Why We Obey a God We Cannot See
Obedience Operates through Faith
Being obedient to God is an outgrowth of faith. Unless you believe in God and in the infallibility of His word, it is very unlikely that you will be able to subdue your own will, to do God’s will. It is through belief in unseen things—in the word of God—that Christians are able to reap the many rewards of obedience. Obedience, operating through faith, takes us to God’s plan for our life. Therefore, no matter what we are seeing with our own eyes, our faith in and our obedience to God’s word makes the unseen more real that the seen to Believers in the Holy Bible as the word of God.
In the Bible, Genesis tells the story of Noah, who had great faith in God. A Believer whose faith led him to obey God’s word, Hebrews 11:7 explains how Noah’s faith saved him. This scripture tells us: “By faith, Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.”
How strange Noah must have appeared to people who did not know or understand his level of faith. There he was, building and building and building a monstrous boat to be a shelter from a storm of epic proportions, with not a rain cloud in sight. But this God-fearing man was so sure of things unseen, things God had told him, that he operationalized his faith by being obedient to God. Through faith, he built the ark to God’s specifications, collected the animals as instructed by God, gathered together his family, and prepared for a lot of rain.
Faith in Things Unseen . . .
Having faith in things unseen is the way Christians believe in and trust in God. No one needs faith to believe in what he or she can see. Faith is only needed to believe in something that is not seen, or that has not yet occurred. Without this kind of faith, obedience is not likely. To Noah, God’s warning was real. Even though there may not have been a cloud in the sky when he received God’s warnings and instructions, Noah’s faith allowed him to trust that it was indeed not just going to rain, it was going to flood. Had Noah not trusted his faith in God’s word, he might not have built the ark, and he and his family would surely have perished along with the rest of the unbelieving world.
This is the same kind of faith and obedience demonstrated in the Bible by Abraham when he offered up his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice. God was testing Abraham’s faith, by testing his obedience. Abraham trusted God and believed—even before God placed the ram in the bush. Abraham knew that God loved both him and his son, Isaac.
Being obedient to God is predicated upon the fullness or the truthfulness of our faith in Him. Is it easy to have faith in things unseen? Do we ever demonstrate in our daily lives our ability to believe in the unseen? Yes. On a daily basis, we make decisions based on things we believe will occur, without having any evidence that they will.
For example, when getting ready to go to work, sometimes the weather report will say there is an 80 percent possibility of rain. Yet, when you look outside, the skies above are all blue and there are no rain clouds in sight. Still, you make sure you carry your umbrella and rain gear, because you trust that the weather forecasters know and do their jobs well. They study atmospheric conditions and have knowledge pertaining to it that you and I know nothing about; therefore, you trust their professional judgment.
You know that weather scientists or meteorologists have a way of looking at the atmosphere using machines and radar and all kinds of things that the average person has no access to. Therefore, it is easy to have faith in their ability to predict within a certain degree of accuracy whether or not you need your umbrella on any given day. In a way, this demonstrates faith in things unseen.
Let’s look at another example. Say you’re driving down the highway or the city streets, going to work, and you see traffic signs that tell you what your speed should be. You trust that these signs are there for some good reason. Therefore, if the sign says you should be going no faster than five miles per hour, you slow down. Why obey the sign? After all, it’s just a road sign. It has no ability to do anything to you for not obeying it, yet you obey it anyway. You obey because you know, first of all, that the posted speed limit is a law. You know you are under the jurisdiction of the laws of the roads and streets and highways every time you get into your automobile to go anywhere. So:
- The first reason you obey is because you are legally obligated to do so. If you want to continue to enjoy the privilege of driving on the roads and streets and highways, you know you must abide by the laws governing their use.
- Another important reason you obey these signs (at least more often than not) is that failure to obey could end up costing you money. That’s because, as all drivers know, the laws of the road are enforced; very strictly in some municipalities and very loosely in others, but enforced, nonetheless.
When you drive faster than the speed limit allowed for a particular area, you run the risk of being stopped by a police officer, and of being given a traffic ticket. Sometimes, the mere idea of what you will go through if a police officer stops you is a much scarier proposition than actually having to pay money for a traffic fine. Therefore, the obligation of every driver to abide by the laws of the road is one thing that keeps you believing you should obey the speed limit signs. And the risk of being stopped by a police officer and being ticketed for disobeying is another.
We have reasons to believe in things unseen. We know there are consequences for not obeying laws. Even if you’ve never been stopped by a police officer, and even if you’ve never received any kind of traffic citation for any reason, when it comes to these signs, you believe in things unseen. Perhaps you’ve seen other people being stopped for speeding. Perhaps you’ve heard stories about people losing their driving privilege because of too many traffic fines. Or maybe you just care enough about yourself and other people to want to lessen the chance of an accident. Perhaps everything you know about speeding and disobeying traffic laws works together to keep you having faith in things unseen.
Wouldn’t it be great if everyone could obey God’s laws in this way? What if we all obeyed God’s laws and judgments because we’ve seen other people who did not obey them getting their lives deeper and deeper into turmoil and trouble?
What if we kept reading stories in newspapers and hearing them on television and radio news programs, about people who are dishonest, who have behaved so out of alignment with God’s laws that they got into trouble in their business life, in their personal or home life, and ended up getting tossed out of their jobs, out of their homes and their marriage, or even going to jail for disobeying or disrespecting laws? And that's exactly what is happening in our world every day and night. But who's listening, and is anyone learning anything based on what we are all seeing and hearing?
Then what if we all disobeyed all the laws of the land, as well as the word of God, including marriage vows and everything else, and got in no trouble at all? Then would it be all right to do all wrong?
Why Be Good in Obedience to God? Why Not Just Be Good for Goodness Sake?
Some people who choose not to worship God, who choose not to believe in God, argue that it is better to just be good for the sake of being good. To them, this seems a much better thing for an individual to do, than to do what is good out of a “fear” of God.
What do you think? I think it is hard, when you are a true Believer, to even imagine the word “good” without seeing the “God” in it. You can’t even spell “good” without writing “G-O-D,” and I think that’s good, and to me, that’s also God.
Someone sent me an email, a friend of my neighbor, someone I don’t even know. That “Forwarded” email contained five (5) lessons about the way we treat people, and everyone receiving the email was asked to share these lessons with others. I don't know if these are true stories or not, but they are good stories. Therefore, I’m going to share them here, with you. None of these lessons mentioned anything about God, but each one contains inherent “goodness.” So I decided to add the “God Lesson” to each one in the form of a reference from Holy Scripture. (Each “lesson” or testimony was written by an unnamed person.)
Lesson 1 - The Cleaning Lady
During my second month of college, our professor gave us a pop quiz. I was a conscientious student and had breezed through the questions until I read the last one: “What is the first name of the woman who cleans the building?”
Surely this was some kind of joke, I thought. I had seen the cleaning woman several times. She was tall, dark-haired and in her 50's, but how would I know her name?
I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank. Just before class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our quiz grade. “Absolutely,” said the professor. “In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say ‘hello.’”
I've never forgotten that lesson. I also learned that the cleaning lady’s name is Dorothy.
Romans 2: 11 "For there is no respect of persons with God." Matthew 25:40 “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, even these least, ye did it unto me.”
Lesson 2 - Helping a Stranded Motorist
One night, at 11:30 p.m., an older African American woman was standing on the side of an Alabama highway trying to endure a lashing rain storm. Her car had broken down and she desperately needed a ride. Soaking wet, she decided to flag down the next car. A young white man stopped to help her, generally unheard of in those conflict-filled 1960's. The man took her to safety, helped her get assistance and put her into a taxicab.
She seemed to be in a big hurry, but wrote down his address and thanked him. Seven days went by and a knock came on the man's door. To his surprise, a giant console color TV was delivered to his home. A special note was attached. It read:
"Thank you so much for assisting me on the highway the other night. The rain drenched not only my clothes, but also my spirits. Then you came along.
Because of you, I was able to make it to my dying husband's bedside just before he passed away . . . God bless you for helping me and unselfishly serving others.
Sincerely, Mrs. Nat King Cole"
Galatians 6:2 "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." Matthew 5:13-16 “. . . Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."
Lesson 3 - Remembering Those Who Serve
In the days when an ice cream sundae didn't cost much, a 10-year-old boy entered a hotel coffee shop and sat at a table. A waitress put a glass of water in front of him.
"How much is an ice cream sundae?" he asked.
"Fifty cents," replied the waitress.
The little boy pulled his hand out of his pocket and studied the coins in it.
"Well, how much is a plain dish of ice cream?" he inquired.
By now more people were waiting for a table and the waitress was growing impatient.
"Thirty-five cents," she brusquely replied.
The little boy again counted his coins. "I'll have the plain ice cream," he said.
The waitress brought the ice cream, put the bill on the table and walked away. The boy finished the ice cream, paid the cashier and left. When the waitress came back, she began to cry as she wiped down the table. There, placed neatly beside the empty dish, were two nickels and five pennies.
You see, he couldn't have the sundae, because he had to have enough left to leave her a tip.
Hebrews 13:16 "Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God."
Lesson 4 - Obstacles in Our Path
In ancient times, a King had a boulder placed on a roadway. Then he hid himself and watched to see if anyone would remove the huge rock. Some of the King's' wealthiest merchants and courtiers came by and simply walked around it. Many loudly blamed the King for not keeping the roads clear, but none did anything about getting the stone out of the way.
Then a peasant came along carrying a load of vegetables. Upon approaching the boulder, the peasant laid down his burden and tried to move the stone to the side of the road, and after much pushing and straining, he finally succeeded.
After the peasant picked up his load of vegetables, he noticed a purse lying in the road where the boulder had been. The purse contained many gold coins and a note from the King indicating that the gold was for the person who removed the boulder from the roadway. The peasant learned what many of us never understand! Every obstacle presents an opportunity to improve our condition.
Psalms 119: 70-71 "Their hearts are callous and unfeeling, but I delight in your law. It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees." Philippians 2:4 "Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others."
Lesson 5 – A Gift of Love . . .
Many years ago, when I worked as a volunteer at a hospital, I got to know a little girl named Liz who was suffering from a rare & serious disease. Her only chance of recovery appeared to be a blood transfusion from her 5-year old brother, who had miraculously survived the same disease and had developed the antibodies needed to combat the illness.
The doctor explained the situation to her little brother, and asked the little boy if he would be willing to give his blood to his sister.
I saw him hesitate for only a moment before taking a deep breath and saying, "Yes I'll do it if it will save her."
As the transfusion progressed, he lay in bed next to his sister and smiled, as we all did, seeing the color returning to her cheek. Then his face grew pale and his smile faded.
He looked up at the doctor and asked with a trembling voice, "Will I start to die right away?"
Being young, the little boy had misunderstood the doctor; he thought he was going to have to give his sister all of his blood in order to save her.
James 2:15-16 “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,' and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?”
In The Final Analysis . . .
I enjoy learning and listening to God through prayer and the reading of Holy Scripture. And I believe it is best to heed godly advice. According to Jeremiah 29:11, this is where our direction comes from.
Sure, everyone has free will, and anyone can choose to be good for goodness sake. Even Christians can choose to be good for goodness sake, but we are first and foremost good because we choose to obey what God commands. What’s wrong with being good because we want to live a life of peace and contentment, where we love and help our neighbors, simply for the purpose of glorifying God?
What if we Christians obey God’s laws simply because we want to live a life free from the guilt, pain, personal turmoil, and potential for wickedness that disobedience brings? Would that be all right with everyone? And what if we attempted to share what we've learned with "whosoever" is willing to listen? Would that be okay, too?
Perhaps we could put everything we know about the consequences of disobedience to God's word, together with everything we know about living our life solely for the purpose of obeying and glorifying God. Doing that might allow us all to be filled with enough faith in things unseen to obey God without question, as did Noah and Abraham.
Those who choose to do good for "goodness sake" are also free to do wrong for any reason, anytime they feel like it. Christians choose to live obedient to God’s instructions for living our lives, now and eternally. We don't do what we do simply out of a fear of what will or might happen if we don't do it. Proverbs 3:11-12 teaches us that God only disciplines those He loves. The scripture says: “My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD; neither be weary of his correction: For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.”
We choose to obey God out of our love for God, our Heavenly Father. And we know that no one else is more capable or better qualified, than God, to teach us how to live our best life on earth.
© 2012 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD