‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’ Luke 16:31
In a recent debate between Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, and the author of “The Purpose Driven Life”, and Sam Harris, the outspoken atheist, and the author of “The End of Faith”, Sam challenged Rick to perform a simple experiment –
“Get a billion Christians to pray for a single amputee. Get them to pray that God re grow that missing limb”1. I suspect that if this really happened, Sam would still not believe. I think he answered it himself when he added, “This happens to salamanders every day, presumably without prayer;” 1. The fundamental assumption is that God has a simple task – dramatically prove Himself by intervening in a supernatural way, and everyone would believe. The fundamental accusation is that God has not adequately revealed Himself.
Jesus, through the mouth of Abraham, says something very bold and insightful at the end of the sensational story of Lazarus and the rich man. The rich man is in hell and in torment, and is asking Abraham to send a warning to his brothers in the form of a resurrected Lazarus. The assumption of the rich man is that a dramatic and miraculous intervention would settle the question once and for all. Abraham replies “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.” In other words, remarkable wonder can never replace revealed Word. What was performed and seen would be temporary; what was written and heard would be permanent. If the brothers of the rich man were not willing to honestly engage what was already revealed; if they could write off the entire miraculous history of God’s provision for a nation, then one miracle disconnected from all of history would be easier to write off. The problem was not that God had not provided enough evidence, but rather that they did not want any, so they discounted what they had, and kept asking for more.
To the skeptic, I cannot say much more than what Jesus already advised – honestly consider, and grapple with what Christians consider as the revealed Word of God, the Bible, before asking for more evidence. Consider the claims of Christ honestly before asking for the dramatic.
But there is an equally important lesson for the believer in these words of Jesus. Some of us have a tendency to desire the spectacular more than the Son. We want to freeze frame those moments of glory like Peter. But the momentarily dazzling can never replace the eternal Word. The dramatic may illustrate and inform, but it is only truth that can transform.
It is exhilarating to see the miraculous provision of God in our lives. It is faith enhancing when we pray and God answers. But we cannot spiritually subsist on the breathtaking, we must have the bread of Life. After Jesus had healed many, and delivered the crowds, the next morning, His disciples came looking for Him to repeat this wonder. They said, “Everyone is looking for you”. But He said to them, “Let us go to into the next towns, that I may preach there also because for this purpose I have come forth.” (Mark 1:37) I suggest Jesus knew that the miracle would deliver temporarily, and the glow and the excitement of that encounter would eventually fade away, but the Word would be the eternal truth imprinted, and it would inspire even in the absence of signs.
Perhaps too much of your life is ordered around the sensational. Perhaps you have a frustrated faith this day because you are looking for a sign that has not been provided. You could believe so easily if God would do just this or that. If Jesus is right, ultimately even resurrection will not be adequate enough for you. I urge you pray and expect God’s miraculous intervention, provision, and deliverance, but above all “hear Moses and the prophets” – and may I add – “the Son”.
1. The God Debate, Newsweek, April 9, 2007
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