Learn how to Awaken your Mind and Soul to the Fullness of God’s Care and Concern for You

By Brian Lowther

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a verse in Isaiah.

“You are my witnesses,” says the Lord, “my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe in me, and understand that I am he…”
~ Isaiah 43:10

I’ve always found this verse inspirational. I’ve understood it to mean that the mere act of explaining your belief in God’s existence—or “witnessing”—awakens your mind and soul to the fullness of his care and concern for you, and oceans of new evidence about him on a regular basis. As you share about your faith in God with others, you will know and believe and understand him and his grand truths more deeply. You will “hear” him with new clarity.

In other words, one way to know God more and better each day, is to tell others about his powerful love. While the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19 gives the clearest directive to evangelize the whole world, this verse in Isaiah might provide the clearest incentive for doing so.

Recently I’ve been dwelling on that word “witnesses.” In the evangelical context in which I cut my teeth, “witnessing” simply means sharing the Gospel in the format of “The Four Spiritual Laws.”[1]

But in a non-evangelical context, “witnesses” brings to mind a courtroom.

Photo Credit: Joe Gratz/Flickr

Photo Credit: Joe Gratz/Flickr

A courtroom is a good analogy. A witness in a courtroom is someone who testifies—who gives evidence, unfolds, clears up, and helps people reach a correct decision in cases of disputed claims, or where personal reputation is attacked.

Down through history—starting with the book of Job—there have been disputed claims about God’s intentions and actions. His personal reputation has been attacked. He has been blamed for all kinds of things that may not be his doing.

Perhaps this verse in Isaiah is highlighting a deeper responsibility contained in the word “witness” that I’ve missed all these years. Beyond just sharing the good news of salvation that is available through Christ, what if this verse is more specifically about defending God’s character?

Here’s a Scenario to Illustrate

When God created human beings, I think Satan became very discouraged. Not only would he have to continue fighting a war against God and God’s angels, he would now also have to contend with us. As a response, I like to speculate that he formed a three-part plan.

SATAN’S GRAND PLAN, PART 1

Part 1 of his plan was to tempt Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. “Nip this humanity thing in the bud,” he may have thought. But this didn’t cause humanity to implode into extinction, as he may have hoped.

SATAN’S GRAND PLAN, PART 2

Part 2 of his plan: Get humanity to blame God for evil. How did he do that exactly? Obviously, we have no way of knowing. But I’ve come up with a dialogue in the spirit of The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis that represents a potential answer.

A Speculative Dialogue

As human civilizations began to develop, I think Satan realized that he had a slim chance to turn things in his favor. My hunch is that he gathered up his top generals and said, “I want to get a good chunk of humanity to blame God for all of the evil we do.”

I picture his generals questioning his wisdom here and being incredulous at the idea of God getting the credit for their work. In response I can see him explaining, “Don't you see? If they blame God, we can continue doing evil unabated. They won’t give a thought to fighting back if they think their suffering is from God. Also, we’ll get some of them to turn on God. Which will make everything easier.”

Then I imagine he described his plan. “We will make ourselves invisible to the human vermin. We will cover our tracks so well that none of them will know it’s us. We’ll convince them that essentially, we don’t even exist.”

Again I picture his generals reacting with incredulity, “But, our fingerprints are literally everywhere in their world.”

Satan: “I know. That’s why we have to convince them through the power of suggestion to embrace a belief system that will blind them to our efforts, deceive them of our activities, and conceal from them our strategies.”

I can see one of his generals piping up smugly, “Well, the obvious strategy then, is the Scientific Worldview, which we can manipulate into an intolerance for hard-to-prove spiritual realities.”

“Don’t be a moron!” I imagine Satan replying in disgust. “If we let them loose with the scientific perspective, who knows what roads they’ll go down. They might discover God’s signature in the double helix or in the structure of the atom and never turn back. We need to keep things mystical, mysterious even. Science is the last thing we want them to discover.”

General #1: “Well why don’t we use Polytheism, then? Polytheism is certainly mysterious, and it has the advantage of getting the human psyche comfortable with the idea that the gods do good and evil.”

Satan: “Agreed. I like that. Let’s do that in some cultures. Then again, Polytheism won’t cause them to blame all evil on God. That’s what I’m really after. What else have you got?”

General #2: “Well, what about Dualism? Dualism will make humanity doubt the enemy’s power, given that he is fighting an endless war with his equal.”

Satan: “Yes, yes! That would be a great advantage. Let’s do that in some cultures. Then again, I don’t want to be identified as the bad god. If they think I’m real, then they’ll resist me. We need to be completely invisible! Or at the very least, marginalized to the point that they believe we are responsible for very little. Plus, the gods of Dualism are fairly easy to understand. Remember, we want them to be totally confused by God.

General #2: “So, what are we going to do?”

Satan: “I’ve got a third option. I call it Operation Monotheism.”

General #1: “But, that’s exactly what the enemy wants! How many times have we heard him say, ‘I am God, the only God there is. Besides me there are no real gods.’”[2]

Satan: “Yeah, I admit, it is repulsive in how closely it aligns with his desires. But even though we would be aiding the enemy in his attempt to proliferate monotheism to all of the human slime, I think we can use that to our advantage. Monotheism has an extraordinary weakness. If we allow a certain percentage of the humans to embrace Monotheism, I think we can manipulate some of them to deny the reality of evil altogether.”

General #2: “How do you figure that?”

Satan: “If we get them to believe there is only one God and that he is all-powerful and all knowing…”

General #1, interrupting, “But he IS all-powerful and all knowing. Why would we want them to believe the truth?”

Satan: “Because we’re going to hide a lie inside the truth. Isn’t that our specialty?”

General #1: “I Suppose.”

Satan: “You see minions, if we let them believe he is all knowing and all-powerful, if we can make this one hideous concession, then we can get them to believe that everything that happens—no matter how evil—is part of God’s divine, mysterious plan.

In other words, what will look like evil to them will do so simply because of their limited perspective of the ‘universal good.’ If we succeed, evil will essentially lose all of its meaning and we will recede into the darkness.”


[Fast-forward a few millennia… to when Satan’s minions are convinced of the effectiveness of Satan's grand plan.]

General #1: “Operation Monotheism has been a smashing success! Humans have become so preoccupied with trying to figure out God’s reasons for doing or allowing evil that they’ve become oblivious to the war and to our existence.”

General #2: “We’ve got them believing that even when we carry out some merciless worldwide evil, it is God who is doing it for a good, specific, divine reason. All they do is sit round and discuss his mysterious will, with no thought of trying to stop us. ‘God has a plan. God has a plan.’ They mutter. They are completely distracted.”

General #1: “It is history’s all-time most brilliant ruse. Not only are they blaming God for all appearances of evil, but they have mostly resigned themselves to not understanding him because of it. As a result, even with the ones who do realize what we’re doing, their ability to convince others has been greatly diminished and their success at enlisting recruits into the war against us is dismal. It is easily our most emphatic triumph.”

SATAN’S GRAND PLAN, PART 3

You’ll recall that Part 1 of Satan’s plan was tempting Adam and Eve and Part 2 was getting human beings to blame evil on God. Part 3 hinges on Satan’s question, “What if I can ultimately bring God before heaven’s equivalent of a grand jury, and get them to convict him of evil—or at the very least gross incompetence—and overthrow him. That might allow me to take his throne.”

God’s throne is what Satan is really after. Remember he wanted to ascend “above the stars of God . . . above the heights of the clouds,” and be equal “with the Most High” (Isaiah 14:12–14). I think he wants to be enshrined as “god” inside the hearts and minds of every being in the universe. Then he’ll have ultimate control, out from under God’s heel and able to do anything he wants to the inhabitants of the universe for the rest of time. Isn’t that the goal of all megalomaniac tyrants? Dethroning God was and is his real objective; evil is the means to get there.

A Heavenly Tribunal

If Satan were able to succeed at putting God on trial, I think he would build his case on three key premises.

PREMISE 1

Scripture and church history prove that God is unfit to be Lord of the universe.

Any sane person upon reading the Old Testament must be horrified by the untold numbers of men, women, children, and animals killed by “Acts of God.” Think of Noah’s flood or Sodom and Gomorrah, or how God dealt with Egypt (e.g., the nine plagues, killing the firstborn sons, hardening Pharaoh’s heart, drowning the Egyptian army in the Red Sea). Or think of God’s divine endorsement of the genocidal conquest of Canaan (Deuteronomy 20:16-17), or when God ordered King Saul to butcher thousands of children and babies in the genocide of the Amalekites. (1 Samuel 15:3). Or think of Job’s undeserved suffering – losing his health, his wealth, his children, and even his will to live because of an apparent wager between God and Satan.

The New Testament contains far less carnage, but there are a few examples he might bring up. King Herod was eaten alive by worms (Acts 12:23); Ananias and Saphirra dropped dead because of a lie (Acts 5:5, 10); and the book of Revelation is—on the surface—full of war, genocide, and destruction; it may be the most violent book in the entire Bible.[3]

Then, there are the countless numbers of Christ’s loyal followers who—because of their loyalty—were tortured, beheaded, skinned alive, burned to death, ripped in two, or crucified upside down. If God is truly loving and powerful, wouldn’t these be the people he would protect?

I could go on. Satan surely will. There is just too much evidence in the Bible and all through Church history that seems to contradict the character of a God of love, forgiveness, and power. In a courtroom scenario I think Satan will find it fairly straightforward to use this evidence to convince the jury of God’s capriciousness, his arbitrary nature, his over-reactive vindictiveness, “…which all serve to make him unfit to be the God of the galaxies,” he’ll say.  

I’m sure that as Satan describes this apparent dark streak in God’s character, he will secretly revel in the trick he’s played on all monotheists, and the misunderstandings about God he has caused to fester in the Church for centuries.

PREMISE 2

God’s own creation proves that he is unfit to be Lord of the Universe.

Then, not only will he use scripture and church history to tear down and tarnish God’s character, I think he’ll use God’s creation to prove that God is unfit to rule our universe. He’ll point to the enormous number of animal species who spend their entire existence as prey or predator or both. “In some cases, the only reason that some organisms exist,” he might say, “is to make other organisms suffer and die.” I imagine that he will hold nothing back when it comes to the absolute gruesomeness inflicted upon humans and animals by each other. He’ll bring to the stand geneticists, biologists, zoologists, entomologists, paleontologists, meteorologists, volcanologists, seismologists, and dozens of other human experts. And it won’t matter one bit if any of these scientists believed in God during their earthly lifetimes. All he will have to do is force them describe the destruction, the violence, and the ghastly deaths they encountered throughout their scientific careers because of natural disasters or because nature is “red in tooth and claw.”

Then he’ll bring up his star witness – a microbiologist. He’ll make the microbiologist describe in excruciating detail things like the parasitic worms which blind millions of people (Onchocerciasis), the virus that cause convulsions, bleeding, and hemorrhagic fever (dengue), and the bacteria that paralyzes a victim’s breathing muscles causing a slow and painful death (botulism).

As before I’m sure he’ll secretly revel in the destructive power at both ends of the Plank Scale— the worldwide catastrophes and the microscopic killing machines—knowing full well that he had much more to do with them than anyone in the courtroom realizes.

I picture him then asking the jury, “Who in their right mind would allow God to continue ruling the universe when this is the result?” And, “Why would God create such things?” Then he’ll answer his own question, “It’s because God wants to destroy his own creation. And thus he is unworthy to sit on the thrown. He should be convicted of gross incompetence and overthrown. Someone else—I’ll offer myself as an alternative—should be in control.”

PREMISE 3

Many of God’s own faithful followers prove that he is unfit to be Lord of the universe

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury,” he’ll say, “these assumptions are not only prevalent in Christendom, but they have permeated almost every monotheistic civilization that has ever existed.” He will state that if so many human beings believe this about him, and believe it so widely and with such ardent devotion, it must be true. “It must!” He’ll shout as he slams his fist on the table.

Because he has been so successful in telling this lie for so long it probably won’t be difficult for him to convince the jury once-and-for-all that God is the one who is destroying his own creation. That God is one who makes people suffer unjustly. That God is the one causing evil and disease to befall all of humanity, especially his loyal servants, whom he fails to protect from suffering and death again and again. “He even failed to protect his very own son,” Satan will claim. “Whose crucifixion was designed by God as a sham to fool everyone into believing that he is self-sacrificial and loving, but really he is just a sadistic maniac who derives pleasure from torturing his subjects.”

He’ll go on and on. Blustering. Boasting. Accusing. Hating.

OUR ROLE IN THE HEAVENLY COURTROOM

When Satan’s indignant tirade is finally through, that’s when God’s defense attorney will call the bride of Christ to the witness stand. Our collective role in this courtroom drama is to be God’s character witness. Which brings us back full circle to the beginning of this essay. Remember, “You are my witnesses,” says the Lord …” (Isaiah 43:10) With God being the defendant, he may not have the chance to defend himself. He might be silent before these accusations the way that Jesus was silent before Pontius Pilate. (Matthew 27:12-14).

As witnesses, we’ve got to oppose all of Satan’s accusations. Our job is to undermine and subvert Satan’s case by giving evidence, clearing up misunderstandings, and helping the jury reach a correct decision about God’s character. We have to present testimony about his glory, his goodness, his powerful, self-sacrificial, restorative, sustaining love, and his flawless nature of light, Spirit, truth and grace.

In response, Satan might say, “You can use all the adjectives you want, but the bottom line is he might be wonderful to you, but he wasn’t very wonderful to the millions upon millions of suffering souls who starved to death during the Great Chinese Famine, or were tortured to death in the global slave trade, or died at the hands of the Crusaders or the Inquisitors.

If we explain away evil with the “God is mysterious” platitude, that will play right into his hands. It will prove his point that God has duped us, convinced his adherents to believe in his goodness and power despite all evidence to the contrary. It will be yet one more piece of evidence as to why God is unfit to control our universe.

We’ve got to make the case—as the New Testament does—that God is just like Jesus, who I picture sitting silently in the back of the courtroom. “Jesus doesn’t do any of these things,” We’ll say as we point to him. “Jesus doesn’t kill his enemies. Jesus dies for them. Jesus doesn’t strike people with diseases. He heals them.”

Satan: “Oh, good cop, bad cop, right?”

“No.” We’ll reply. “Jesus is the perfect revelation of God’s true nature (Hebrews 1:3). To see what God is really like, all we have to do is look at Jesus. And Jesus doesn’t reveal simply a part of what God is like, but the fullness of God is in Christ, and revealed through Christ (Colossians 1:19; 2:9). As Jesus himself said, when we see him, we see the Father (John 14:7-9). And this is how we know that God is not evil, that he is not the source of disease and suffering, that he does not condone hatred, violence, or genocide. Jesus railed against evil, he healed the sick, had compassion for sinners and sufferers, freed the captives, sighted the blind, raised the dead.”

At this point, I think Satan will say, “Then how do you explain the Old Testament?”

And that’s when the real work begins. That’s when we as God’s witnesses have to explain how to reconcile the character of Jesus with all of the violent portraits of God in the Old Testament.

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Reconciling the Violent Old Testament Portraits of God with Jesus

It is beyond my intended scope for this essay to explore how to reconcile these two conceptions of God. It might take 1,500 pages to address such an issue. Thankfully, someone has already done so. In Greg Boyd’s brand new two-volume book, Crucifixion of the Warrior God,[4] he makes the case as thoroughly as anyone ever has that “God is like Jesus; God has always been like Jesus and there has never been a time when God was not like Jesus.” [5] Boyd conclusively explains how the portions of scripture that depict God commanding or committing horrific acts of violence and destruction actually point to the self-sacrificial picture of Jesus dying on the cross for his enemies. 

Reconciling these portraits of God will go a long way in changing the jury’s mind. But it might not be enough. We may have to go one step further. I think we may have to put Satan in the defendant’s chair and have him answer, “From where have you come?” (Job 1:7)

This second trial, a trial for all eternity will finally and fully expose Satan as a liar, a destroyer, a murderer, and the original source of all suffering and evil.  

We need to be ready for that day. But really, it’s not a day in the distant future. It is now. It is already here. We must defend God’s character every day with our actions and our words. We must express and demonstrate that Jesus is the exact representation of God’s character and the radiance of his glory (Hebrews 1:3). And we must put Satan on trial.[6]

As we do the job of a witness, not only will we be helping to sway the jury about God’s character in the heavenly courtroom, but our souls will be awakened to the fullness of God’s care and concern for us, and oceans of new evidence about him on a regular basis, just as the verse in Isaiah foretold.

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Brian Lowther is the Director of
the Roberta Winter Institute


Endnotes

[1]The Four Spiritual Laws is a simple way of organizing the important information in the Gospel into four points. See here for more: http://www.gotquestions.org/four-spiritual-laws.html

[2] Isaiah 45:5

[3] Though Sigve Tonstad’s marvelous Saving God’s Reputation thoroughly refutes this understanding of Revelation.

[4] Or if you’d prefer a popular version of this material check out Greg Boyd’s just released Cross Vision:  How the Crucifixion of Jesus Makes Sense of Old Testament Violence

[5] This line is taken from a powerful essay and sermon on the topic by pastor and author Brian Zahnd: https://brianzahnd.com/2011/08/god-is-like-jesus-2/

[6] Putting Satan on trail is a bit abstract. So, to explain, I think this will require the global body of Christ to, in the words of Ralph D. Winter, “recognize and ponder more seriously the kind and degree of harm Satan is able to cause. We need to unmask the works of Satan.” This will involve the combined and cross-disciplinary efforts of theologians, scientists and many others and will hopefully result in a complete termination of our automatic tendency to overlook Satan’s active involvement in our world. In other words, if Satan has been at work corrupting God’s creation and covering his tracks, then we must be at work unmasking his deeds and attacking them at their roots.

Posted on August 20, 2017 and filed under essays.