We believe in God. Or do we? (Part 1)

We believe in God.  That’s a common answer when someone is asked, “Do you believe in God?”  But, is that really true?  I’ve been amazed by survey results that appear to show a belief in God but so many contradictions in the questions that follow.  That’s the reason for the second part of the title – “Or do we?”  Unfortunately, I think I found my answer in this month’s Christianity Today.  It’s sad.  It’s depressing.  And yet, it’s also cause for hope – because if Christians actually did what Jesus commissioned us to do, it’s a situation we could possibly change.

We believe in God.  Or do we?
Believe. But in what?

The caption on the image says “Believe. But in what?”

Apparently, that’s a key component that has been left out of a lot of surveys to see whether or not we believe in God.  Here’s something from the PEW Research Center when the question of “in what” was more fully explored.

The United States has long ranked high among the world’s nations in its level of religious belief. But the Pew Research Center recently examined just what 80 percent of Americans actually mean when they say they “believe in God.” Here’s what its survey of more than 4,700 adults found:

56% of Americans believe in God  —  “as described in the Bible”.

I hate to say it, but that number, if anything, still sounds a bit higher that I expected.

Barely of Americans believe in God  —  “as described in the Bible”.

When we dig further into the numbers, we find out even more.

Attributes of God

Of those 56% who said they believe in the God of the Bible, we see the following responses to three more questions:

  • Is God all-loving?
    • Only 97% think so.  That’s 3% who either think God is not all-loving or don’t have an opinion.
  • Is God all-knowing?
    • Only 94% think so.  Now we’re up to 6% who either think God is not all-knowing or don’t have an opinion.
  • Is God all-powerful?
    • Sadly, we’re down to 86% on this one.  That leaves 14% who either think God is not all-powerful or don’t have an opinion.

The number that came from combining all of the responses is even worse.  From the responses only 83% believe that God is all three – all-loving, all-knowing and all-powerful.  That means 17% disagree.  That’s nearly 1 out of 5 who say they believe in God, as described in the Bible – and yet apparently don’t believe what the Bible says – or something along those lines.  Maybe that sounds cold.  Like I’m over-reacting.  But – what do they do with the passages below?

All-loving
God’s Love and Ours

1Jn 4:7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

1Jn 4:13 We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 17 In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

1Jn 4:19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

And in case that’s not enough, there’s the verse that is arguably the most famous one in the Bible.

Jn 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

How can we say that we believe in God – as described in the Bible – and at the same time claim that He is not all-loving?

All-knowing

There are many verses in the Bible that talk about God knowing everything.  I refer you specifically to Psalm 139, which starts off like this:

Psalm 139

For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.

Ps 139:1 O LORD, you have searched me
and you know me.

Ps 139:2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.

Ps 139:3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.

Ps 139:4 Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O LORD.

and ends with:

Ps 139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.

Ps 139:24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

For more detail on that thought and on Psalm 139, please see: Search me, know my heart, test me.

Again the question remains – how is it that we can say that we believe in God – as described in the Bible – and at the same time claim that He is not all-knowing?

All-powerful

Let’s start with this passage from Isaiah:

Isa 43:10 “You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD,
“and my servant whom I have chosen,
so that you may know and believe me
and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
nor will there be one after me.

Isa 43:11 I, even I, am the LORD,
and apart from me there is no savior.

Isa 43:12 I have revealed and saved and proclaimed—
I, and not some foreign god among you.
You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “that I am God.

Isa 43:13 Yes, and from ancient days I am he.
No one can deliver out of my hand.
When I act, who can reverse it?”

I have to ask – what kind of witness are we when we claim to believe in God – as described in the Bible – and yet disagree with this passage?

Maybe you think the Old Testament doesn’t apply to you.  Some Christians have this belief – from somewhere – but certainly not from the Bible.  Some even think they only need to read the words in the red letters – the ones spoken by Jesus.  BTW – it doesn’t say that in the Bible either.  But in case you need something from the Old Testament, let’s look at these passages:

The Fulfillment of the Law

Mt 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven”

Oops.  Some of you need to go back and start checking out the Old Testament.

This next passage is to set up the final one.

Jesus Heals a Paralytic

9:2-8 pp — Mk 2:3-12; Lk 5:18-26

Mt 9:1 Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. 2 Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”

Mt 9:3 At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!”

Mt 9:4 Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? 5 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 6 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. . . .” Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” 7 And the man got up and went home. 8 When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.

Here, Jesus compares the “relative difficulty” of saving someone, versus healing them.  Notice that Jesus heals the paralytic and is accused of blasphemy by the teachers of the law.  Jesus then asks the teacher of the law whether it’s easier to “say” you’re forgiven or you’re healed.  Then, Jesus tells the man to get up and go home.  Which is easier to say, really, is irrelevant.  At least it is to Jesus.  He’s God.  He can do anything.  But us – people – we seem to think it’s easier to heal someone.

However, all of this misses the cultural context of the scene.

your sins are forgiven People in ancient Israel commonly saw a relationship between sin and sickness (or suffering; e.g., John 9). Although Matthew does not explicitly state this connection, it could explain why Jesus begins by announcing forgiveness for the paralytic.  <fn>Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Mt 9:2). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Today, we “know” this relationship isn’t the case.  And while we’d like to believe that what we “know” is actually true – I believe a Christian has to be careful about that.  The relationship between the health of anyone and things that happen as a result of spiritual forces is one that we should not avoid.  Among other places, we see in Job where God allows Satan to cause physical ailment to Job.  We also read that all of creation is corrupted and “groaning”.

Future Glory

Ro 8:18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

Ro 8:22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Ro 8:26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

Add to this the fact that Job’s physical issues were not the result of his sin, and there’s really only one conclusion we can reach.  More correctly, there’s only one conclusion we can reach – if we believe what the Bible says.  Physical ailments do come from sin.  Maybe ours.  Maybe someone else’s.  Maybe even just the general fallen condition of our world.  But the inescapable message from the Bible is that there will be no more physical ailments (or others kinds) after Satan is defeated.  And they only exist now because of The Fall, from Adam and Eve.

So – the cultural conclusion from the Israelites is that there is a direct relationship between a person’s health and that same person’s sins.  What we should realize today is that there is a relationship between physical (and mental) ailments and sin.  Not necessarily ours – but sin.  Truth is – the Jewish people should have realized that as well – given what happened with Job – and with other passages in the Old Testament Scriptures that they were well aware of.

So – when Jesus tells the paralytic to get up and walk home, He is showing that He can heal physical sickness as well as saving someone’s soul.

Therefore, when we read the passage blow – we should also see a powerful message about the omnipotence of God.

The Rich Young Man

10:17-31 pp — Mt 19:16-30; Lk 18:18-30

Mk 10:17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Mk 10:18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’’”

Mk 10:20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

Mk 10:21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Mk 10:22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Mk 10:23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

Mk 10:24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

Mk 10:26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”

Mk 10:27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

The disciples are asking “Who then can be saved?”.
And Jesus answers  all things are possible with God.

all things are possible with God

Yes – all things are possible with God.  Including and because God is all-loving, all-knowing and all-powerful.

Conclusion – We believe in God.  Or do we?

As I said, I’ve been amazed by the high percentage of people who respond to surveys and say they believe in God.  But now here’s this survey saying that only 56% of Americans believe in God, as described in the Bible.  But still – even that 56% who claim to believe in God, as described in the Bible – really don’t  believe in God as described in the Bible.  It’s like the people who don’t believe in God at all, but still talk about someone who has died “going to a better place”.  (For more on that thought, please see The problem of “a better place”.)

How is it that some of the 56% don’t really seem to know God – as described in the Bible?  Sadly, too many reasons.  For some info on that, please see Americans want to read the Bible more, but don’t.

However, there is hope.  For those that believe in God – as described in the Bible, there is Jesus’ commission to us:

The Great Commission

Mt 28:16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

We need to do just that.  Teach them about God – as described in the Bible.  Not the way too many people think He is.  The way He is really described.  After all – The Bible is from God.  And who better to describe God that Himself?

Paul wrote the following passage in his letter to the Roman church.  Some time, it would be good to write more on it.  But for now – I leave it for you to read.  And remember.  And act on.  And to live it.

The Weak and the Strong

Ro 14:1 Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. 2 One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

Ro 14:5 One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

Ro 14:9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. 10 You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written:
“ ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will confess to God.’ ” 12 So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.

Ro 14:13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. 14 As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. 15 If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. 16 Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.

Ro 14:19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.

Ro 14:22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. 23 But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

Ro 15:1 We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. 2 Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3 For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” 4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

Ro 15:5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, 6 so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ro 15:7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. 8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs 9 so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy, as it is written:
“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;
I will sing hymns to your name.” 10 Again, it says,
“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” 11 And again,
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and sing praises to him, all you peoples.” 12 And again, Isaiah says,
“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
one who will arise to rule over the nations;
the Gentiles will hope in him.”

Ro 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

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