God Lets Us Choose Him

If we encountered God “face to face” in our daily lives and if God was so evident in creation that we could not deny him, we would not have free will.

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In back-to-back chapters in the Gospel of John (8, 9 and 10), Jesus has conversations with Jewish crowds who question who he is. Jesus never tells them in direct words, “I am God,” but the crowd clearly knows what he is talking about. This is similar to what we experience in life.

The world is made in such a way that it is governed by natural laws that have existed since the beginning of time. The cosmological constants were set from the beginning and are so finely tuned that they could not be changed this way or that way, even the slightest bit, without negating the possibility of life on Earth. Many scientists look at these laws and draw the conclusion that either they have always existed or they are simply all there is.

But where did the laws come from? Where did the universe come from? There is plenty of other evidence that God, the Creator, exists. The cosmological constants do not eliminate the possibility of a God. In fact, if those constants had a beginning, they must have had a beginner. But, there is room to question and to dismiss the idea.

Many of the Jewish people at the time of Jesus, especially the influential leaders, questioned who Jesus claimed to be.  Jesus did not get in their face about it. Just like God does not reveal himself in the created Universe in a way that we could not ignore him, Jesus was subtle, but clear.

I find this to be fascinating. It reveals a deep thread that has been coming into focus for me going way back in time.

God created us with free will. If he was in our face, we would have no free will. He would overwhelm and overcome us if we could not ignore Him.

Moses already believed when he encountered God at the burning bush[1], but he was fearful in God’s presence. The people were too afraid to encounter God at Mount Sinai[2] and told Moses, “You go and talk to him!” God’s presence can be overwhelming.

If we encountered God “face to face” in our daily lives and if God was so evident in creation that we could not deny him, we would not have free will. If God had revealed himself on Earth in some form other than a humble man, if he had not emptied himself of all of his glory[3], we could not have denied him, and we would not have free will.

Yet Jesus was very clear about who He was if anyone wants or is willing to see it. In John chapter 8, Jesus told the crowd that they would know who he was if they really knew God.  When Jesus claimed, “if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death” (John 8:51), the Jews accused him of having a demon, saying:

“Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’  Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” (John 8:52-53)

When Jesus continued to claim that he knew God (and they didn’t!), claiming that “father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day” (John 8:56) (suggesting that Jesus was intimate with what Abraham thought), they said incredulously:

“You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” (John 8:57)

This is when Jesus gave the famous answer:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was I am.” (John 8:58)

Lest there might be any doubt about what Jesus was claiming in that statement, the next verse tells us what the Jews thought:

”So they picked up stones to throw at him….” (John 8:59)

They picked up stones to throw at him because stoning was the punishment for blasphemy. The Jews responded to Jesus the same way when he claimed, “I and the Father are one.”[4] They didn’t believe that Jesus was who he was suggesting he was – equal with God.

People today question whether Jesus really claimed to be God. The answer is pretty clear if you want to (or are willing to) see it, but Jesus didn’t say the words, “I am God” (though he might as well have!). He was more subtle than that, like the evidence for God in the creation.

Skeptics take that subtly as evasiveness and “proof” that he wasn’t claiming to be God. Perhaps, he was only intimating it, not really meaning what he was saying. I see it differently, and it fits the overarching theme we see in the Scriptures. God created men and women in His own image, to be like Him, giving them agency and free will so that they could reflect back to God what God is – love.

Love necessarily requires the freedom of choice, the freedom to choose something other than God. If we didn’t have that freedom of choice, we couldn’t love God. We would be compelled to acknowledge Him as who He is, and compulsion is not love.

If you read John 9[5] and John 10[6], you will see more of the same kind of dialogue, with the crowd and leaders questioning who Jesus is, and Jesus telling them in subtle (and not so subtle) ways that he is the Messiah the Old Testament Scriptures speak of. In John 9, Jesus heals a blind man who accepts that Jesus is “the Son of Man”, and the blind man worships Jesus. (John 9:35-39)

Not only does Jesus not stop the man from worshiping him, every 1st Century Jew knew that the title, “Son of Man,” refers to the Messiah predicted in Daniel[7] who would be given “everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away”. The “Son of Man” is the reference to the long awaited Messiah from God.

In John 10, Jesus calls himself “the good shepherd (John 10:11) alluding to the God-as-shepherd theme in the Old Testament. The entire book of Isaiah is filled with shepherd”references to God.[8] He even takes it further by saying,

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish….” (John 10:27-28)

Again, the Jews sought to stone him and arrest him for blasphemy because they knew exactly who Jesus was claiming to be. (John 10:31-39)

God spoke these things in the form of the man, Jesus, who was humble and emptied of all the glory that resides in God. While Jesus was not shy about the things he said, there was no compulsion on the people to accept him. He was not threatening. In fact, he was just the opposite, as Isaiah predicted:

1 Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:1-3)

This is because God is love. (1 John 4:8) He created us with the capacity to love Him back. But we must choose to accept and love Him of our own free will, not under any compulsion, or it wouldn’t be love. He doesn’t get in our face so that we have no choice but to believe. He leaves the door open both ways and allows us to choose which door we’re going to walk through.

(For a different perspective, see God Chooses Us)


[1] “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.” (Exodus 3:5-6)

[2] “When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.’” (Exodus 20:18-19)

[3] “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself….”

[4] “I and the Father are one.” 31The Jews took up stones again to stone Him. 32Jesus answered them, “I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?” 33The Jews answered Him, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God,” (John 10:30-33) See also What made the Jews want to kill Jesus? By Matt Slick posted in Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry (CARM)

[5] John 9

[6] John 10

[7]    “I saw in the night visions,

    and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.” Daniel 7:13-14

[8] See The Good Shepherd: Isaiah 40:9-11 By Edward Carl Barnes, From Expository Files 22.6; June 2015

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