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It Doesn’t Pay to Argue with God

April 10, 2023

 “‘Leave these men alone!  Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.’” Acts 5: 38b-39[1]

There are some battles that are best left unfought.  New parents are often advised to “pick your battles.”  Let the unimportant things pass, and save your powder for the really important things—like keeping your kids safe, and instilling in them good values.  This was Gamaliel’s counsel to his colleagues in the Sanhedrin (temple elders), when Peter and his group infuriated them by preaching and teaching in the temple courts. “’Peter and the other apostles replied: ‘We must obey God rather than human beings!’ . . . We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him . . . When they [the Sanhedrin] heard this, they were furious and wanted them put to death.  But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: . . . ‘Leave these men alone!  Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God’” (Acts 5: 29-39).

Gamaliel knew that if Peter and the others were making up the messages they were preaching, they would fail by their own devices.  But if their messages were from God, the Sanhedrin would be fighting a losing battle against God.  The Sanhedrin had nothing to lose by not fighting with them, and all to gain.  Gamaliel’s warning to his colleagues not to take the chance that they are arguing with God, is reminiscent of an argument made by Blaise Pascal, a brilliant seventeenth century mathematician, physicist, inventor, and theologian who lived in a time of great skepticism.  Pascal concluded that betting on God is a good bet.   In a nutshell, Pascal’s Wager is that if you believe that God exists and live your life accordingly, you have gained eternal life, and have lost nothing.  But if you do not believe in God, and he does exist, you have lost your chance at eternal life.  Both Gamaliel and Pascal understood that it is never a good idea to bet that God is not involved in our lives.

Peter spoke to the Sanhedrin 2,000 years ago.  And guess what?  The message preached by Peter and his ragtag band of cohorts has not failed.  It is still the gospel truth.  The psalmist wrote: “And he has raised up for his people a horn, the praise of all his faithful servants, of Israel, the people close to his heart.” (Psalm 148: 14).  Horns are used metaphorically in the Bible as symbols of strength and honor because they are an animal’s main weapon.  The shofar, an ancient Jewish instrument, was made from a ram’s horn; it was blown to make significant announcements.   God has raised up people over the centuries to make significant announcements about him—to speak for him.  The apostles were raised up to speak for him.  God continues to raise up people to speak to their contemporaries in the language of the times.  Has he tapped you yet?

The messages conveyed by Jesus’ followers are timeless.  Peter confirms that we are reborn by the saving message of Jesus: “In his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living home through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.” (1 Peter 1: 3-4).

And John affirms the truth of the message in his gospel: “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that my believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20: 30-31).

It’s never a good idea to argue with God.   Well-known and respected author and Catholic theologian, Peter Kreeft, calls atheism a terrible bet.  God gave us many reasons to believe in him and to trust in his Word.  But if you are still skeptical, consider Pascal’s Wager:  you will lose nothing by believing in God, but have everything to lose by not believing.  

Prayer: Gracious Father, we thank and praise you for sacrificing your Son for us and we rejoice in his Resurrection and for the many eyewitness accounts left by those who interacted with him after the Resurrection.  It is the eyewitness evidence of those who saw and spoke with the Risen Lord that gives us the confidence to boldly trust and rely on you during these challenging times. Give us strength and guide us in the coming weeks and months.  Amen.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the Second Sunday of Easter are Acts 5:29-42; Psalm 148; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31.

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