Will and grace, and faith
The 20thcentury British philosopher and atheist Bertrand Russell famously blamed the God he didn’t believe in for his lack of faith. When presented with the possibility that he was mistaken about God’s existence and asked how he would defend himself when confronted by the Almighty, he said he would ask why God hadn’t given him better evidence. I hope the angels had video cameras in 1970, ‘cause I sure would like to have witnessed that meeting.
Most atheists today would claim the same – not enough evidence. But as evidence is subject to interpretation, and there’s enough of it for us theists, I suspect God’s answer to Russell would have been something akin to, “To him who sees, more evidence is given. But to him who chooses not to see, even the evidence he has is taken away.” 1
Faith is indubitably bound up with the will. Some evidence seems overwhelming enough to leave no room for doubt, but it still requires the engagement of our will. I see my body; I have thoughts, memories and experiences. It’s an easy choice, but a choice nonetheless to believe that I exist. There are some who question it.
But evidences for what we cannot see or haven’t observed are less than undeniably conclusive, and require faith, which springs from the will. We see this played out every day in our courts, when a man or woman is tried for a crime based on forensic evidence, which is used to reconstruct an event that no one but the perpetrator witnessed and cannot be repeated. The jurors must examine and interpret the evidence, and choose to believe either that the accused is guilty or is not.
In a recent post, I bemoaned the fact that many of my loved ones have chosen to believe differently than I do. We all are pretty much looking at the same evidence and coming up with different conclusions. Will God excuse those who have rejected him based on an argument of insufficient evidence? Though he is infinitely merciful, and none of us in our finiteness can be quite certain how he will reconcile justice and mercy in the eternal lives of others, I am convinced such an argument would be summarily rejected.
When Jesus the Son and Image of the invisible God walked the earth, he healed the sick with a word or touch, fed over 5,000 people with a few loaves and fishes, and raised the dead. Yet the religious leaders wanted to kill him, and multitudes who witnessed his miracles still did not believe in him. Of them he said, “seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” 2 I think Jesus here is speaking about the same kind of people he called out in John 9, which I referenced before, as those who say they can see but would become blind.
It’s a bit confusing, but I believe the distinction is this: those who see but do not see in Matthew 13 and those who say they can see in John 9, are individuals who have all the evidence they need to believe in God, but are turning a blind eye to the truth revealed and choosing instead, because of pride, greed, rebellion…whatever, to conclude it to be insufficient.
Those who might assert innocence because they did not understand would also have their complaint rejected. God holds us accountable for understanding, because that too is an act of the will. The Greek word translated “understand” in the New Testament means to bring together. We might express it as connecting the dots. He does not expect us to understand everything about him, only what has been revealed to us for our salvation, if we are willing to see it and make the connections.
Bertrand Russell was a man of great intelligence. Unfortunately, as so often happens, his keen intellect fostered a sense of pride and self-sufficiency which governed his will and compromised his understanding. No human being can compare with the intelligence of God, but he chooses to align himself with and receive only those who come to him like little children….humble and dependent, and aware of their relative ignorance. What seems foolish to the self-proclaimed intelligentsia, the preeminent Mind uses to draw people to himself.
It is the gospel of grace, through childlike faith, as an act of the will.
For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 3
1 Matthew 13:12
2 Matthew 13:13
31 Corinthians 1:21