The God Who Answers Skeptics
I am scheduled to preach a sermon at the end of July and I have been studying Exodus chapters three and four in preparation. I love the story of Exodus and often turn there when asked to preach. In chapter three, we see our protagonist, Moses, admit some of his own flaws and express his fears to God in a transparent way that makes it easy for us to relate. God’s handling of Moses’ fears is encouraging and also revealing. Yes, it reveals that God is patient with us in our doubts and fears, but it also reveals something of God that I hadn’t seen in this story before. It’s funny how the Bible can never truly be exhausted, we just learn more and more.
Moses was afraid that because of his own inadequacy, the people would not believe that God had sent him to lead them out of Egypt.
But Moses asked God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and that I should bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11)
Moses answered, “What if they won’t believe me and will not obey me but say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?”
We’re quick to judge the failures of Biblical characters when they doubt or disobey God, but in reality, how much better would we have done? We doubt; we disobey. Some think Moses had a speech impediment, but at any rate, he certainly felt inadequate for the task at hand. I myself feel supremely unworthy of God’s call, but here’s the thing: it isn’t about me. It isn’t about Moses. When Moses turns the focus away from God’s will unto himself, he is committing a selfish act. He makes it about himself. Of course, the same is true of us when we allow fear to hinder us.
Specifically, Moses fears that the people won’t believe him. How easy is that to relate to? God has called the Church to “Go make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19), but often we doubt how effectively we can do this. The point is that we haven’t been called to be effective, just faithful. Of course, we want to be effective, but obedience is more important. God takes care of the effectiveness, and that is what stood out to me in the story, this time around.
So Moses doubts that the people will believe him and God responds, not in anger, but patience and affirmation.
The Lord asked him, “What is that in your hand?” “A staff,” he replied. “Throw it on the ground,” he said. So Moses threw it on the ground, it became a snake, and he ran from it. The Lord told Moses, “Stretch out your hand and grab it by the tail.” So he stretched out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand. “This will take place,” he continued, “so that they will believe that the Lord , the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.” (Exodus 4:1-5)
Rather than chastise Moses for not “just having faith”, God gives Moses a sign to prove to the people that God has truly sent him. I’ve argued for awhile now that God doesn’t require faith without evidence, but I never realized how far back in the Old Testament this could be traced. God doesn’t expect the Hebrew people to believe Moses on a whim. He provides evidence. The evidence comes in the way of a miracle, just like Jesus in the New Testament. The disciples didn’t believe Jesus was the Messiah because they “just had faith”, they believed because of the miracles they had seen, culminating in the Resurrection. The basis of faith is evidence, not ignorance.
God does not expect people to believe the gospel on a whim. As we go forth making disciples and preaching the gospel, of course people will doubt our claim that a man in the first century raised from the dead. How many people have you seen raise from the dead? Of course people would doubt that God spoke to Moses in a burning bush and that he was going to overthrow the power of Pharaoh. Pharaoh was the most powerful man in the world, and how many burning bushes have you seen speak? However, the evidence was compelling. And the evidence for the Resurrection is also compelling. God has not left us without evidence, he cares about the objections of the skeptic and so should we. Be prepared to give a defense.