It was Mark Twain who said, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”
Some adults hold Mark Twain’s opinion when it comes to Christian things. It is not clear whether the disbelief is from lack of understanding, disregard of evidence, or a bad religious experience at some time in the past.
There is, however, a fourth cause for unbelief which many times is the primary one, and it is moral in nature. It is an inner impulse to resist truth when the Gospel is clearly presented. Jesus faced this resistance many times.
The Apostle John tells of such a time in Jesus’ ministry when he performed many miracles. He opened eyes of the blind, healed the sick, and restored to the lame the ability to walk.
To many who were there, his miracles were obviously genuine, and witnessing them awakened faith in Jesus as the Messiah. But others who witnessed the same miracles in the same circumstances, were angered and contentious. John writes:
Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence they still would not believe. (John 12:37). A few words later John writes of the same people: They could not believe (Emphases added). It appears that the willful refusal of light brought darkness.
John offers the words of Isaiah as a reason for this resistant state of mind: They could not believe because, [God] has blinded their eyes / and deluded their hearts, / so they can neither see with their eyes, /nor understand with their hearts, / nor turn – and I would heal them. (Isaiah 6:10).
When we resist the Gospel, according to Isaiah, not only we but God blinds our minds. But, at the same time, he holds before us the promise to forgive and heal our blindness if we turn to him.
John reports a further reason for the defective or reserved belief of some in the crowd on that day of miracles. He writes: Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God. (John 12:42).
This brings to mind a young couple that came to see me many years ago. He reported he had intellectual problems with the Gospel and was seeking help. He was pleasant about it but when we considered the miracles of Jesus as the Gospels report them he grew resistant. He insisted he was unable to believe in miracles.
It was not until I drew to his attention the Apostle John’s explanation for why many who saw the miracles and were convinced that day would not openly acknowledge the truth: they loved praise from men more than praise from God.
For this young man, it was as though a light had gone on. His eyes widened; this was his issue. He was brilliant in the sciences with a promising career in view. His issue with the gospel seemed to me moral and an issue of his will more than an intellectual handicap. As I remember, he was aware that to believe openly might limit success in his career.
To my knowledge, he never reversed his response. He appeared pleasant and at ease when not discussing the Christian faith, but a door had been locked in his heart.
The good news of the Gospel is this: even though there were regions in which Jesus preached only to have his message rejected, both back then and today it remains that he is the Good Shepherd, always seeking to draw sinners to himself and thus to salvation and discipleship.
That is the kind of love that ever calls us to believe.
Photo credit: William Warby