faith

God astounds me. God is always working, acting, intervening, and saving.

I must admit that often God surprises me. There have been times over the past couple of years where I have been praying diligently for God to save, to heal, or to help in a particular way only to have God save someone I wasn’t expecting or to have God work in a surprising way.

Recently, my devotional reading has brought me back to the book of 1 Samuel. When God called Samuel in chapter 3, God told Samuel about the judgment he was going to bring to Eli and Eli’s family. Think about this for a moment. The first message God gave to young Samuel was not about blessings and glories and miracles, but rather about judgment. Just a few chapters later (but decades later for Samuel), the people of Israel asked for a king. It was a sinful request, and Samuel told them so. Samuel brought the prayer to God. And God told Samuel that he was going to give his people what they asked for even though it was not what they should ask for. Samuel had to receive and deliver this message as well.

Samuel’s experiences are not isolated. Sometimes God answers our prayers as we ask them, and sometimes he doesn’t. Move forward to Acts 12. Herod beheaded James, but God brought about a miracle to release Peter from prison. Why did God rescue Peter but not James? Why does God intervene sometimes and other times it appears that he does not?

As I preached yesterday on the subject of walking wisely in our homes from Proverbs 22:6, I thought of many moms and dads, grandmothers and grandfathers, faithful children and straying children. There are some in my congregation who have prayed diligently for their adult children and grandchildren to come back to the Lord. They’ve prayed, they’ve begged, and they’ve encouraged. Yet it seems like nothing is happening.

Within the last couple of weeks, prayers that I’ve prayed on behalf of others have been answered exactly as I prayed. Other prayers have not. In some cases, God has obviously intervened and healed. In other cases, God has delayed to intervene.

Why? Why is it that sometimes God answers quickly and other times God doesn’t seem to answer at all? Why is it that sometimes God answers in a very different way than we’ve prayed?

I’ve wrestled with these questions as a Christian and as a pastor. And while I don’t have all the answers, I do want to offer a few reminders that might help us through these questions.

  1. Remember: God’s faithfulness is not limited by our experiences. God is faithful no matter what we experience. God has made an absolute promise to us, “I will be with you always” (Jesus in Matthew 28:20). And God’s promise to be with us through the indwelling Holy Spirit is sure and certain. God’s promise to be with us means that sometimes he will be with us through our struggles and difficulties and not always rescue us from our struggles and difficulties. The testimonies from Scripture as well as our own experiences bear this out. Sometimes God intervenes. Sometimes God orchestrates the miraculous. Sometimes God delays. Sometimes God appears to be silent to our burdens. But always God is faithful. That he is with us through our struggles even when we pray that he would rescue us from our struggles is testimony to God’s grace and compassion.
  2. Remember: God’s faithfulness is not limited by our prayers. For Christian growth and maturity, we must pray. And one of the reasons we do pray is because we believe God is able to do more than what we ask (Eph. 3:20). But just because God is able, doesn’t always mean that he will. Prayer for us us is an act of faith. When we pray in the right spirit, we acknowledge our inabilities and God’s sovereignty. And when we pray, we should ask God to intervene, to heal, to rescue, to save, and to restore. We pray to God out of what we know and trust that God knows more and his timing is best.
  3. Remember: God’s faithfulness is not limited by our understanding. We pray to God out of what we know and trust that God knows more and his timing is best. Yes, that’s a repeat sentence. But we need to remember it. Our prayers and our experiences are limited by our understanding. There is so much that we just don’t know. God’s ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:9). God knows everything. He knows how answering our prayers fit into his purposes. It is this recognition that God’s understanding is greater than ours that led Samuel and others throughout the Bible to continue praying even when their circumstances exceeded their understanding.

Where does that leave you and me with our burdens, worries, fears, and prayers? Continue to pray about them. Bring them to the Lord. But remember, you don’t have all the information. You don’t know all. Pray anyway. Pray boldly. Pray big. God can answer any prayer you bring. But even if he doesn’t answer your prayers the way you pray, God is still faithful.

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

In last week’s post on the doctrine of Inspiration, we focused on the biblical claim that the Scriptures have been inspired by God. In this week’s post, we will go a little deeper into this important topic by highlighting the quality of the manuscripts that we have for the biblical texts.

I’m confident that the Bible we have (66 books with about 40 authors over 1500 years of writing) is God’s inspired Word. But just because I’m confident doesn’t mean everyone else is confident. Textual criticism is that discipline that investigates the content and reliability of ancient texts. It is a discipline used for other manuscripts, but primarily associated with the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. If it is right to hold a high view of the inspiration of Scripture (that God is the author), then it should follow that the manuscripts we have for comparison purposes would not disagree with one another and create uncertainty in the meaning of the text. Can we have confidence in the manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments?

Here are some basic facts about the manuscripts we do have. You can find out more on this subject from Jonathan Morrow’s book, Questioning the Bible: 11 Major Challenges to the Bible’s Authority.

  • There are 5,756 New Testament manuscripts that can be compared and contrasted for quality and consistency purposes. Other ancient writings for a comparable time and place are as follows: Greek historian Herodotus, 109 manuscripts; Greek historian Thucydides, 95 manuscripts; Greek philosopher Plato, 219 manuscripts; Roman historian Livy, 150 manuscripts; Roman historian Tacitus, 31 manuscripts; Roman historian Seutonius, 300 manuscripts; Greek classic Homer’s Iliad, 2300 manuscriptsThe sheer number of New Testament manuscripts affords confidence that the documents we are reading today are consistent with the original manuscripts.
  • The NT manuscripts are significantly earlier than other ancient literature, within 35 years in at least one case and all of the NT within 200 years of the events.
  • While there are variations between the manuscripts, they do not distort the consistency or meaning of the New Testament. Bart Ehrman, professor and author of Misquoting Jesus, claims 400,000 variants within the New Testament manuscripts. Ehrman uses this number to undercut the confidence in the New Testament documents. Essentially, he reasons if there are so many variants, how can we be confident in the accuracy of the text? However, Ehrman fails to look into the types of variations carefully. According to Jonathan Morrow, “A variant is any place among the existing NT manuscripts where there is not uniformity of wording” (p. 98). A variant then could be a misspelled word in 1 manuscript different from 2,000 manuscripts. This would count as 2,000 variants. Morrow notes, “the reason we have so many variants is because we have so many manuscripts to work with” (p. 98).
  • Note the types of variation within the New Testament manuscripts:
    1) Spelling=70-80% of all the variants.
    2) Minor differences such as word order or the use of the definite article with a proper name.
    3) Meaningful, but not viable differences such as, “gospel of God” vs. “gospel of Christ.”
    4) Meaningful and viable differences such as “let us have peace with God” vs. “we have peace with God” (less than 1% are meaningful and viable). 
  • The Old Testament manuscripts and the and the Dead Sea Scrolls affirm that the copyists of the OT were careful, and that the OT that we do have is consistent with the earliest manuscripts. According to Douglas Stuart, it is a safe estimate that 99% of original words in NT and 95% of original words in OT are recoverable (quoted by Jonathan Morrow in Questioning the Bible). In essence, we can be confident that we have the Word of God.
  • These basic facts can be found in Questioning the Bible, by Jonathan Morrow pages 96-105.

The Old and New Testaments have been questioned and critiqued for millennia. Particularly, the New Testament has faced textual and source criticism aimed at discounting its claims of the supernatural and the deity of Jesus. This critique should not surprise us. We live in a post-enlightenment age where we question and doubt anything that cannot be tested scientifically.

These facts about the New Testament manuscripts do not force one to believe the stories they relate. But here is what they do. The sheer number of manuscripts dating back so nearly to the occasions of writing provide confidence that the New Testament we are reading today was the same New Testament originally written.

If we can have confidence in the consistency and accuracy of the Old and New Testaments, then we cannot claim that over time the authors changed stories to build their case for the deity of Jesus or other theological concepts. What they wrote is what we have. You may or may not believe what they wrote. After all, that underscores the importance of faith that permeates Christianity.

But if we are honest with the data we have, we must accept that the biblical documents relate to us an accurate account of the original manuscripts. This becomes foundational to the doctrine of revelation regarding the inerrancy, sufficiency, and authority of Scripture.