Plausible Deniability?

That title phrase describes a tactic used by individuals and groups who want to ‘cover their tracks.’  The idea is to structure one’s actions so that personal involvement isn’t provable as fact.  This is, of course, a favored tactic of shady operators who want to evade the consequences in the case that their schemes are uncovered.  So, it may sound offensive to suggest that the term also expresses how Almighty God presents Himself to humanity.  But let us explain!

Of course, we’re certainly NOT suggesting that God practices ANY form of deception or shuns personal responsibility.  In fact, a consistent pattern in the Bible is when: (a) God states what He plans to do (we call that ‘prophecy’); (b) He does it; and (c) He then confirms what He did.   God NEVER denies His own actions – in fact He goes to great lengths to identify Himself with them (at least for those who are paying attention).  No – the kind of ‘plausible deniability’ we want to talk about here is a kind that really has no parallel in human behavior: it’s when God exercises His power in such a way that those who want to do so can plausibly deny Him.

Consider these two facts: (1) God possesses infinite power; and (2) a great many people deny that He exists.  How can you reconcile those two things?  Isn’t it obvious that a God of unlimited power could convince even the most obstinate skeptic if He wished to?  If God just zapped a few of the most vocal ones with divine lightning bolts, atheism would quickly disappear!   But instead, there are those who gleefully note that they can get away with deliberate blasphemy without (apparent) consequence.  For them, that’s adequate proof that the notion of an all-powerful God is just foolishness.

Or consider this – if all those who publicly confessed a belief in God were granted immunity from illness and accident, surely everyone would flock to acknowledge Him.  But that doesn’t happen. Though Christians agree that their relationship with God is the source of many blessings, it’s not so obvious to others.  In short, though God is, without question, the Lord of the cosmos, He chooses to make His presence deniable.

That would make perfect sense if God just didn’t want to get involved with humanity.  But the opposite is true: “[God] desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4)  Indeed: the entire Bible, from Genesis through Revelation is the story of how God pursues mankind with His amazing grace.  Whether it is God speaking to Moses from the burning bush (Exodus 3) or Jesus summoning a cheating tax-collector out of a tree (Luke 19) the Bible is full of stories of how God takes the initiative to save people.  So why doesn’t God take the logical next step?  Why doesn’t He use His power to force everyone to believe in Him and worship Him?  What sense can we make of this paradox?

That question gets us into some theologically ‘deep waters’ and Christian thinkers have proposed different answers.  But one thing is quite clear from all of Scripture: God’s desire for man is not dominance, but relationship — though He could certainly force mankind to submit to His unleashed power, that is incompatible with His loving nature.  Rather, just as wise human parents who truly love their children will not deprive them of the opportunity to fail, so too God is a loving Father who honors our free will.  In Jesus’ famous parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) the father risked losing his child by granting his insolent demands but ultimately gained a true son who served his father by his own choice.  The alternative, to forcibly prevent the son from exercising his immature will, would have made him effectively the slave of his father.  So too our Heavenly Father knows that to be His true children, we also must freely choose Him.  But still we wonder, couldn’t God be more forceful with those who doubt?

With our limited human intellect, we will never fully understand God’s ways (Isaiah 55:8-9), so it is pointless to speculate too much about the divine motives.  On this earth we’ll continue to speculate about why sovereign God permits some of His subjects to deny and defy Him.  All we can do is accept the reality that He does not shout His presence to those who choose to be deaf, but whispers a sweet invitation for those who will listen.

“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” (Mark 4:9)

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