We’ve determined that God’s trustworthiness can’t be assumed because of how the Bible portrays His character. He does not deceive wantonly, but He has no qualms about deceiving His opponents to further His goals.
How are we to know that we aren’t among God’s opponents? Merely because we ally ourselves with Him? That’s too easy because for an alliance to be genuine we have to further God’s interests or at least be positioned to do so, and it’s difficult to know whether we are so positioned without knowing what those interests are. It’s safe to assume that many of the prophets that God deceives in Ezekiel 14 and the Pharisees of the Gospels believed they were on God’s side, but they were not from God’s perspective, making them candidates for deception. Their actions or belief were in some ways deficient (their election by God may also be at issue, but if not manifest in action or belief or some public criteria, election is inscrutable, so I leave it aside). So we must ask: what, specifically, does God want us to do or believe?
It’s not an easy question, given that we must be open to the possibility that God deceives through scripture in the same way that the crucifixion narrative is a “stumbling block” to non-Christians (1 Corinthians 1:23). But it could have an easy answer. If all God asks of us is fellowship, genuine openness to Him (in contrast to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees) may be sufficient for alliance. Or perhaps God only requires that we be charitable to one another. Or perhaps all that is necessary is some general conviction that Christ died and was resurrected for our sins.
But He may also require that we subscribe to a specific creed or regime. Heretics have been excommunicated or executed, schisms have ruptured, and iconoclasms have raged because different Christian groups took strong stances on how the Father relates to the Son, what sort of bread may be used in Communion, when Easter should be celebrated, how religious icons can be venerated, and similar questions. Controversies most consider absurd still happen today.
Many of us find these disputes pedantic, even when we have opinions on the matter or the Bible and other authorities can help adjudicate them. Why? Because we think their answers are peripheral to what matters most. What matters most is the intention to do right. If we try to do good and believe rightly, God will be understanding.
But that is itself a form of intolerance toward Christians, historically and today, that cling to specific creeds and practices as essential. Thus we should at least be open to the possibility that creeds and practices we disagree with are essential to faith. Considered rationally, the wide diversity of Christian theology and practice is not reason for entrenchment in our own position; it is evidence against our position. This means being open to the possibility that we aren’t on God’s side.
Now the wide diversity of Christian theologies could be evidence of God’s permissiveness or his commitment to cosmopolitanism in theology. But it can just as easily be evidence of divine deception. Following Augustine and Calvin, we’ve established that God deceives those that have already strayed from Him, so the proliferation could be God “justly” furthering the confusion of His opponents.
Biblical Inspiration Undermines God’s Trustworthiness
So how can we throw off all these questions and establish God’s trustworthiness? The Bible claims that God is trustworthy:
- “God is not human, that he should lie, / not a human being, that he should change his mind. / Does he speak and then not act? / Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Num. 23:19).
- “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind” (1 Samuel 15:29).
- “…proclaiming, ‘The Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no wickedness in Him’” (Psalms 92:15).
- “…God, who does not lie,…” (Titus 1:2).
- “Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged” (Hebrews 6:17-8).
This is where we come to Biblical inspiration. If the Bible is the inspired word of God, His words rather than just the words of the Biblical authors, then God is vouching for His own trustworthiness. But we don’t trust someone just because they claim to be trustworthy. We trust them because someone we already trust vouches for them or because they have demonstrated trustworthiness through their actions.
Top-tier restaurants don’t assert they have the best food. A-list authors don’t post positive reviews of their own writing. Such shenanigans are amateurish. The excellence of pros is manifest in their reputation, because others vouch for them. And after Anselm, if we imagine restaurants and authors of surpassing excellence, perfect in all ways that restaurants and authors can be excellent, we would expect them to be no more vocal about their own excellence. Shouldn’t God be similarly silent on His own trustworthiness?
Furthermore, liars can claim to be trustworthy as easily as honest folk. Assertions of trustworthiness suggest a degree of anxiety when made on one’s own behalf. Under the lens of Biblical inspiration, we wonder if God is trying to pull a fast one on us. Indeed, God would demonstrate a lack of respect for His creations if He expects us to trust Him merely because He claims to merit our trust.
But these worries vanish if the Bible is not God’s word, but is instead “merely” the word of pious men and prophets who saw God firsthand or His influence in history. Then others are vouching for God and give support to His trustworthiness.
Our conclusion is strange because many Christians assume the reliability of the Bible requires its being divinely inspired. Once we take the commonsense principle that no one can credibly vouch for their own trustworthiness as foundational, the Bible becomes more reliable insofar as it is not authored by God.