frgavin on September 15th, 2011

Ever been told that God believes in you?

Cranmer’s Curate first came across this disturbing conceit in a tribute in a national newspaper to Sir Robin Day after he died in 2000. The writer, a leading UK journalist, said he wasn’t sure whether his late friend believed in God but was confident that God believed in him.

It is easy to see why, in this age of self-worship, this is becoming a popular shibboleth. It is a theological kissing cousin of Open Theism, the idea that human beings can thwart God’s purposes because he is not omnipotent.

So God, being a bit like a stressed-out football manager on the touchline, depends on his team to do their stuff against the opposition. ‘People skills’ require that he bolsters his players’ self-esteem by telling them that he believes in them.

Biblically, God does not behave like that because he is omnipotent and omniscient and human beings, including regenerate ones, are fallen and sinful. God Incarnate, the Lord Jesus Christ, John’s Gospel tells us, ‘did not trust himself to them’ (that is to those who believed in his name when they saw the signs that he did in Jerusalem) ‘because he knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of man; for he himself knew what was in man’ (John 2v24-25 – RSV).

Disbelieving in ‘God believes in us’ does not mean you have to deny that God has delegated responsibilities in his creation to men and women made in his image. Nor do you have to deny that Christian ministers are God’s ‘fellow workers’ (cf 1 Corinthians 3v9).

Nor is disbelieving in this conceit an excuse for Christian ministers to be distrustful and unco-operative with God’s other Bible-believing fellow workers in the harvest-field.

But it is assert that, biblically, God’s decision to delegate and co-operate does not detract one bit from his sovereignty in fulfilling his good purposes for his universe, still less make him dependent on us.

Because we fallen human creatures are so spiritually and morally flawed, to teach that God believes in us is to make him out to be a fool.

If the person using the phrase is trying to find a fresh way of saying God is committed to humanity, then no orthodox Christian will have a problem with the sentiment. But in that case John 3v16 is a much better way of saying it, and indeed a more wonderful way, because the ‘world’ God sent his Son to die for is the world of sinful, God-hating humanity.

Where ‘God believes in us’ becomes decidedly unhelpful is when it is used in the sense of God placing his trust or confidence in humanity because, underneath it all, we are worthy of his trust, and God needs us on his side.

One suspects that the spread of such humanity-worshipping theology is being exacerbated by cursory confessions in public worship and by the marginalisation of good God-centred hymns in favour of me-centred choruses.

A regular dose of ‘Immortal, invisible, God only wise, in light inaccessible hid from our eyes’ or ‘Only thou art holy, there is none beside Thee, perfect in power, in love and purity’ is a good antidote to this poison.

The youth group ought to be pleased to be reminded that the true Lord God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is not dependent on fallen Mann.

This piece – Thank the Good Lord for Parliamentary Democracy – appeared on Christian Today.

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