6

Some Christians find it essential to validate their beliefs through personal experiences, as discussed in How crucial is it for Christians to 'gain a testimony' validating the truth of their beliefs?. However, there are those who consider this approach objectionable, viewing it as a form of testing God. As one commenter said:

Seeking the type of testimony you describe is a form of putting God to the test. It is antithetical to the faith that saves. This faith is a gift from God as Scripture says. But we are all responsible for whether we believe the truth or reject it. So seeking the type of “testimony” you describe runs counter to what the Bible teaches. As for the other types of testimonies (about specific teachings), the Bible is all we need. Anything that runs counter to it is false no matter what feelings or signs you receive. Demons can grant feelings and work signs to mislead those who reject God’s Word.

How is the pursuit of confirmatory experience reconciled with the principle of not putting God to the test?


As for the biblical basis for not putting God to the test, although not suggested explicitly by the commenter, there is a question already on the site suggesting a few relevant passages: Should we put God to test?


A question that is closely related to this discussion is Is Christianity testable?, as well as What is the biblical basis for John Lennox's claim that Christianity is testable?

2

4 Answers 4

7

There is a testing which is by faith and a testing which is of doubt and hubris. The answer lies in the difference between putting God to the test ala Matthew 4:5-7:

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple  and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

and obeying what is written by faith and having God be faithful to His Word ala 1 Peter 5:6-10:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.  Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.  And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

It is to be expected (for example), if God is true and says those who seek Him with their whole heart will find Him that such a thing will actually occur. It is also to be expected that the deceitful human heart is no accurate judge of the integrity of it's own seeking.

Whereby comes even the ability to test what God has spoken or willed? You must be born again:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. - Romans 12:1-2

It is a double-minded man who, having yet to abdicate the throne of his own life in favor of the Lordship of Christ (the Word become flesh) and living in practical refusal to offer his body as a living sacrifice, is ever seeking confirmation of his belief and is unstable everywhere:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.  For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. - James 1:5-8

There are times, early on, when God will condescend to our childish requests as we 'put out our fleece' yet again but it is not, in the main, the way of mature faith. Abraham left home, kin, and all that was familiar on the basis of this: "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you.”  Abraham put God's word to the test (by faith) and went. God responded to the test by showing him.

It is no ill-advised test to expect God to keep His word and step out in faith.

3
  • "It is to be expected (for example), if God is true and says those who seek Him with their whole heart will find Him that such a thing will actually occur" - So if you sought God with your whole heart (or if someone else appears to have done so) and didn't find him, one may conclude that Christianity is false? Or do you just need to keep seeking God indefinitely until found, in which case, is it really a reasonable or meaningful expectation, if there isn't even a hypothetical case where you'd conclude that the expectation was not met?
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Jan 10 at 10:38
  • "It is also to be expected that the deceitful human heart is no accurate judge of the integrity of it's own seeking" - Is this basically saying that other people will conclude that Christianity is false? Would people not also conclude this if Christianity were false? So it applies equally well regardless of whether Christianity is true or false. Or is it merely saying that humans are fallible in general? But that's trivially true, and it's also true regardless of whether Christianity is true or false.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Jan 10 at 10:40
  • @NotThatGuy What I mean is, just because I think I'm seeking God with my whole heart that doesn't actually mean that I am. Am I truly, honestly willing to abandon every philosophy and every aspect of my current worldview or am I just looking for a crutch, a Band-Aid, or a validation of what I currently believe. The apostle Paul said that he did not know of anything against himself but that he was not thereby justified...only God judges true. Commented Jan 10 at 19:02
5

Regarding "testing" God, He invites us to do it:

Prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. (Malachi 3:10)

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering... (James 1:5-6)

This proves not only that God invites us to ask Him, but that it is possible to ask God while having faith, since He specifically commands us to ask Him in faith.

There is nothing to reconcile but ourselves to God. The Scriptures already plainly state the conditions under which we are not only allowed, but especially admonished, to ask of God. This requires personal participation and experience in His plan. See the progression of Abraham, of Jacob, or of any other righteous person for an example. The presumption that it is categorically wrong to seek answers from God is itself categorically wrong.

The Lord did say,

A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign (Matthew 16:4)

What is the difference? The wicked and adulterous might ask for a response from God, but they do not ask in faith. That is, they have no real intent to repent. That is what makes a query wicked or lustful. As James says,

Ye ask and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. (James 4:3)

Yet the Lord commands us,

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)

Therefore we must ask in faith, believing that we shall receive, and preparing ourselves to act accordingly on the witness we receive. To such a man God has promised that he shall receive according to his faith. He has commanded us to receive Him and His witnesses. If we lack the wisdom or experience to tell true messengers from false ones, is He offended that we would ask Him for such wisdom and experience with the real intent to act according to His response? Not in the slightest! Is He provoked to anger by our faith-filled pleading, "Lord, I believe! Help Thou my unbelief!"? -- A resounding No!

As you may have guessed, this among all other truth proves that faith has its basis in knowledge of the character of God, not ignorance. One who asks God in faith is relying on His promises being true because of his own prior knowledge about God. Our ignorance is present in some matters when we ask in faith, but it is not the controlling factor. Nor is doubt. Nor is sinful desire. God is the One Whom we are to ask when we lack wisdom, need strength, need a door to open or are seeking answers. It pleases Him when we seek and act in faith in good conscience to do what is right at all times.

1
4

The solution is quite simple. First, there is no problem, as different things are being mixed up, so once that is seen, all becomes clear.

God not only allows, but encourages, his children to ask him for such things as wisdom (as per James 1:5-8). But wisdom is not a check-list of right doctrines. Wisdom is not a head-trip, gathering information about God and Christ. Wisdom is not receiving some divine sign that one's religious denomination (or Articles of Faith) are the things God approves of, and hence he approves of you. Biblical wisdom is the correct use or application of one's faith in God and Christ.

This presupposes that the individual has already become a child of God, through faith. Such a one should never try to put God to the test (which is presumptuous activity and is sinful). "Presumptuousness is as the sin of divination", and the Psalmist knew he needed God's help to keep him from that sin - Psalm 19:13 & 1 Samuel 15:23.

This is where the second point comes in, namely, who takes the initiative in the matter of confirmation?

If it is the individual taking the initiative to get some sign or confirmation that their religious knowledge and/or affiliation is approved by God, then they are putting God to the test.

If it is God taking the initiative to let a new-born spiritual child feel assurance of the miracle of the new birth (as per John chapter 3), then that is what Jesus told his followers would happen if they loved him, and kept his commands.

"He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him... and we will come unto him, and make our abode in him" John 14:21-23 K.J.

Every child of God can put total trust in that awesome promise. Jesus went on to show the role of the Holy Spirit in that, and how such a one will receive the peace that Christ gives. This is not an emotional rush or a supernatural excitement. This is not realising one has particular gifts (for other children of God might not have them). No, this is having the peace and the love of God, in Christ, governing all of their life. That is the reality for all those whom God adopts into his heavenly family. It is a matter of believing the promises of God by faith, and getting on with living in light of them. That is the wisdom God freely gives.

Such quiet assurance prevents a Christian from setting forth a challenge, to put God to the test. He has repentantly put his faith in Christ alone to save him, then he discovers that his conscience has been cleansed, he has peace with God and knows the love of God, in Christ. One's faith is validated, and then one grows in grace and can speak with quiet confidence to others of their need to obey the gospel of Christ.

EDIT In view of some objections raised in Comments to this answer, they have already been dealt with in depth on this site. One example is in this link (see the Green Tick answer:) Do Protestant Trinitarians believe that Christianity can be 'proved' without faith?

5
  • If it's "sinful" to "put God to the test", does that mean it's "sinful" to perform any test that could even hypothetically lead to concluding that God doesn't exist? How would this principle work differently between people holding true beliefs and those holding false beliefs? People in suicide cults may be told that they shouldn't test their beliefs - would it be a good thing for them to follow that advice and refrain from testing their beliefs? If not, can we really say it's a good principle?
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Jan 10 at 11:48
  • @NotThatGuy Every Christian is encouraged to do what the Berean Christians did - receive the word readily, but search the scriptures daily to see if the claims / teachings square up to holy scripture, Acts 17:11. Those caught up in cults don't do that as they receive mens' teachings, men who say that to question them is to question God. Atheists only have to pray to God to ask if he is real (for praying to God is the first, essential, step away from atheism.) But they don't tell God what they expect God to do to 'prove himself' to them. They humbly wait on God.
    – Anne
    Commented Jan 10 at 14:04
  • "Those caught up in cults don't do that as they receive mens' teachings, men who say that to question them is to question God" - an atheist could say the exact same thing about Christianity: that the Bible was written by people, and that Christians equate questioning those people with questioning God. Also, Christians commonly say this too, as long as it involves teaching they disagree with, from other religions, from other Christians, or from parts of the Bible or other Christian texts that they disagree with.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Jan 10 at 14:10
  • "Atheists only have to pray to God to ask if he is real" - why would one try to talk to a being you don't believe exists? Have you ever tried to talk to Allah or Zeus? This seems backwards - you should first have good reason to believe they may or do exist. "They humbly wait on God" - at what point would one be justified to stop waiting and conclude that God doesn't exist?
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Jan 10 at 14:13
  • 1
    @NotThatGuy That's exactly the point! To pray to a God you don't believe exists is the only way to 'discover' him. There is already evidence a'plenty to show that belief in a creator God is warranted. It's not unreasonable. But if an atheist proudly refuses to even take one small step towards 'discovering' God, God will allow him to keep that adamant stance. Even saying this makes proud people very angry, of course. Their anger is often against the God they insist doesn't exist, ironically.
    – Anne
    Commented Jan 10 at 14:31
1

My understanding is that "it appears to me" that God is happy for people to interact sincerely with requests for "specific performance", and we can expect some very solid answers (which may or may not suit us), but that these are intended to be part of a personal interaction, and not for public spectacle, at least for most people.

My personal experience in this area may or may not seem relevant.

I walk and talk (variably) with God ongoingly, but my prayers are very usually not of the form that one could say with statistical certainty were unanswered or answered, and if so, how. Example only - if I pray about Israel and Gaza and related issues, I do not assume that I can ask things which will usually have publicly measurable outcomes that are linkable to my interactions with God. I care greatly about how we get the treatment of the poorest of the poor so wrong. People may or may not see that reflected in my actions but it is vanishingly unlikely (so far :-) ) that the results of my prayer will e evident publicly. That's fine by me, either way.

On only a very very small number of occasions I have asked very specific and measurable things from God, some major and some trivial, and had responses which were statistically immensely unlikely as random chance. This is very very very much not the way I usually approach God, and none of the occasions were intended as "tests". If I took this approach often or even somewhat regularly it would be legitimate to suggest that the results might be statistical happenstance. As a professional engineer with a very good understanding of statistics and numbers I am sure that my very very very small specific subset proves "something". None of these occasions were intended as tests.

It almost seems that the less important ones were those which were the least unchallengeable ones 'statistically'.

However, it is my understanding, based on a long lifetime of involvement with God, and seeing how He interacts with people generally, that God does not intend such 'very specific answers to prayer' to be intended as items of public proof or general dissemination. There are areas where this is not the case, but I feel that such thigs are intended to be "reasonably private". So, telling people it happens may be OK, but publishing lists, not so much.

so

  • How is the pursuit of confirmatory experience reconciled with the principle of not putting God to the test?

If I did this far more often it would either be testing God, OR utilising the manifest results to His glory. The first seems inappropriate, for me, so far. The latter seems, so far, not to be my gifting.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .