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Is God obscure and arbitrary in what He wants from us?

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What does God want from us? Is it fair that He condemns us to Hell if He is so ‘hidden’? A skeptical correspondent raises these questions and more in a parable, to which CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds.

M.B. from Australia writes:

You walk into a classroom. On the blackboard, the teacher has written on the board “You have one hour to find out what the color of the box is”. You are given 4200 books which were written thousands of years ago—all of which stating that the box is a particular color. You try asking the teacher questions about the box, but he does not reply.

At the end of the hour, teacher then rewards the students that guessed the right color and then sends the rest of the children to detention. You argue that it was logical to say that you didn’t know because you knew nothing about the box (where it was, where it came from etc). But this isn’t a good enough excuse and you are sent to detention.

How is this fair? This is exactly how God treats his children …

If you do not believe this is fair, then god is unfair, and why do you believe?

CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:

There is little correspondence between your parable and how God treats us. For a start, your story assumes that God has left us completely in the dark about His power and majesty, which Christianity denies. We don’t need the Bible to know we have a moral obligation to worship God and give thanks to Him, and we don’t need the Bible to know we fall far short of honouring Him properly:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness, because what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made. So people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks, but they became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:18–21, NET; emphases added).

And once these points are established, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that, just as we demand justice when we’re wronged, so God has a right to demand justice for us wronging Him. The ancients had a rather implicit understanding of this evinced in the universal practice of religious sacrifice. Why else would people bother with such a costly and impractical system? Why not just kill the animals for meat and be done with it? As such, people come into the ‘classroom’ before any books are opened without any excuse for not already being aware of important truths about God and themselves.

Next, the point about the 4,200 ancient books is irrelevant. A plethora of religious texts does not mean the ideologies espoused in them are any good, or that all of them are false. Moreover, if an exclusivistic religion like Christianity or Islam is true, that automatically falsifies all religious claims that contradict it. That’s why studying the exclusivistic religions is the best way to start any search for religious truth—if any one of them is true, then that automatically ends your search. You don’t have to know everything about every religion in the world to know that most of them are false.

Finally, your idea of ‘getting the colour of the box right’ has nothing to do with Christianity. We are not called to believe in something arbitrary about God; we are called to believe in the very specific and historical solution He has provided for our ‘just condemnation’ problem—Jesus of Nazareth, God the Son incarnate as a man sent to die for our sins and rise again to set us right with God the Father, such that if we trust in Jesus, we will be saved from our ‘just condemnation problem’. In other words, the Gospel deals with the very problem we should all be aware of—that is far from arbitrary.

And besides, what have you got to lose by properly investigating the truth claims of Christianity? I trust that you are not so irrational as to remain satisfied with facile parabolic misrepresentations of ideologies other than your own.

Published: 25 January 2015

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