Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Enough rope to hang themselves with

Presently in adult Sunday School at Nairobi, I'm taking a 4-week series on the 4 prophecies of Haggai.

God spoke through Haggai. The people listened, considered, and then changed their behaviour. They received Haggai's words as the voice of the living God.

Why did they do that? In the religious world, there have always been oracles and prophets-a-plenty. The Old Testament itself recognises the phenomena of false prophets, as a severe problem - laying down harsh penalties for them (Deuteronomy 18:20-22). Nevertheless, there were legions of them, and God often declared his fierce opposition and coming judgments upon them (e.g. Jeremiah 14:14-15).

The people of Haggai's day, though, recognised Haggai as a true prophet, and obeyed his words. How did they do this? As far as we know, Haggai had never prophesied previously. He did not perform any miracles; there were no other known prophets who accredited him (Zechariah was his only contemporary that we know of, and he began preaching later), and he did not assign any reason himself as to why people should believe that he was a true prophet. And yet the people recognised him!

The answer surely lies in a crucial fact. Haggai was recognisable as a true prophet, because his words were self-authenticating. They commended themselves as the words of the living God, and needed no further justification. They chided the people for sins - sins which they could not deny. They sought the glory and honour of Israel's covenant Lord, as the supreme priority of their national life. They gave no comfort to the people in their sins in the way that flattering false prophets do; comfort came only after the fruits of repentance had been shown.

God's words though Haggai were self-authenticating: they glorified God, humbled man, called for sin and repentance. As such they appealed to every man's conscience, and insisted on the same response as if God himself had appeared and uttered the words in person.

This is what God's word is like. Ultimately we receive it, not because we've personally visited the various libraries of the world and satisfied ourselves that indeed there do exist fragments of the gospels from the 1st century, and that they've been transmitted faithfully over time, and that we've investigated 100% of the historical matters that they touch on and found them to be accurate, and so on and so forth. We don't receive God's word because the church, or respected Christians, vouch for it. These things have their place and value. Nevertheless, their value is not in establishing that God's word truly is God's word. God's word speaks for itself, addressing human consciences and the reality of human fallenness and sin in a way that nothing else does. Hence the in Keach's old catechism, the answer to the question on this topic begins like so: "Q. How do we know that the Bible is the Word of God?
A. The Bible evidences itself to be God's Word by the heavenliness of its doctrine, ..."

What this means is that God has given those who hate him enough rope for the rebel to hang themselves with. No audible voice speaks from heaven; no fire or miracles appear when the pages are turned. Those who wish to deny God are allowed some space to come up with their excuses, and so by their works we know them. Nevertheless, hang themselves they do. Conscience already speaks to them of guilt that they cannot take away by their own efforts, andon the great day of judgment, they will have no possibility of denying that the Bible accurately and uniquely describes human wickedness, and the only possible remedy for it in the face of God's awesome holiness. Despite this, they ignored it, and they will need no further condemnation.

1 comment:

Matt Williams said...


I read your article in evangelical times on the question of being good whilsty being an atheist and was impressed by the logic that either atheists are immoral or nothing is (morality only having possible origin in God himself to be more than a fiction) so I looked up this blog. I also appreciated these comments about God's word being self-evident (from the little I know about Francis Schaeffer this seems similar to his position) because it is often so hard to explain to myself and others why I believe. You're right, the Bible just speaks truth if we listen. I suppose the question is really if people want to hear or not at the end of the day.
However, one question springs to mind. If we believe the bible primarily because it 'speaks to our consciences', are we able to infer from this that it also posseses 'historical reliability' in the conventional sense or must we do personal research of the kind you mention to make such a claim with any integrity?