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God Uses Flawed People

In my last posting (‘Living with Betrayal‘) I talked about the pain I felt when people I had trusted and admired betrayed the standards they professed. Of course, I am far from being unique in that respect. The fact is that, if we have seen someone in a position of influence offend in such a manner, most of us are not just reluctant ever to trust that person again: we even struggle with our memories of their past good deeds. Suddenly, even their best actions look tainted to us, we question whether their motives were ever truly sincere and inwardly cringe if others begin to praise them.

God is So Different

God really is so different in His dealings with us. Before the ‘God encounter’ that led me to write ‘Transformed by Love,’ I struggled with my attitude to the writings of Solomon, because he is a classic example of one who started sweet and ended sour. As a young man, he comes across as a model of humility, zeal for God, love for people and wisdom: but in later years as a womanizer, sponsor of false Gods, lover of pleasure and cynic.

Having written about the wonderful transformation his love brought about in the life of the young maiden who forms the focus of the Song of Solomon, it pains me to ponder how that relationship might have ended in his later years. Did she feel betrayed? I fear she did. And did he betray the very vision he presented in the Song? Yes.

Doomed to fail: but not discarded

Solomon’s attempt to fulfil his vision of the Shepherd King, the King of Love, was doomed from the start. Only Jesus could do that. Solomon was a flawed human being, just like the rest of us. But whereas my instinct is to turn away from him and say, ‘Why should this be in the Bible?’ God doesn’t do that.

The reality is that we are all flawed. If we strike out Solomon’s writings, should we not also strike out the psalms of David, who committed both adultery and murder in his affair with Bathsheba? If God had not been willing to bless and use people in spite of their failures then Abraham’s half-truths would have cost him his wife at least twice, Moses’ murder of the Egyptian would have made him a fugitive for the rest of his life, Peter’s denial would have been the end of his ministry, Paul’s would never have started and Mark never written his gospel, to mention but a few. If we took account of them all, the result would have been no Bible, no Jesus and no hope.

But God doesn’t write people off when they fail. Their earlier good deeds still stand as a testimony to us even after they have fallen. And where God finds a humble heart, like that of David or Peter, even though we might be inclined to write that person off and consign them to the back pages of history, He is willing to pick them up and use them mightily again.

Living with Betrayal

Jesus is eating the Passover Meal with his disciples when he drops his bombshell, “One of you will betray me.” It’s not the first time he has mentioned this: but never before has he been so specific: one of those in the room right now is a traitor.

Consternation grips the disciples as they look around at each other. Peter catches the eye of John, sitting next to Jesus, and covertly signs, ‘Who? Ask him!’ John whispers in Jesus’ ear, and he whispers something back. Only Peter knows of this exchange; but it seems that John is still in the dark. Tension fills the room.

Then Jesus takes a morsel of bread, dips it in the dish, and hands it to Judas, who must also have been sitting close by. When Jesus follows this by telling Judas, “What you have to do, do quickly,” and Judas rises to leave, does John try frantically to signal Peter, ‘It’s him!’?

We don’t know: but we do know that, even now, the other disciples don’t suspect Judas. He is their treasurer. And, In the culture of Jesus’ day, if a host personally handed such a morsel to a guest that was an gesture of love and high regard. There is nothing in Jesus’ treatment of him to suggest otherwise: so they simply assume he’s going for supplies, or taking a gift to the poor.

What really amazes me

That Jesus should treat Judas with such love and respect whilst knowing that Judas was about to betray him, is indeed amazing. But it is not the most amazing thing about this incident. In John 6, verses 64 and 70-71 we read that “Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who didn’t believe, and who it was who would betray him.

What really astounds me is the fact that Jesus could live with this close-knit band of followers for around 2 years knowing that Judas would ultimately betray him. Yet, in all that time Jesus did and said nothing that gave the other disciples any clue that he felt either reservations or lack of love towards Judas.

Betrayal is so hard to bear

During my 50 years as a Christian I have on a number of occasions felt the pain when those who I have trusted and deeply admired as friends and outstanding examples of Christian character have fallen and been exposed for betraying the standards they openly avowed. Even when I have not been the one directly wronged, the pain of it has been at times like a knife twisted in my gut.

It’s so much harder, of course, when you are the one who has been directly wronged – especially if, in the immediate aftermath of discovery, you have to continue in some form of relationship with your betrayer. And subsequently, although I have always sought to forgive and refrain from judgement, I confess that I have struggled with receiving such people back into a position of trust again.

You look back on the things they said and did, and think to yourself, ‘How could they … when all the time this was going on?’ ‘If only I had known …’ ‘How can I trust them now?’

Ignorance is bliss

I used to think that such sudden discoveries were the worst kind of betrayal. But what Jesus endured was even harder. We struggle to love again and trust again because we fear that we will be betrayed again, even though we hope we will not. But think how much harder it would have been to love that person if we had known that we were being betrayed, or to love again if we knew that we would certainly be betrayed again in the worst possible manner! Could you have loved that one who betrayed you the way you did if you had known what they were going to do to you?

That was the challenge for Jesus: he did know. And his problems with Judas didn’t begin at the last supper. John tells us money had gone missing before (Jn 12:6): but, whereas John probably only realised how with the benefit of hindsight, Jesus knew. Nor was it just the thieving. How would you have reacted if someone you knew had been embezzling a charitable fund were to publicly denounce someone else’s ‘wastefulness’ for not donating to that fund?

Loving in spite of everything

Jesus supremely demonstrated the love of God – even to those who were on a collision course with God’s standards. Right up to the last possible moment he treated Judas with such impeccable love and respect that even those closest to him, and on the lookout for a potential traitor, could not see any hint of mistrust or dislike in his conduct.

It’s a hard act to follow: but that is the standard Jesus sets for us. And next time I am unexpectedly betrayed or let down, maybe I’ll even be thankful that I didn’t see it coming.

A discussion on Goodreads recently raised the rather interesting question: why does the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead appear only in the gospel of John? After all, on the face of it, this was Jesus’ greatest-ever miracle: so if it did really happen, how come the other gospel writers make no mention of it?


Beware the ‘Hollywood Effect’

My most lasting visual image of this story is from one of those classic films that showed virtually the entire village of Bethany looking on from a distance in awe and wonderment as the white-clad figure of Lazarus emerged from the tomb. It was a climactic moment in the film; and great cinema: but it was also a significant distortion of the facts.

John tells us that Lazarus had been in the tomb for 4 days when Jesus arrived. This means that Mary and Martha were still within the traditional 7-day mourning period (known as ‘shiva’), when friends and relatives would visit to offer their condolences and spend time mourning with them. So, yes, there would still have been a significant crowd of people with them in the house 4 days after the funeral: but not the whole village.

Nor was the resurrection a public spectacle. Martha first met Jesus privately, then called Mary secretly to come and join her. Those from the house who chose to follow her did not know of Jesus’ arrival; they thought she was going to weep at the tomb. And even after seeing Jesus, their only thought was that he had come too late. Thus, it would have been, at most, the disciples plus a houseful of close friends who actually saw what happened.

The other factual misconception encouraged by the film-makers is the telescoping of time. Typically, this event, if featured in the plot, is immediately followed by the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. But although John’s account also skips almost immediately to the Passover week, he qualifies this by saying:

‘So from that day forward they took counsel that they might put him to death. Jesus therefore walked no more openly among the Jews, but departed from there into the country near the wilderness, to a city called Ephraim. He stayed there with his disciples’ (John 11:53-4).

Far from heading directly to the final showdown, Jesus actually leaves the area to spend time in Ephraim, some 15 miles (20km) north of Jerusalem. So, although this incident marks the point at which the high priest took an ‘executive decision’ that Jesus would have to die, it actually takes place some time before Jesus’ final visit to Jerusalem. And, without the benefit of both hindsight and inside knowledge of the high priest’s deliberations, it is unlikely that its pivotal nature would have been so readily apparent.

The Selectivity of the Gospel accounts

We need to understand that all the gospel accounts are highly selective in their choice of incidents described. As the final verse of John’s gospel observes, “There are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they would all be written, I suppose that even the world itself wouldn’t have room for the books that would be written.”

The relatively high correlation between the choice of incidents in Matthew, Mark and Luke (the Synoptic gospels) is very probably down to them having used existing written collections (see Luke 1:1) as an aid to memory. At the outset, therefore, we should note that, apart from the final week of Jesus’ life, the events described in the synoptic gospels are focussed on Jesus’ ministry in Galilee and the regions away from Jerusalem. This isn’t as strange as we might at first think. Writing materials weren’t very portable in those days: so it is not really all that surprising if Jesus’ early chroniclers were based in Galilee, where his support was strongest.

But John’s gospel is quite unlike the others. He makes no apparent reference to these earlier accounts, or the other gospels; preferring to rely on Jesus’ promise that the Holy Spirit would “remind you of all that I said to you” (John 14:26). Nor does he attempt to give a full account of all Jesus’ travels and miracles. Rather, he focusses on a very limited choice of incidents that provide special insight into the purpose of Jesus’ life and ministry.

It should also be noted that John was in a unique position with regard to his access to the high priest’s household. His father appears to have been a fish merchant (Mk 1:20), his mother a social climber (Mt 20:20-21) and he was able to gain access even on the night of Jesus’ arrest (Jn 18:15). Thus, he was better placed than others to know the impact this miracle had on the high priest’s thinking.

So in asking why the story of Lazarus appears only in John, we must ask ourselves how many similar miracles the gospel writers had to choose from, and what considerations might influence their choice?

Selection Criteria

The available choices

The gospels describe four miracles performed by Jesus demonstrating his power over death (though, given what the gospel writers say about the sheer number of miracles Jesus performed, we cannot rule out the possibility there were others). These are:

  1. The Widow’s Son, Related only in Luke 7:11-15, this was the first of the recorded resurrection miracles. Jesus interrupts a funeral procession to raise a widow’s son to life. Based on Jewish customs of the time, the young man would have been dead for several hours: but not more than a day.
  2. Jairus’ daughter, This incident, involving a girl who had just died, took place in Galilee and appears in all 3 synoptic gospels.
  3. Lazarus, who had been dead and buried for 4 days.
  4. Jesus, raised from the dead on the third day, having been in the grave for a little over 36 hours.

Apart from Jesus’ own resurrection the most favoured account is Jairus’ daughter, despite it being the least spectacular in terms of length of time dead. The most obvious reason for this choice must be that it is the best documented. Evidently it was amongst the miracles recorded by the early Galilean chroniclers. This, plus the detail and pathos of the story (with the panic-stricken father forced to wait while Jesus deals with a seemingly less urgent case) makes it a natural choice.

Jesus’ own resurrection, whilst taking place over a shorter timescale than the raising of Lazarus, trumps that one in that it was the miracle-worker himself who was now dead and who is supernaturally raised without human intervention from a sealed and guarded tomb.

Thus we have all four gospels recounting at least 2 resurrection miracles and Luke adding a third (Jesus’ first, at Nain) for good measure.

Do they really need any more? Arguably not. So the question now is, what factors would persuade Matthew, Mark and Luke to either include or exclude the story of Lazarus?

Reasons for Inclusion

  1. It’s the most dramatic in terms of length of time dead. True, assuming he really was dead. But Jesus’ crucifixion provides much more convincing proof of death.
  2. Its pivotal role in the events leading to Jesus’ own death. True: but this was not apparent from the actual timing of events. It required insider knowledge, which John had access to. But did the others? Nor was this by any means the only factor influencing the authorities’ decision.
  3. The story, like that of Jairus, contains a lot of detail and pathos. True: but Jesus’ response to this situation is much harder to understand (see below).

Reasons for Exclusion

  1. Coming, as it does, towards the end of Jesus’ ministry, this account of a resurrection after four days in the grave might have seen by some as detracting from the natural climax of the gospels, Jesus’ own resurrection.
  2. There is a credibility issue here. People were no less disinclined to believe resurrection stories then than they are today (see Acts 17:32). Why stretch their credulity in advance of the much better-documented account of Jesus’ own resurrection?
  3. Despite its dramatic nature, the impact of this miracle seems to have been limited to the immediate vicinity of Jerusalem. By travelling just 15 miles north, Jesus appears to have been able to avoid its repercussions. As already noted, the actual number of witnesses was much smaller than we commonly suppose. And we also know that there was considerable hostility amongst the Jewish authorities, making testifying about Jesus a risky business around Jerusalem (cf. John 9:22 & 11:57). Thus there was a lack of general corroborative testimony – unlike the Galilean miracles, which had been widely reported.
  4. Many people struggle to understand why Jesus delayed going to Lazarus’ aid when he first heard of his sickness. John is seeking to give his readers an eternal perspective on our short-term tragedies: whereas the other gospel writers are primarily relating events. For them, these secondary questions would be a distraction from the main account.
  5. Whatever happened to Lazarus? The feature of any resurrection story that makes it most convincing is the ability to meet the prime witness – in this case, Lazarus. John tells us that when Jesus returned at the beginning of the passover week, ‘A large crowd therefore of the Jews learned that he was there, and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead‘ ( John 12:9). One might, therefore, have expected that, even after Jesus’ resurrection, Lazarus would have achieved some notoriety as a living proof of Jesus’ resurrection power. But we never hear of him again; and, ominously, John comments, ‘But the chief priests conspired to put Lazarus to death also, because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus‘ (John 12:11-12). Did someone kill him? Or, being an older man, did he just get ill again and die? We don’t know. But the absence of the chief witness undoubtedly detracts from the story.


None of the arguments raised above give us good grounds for denying the truth of John’s testimony concerning Lazarus. Those who deny it do so primarily on the basis of their own unbelief, arising from our natural human experience of the finality of death.

As far as Matthew, Mark and Luke are concerned, it can be seen that they would have had good reason for not including this particular incident in their accounts. But, from John’s standpoint we can equally understand why, despite any arguments to the contrary, he would consider this particular incident worth singling out for special mention.

N.B. To prevent spam or deliberately abusive postings, comments are moderated .If I am slow in approving or responding to your comment, please excuse me. I mostly rely on email notifications of pending comments: but sometimes these get lost. I will endeavour to respond as soon as I can and not unreasonably withhold publication.

3 Steps to Transformation

Jeremiah is often known as a prophet of ‘doom and gloom.’ Yet, in the middle of a passage denouncing the sins of Israel and warning of coming judgement, we find this gem of encouragement:

Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, Let not the mighty man glory in his might, Nor let the rich man glory in his riches; But let him who glories glory in this, That he understands and knows Me, That I am the LORD, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:23-4).

These two verses are like a manifesto concerning both the true source of fulfilment in life and God’s agenda for bringing us into that place.

The source of true Fulfilment

False Confidence

This passage begins by identifying three areas in which we naturally tend to place our confidence: wisdom, power and riches. We almost instinctively look up to those whom we perceive as being successful in these areas; and, the higher we are able to rise in their success rankings, the more we think that we have ‘arrived.’ But wisdom is elusive (it always leads to yet more questions); power is transient (even the mightiest eventually fall); riches, even while they still last, will either leave the heart disappointed or longing for more. And, though we could name many other areas of possible human achievement, all are as transient as life itself.

As Solomon, who had wisdom, power and riches in abundance finally complained as he neared the end of his life: “Meaningless! Meaningless! … Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2 NIV)

Finding God’s Heart

There is only one way that we can transcend the transience of life; and that is by finding the source and purpose of our life in one who is not subject to death and decay. Solomon also saw this, and concluded:

This is the end of the matter. All has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every work into judgment, with every hidden thing, whether it is good, or whether it is evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

But Solomon’s relationship with God was deficient. In his earlier years he had sought God and seen a wonderful vision of the redemptive and restorative power of God, as expressed in his wonderful ‘Song of Songs.’ But he had neglected his own relationship with God in his pursuit of self-fulfilment, forging treaties by marrying foreign wives and building shrines to their gods (1 Kings 11:4-13). And, with so many wives to satisfy, it is sadly very doubtful if much of his original love for them could had survived. So he became fixated on the judgemental aspect of God’s character and lost sight of His true heart and purpose for our lives.

God’s Agenda

But Jeremiah, though surrounded by corruption and at times in dark despair, kept his heart open to God; and even at such a time was able to receive this wonderful revelation of the character and purpose of God:

But let him who glories glory in this, That he understands and knows Me, That I am the LORD, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:23-4).

God’s agenda for our lives has three stages, exemplified in the three characteristics of lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness cited above. These are acceptance, repentance and transformation.


The first thing God wants us to know is that, regardless of what we have done, He still loves and accepts us just as we are.

God’s dealings with man are always marked by loving kindness. Even when Adam had just kicked off the whole sad history of human rebelliousness, one of God’s first acts was to help him make a better suit of clothes (Genesis 3:21).

We make the mistake of thinking that God is ‘out to get us’ when we have done wrong and think we have to put it right somehow before we dare come to him. But God calls us to come just as we are and promises not to turn us away (John 6:37). (The truth is that we could never put it right anyway – see Isaiah 64:6 and Luke 17:10.)

Jesus’ ministry typified this.

When the Pharisees saw it, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
When Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are healthy have no need for a physician, but those who are sick do. But you go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ for I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
(Matthew 9:11-13)


These words of Jesus lead us on to the next important step. God will judge sin. However, his judgement is not directed at us: but at our sins. He wants to separate us from them so that we can be freed from their consequences.

There is an immense difference between God and Satan in this respect. The name, ‘Satan,’ means ‘the Accuser.’ His purpose is to condemn us: to make us feel so utterly unacceptable and worthless that we will lose hope and never turn to God. But God’s purpose is redemptive. He wants us to see our sin the way He sees it, so that we will truly desire to change. And when we do, He is there to make it possible.

But ‘Justice,’ as the old saying goes, ‘must not only be done: it must be seen to be done.’ When Jesus died on the cross a transaction took place. He took on himself the consequences of all the sins we have ever committed. (We cannot even really begin to imagine what this must have been like – an agony greater than all the agonies that anyone has ever suffered as a consequence of sin. The flogging and the nails would have been nothing in comparison.)

For him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)


The result is that God’s righteousness becomes part of our nature too, and we are transformed. We are set free from the power of sin in our lives through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit and enabled to live lives of love that will go on to impact even the society in which we live.

Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all who are far off, even as many as the Lord our God will call to himself.”

With many other words he testified, and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!” Then those who gladly received his word were baptized. There were added that day about three thousand souls.

They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and prayer. Fear came on every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. All who believed were together, and had all things in common. They sold their possessions and goods, and distributed them to all, according as anyone had need. Day by day, continuing steadfastly with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home, they took their food with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. (Acts 2:38-47)


N.B. To prevent spam or deliberately abusive postings, comments are moderated .If I am slow in approving or responding to your comment, please excuse me. I mostly rely on email notifications of pending comments: but sometimes these get lost. I will endeavour to respond as soon as I can and not unreasonably withhold publication.

One of the hardest things for us to comprehend is what it really feels like to be someone else. I have known my wife for over 40 years; yet, although I have learned to understand that there are certain things that give her great pleasure and others that cause her grief, there are still areas where I can only guess at what she’s really feeling.

We try to empathize by reminding ourselves of personal experiences that may have given rise to similar feelings. But all too often these are not equal to the situation, or the memory too faded to be of sufficient help. Yet at such times, the thing a person usually craves most is not advice: but that simple sense that here is someone who can truly understand how they feel.

The problem is, I can’t feel what you feel because I’m not connected to you the way I am to my own body. If I bang my finger, I am in agony: but if you break your leg I can’t feel it. I can only try to empathize.

For us, that is probably just as well. If we did literally feel the pain of those around us it would, I think, be more than any of us could handle.

Nevertheless, there is someone who can truly understand.

God is Connected

Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. (Psalm 139:4 NIV)

Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the LORD. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the LORD. (Jeremiah 23:24)

The eyes of the LORD are in every place, beholding the evil and the good. (Proverbs 15:3)

For in him we live, and move, and have our being… (Acts 17:28)

We cannot feel another person’s feelings, because we are physically limited and have no direct connection to them. Even to share our thoughts, we must use signs or words. But God is everywhere and perceives even our unspoken thoughts. He is not just able to see you: He can see through your eyes. He hears what you hear and He feels what you feel.

When you suffer, He suffers.

The Bible contains a striking example of this principle.

Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. (Psalm 51:4 NIV).

These words are from King David’s prayer when he has just been confronted by Nathan the prophet over his affair with Bathsheba. David, having caught sight of this beautiful woman, had misused his authority to summon her to his palace. This was in spite of the fact she was the wife of Uriah, a trusted and courageous officer in David’s army, who was at that very moment out risking his life in David’s service. When she became pregnant, David first tried to make it look as if Uriah were the father. When that plan failed, He sent orders that Uriah should be deliberately sacrificed in battle. (For the full story see 2 Samuel 11:2 – 12:25.)

So this verse used to really bug me. I could see that the big issue, as far as God was concerned, was David’s betrayal of Uriah. But how on earth could this be a sin against God alone? What about poor Uriah? If he had known what David, his king, to whom he was so devoted, was doing behind his back – or if in his last moments, as he lay dying on the battlefield, he had known that this was on David’s express orders, which Uriah had himself carried to the commander of David’s army – what agonies would this have caused him?

But here’s what makes this story so significant. Uriah could feel no pain of betrayal in his death because he did not know what David had done. But God knew it and felt it; and He took it just as personally as if the deed had been done to himself. And David, once God had confronted him with the enormity of what he had done, also realised this; and so uttered this extraordinary prayer, ‘Against you, you only, have I sinned and done this evil in your sight.’

Note that this is not to say that God is normally the only victim of our misdeeds. The Bible contains plenty of teaching about accepting responsibility for the effects of our actions on others, and on making restitution to them as far as possible. But what it does show is how completely He feels our pain – even more fully, at times, than we do ourselves. Jesus makes a similar point in the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46; ‘inasmuch as you did (or didn’t) do it to one of the least of these … you did it to me.’

Every joy you’ve ever felt, He has felt and rejoiced with you. And every injury and insult you ever suffered, He suffered also. Not only so, but He also felt and understood all the frustration and pain that drove those who hurt you to become what they were and do what they did. What must it be like, as God, to actually feel all the hopes, fears, joys and agonies of every human being on this planet? I cannot even begin to imagine: but, fortunately, I am not expected to.

Connection is a Two-way Street


When my children were first born they were incapable of understanding who I was or how I felt about them: but as they grew, it was such a delight to see that sense of relationship develop, and to have them throw their arms around my neck and say, ‘I love you, Daddy.’ I did not actually do very much to bring them into the world. My wife did much more: yet both of us were essentially spectators to an amazing process over which we had very little direct control. Yet those bonds of mutual interdependence have caused me to invest much of my own life into them; and, even though they are independent now, they remain incredibly important to me.

I also had a dog once that was born with both hips malformed. I had to authorise two drastic operations that would leave it crippled for months at a time: but with an ultimate prospect of a long and active life. During those months, I watched this puppy hobble pitifully about the place, and what I had done tore at my heart. He always dreaded going to the vet afterwards (though he never showed a trace of mistrust towards me for taking him there). I longed to be able to explain to him why I had done what I did: but all I could do was comfort him until the time came when he could finally leap like a jackrabbit to catch his beloved frisbee.

In both cases, I found I had far more than just a desire to understand, observe and input into their lives. What I sought above all was to have a 2-way relationship of mutual love and understanding. My own ability to understand and shape their lives was limited: yet to the extent that my life was bound up with theirs I found that I had this desire not just to understand how they felt, but to be able to meaningfully communicate with them.

I never was able to explain to my dog, of course; though we enjoyed many fun-filled years together. But my relationship with my children continues to deepen as we now share their experiences of the joys and trials of parenthood.

Is it not then reasonable to think that God would similarly desire a meaningful 2-way relationship with those creatures to whom he has given the capacity for conscious awareness, understanding and love? And is it not also reasonable to conclude that a God who is able to know our every thought must have the capacity to carry on such a relationship with anyone who desires it?

Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yes, these may forget, yet I will not forget you! (Isaiah, 49:15)

Jesus, in his famous parable of the Prodigal Son, portrays God as the father, spurned by his son, who nonetheless continues to watch and hope for his return. Until one day, seeing him in the distance, he threw his personal dignity to the winds ‘… and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him,’ (Luke 15:20).

Will You Accept the Connection?

In the past, if you had no money for a phone call you could call the operator; who then called the person you wanted to speak to, explained who was calling, and asked, ‘Will you accept the connection?’ There was a cost involved (though usually the benefit far outweighed the charge): so the call was never connected without the recipient’s consent.

Nothing can ever prevent God from knowing all about you: but the choice about having a 2-way relationship is yours. There is a cost. It involves learning to see things the way God sees them – and that can be hard at times. But the benefits far outweigh the cost. And God himself has paid a far higher price than I have discussed here to make this possible for us. But that is a subject for another posting…

N.B. To prevent spam or deliberately abusive postings, comments are moderated .If I am slow in approving or responding to your comment, please excuse me. I mostly rely on email notifications of pending comments: but sometimes these get lost. I will endeavour to respond as soon as I can and not unreasonably withhold publication.

Why Does God Hide?

Why does God hide himself from us? It is a question that has been asked, not only by agnostics and atheists, but by many a disappointed enquirer and even by many believers, frustrated by God’s apparent inaccessibility when they were seeking answers on a particular issue.

It must be obvious to us all that God, if He is the creator of all that exists, should be capable of demonstrating his presence and reality in a manner that would put the question of his existence beyond all rational doubt. So why doesn’t He?

The answer is complex. Indeed, it can reasonably be said that there is no single answer that is appropriate to every case, any more than there is only one possible reason why you might choose to avoid contact with a particular person at any given time. Nevertheless, I’d like to offer one key thought that can help our understanding of this issue.

The Goal is Love

I believe the root of the matter has to dos with the one thing that God treasures most – love. The Bible says that God is love. But why would this make God want to hide himself?

Consider what would happen if you were just walking away from a cash dispenser, and were stopped by a scruffy-looking old man asking you to part with some of that dosh you’ve just stuffed in your wallet. Maybe you would, and maybe you wouldn’t, depending on the level of your compassion for him. But if you then noticed the barrel of a gun pointing directly at your midriff I’ll warrant that, unless you were a self-defence expert or incredibly stubborn, you would be prepared to give him everything in your wallet. But there probably wouldn’t be a shred of love in your actions.

The essence of love is that it is a voluntary giving of what you are and have to another. If you give because you are compelled, or even because you are just conditioned to do so, it isn’t love.

Hiding to set us free

So what has this to do with God hiding himself? The thing about the gun is that it is an almost inescapable threat to your future well-being if you do not comply with the request. But if God really is all-powerful, knowing your every thought and action, then He is inescapable; He is the ultimate ‘Big Brother’ – always watching you, wherever you are. This might indeed result in a Utopian society, in that no-one would dare contravene God’s standards of conduct: but is it the sort of society you would wish to be part of, and where would the love be?

But, unlike the dreaded surveillance society, where the remedy would be to simply turn off the cameras, God will always be there. So what can He do in order that we may have sufficient liberty to make up our own minds about what we want to do, except by making himself inconspicuous?

We find this theme developed in many places throughout the Bible, starting with Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:1-10), where they apparently yielded to the serpent’s wiles in the interval between their encounter’s with God. And this very first example also brings out the flip side of the issue: that man attempts to evade his own accountability by hiding from God.

Giving us room to hide

In John’s gospel Jesus puts it this way: “This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and doesn’t come to the light, lest his works would be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his works may be revealed, that they have been done in God.” (John 3:19-21.)

Of course, hiding from an ever-present, all-knowing God is an act of logical idiocy: so for God to give us a reasonable measure of freedom He has to do this in such a way that it allows us to choose not to acknowledge his existence should we wish to do so.

There for those who care

On the other hand, it is also necessary for God to leave us plenty of clues and to make himself accessible to those who truly want to know him.

As the psalmist says, “The heavens declare the glory of God. The expanse shows his handiwork. Day after day they pour forth speech, and night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.” (Psalm 19:1-3.) The Universe is a pretty big clue: not to mention people’s ongoing testimonies of miraculous answers to prayer. And  Jesus also assures us, “Ask, and it will be given you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives. He who seeks finds. To him who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8.)

But in closing (for now), let me again emphasise that this is not a complete explanation as to why it seems at times that God just isn’t there, or is completely indifferent to us. A number of these other issues actually come up in the narrative of the Song of Solomon, and I discuss them in the book, ‘Transformed by Love.’ However, if you have further questions, please feel free to comment.

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