Familiarity Breeds Unbelief

‘They said, ‘Is this not Jesus the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven?’ ~ John 6:42

How can God become man? How can God have a Son? How can God be Sovereign yet give us free-will? How can God be just yet merciful? The notions we have of God form our idealized an idolized version of Him, and so when God comes in a form we did not expect or think Him to, we reject Him. We reject Him because the picture does not fit the frame we have made. It cannot be God- the God we think Him to be, or predict Him to act. We get so used to our idolized version of God, and so miss Him altogether, just like the Jews who thought they knew Jesus too well did. In fact, in His hometown, Jesus ‘did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith’ (Matthew 13:58). What caused this lack of faith? Familiarity. When Jesus taught among them, they would remark, ‘Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? When did this man get all these things?’ (v55-56). In short, Jesus disrupted all their familiar notions and so ‘they took offense at him’ (v57).

Sadly, many take offense and reject God because ‘we know Him to well’. We know Him to be this, not that. A God who only comes this way, and not that way, because He is only here, not there. We presume that although God is omnipotent, He is potent in a certain manner. Although He is omnipresent, He is only present at the direction we are looking at. Although He is omniscient, we think Him to know only what we know. We tend to forget that ‘God is greater than man’ (Job 33:12), because we tend to get familiar with God as we would our next door neighbour. For instance, Saul thought that what pleased God was only sacrifices. He probably had seen the Prophet Samuel present burnt offerings, and then everything turned to his favour. And so whatever predicament he found himself in, Saul sought to offer sacrifices to appease the notion he had of God. Even when he disobeyed and took some of the plunder from the Amalekites instead of destroying them all as instructed, he it claimed it was ‘in order to sacrifice them to the Lord’ (1 Samuel 15:21). To his shock, Samuel the Prophet rebukes him, ‘Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord?’ (v22). That day, Saul was introduced to a version of God he did not know, because he had become too familiar with his own version.

As you do not know the way of the spirit or how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things’ (Ecclesiastes 11:5). But apparently in this age, God is increasingly becoming a preprogrammed robot that gives a certain output for a certain occurrence. God is one we meet on certain days, who speaks to us through certain people, and answers us when we pray in a certain way. We reduce God to time, person, place, and space. We even predict His actions and outcomes like Jonah did, leading to rebellion. He tells God, ‘O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarsish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity’ (Jonah 4:2). Due to predicting God’s actions, Jonah took offense, not carefully considering that the God of forgiveness is also the ‘God of vengeance’ (Psalm 94:1). So sometimes, we may magnify some of God’s qualities more than others because they fit our preferences. We become blindsided, yet belief in God requires an all-round and full acceptance of ALL what God is. ‘It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. The man who fears God will avoid all extremes’ (Ecclesiastes 7:18).

While we believe that those God ‘called, he also justified’ (Romans 8:30), more often than not we behave as though God calls the already justified. We see it appropriate if He uses ‘saints’ to accomplish His mission. Yet, the same God who calls the Apostles and Prophets His servants also calls Nebuchadnezzar the same. In fact, for King Cyrus, God calls him ‘his anointed’ (Isaiah 45:1). This is because, those who did not even start out knowing God, are still likely candidates for God’s anointing. It is all up to God, for He says, ‘Does the clay say to the potter, ‘what are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘He has no hands’? Woe to him who says to his father, ‘What have you begotten?’ or to his mother, ‘What have you brought to birth?’ (v 9-10). And so when God chooses ruthless and ungodly people who do not even know Him, He moulds them into what He wants. He says of Cyrus, ‘I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight’ (v13), because God only ‘brings one down, he exalts the other’ (Psalm 75:7). The one or the other that God chooses to bring down or exalt is out of our formulation, calculation, prediction, or preference. So, when we confine God in a box, the big question becomes, ‘Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?’ (1 Corinthians 14:36). Surely not!

God desires for us to look at Him with a closeness to understand His qualities, and with a distance to see His infinity. It is the balancing of the two that brings friendship with God, and yet a reverential fear and awe of Him. The balance helps us appreciate who God is, while expecting to see more of Him we never knew about. It is a closeness with God, but an openness to Him- to do whatever He pleases and however He wishes it to be done without lamenting, ‘But I thought’. At the end of the day, whatever we feel, think, or say about Him, ‘The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on earth, in the seas and all their depths’ (Psalm 135:6). Just like to Habakkuk, God says, ‘For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe even if you were told’ (Habakkuk 1:5). So, not all God’s doings are dependent on our believing of them or Him, for He will do whatever He pleases, whenever He pleases, and to or through whoever He pleases. And so, not to get offended each time God does not do as we thought, we ought to get familiar with Him up to the point that we become unfamiliar with Him, so that we come to just believe in whatever He does. For the ‘secret things belong to God’ (Deuteronomy 29:29), and just like God can never come to an end, so does His mysteries and doings.

‘Oh the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgements, and his ways past finding out! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor?’ ~ Romans 11:33-34

4 thoughts on “Familiarity Breeds Unbelief

  1. Pingback: Familiarity Breeds Unbelief — mulyalemutisya – Reasoned Cases For Christ

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