|Answering The Atheist|
July 22, 2007 / Volume 7, Issue 29
THE ATHEIST'S COMPLAINT:
Does God help in times of need? Several verses indicate no (1 Samuel 8:18; Psalm 10:1; 22:1-2; Isaiah 1:15; 45:15; Ezekiel 20:3; Habakkuk 1:2; Hosea 5:6), but others say yes (Psalm 22:24; Psalm 46:1; Psalm 145:18; Nahum 1:7). Is there a contradiction?
The four texts listed under "yes" summarize well what the Scriptures reveal about God's help in times of trouble. Notice,
- ...He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; nor has He hidden His face from Him; but when He cried to Him, He heard. (Psalm 22:24)
- God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1)
- The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth. (Psalm 145:18)
- The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and He knows those who trust in Him. (Nahum 1:7)
But what shall we make of the first list, where the questioner indicates that God is not a help in times of needs? Notice:
1 Samuel 8:18 – The LORD would not hear them cry out, because they had turned from the LORD. Isaiah tells us, "...the LORD's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden his face from you, so that He will not hear." (Isaiah 59:1-2). Consistently, the Bible reveals that God is a help to those who trust in Him and walk according to His truth. The people of Israel, in calling for a king as they did, had turned from the LORD.
Psalm 10:1 – It is not uncommon in the Psalms for the writer to begin the writing in a state of turmoil and grief over persecutions and trials; but then in the process of writing, to reveal that the LORD has provided comfort and help. Such is the case in Psalm 10. The writer begins in his distress, "Why do You stand afar off, O LORD? Why do You hide in times of trouble?" (v 1), but later says, "...You have seen, for You observe trouble and grief, to repay it by Your hand. The helpless commits himself to You; You are the helper of the fatherless." (v 14), and yet again, "LORD, You have heard the desire of the humble; You will prepare their heart; You will cause Your ear to hear, to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, that the man of the earth may oppress no more." (v 17-18).
Psalm 22:1-2 – As with Psalm 10, Psalm 22 begins with an acknowledgment of helplessness, and a plea for God to respond. As the Psalm progresses, we find (and the questioner himself quoted), "...He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; nor has He hidden His face from Him; but when He cried to Him, He heard." (v 24).
Isaiah 1:15 – In this text, the LORD reveals why He will not hear, "...Your hands are full of blood." But in the very next verse, God calls them to "Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil..." If we will turn to the LORD, He will hear and help; if we turn against Him, He will not.
Isaiah 45:15 – Though at the present, the LORD hid Himself, the writer still acknowledges Him as the "...God of Israel, the Savior!" Why? A verse later, we read about the shame and disgrace of those who make and trust in idols; and then, "...but Israel shall be saved by the LORD with an everlasting salvation; you shall not be ashamed or disgraced forever and ever." (v 17). The LORD provides help for His people.
Ezekiel 20:3 – The elders of Israel came to inquire of the LORD, but He would not hear. Why not? "Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, Are you defiling yourselves in the manner of your fathers, and committing harlotry according to their abominations? For when you offer your gifts and make your sons pass through the fire, you defile yourselves with all your idols, even to this day. So shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live,' says the Lord GOD, ‘I will not be inquired of by you.'" (Ezekiel 20:30-31) They walked in wickedness, and thus, God would not be inquired of by them.
Habakkuk 1:2 – The book of Habakkuk is a conversation between the LORD and His prophet. The prophet asked the LORD, "...how long shall I cry, and You will not hear? Even cry out to You, ‘Violence!' and You will not save." (1:2). The LORD reveals that He is raising up the Chaldeans, who will march through the land, taking captives, because of the sin of His people (1:5-11). The prophet again asks the same sort of question as before, "...why do You look on those who deal treacherously, and hold Your tongue when the wicked devours a person more righteous than he?" (1:13). Through chapter 2, the LORD responds, indicating that after a time, even the Chaldeans, who were being used to judge His people would themselves be judged. In chapter 3, Habakkuk responds in a prayer, acknowledging the righteous indignation of God against the nations, for the people did not glorify God as they should. Was the prophet left without comfort? Hear his closing words, "Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The LORD God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer's feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills." (3:18-19). Though turmoil and violence were all around, the prophet found comfort and help in the LORD.
Hosea 5:6 – When God's people are stubbornly engaging in iniquity, the LORD is not a source of comfort or help in trials. Notice verses 5-7, "The pride of Israel testifies to his face; therefore Israel and Ephraim stumble in their iniquity; Judah also stumbles with them. With their flocks and herds they shall go to seek the LORD, but they will not find Him; He has withdrawn Himself from them. They have dealt treacherously with the LORD, for they have begotten pagan children. Now a New Moon shall devour them and their heritage."
When will He be a source of help for them in trials? "I will return again to My place till they acknowledge their offense. Then they will seek My face; in their affliction they will earnestly seek Me." (5:15). Hear then the words of the prophet: "Come, and let us return to the LORD; for He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight." (6:1-2). Cease from sin, and He will save.
There is no contradiction.
This article is a response to Skeptic's Annotated Bible