Have you had a few ‘if-moments’ in your faith journey – those faith-put-to-test moments?
If God exists, why . . .?
If God is good, why . . .?
If God could have prevented this, why . . .?
Unless God answers, how . . .?
Many such ‘ifs’ and ‘unlesses’ often creep into our finite perception of God’s infinite character as we traverse across life’s myriad pathways.
‘Unless’ and ‘if’ are considered to be two terms of everyday parlance which are used to express doubt or lack of faith for certain occurrences. The Bible is replete with verses which speak of the rewards of faith. There are ample exhortations and encouragements to exercise faith under all circumstances while seeking strength from God to help do away with unbelief and lack of faith.
Yet, we do not have a single instance in the Bible where doubt and lack of faith are punished by God. While God treasures our faith and answers us according to the measure of our faith, He also addresses our ‘ifs’, ‘buts’ and ‘unlesses’. He acknowledges both the fervency of the human spirit and the weakness of the flesh, and hence invites us to taste and experience His goodness for ourselves.
Matthew 9:20-22 narrates the account of a woman whose ‘if’ got addressed.
And suddenly, a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years came from behind and touched the hem of His garment. For she said to herself, “If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well.” But Jesus turned around, and when He saw her He said, “Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And the woman was made well from that hour.
In John 11:21, Jesus addresses Martha’s ‘if’ after her brother Lazarus died.
Now Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.
John 20:24-25 gives us the episode when Thomas put an ‘unless’ before accepting the resurrection of Jesus.
Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”
So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”
The prophet Samuel was born because of his mother, Hannah’s ‘if’ as recorded in 1 Samuel 1:11.
Then she made a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head.”
The ‘unless’ added by Thomas or the ‘ifs’ of the sick woman, Martha or Hannah did not prevent them from witnessing the power and glory of God. Knowing that the humans created in His image were made to exhibit higher order qualities of thinking and reasoning, God, in His divine wisdom and acceptance has also chosen to accommodate our frailties.
However, what is important to note in all the above ‘ifs’ is that none of them were meant to question the sovereignty or invincibility of God. In fact, the ‘unless’ and the ‘ifs’ were confident submissions of God’s invincibility while desiring its manifestation.
When we are caught in dire situations, what do our ‘ifs’, ‘buts’ and ‘unlesses’ speak out? Are they cries of anguish seeking the intervention of God and the manifestation of His power in some areas of our lives? Or in moments of desperation do our ‘ifs’ question God’s sovereignty, His invincibility or His very existence?
When our eyes look heavenwards with hope, while our lips utter an ‘if’, He addresses it. He addresses it not to prove Himself, but to help us see and experience His might.
Does God address all the ‘ifs’ that humans shoot His way?
There are two categories of ‘ifs’ that do not intend to seek a manifestation of God’s glory for who He is.
- ‘Ifs’ that doubt or challenge His sovereignty.
An instance of this type is the way Satan challenged sovereignty of Jesus, His authority and His lordship with three ‘ifs’ as narrated in Luke 4.
- “If You are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”
- “ . . . if You will worship before me, all will be Yours.”
- “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here . . .”
Knowing fully well that Jesus is God, Satan put conditions before Him that required Him to prove His lordship. In response to each of the above three ‘ifs’ the sovereignty of Jesus shone forth in His defiance to Satan’s ‘ifs’.
The Creator of the universe needn’t prove His lordship to anyone. Jesus did not ignore Satan’s ‘ifs’, which He very well could have done, rather responded to those ‘ifs’ to remind the devil His authority over the heavens and the earth.
There are many instances of believers who started by putting too many ‘ifs’, ‘buts’ and ‘unlesses’ to argue their stand against faith in God. Had God ignored their ‘ifs’, ‘buts’ and ‘unlesses’, these atheist-turned-believers or agnostics would have never got to taste His goodness in this world and the next.
- Frivolous ‘ifs’ meant for self-seeking pleasures/ goals.
The second category of ‘ifs’ that do not necessarily intend to witness the awe and majesty of God are self-seeking ‘ifs’ . People often put conditions for things that they desire in life. ‘I will believe in God, if He makes me clear this exam.’ ‘If God will help me and my lover get married, I will commit my life to Him.’ ‘Only if I can be richer than XYZ, I will acknowledge God.’ ‘If He can heal, then why doesn’t He heal my sick daughter?’
Again, God in His sovereignty knows whether addressing such of our ‘ifs’ would help increase our faith and draw us closer to Him or whether He would be limited to the role of a Wish Master fulfilling our unending wish lists – the fulfilment of most of which would have no spiritual connotations.
If you are in such a phase of life where you are desperate to witness a turnaround, but you don’t feel that you have enough faith in God or may be you feel that you haven’t seen God much in action, I urge you to direct your ‘ifs’, ‘buts’ and ‘unlesses’ towards God. It is futile to engage in countless debates and arguments with men, regarding the existential sovereignty of God whose existence and sovereignty do not require human ratification. At the same time, it is foolish not to taste His goodness and power when He extends an open invitation sans bars to each one under the sun to savour for ourselves the sweetness of His love and the magnanimity of His magnificence.
God doesn’t ignore our ‘ifs’, ‘buts’ and ‘unlesses’. He reads the intent of the heart.
“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good
Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!”
My Prayer for us: Lord, may our ‘ifs’ help us to savour your goodness only to move from slippery faith to rock solid faith. Amen.