Is Our Unbelief > God at Work in Us? – The Final Chapter

In this final post on the false teachings of Prosperity Pete I’m scrutinizing his outrageous claims about both man and God.

Quote: “Unbelief is more powerful than God in you.”

“some of you looked at me funny when I said ‘unbelief is more powerful than God in you’ – but I just read it to you.  God was present but he was limited because of unbelief.”

Scripture proof given: “How oft did they provoke him in the wilderness, and grieve him in the desert! Yea, they turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel” (Psalm 78: 40-41).

Refutation:

Let’s zoom out for second and take a look at this Psalm of Asaph as a whole.  He sets out to show God’s faithfulness to unbelieving Israel throughout her inglorious history.  Despite continual unbelief and unfaithfulness God preserves his people by his sovereign hand.  At times he brings strong rebuke and chastens his people with judgment and wrath.  God then shows his love and compassion by bestowing upon Israel abundant blessings that are totally undeserved. Rather than teaching that man can trump God with his unbelief and thwart his will this Psalm does just the opposite.  It teaches the absolute sovereignty of God, that his providence extends over all human works and endeavors.  On top of that, the Hebrew word for ‘limit’ can be interpreted various ways.  Here are how some modern translations render it:

ESV (v. 41)

They tested God again and again and provoked the Holy One of Israel.

NASB

Again and again they tempted God, And pained the Holy One of Israel.

NIV

Again and again they put God to the test; they vexed the Holy One of Israel.

Even if the word is used in the context of ‘limit’ this is how the God’s Word translation handles it:

Again and again they tested God, and they pushed the Holy One of Israel to the limit.


This verse does not teach in any way, shape or form that man can limit God’s power in any meaningful way.  This is just another example of a ‘teacher’ not rightly dividing the word of truth.

Quote (from an earlier post): “In a tone intimating someone’s objection he (Pete) says, “‘Well , there’s nothing more powerful than God’. Read the book!””

Scripture proof given:  And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them.  And he marveled because of their unbelief.” (Mark 6: 5-6)

This text is pulled from the story of Jesus returning to his hometown of Nazareth to minister to its residents.  He is not welcomed with open arms.  His reputation as an anointed prophet of God precedes him, but everyone is skeptical, saying “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” Mark then writes, “And they took offense at himAnd Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.”” (Mark 6:3-4 ESV).   They couldn’t accept that one of their very own, seemingly very ordinary citizens could actually turn out to be a miracle-working prophet of God.

Refutation:

The parallel reference in Matthew 13 is slightly different.  Matthew writes that Jesus ‘Did not do many mighty works’ compared to ‘could do no mighty work’.  Now, to be perfectly honest the Greek phrase in Mark is most often translated ‘not be able’ in NT usage. Does this mean our unbelief is greater than God?  No.  Ultimately, Jesus could not because he would not.  God does not reward unbelief, which is disobedience.  It is contrary to his universal law of bestowing blessings for obedience and cursings for disobedience.  Jesus operates by the principle of hiding truth from unbelievers while revealing things to his vessels of mercy.  Why didn’t Jesus dispel unbelief concerning his resurrection from the dead and appear to the Sanhedrin, Pilate and the mass of Jews in Jerusalem?  He does not reward unbelief.

No credible, accepted bible scholar or commenter in all of church history would take this passage and conclude that unbelief is more powerful than God. It is one thing to write, as the biblical writer did, that Jesus could do no mighty works and an entirely different thing to build a doctrine off of this one isolated statement that makes an all encompassing universal claim that a created being’s refusal to believe in the miraculous workings of God can frustrate God’s power to sovereignly rule over him.  It’s simply remarkable to me that anyone could make this leap of illogic with a straight face.

here’s how bible commentator Matthew Henry dealt with this passage:

“It is a strange expression, as if unbelief tied the hands of omnipotence itself; he would have done as many miracles there as he had done elsewhere, but he could not, because people would not make application to him, nor sue for his favours; he could have wrought them, but they forfeited the honour of having them wrought for them. Note, By unbelief and contempt of Christ men stop the current of his favours to them, and put a bar in their own door.”

Note he does not come to a conclusion that God is not as powerful as man because unbelief stops the flow of blessings.  God has ordained things be just this way for the praise of his glory.

This is what I said in Part 1 God’s desire to bring blessings to man through obedience to his commands can and often is thwarted by the stubborn will of rebellion in us all.  This is separate from the decree of God where his word never returns void, it always accomplishes his purposes in the earth. It renews the hearts of those he has elected to salvation, but it has a hardening effect on those who are left to wallow in the miseries of their own corrupt nature.  This is where monergistic teaching is helpful in resolving issues of man’s will as opposing God’s will.  Man has throughout world history rejected God’s laws and done things his way.  This does not mean that God’s eternal decrees are not carried out because they surely are. He calls, and redeems those he has predestined and leaves all others to heap condemnation upon themselves through unbelief.  God is not frustrated in his attempts to save his people.

John Calvin wisely writes of this passage:

When Mark declares that Christ could not perform any miracles, he represents the aggravated guilt of those by whom his goodness was prevented; for certainly unbelievers, as far as lies in their power, bind up the hands of God by their obstinacy; not that God is overcome, as if he were an inferior, but because they do not permit him to display his power. We must observe, however, what Mark adds, that some sick people, notwithstanding, were cured; for hence we infer, that the goodness of Christ strove with their malice, and triumphed over every obstacle.  We have experience of the same thing daily with respect to God; for, though he justly and reluctantly restrains his power, because the entrance to us is shut against him, yet we see that he opens up a path for himself where none exists, and ceases not to bestow favors upon us. What an amazing contest, that while we are endeavoring by every possible method to hinder the grace of God from coming to us, it rises victorious, and displays its efficacy in spite of all our exertions!

The Geneva Bible study notes on  Mark 6:5 say:

“That is, he would not: for we need to have faith if we are going to receive the works of God”.

Here’s another thought to chew on – God does not reward unfaithfulness according to his law but does act according to his mercy whenever he desires.  In this case despite the rampant unbelief due to the citizens’ familiarity he still performs miraculous works in the forms of laying hands and healing folks. How could he have even done this if the prevalence of unbelief in the community truly hinders God’s power to act according to his will?  He couldn’t have – but he did anyway.

The biblical conclusion: A man’s unbelief doesn’t hinder God in any meaningful way, however it does sever himself from God”s spiritual and physical blessings.

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3 thoughts on “Is Our Unbelief > God at Work in Us? – The Final Chapter

  1. The KJV’s usage of “limit” is not necessarily inaccurate, just unclear when not explained. There are a host of definitions for the word limit. In fact, Noah Webster used Psalm 78:41 as an example for one definition of the word limit. Current usage of limit doesn’t carry the same thought as it might have in centuries past. Another thing to note is that both Henry’s and Calvin’s explanation of the passage in Mark contain verbiage relating to the definition of the word limit: “…stop the current of…” “…do not permit…” “…shut against…” Now, I am in no way defending or arguing for Prosperity Pete. His fallacy is that appropriate for a false teacher. However, Henry and Calvin were teaching out of Bibles containing the word limit (e.g. Geneva, KJV)–maybe not Calvin so much, for he was French and often wrote in French and Latin–and their explanation of the text, especially Henry’s commentary on Psalm 78:41, does a great job of clarifying what the word limit is implying in that passage. That is precisely what Prosperity Pete failed to do: explain what the text means when it uses the word limit. Instead, he rips it out of context and violates it to suit his agenda, and that subtly.

    Thank you for the time you took to expose this false teaching.

  2. Thanks for this explanation of the convergence of God’s sovereignty and human free will in the Bible. Pharaoh’s hardening of heart and Paul’s reference in Romans 9 is also an applicable offshoot regarding God’s sovereignty.

    The part about defining the word limit was intriguing. It made me think of the math use of the term such as the case in calc when it’s advantageous to determine the limit of a function as x approaches +/- infinity:
    Let’s figure infinity symbol represents God. Whether a limit actually exists depends solely on the function or expression being investigated. In this analogy, an individual’s exercise of free will would manifest a single-input function of any order. So like it could be a polynomial over a polynomial or it could have square roots or trig functions or it could just be a simple x^2. Though I think the analogy requires a single variable x (a monotheistic God) but the elaboration or simplicity of the function is completely up to the will of the represented human being. For instance, a human could decide to have multiple variables like y’s or z’s, but that would be polytheistic.

    By looking at it this way, a limit being reached before +/- infinity depends on the human’s will. So if the function is 1/x, the lim as x approaches infinity is 0. In other words, God’s power plugged into this one human will result in no fruit. But God’s infinite capacity is still available to be plugged into any function of human will, e.g. a simple x in the numerator has no defined limit.

    The analogy can get absurd pretty quickly, but it is fun to think about.

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