"If God wants so badly for us to believe in Him why does He not make it easier for us to see Him?"
"Why do some people seem to see God so clearly and others have so much trouble?"
These are valid questions asked by many people today. It turns out these very questions were addressed by Jesus during His time on earth.
Many people declare that if God could just give them a sign then they'd believe in Him -that their faithlessness stems from a lack of signs from God. But I believe that it would be more accurate to say that faithlessness stems not from the lack of signs, but from the lack of recognition of signs. If it was simply the sign that generated faith, then each sign that brought faith to one would bring faith to all. But this is clearly not what happens.
For example, one man may look up into the clear night sky and feel an overwhelming sense of the glory and majesty of God. Another man may look up and feel nothing of the sort. Same sky, different reaction.
Back in Jesus' day this same principle was at play. We are told in chapter 9 of John's Gospel that Jesus healed a man born blind. After the healing there were mixed reactions. We are told that the man's neighbors asked amongst themselves "is this not the man who used to sit and beg?" Some said "yes it is." Others said "no it can't be him."
The Jewish teachers of the Law too had mixed opinions:
"Some of the Pharisees said, "this man is not from God, for he does not keep the sabbath." But others said, "how can a man who is a sinner do such signs? "And there was a division among them." - John 9:16
Same miracle, different reactions.
Matthew chapter 8 tells of Jesus casting the demons out of two men in the Gadarenes. Instead of marveling at this work of God, the town was frightened and asked Jesus to leave their region.
In Acts chapter 28, after Paul finally arrives in Rome he calls for a gathering of Jewish leaders. He proceeds to explain to them how Jesus is the fulfillment of both the Law of Moses and the Prophets. What was the reaction he received? "Some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved" (Acts 18:24).
The Bible is filled with stories that fit this pattern: some believed and some didn't.
Why is this? Is there any rhyme or reason for why when faced with the same evidence, some people believe and some people don't? Does it have to do with intelligence? Does it have to do with cultural upbringing? It may come as a surprise, but throughout the gospels Jesus provides clear answers to these questions. We will begin by taking a look at the group most well known for not recognizing Jesus, the Pharisees.
Woe To You Pharisees
The Bible is full of irony, mystery, and paradox. There is perhaps no greater theme of irony weaved throughout the Bible than in the story of the Pharisees. We know about the Pharisees, not only from the New Testament but from secular historical sources as well. The first century Roman-Jewish historian Flavius Josephus provides extra-biblical accounts for Jesus, John the Baptist, and King Herod. Josephus also provides valuable context for the cultural climate of first century Israel, including a description of the Pharisees:
"The Pharisees are those who are esteemed most skillful in the exact explication of their laws... These ascribe all to fate, and to God, and yet allow, that to act what is right, or the contrary, is principally in the power of men; although fate does co-operate in every action." - Josephus, War Chapter 8
The Pharisees were men who studied the Law day and night. Their knowledge of the Law was thought of highly by others and higher still by themselves.
They were also the group of people that were most decisively unable to understand the gospel message. Their intellectual pride blinded them from receiving the true wisdom that came from the mouth of Christ.
The Pharisees were unable to accept the message of Jesus because His message was so radically different from the one that they had constructed in their minds. Since they were the educated ones, they assumed that the Messiah's message would be directed most specifically toward them. They assumed that the Kingdom of God would appear the way they were expecting.
In chapter 23 of Matthew's gospel, Jesus delivers His '7 woes to the scribes and Pharisees.' He harshly rebukes the Pharisees for their hypocrisy and foolish ways.
The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. - Matt 23:2-5
Jesus used the Pharisee to epitomize the type of person incapable of recognizing the Kingdom of God. The Pharisee was not lacking in knowledge, he was lacking in righteousness. The Pharisee knew what was right. But he did not do what was right.
For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. - Matt 5:20
Jesus makes Himself very clear. The Pharisee and anyone like him will not recognize God, and thus will be incapable of following Him.
Meanwhile, the lowly classes flocked to Jesus like moths to a flame. The sick bowed at His feet and begged to be healed. The blind asked to see. The lame asked to walk. The sinners asked to be redeemed. They were not too proud to admit their sin and to ask for forgiveness. They were not too proud to risk appearing foolish to the outside world by crying out to the man who claimed to be the Son of God.
It should not come as a surprise that the Pharisees rebuked Jesus for spending so much time around these hurt and broken people:
And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” - Matt 9:10-13
Although it's tempting to read the gospels as merely historical accounts, we must remember that the concepts and ideas spoken of by Jesus have universal significance. Although we do not have a group of people called the "Pharisees" roaming our 21st century streets, the state of mind epitomized by the Pharisee is still alive and well today.
And I'm not just talking about specific people. The Pharisee is a state of mind that we can all unwittingly fall into if we're not careful. We all have the tendency to sometimes preach what we do not practice and practice what we do not preach. Each time we do this we embody the Pharisee.
The key is to recognize when our actions are not aligning with our words. This requires self reflection. And it requires humility to acknowledge that all of us are, and continue to be (to an extent,) guilty of this sin.
The cardinal sin of the Pharisee is pride. Therefore, the "anti-Pharisee" is the one with no pride. Jesus tells us that the epitome of this state of mind is the small child.
The Humility of the Child
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. - Matt 18:1-4
Little children have a reputation for not being afraid to ask questions.
Kids can't reach anything on the top shelf, so they ask their older brother for help. The little girl knows the outside world is a scary place so she asks her father to protect her. The little boy knows he can't make his own food, tie his own shoes, or tuck himself into bed at night so he asks his mother for her help. Children also fully recognize that they don't understand how the world works so they ask why.
Why do I have to brush my teeth?
Why are there stars in the sky?
Why do we dream at night?
Why are trees green?
Why do I have to eat broccoli?
Children have an insatiable curiosity. The concept of a "dumb question" does not even exist in their minds.
They are not too proud to admit they don't know anything. They don't care about seeming smart. They care about becoming smart. They want to learn. They want to understand.
However, at some point in every child's life, they realize that adults don't actually have all the answers to their questions. When it comes to the big questions such as the meaning of life, how the universe came to be, and what happens after we die, the adult is often just as confused as the child. Not only do most adults not seem to know the answers to these questions, very often they don't even really seem to care.
The curiosity of the child is simply not mirrored by the adult.
Unfortunately, many children take this to mean that since the adults don't care about these things, then neither should they. The consequence is, most children suffocate their curiosity and stop asking questions.
They set aside their 'dumb questions' regarding ultimate meaning and purpose and they copy what they see most of the adults doing - seeking pleasure, money, and status.
Then they go on to have children of their own and the cycle repeats - from generation to generation.
This is not merely a modern phenomenon. This cycle has been repeating since the dawn of civilization, and it was certainly very prevalent in Jesus' day.
Jesus Welcomes the Children
The gospels are filled with stories of Jesus repeatedly rebuking the Pharisees. But the gospels are also filled with stories of Jesus repeatedly welcoming the children.
And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. - Mark 10:13-16
There was no group of people in Israel who thought themselves more wise and educated than did the Pharisees. And yet Jesus says plainly that the Kingdom will be hidden from those who think of themselves in this way.
At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. - Matt 11:25
We must take these words seriously if we want to understand the teaching of Jesus. These words fly in the face of almost everything we have been taught by society. When it comes to the job market, the highest paying jobs are reserved for the most educated and intelligent among us. No one becomes an astrophysicist by accident - it requires a certain intelligence level and years of diligent education.
Likewise, many religions, spiritual traditions, and secret societies have levels of "initiation." The more knowledge you gain, the higher you rise on the totem pole.
On a personal note, I have a large collection of philosophical, psychological, and spiritual books. They were an indispensable part of my personal journey to Christ. However, if in reading them I begin to think of myself as "wise" or "learned," they are simply hindering my growth toward the Kingdom of God. The proper use of books such as these are as a reminder of just how much we don't know. We must find a way to return to that humble child-like state of wonder and awe if we are to experience God's Kingdom - both during this life and for all eternity.
Jesus makes this much clear: when we think highly of our intelligence we are fooling ourselves. When we think lowly of it, we are moving toward true knowledge. Paul also makes this clear in his first letter to the Corinthians.
Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know - 1 Cor 8:2
We began by inquiring as to why some people see evidence for God so clearly and some do not - why the same signs reveal God to some and not to others. The answer, as revealed by Jesus, boils down to one thing: intellectual pride. The Pharisees will be forever blind to God - even though many claim to know Him - while the little children will be forever seeing Him, even if they don't quite know how to put it into words.
I do not simply speak from theory on this topic but from personal experience. For most of my life I was what I'll call a "skeptical Christian." I went to church and wanted to believe many of the things I was hearing, but when it came to many theological topics my mind simply wouldn't allow me to believe.
I thought I had to simply close my eyes and blindly believe in things that I didn't have any reason to believe. That's what faith is after all isn't it - belief without reason?
Only now do I realize how wrong this idea of faith is.
Jesus claims to be the Truth itself (John 14:6). The Apostle John tells us that Jesus is the Logos incarnate (John 1:1-14), meaning that not only is Christianity rational - if its true -there is nothing that could possibly be more rational. And I have been convinced, after searching for answers in many other places, that Christianity is indeed true.
Almost 500 years ago, Nicholas Copernicus published his De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres). In this work Copernicus put forward his heliocentric model of the solar system.
This new theory - which suggested that the earth revolved around the sun and not the reverse - was almost universally laughed at. It was rejected by common people, it was rejected by the Church, and it was rejected by the scientific community.
It was rejected, not on scientific grounds (clearly) but on the basis of it not aligning with people's preconceptions. After all, you could see the sun rise each morning. Not only that, but the geocentric (earth at the center) model could accurately predict astronomical events such as eclipses. The geocentric model was used by sailors to accurately navigate the seas. Of course the sun revolved around the earth. It was just common sense for the average person in the 16th century.
It wasn't until people accepted that their prior assumptions - assumptions that they were convinced were true - may in fact have been wrong, that the heliocentric model was able to take hold. It took hundreds of years for this theory to become common place in the hearts and minds of the populace. Today it is accepted almost universally that Copernicus was correct.
We live in a materialistic culture that makes it harder to believe in God than perhaps ever before in history. Many modern mainstream scientists (Richard Dawkins, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Stephen Hawking etc.) have bullied people into thinking that faith in God is an archaic superstition. These same men would likely have bullied Copernicus for his outlandish sounding heliocentric theory.
You cannot hope to find what you're not looking for.
“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. - Matt 18:3
If we are not willing to embrace child-like intellectual humility and to risk looking foolish to the world, we will never be able to see the Kingdom of God.
If we do not become children at heart, we will not be attracted to Jesus, and we will not see Him. If we are Pharisees at heart - thinking ourselves wise - we will be repelled by Jesus, and we will surely never see Him.
The cardinal sin of the Pharisees was pride. This is what kept them from seeing the very glory of God they thought they were seeking. It may be a tough pill to swallow, but when we cannot see God clearly in our life, it is always our own pride that blinds us.
"God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." - James 4:6
If you want to see more of God in your life but you don't know what to do, then I invite you to say this prayer: "God I want to see evidence of you, but I don't know how. I admit that I am not wise enough to figure any of this out on my own, please God reveal yourself to me."
If you prayed this prayer, and are truly serious about seeking God, I have no doubt that He will begin to reveal Himself in ways you cannot imagine. Eyes are given to those willing to see. All we ever need to do is ask.
Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” John 9:39