Which god is real?
Remember the former things, those of long ago;
I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me.
I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please.’
(Isaiah 46:9-10, NIV)
In a world of lots of religions, how do you know your god is the right one?
That’s a question the prophet Isaiah faced, 700 years before Christ. Like us, he lived in a world of a variety of religions — those of the nations surrounding the tiny enclave of Judah. The question was to become even more acute a century and a half later when the people of Judah were carried off into exile in pagan-god Babylon (mid sixth century BC).
In these central chapters of his prophecy, Isaiah gives a remarkably powerful answer to the question — one that is often overlooked. It is this: the true and living God shows He’s God by making promises about the future, which He then fulfils. “Who else can do this?” asks the prophet.
In the immediate context, Isaiah proves this by naming Cyrus as the ruler who will liberate captive Judah from exile in Babylon (Isaiah 45:1). But that’s not for another 160 years: it’s equivalent to someone in Victorian England naming David Cameron or Ed Miliband. A reader of Isaiah’s dusty scroll in Cyrus’ day would have been rightly astonished.
This is so remarkable that some scholars have proposed that there must have been two or more Isaiahs, with a later one living during the time of the exile in Babylon — for how could Isaiah have possibly known? But there is little evidence for this position other than a prior commitment to the impossibility of such prediction; on the contrary, there is much to suggest that the book is in fact a unity. And the impossibility of such prediction is exactly Isaiah’s point!
More widely, the whole Bible works in this way. It is simply astonishing how a book, written over a period of 1,400 or more years by many different authors, reads like a single story, and how promises made by God in the earlier part of the narrative come to fulfilment later on, most significantly with the coming of Christ.
This is a Biblical distinctive. It is simply not found in the writings of other religions. The Koran, for instance, was written over a 22 year period — scarcely time for any prophecy and fulfilment. And surely this aspect of the Bible is something an atheist must account for, too.
Here, then, is the one true God, in sovereign control of all, and who is certain to accomplish His purposes.
In Handel’s Oratorio Messiah, the story of the coming of Christ is told largely by means of Scripture passages from before He was born. Isn’t that remarkable? Come and hear some of that music performed, as part of our Real Lives Real Life week — Saturday 4th April at the Round Church.
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