I started this post three weeks ago and have been so busy with life outside the blog that I haven’t been able to finish it. Now that I’ve got some time, I’m not sure that I should even try.
It all began with this post about Phillip Pullman’s views on God as he’s expressed them in various interviews. When asked whether or not he was interested in theology, he said that he was. Pullman commented that he was very interested in the “big questions” of theology such as “Is there a god?” I made the point then that I think theology’s first question is not “Is there a god?” but rather “Who is god?” Originally, I had planned a post that would expound on that question. I did some very limited reading and then the end of the semester and the holidays came upon me. Today, I looked back at some of what I’d written and realized that I’m not up to the challenge.
Of course, I think I know something about who God is, but I don’t think I know everything about who God is. I don’t even think that’s humanly possible. Yet, I do believe that it’s possible to know specific things about God. Those specific things are known and knowable as a result of God’s self-revealing actions.
Several years ago, I was having dinner with a self-described “overly-educated” atheist and we were discussing God. He challenged that if God exists, why doesn’t He just show Himself to everyone. This question/challenge comes out in different ways in different circumstances but I think it is rooted in the “Who is god?” question. It’s like saying, “Come on, show yourself so we can know exactly who you are. So we can have someone to acknowledge as existing and real.” My answer to this guy was utterly forgettable (as evidenced by my having forgotten it) yet it occurred to me recently that God has, according to the Scriptures, on occasion done exactly that. God has shown up.
He showed up in Egypt to deliver the descendants of Abraham from slavery. When Pharaoh heard God’s command he responded, “Who is the Lord that I should obey him?” God proceeded to answer that question by systematically undermining the so-called gods of Egypt by demonstrating that it was He who actually controlled the Sun, nature and even the revered Nile. God showed up repeatedly ever after in other ways, but another dramatic appearance was on Mt.Caramel during the reign of a king called Ahab.
At that time, there was a sort of question as to who the people ought to worship. The choice was between God, who delivered their ancestors from Pharaoh, and someone called Baal, a god reportedly imported from along with Jezebel, one of Ahab’s wives. A contest was proposed: Elijah, God’s prophet to Israel, and the priests of Baal would both set up altars to offer an animal sacrifice to their respective gods. The deity who showed up with fire to light the sacrifice would obviously be god. In the end, God showed up and Baal didn’t.
Of course, as a Christian, I believe that God showed up again in the man Jesus. I also believe that my friend will ultimately get what he asked for; that God will show Himself so that everyone will know empirically that He exists. The interesting thing is that God’s periodic appearances in the meantime, as we can see in the Bible, aren’t really enough to bring people to believe in Him. God’s revelation of who He is may move people from the category of atheist to theist, but it won’t necessarily move people to trust in Him, to give Him the honor and respect that are His due. Pharaoh was a witness to the plagues and yet he still gathered his troops and chased the Israelites into the desert. Ahab saw the fire of God consume the water-soaked altar, animal, stones and all and yet continued to defy God until his death. Jesus himself said that His own resurrection from the dead would not change the hearts of some people.
Along side of my former colleague, there is John Humphreys, the BBC journalist that I posted about last week. In his interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Humphreys says that he wants to believe in God, that he has “gone down on his knees night after night” trying to talk to God but he has “failed”. Still, he does not believe. God has not shown Himself to John Humphreys in spite of his prayers. Why? Why hasn’t God put in an appearance for someone like Humphreys who so desperately wants to believe in Him? I have no idea and would not venture to guess. However, based on the examples given above, I can’t help but pose the question for my former colleague, John Humphreys and others, “If God did show up for you personally, would you change? Would you worship Him or would you interrogate Him? Would you follow Him or would you continue to go your own way?”