Thousands of times I have asked the question “Do you believe in God?”. More than anything else the answer is “Maybe” or “Not sure” or something similar. Then I ask again – “Why are you not sure?”. What I rarely get is a thought through argument about reasons for not believing in God. Again and again people have said to me “It’s not that I don’t believe, it’s just that nothing has happened to persuade me that there is a God.” They have not experienced anything, or heard an argument that has convinced them that God is real. They are not rejecting the idea that there is a God, just that nothing has so far persuaded them.
Why is this so? If it is true that God loves the world (John 3:16 – the bible), and that he wants everyone to be ‘saved’ (1Timothy 2:4 – the bible); why can it seem that God has made it difficult for people? And even for someone who believes in God, who claims to have a relationship with him (as I do) – sometimes it can seem as if God isn’t all that real. Where is he? What is he doing?
I was lying in bed pondering this recently. I asked myself, and then asked God “Why don’t you make it easier for people to find you?”. Almost immediately, an answer came to my mind. This is it:
God wants to be found. Or more accurately, God wants to find us. Jesus uses a story where he describes himself as a shepherd who goes off looking for a sheep (us) who has got lost and is at risk (Luke 15). He also says explicitly that he came to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
However, God also wants that our response to him is one brought about from a genuine choice of our hearts. We turn to God when we recognise that we need him, we respond to his love and start to love him. This needs to be a free choice for it to be real. Jesus uses a story (commonly known as the parable of the prodigal son – Luke 15) to describe a son and his father (us and God). The son leaves home wishing his father dead. The father lets him go – he doesn’t chase after him or forbid him to leave. The son loses everything and returns to the father humbled. The father welcomes him with extravagant love. The response of the son is a free choice. For it to be real – it must be freely chosen. This is true of us and God.
So, if God sat on a blazing fiery throne up in the sky for the whole world to see, it would persuade more people to believe in him – partly because of a fear of the consequences of not. This might be belief, but it would echo the reluctant Nazi salute given by a Czech woman when the German army annexed the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia in 1938. She felt she had no choice.
God wants us to willingly choose him. So, God does enough to give men and women the opportunity to freely choose him. But not so much that we reluctantly feel we have no choice but to believe.
So what does he do?
He has made a world And a universe that can speak to us of the one who made it all. “The heavens keep telling the wonders of God, and the skies declare what he has done. 2 Each day informs the following day; each night announces to the next.3 They don’t speak a word, and there is never the sound of a voice. 4 Yet their message reaches all the earth, and it travels around the world.” (Psalm 19:1-3 – the bible)
He is at work in human society providing pointers for everyone so that we might reach to him. “26 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27 God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:26-27 – the bible)
He answers prayers and performs miracles so make us look to him. This are often remarkable, however they often do not occur in an instant Harry-Potter-magic sort of way. Once again, he’s doing enough to get our attention – without doing so much that our choice is taken away.
He speaks in dreams, visions, through others, through circumstance, through prophecy ….. But again, often not so loudly that we are left with no questions whatsoever.
You get my point. God is here, he is alive, he is looking for us. If we care to see them, there are signs, pointers and answers for all of us. But only enough to give us the choice, not so much that our choice is taken away.
My encouragement to all of us, myself included, is to stop, look and listen.
“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13 – the bible)