From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The LORD said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”
Do not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying 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,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ”
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”
Then Gideon said to God, “In order to see whether you will deliver Israel by my hand, as you have said, I am going to lay a fleece of wool on the threshing floor; if there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will deliver Israel by my hand, as you have said.” And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water. Then Gideon said to God, “Do not let your anger burn against me, let me speak one more time; let me, please, make trial with the fleece just once more; let it be dry only on the fleece, and on all the ground let there be dew.” And God did so that night. It was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew.
Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test. Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted. The LORD will bring on you and on your people and on your ancestral house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria.”
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here! The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here!
I sought the LORD, and he answered me,
and delivered me from all my fears.
Look to him, and be radiant;
so your faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor soul cried, and was heard by the LORD,
and was saved from every trouble.
The angel of the LORD encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
O taste and see that the LORD is good;
happy are those who take refuge in him.
Does God want us to ask for God to demonstrate Himself or not? Does God want people to put him to a test or not? On the one hand, we have Deuteronomy 6.16 which calls against testing God, which Jesus quotes when tempted by the devil. On the other hand, God fulfills the request of the Israelites as Massah, Gideon’s multiple requests for confirmation, and even offers Ahaz any sign he requests. It seems that the Scriptures don’t speak with a simple formula on the nature of seeking God to offers signs and validate His trustworthiness.
Perhaps an explanation can be given by understanding the nature of trust and how it builds. According to Roy J. Lewicki there are two types of trust: calculus-based trust (CBT) and identification-based trust (IBT).1 CBT is usually the first stage in building trust that is based upon rewards and punishment, where doing good is rewarded and violating trust is disciplined. We can broaden this further to incorporate the implicit expectations that needless and unjustified pain and harm is not inflicted a party. In short, CBT is based upon the specific outcomes that come about and how they match our expectations and desires. If things go according to what is established and expected, both in rewards and punishments, trust will grow as people can anticipate that what people say and do can be relied upon. However, eventually, CBT may lead to IBT, where people trust “based on identification with the other’s desires and intentions.” As trust based upon specific outcomes according to explicit and implicit expectations is fostered, trust moves towards a deeper trust based upon the other person. In short, the fulfillment expectations and desires that are uncertain at the early phase are tested by the outcomes. As they are increasingly validated, these expectations and desires become implicitly assumed by the parties, leading to a deeper trust that each person is concerned for the well-being of the other. (There is more that can be said here about the role of clear communication in building the expectations and inviting the outcomes that ground trust, but that spans beyond the focus of this post).
For instance, a dating couple initially builds a trust based upon positive exchanges with each other according to what each person says. At this point, there is a calculus based trust based upon showing interest, arriving at planned dates, treated each other with respect, making each other feel good, etc. As the relation and trust build, they move towards implicitly trusting people’s words, intentions, and desires that allow them to have a trust based upon identifying with each other. For another example, a student newly arrives at a school, but they are uncertain about what to expect while there. As they find a positive educational experience and find what they are told and informed of is generally reliable, their trust with the school often builds to an identification with the school. This is why, for instance, so many colleges have alumni who identify with their college sports teams, as their time as a student built their implicit trust and identification with the school.
Now, often times, some people may be inclined to assume an identification based trust with people, that their words, intentions, and desires are worthy of trust and largely skip the calculus-based phase of trust-building. People who makes friends easily are often these types. Couples who develop their relationships fast may be like this. Sometimes, this is based upon people’s trusting nature and sometimes this is based upon having a common sense of identity and interests. Other people are more reticent to trust and have to work through the calculus-based phase of trust-building before they begin to identify with other parties. Perhaps they have been hurt in the past or they are not sure what another person or party is like due to not sharing a common identity. Then, there are people whose trust is as far as their eyes can see in the moment; their relationships are almost permanently stuck in an “what have you done for me lately” that expects other people to always prove their trustworthiness, even after they have demonstrated it again and again. Permanently stuck in calculus based trust, such people never seem to move to identify with the other party and implicitly trust them. Finally, there are those who are not even open to trusting to any degree, but they will always be skeptical and critical. We can look at these four types of people as quick to trust, cautious to trust, capricious trust, and untrusting.
While we often categorize people in simple, binary categories of trusting and untrusting, the truth is that most people tend to be somewhere in the middle between cautious and capricious, with fewer people being quick to trust and untrusting. Yet, we often pass judgment on people for being untrusting when they are actually in the wait-and-see approach towards the other party. The truth is that trust is a complex attitude that is not an all-or-nothing phenomenon, but that in most relationships, there is a need to establish, or repair, the basis of trust before trust deepens.
We can apply these four ways of trusting to God. Some people are quick to trust God. Whether it is one time where God showed up, or even just hearing and accepting the word of God, they trust without needing any demonstration and confirmation. Sometimes, however, there are people who are slower to trust in God but they are willing to trust. Gideon is an example of this, wanting to make sure that the word he has received from the Lord is genuinely from Him. He is reticent to trust, but when God demonstrates His intentions according to the request and expectations of Gideon, Gideon moves forward with the call from God. On the other hand, the Israelites do not develop trust, even as God shows up and demonstrates Himself again and again. The prohibition of testing God in Deuteronomy 6.16 serves as a reminder to not follow the persistently untrusting attitude that the Israelites in the wilderness demonstrated, but they always expect God to act anytime there is the slightest threat, even as God demonstrates time and time again His faithfulness to protect the people He called and lead out of Egypt; their trust in very capricious. Finally, the scribes and Pharisees may be considered the untrusting types, who are utterly skeptical of Jesus and His Messianic claims.
From this perspective, God is all too willing to demonstrate His faithfulness to those who are open to trusting Him. Psalm 34 calls for people to make requests of God and then to discover that God is good, rather than just simply assume it. Sometimes the demonstration requires people to wait upon God, but the Scriptures testify to God’s willingness to demonstrate His faithfulness, particularly when He makes a difficult call upon the person. The problem comes when people’s capriciousness and disdainful skepticism steps in; people who will not trust and people whose trust is like a quickly disappearing mist are spoken of negatively in the Scriptures. Sometimes, people may needlessly go down the path of expecting confirmation from God when they are not in difficult times, which can lead people down the route towards a capricious trust, which may stand at the heart of why Jesus refuses the temptation of the devil. Other times, they will never be satisfied with God and will always find criticism and a reason to be dissatisfied and utterly skeptical. God will leave people who are so deeply hardened to God’s goodness will remain in such a state, leaving only a sign that will require them to believe their own sin to be convinced, such as the resurrection of Jesus demonstrating the sin and hardness of heart of the scribes and Pharisees.
In Christian circles, we are often inclined to categorize people’s trust, or the lack thereof, in God in binary, all-or-nothing categories, where anything short of 100% is unbelief or unfaith. However, the truth is that trust in God is something that grows for most of us because God is a God who loves to show His faithfulness to those who are willing to trust and come to a deeper relationship with Him. Note that Jesus says that faith even the size of mustard seed can lead to the moving of mountains, as it isn’t the strength of faith that is necessary for God to demonstrate His faithfulness, but only that there is an openness to faith.
Of course, we need to distinguish between wanting God to be faithful to our own expectations versus seeking to trust God’s promises, calling, and will. Many people may treat faith in prayer to require anything any type of person may ask of God. However, God’s promises in prayer is directed towards His disciples, who have been learning from Jesus and growing to trust Him, and so their requests are those type of things that would be in line with the will of God; they have delighted themselves in the Lord who gives them the words of life and truth and it is to them that have been formed by the Lord who will receive the desires of their heart (Psa. 37.3-4), which is ultimately geared towards the love that Jesus demonstrates and teaches and the Spirit is cultivating in them. In other words, those who are willing to trust God in His character will see signs of God’s faithfulness. It isn’t those who ‘trust’ God in terms of some personal agenda or expectation that has not been brought to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and transformed by the work of the Spirit. In other words, not everything we label faith/trust towards God is the type of faith and trust that the Scriptures testify to. Furthermore, God’s faithfulness may be demonstrated in ways that may not always accord with the way we want God to demonstrate. Trusting the Lord is about trusting the person of God and not remaining in a calculus-based trust of God giving specific, expected outcomes. While throughout the Scriptures, God will act in response to specific requests and pleas, the goal of the relationship between God and His people is a more general trust in God. So, just because certain things we seek and want to happen don’t occur, at least according to our timelines, is not a sign of people’s lack of faith.
With this distinction in mind, we can look at God’s signs and demonstrations of His faithfulness to be something we who are open to deepening our faith can receive.