (John 8:39) and, unlike Jesus -- a bastard child -- children of God (John 6:41). Jesus responds with, "You are of your father the devil and your will is to do your father's desires" (John 8:44). Since their father was "a liar and the father of lies" (John 8:44), Jesus says, "Because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me" (John 8:45). Another reason for why they don't believe in Him. It wasn't His failure to produce evidence (which He did regularly) or offer reasons (which He did regularly), but their sin condition in opposition to His truth.
One of the clearest passages on the question is obscured simply by preconceptions. In John 10, Jesus is speaking about being the "good shepherd" -- that whole "shepherd/sheep" metaphor. He protects the sheep. He is the door of the sheep (John 10:7). He lays down His life for the sheep (John 10:11). He knows His sheep and they know Him (John 10:14). He has other sheep (John 10:16). Some listeners think He's demonic or crazy; others that He's right (John 10:20-21). But when they challenge Him, "If You are the Christ, tell us plainly" (John 10:24) (as if He hasn't been clear enough already), here is His answer. "You do not believe because you are not among My sheep" (John 10:26). Not, "You are not among My sheep because you do not believe." It is an explanation of exactly the question at hand -- Why do some not believe? The answer Jesus gives is not "They aren't convinced" or "They haven't had sufficient input" or "They are just unwilling", but "They are not My sheep." The (logical, not necessarily temporal) sequence, then, is "of My sheep" first and then "believe". Without the prior "of My sheep", "believe" is not possible.
The Bible offers one more explanation to the question of why some don't believe. You won't like it. Trust me. It takes place after the raising of Lazarus (John 11). (I mean, how much more clear evidence do you need?) The text at hand says, "Though He had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in Him" (John 12:37). That is, arguments and evidence were irrelevant. The evidence was irrefutable and still they didn't believe. At this point the reader should be asking, "But ... how is it possible that they did not believe after all that?" John answers that question. John says they did not believe in Him
so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: "Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, "He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them" (John 12:38-40).
Now, like I said, you probably won't like this. I'm just pointing. Don't shoot the messenger here. According to John (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit), the reason that "they did not believe in Him" was so that the prophet Isaiah would be right. On what basis would that happen (according to the text, not according to some logic)? Because God made the prophecy through Isaiah, they did not believe because "they could not believe." I didn't make that up. It's what the text says. They didn't believe because they could not believe. And why did they lack the ability to believe? Again,according to the text, "He" [God] "has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them." This final reason offered explicitly in the pages of Scripture as to why people do not believe in Christ is that God blinds their eyes and hardens their hearts.
Now, again, I'm not making this stuff up or offering speculation or interpretation. I'm not even suggesting why God might do such a thing. I'm simply pointing out that God's Word says it. What to do with it after this is up to you.
To me it is a baffling thing why it is that everyone is not a believer. Seems to me that the problem of sin is obvious and the offer of salvation remarkable and everyone would want this. But it just isn't so. People universally lack the power to come to Christ; the only method of changing that is if God grants it. Humans, according to Jesus, don't believe the truth when it runs counter to the father of lies and he is their father. A prerequisite to belief is to be "of My sheep". Without first being of His sheep it is not possible to believe. And, according to the pages of Scripture, one reason that some do not believe is that they cannot because God has blinded them and hardened their hearts. In other words,biblically there are several good and clear reasons why people do not believe in Christ.
Now, maybe you don't like those reasons. Maybe you question them. Maybe you think that taking them as they are written is a mistake. You're certainly free to come to your own conclusions on the reasons why people don't believe. I'm just pointing out that the Bible clearly spells out reasons. Make of them what you will. I'm forced to go with what God's Word says on the subject. And it doesn't seem to be the reasons offered by a lot of Christians today.
"Today's Little Lift" from
Mercy and not Sacrifice (Sept. 17, 2010)Read Article »
I'm married with four grown children and (currently) four grandchildren. My wife and I live in sunny Phoenix by choice. I hope to encourage people with my words and to share with others what God has shared with me.
For more writings you can see my blog at birdsoftheair.blogspot.com.
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