February 19, 2017
How Can We Be Commanded to Believe in God?
Dear Dr. Craig,
Thank you for your work in theology. I am grateful for your broad contributions to discussions about theology and religion in public life. Your philosophical and theological ventures are welcoming, thoughtful and substantive.
My question concerns a remark you made in a recent podcast. You mentioned that God commands us to believe in Him. God commanding us believe in Him seems problematic. It is notably articulated by Hasdai Crescas. Tyron Goldschmidt, in his paper "Commanding Belief," briefly articulates the problem this way:
"Complying with God’s command to believe in God means conforming with the command because we believe He commanded it–which means conforming with the command prior to believing in God. But conforming with a command because God commanded it means having a prior belief that God commanded it, which means having a prior belief in God – which means believing in God prior to conforming with the command. So conforming with the command is prior to the belief, and the belief is prior to conforming with the command – which is impossible. Therefore, we cannot comply with God’s command to believe in God" (Goldschmidt, “Commanding Belief,” 166-7).
I would be grateful for your approach this objection. What are your thoughts?
With warm regards,
It seems to me, Jesse, that we can solve this problem fairly easily by distinguishing between belief that God exists and belief in God. God commands us to believe in Him, that is, to trust and love Him (Deuteronomy 6.5). As a faithful Jew, Jesus believed that this was the greatest commandment of God given to man (Matthew 22.37).
Now the Scriptures recognize that “whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists” (Hebrews 11.6). Therefore, “he did not leave himself without witness” (Acts 14.17) but has revealed Himself in nature (Roman 1.20).
Because Tyron does not distinguish between believing that God exists and believing in God, he winds up in a vicious circle. But there is no circularity in maintaining that prior to having a belief in God, we must have a belief that God exists. If we come to believe that the God of the Bible exists, then we shall come to believe that He has commanded us to believe in Him, a perfectly logical procedure.