If it is true that no one seeks God then why are there passages in the Bible that command us to seek God, passages such as Isaiah 55:6, which commands to “seek the Lord while He may be found?
In the first post we laid the foundation of why seeker sensitive evangelism was not Biblical. Our final and most authoratative reason was that man, in and of his own nature, does not naturally seek after God. Our second post dealt with what it actually meant to seek God, or rather what seeking God was not. We concluded, that if the apostle Paul was right, then seeking God did not necessarily mean being religious or even having a desire to worship something.
There is another issue to be dealt with. In the Bible, using the ESV version, the phrase, “seek God” and “seek the Lord” appears multiple times. Ignoring the general uses of the phrase (i.e, non-commands to seek God) we are left with about eight occurences where seeking God is commanded or implied. Below is a screenshot of the search that I performed on my Bible software. The red dashes indicate the three most popular verses that are probably the most quoted of the eight. If you click on the picture you should be able to enlarge it to get a better view.
As always, the key to understanding the text is through context. But instead of taking all eight verses individually, which would take way too much time and space for this blog, we will look at the two most quoted passages all of them have some key elements in common. In this way we can see how they relate to each other.
Many of you may think that there is no ponint in doing this, but whenever you have seemingly contradictions in Scripture (e.g, seek God and no ability to seek God) it is good to stop and take a look at them to see if indeed there is a conflict.
Now, getting back to the main question: If no one seeks God why are there commands in the Bible to seek God? We let context answer this question.
1. The command to seek God was a command to His covenant people. This is actually significant as we never find a command to the pagan nations surrounding Israel to seek God. God showed favor to the other nations but they were not His covenant people and as such were not commanded to be set apart to Him. In the Deutoronomy passage Moses is explaining the consequences of disobeying God. He solemly warns them that they will be exiled fromt the land if they fail to hearken unto God’s Laws. However, when they have grown weary of their ways Moses reminds then that God will not forget the covenant He made with them.
And the LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the LORD will drive you. And there you will serve gods of wood and stone, the work of human hands, that neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell. 29 But from there you will seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. 30 When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the LORD your God and obey his voice. For the LORD your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them. (emphasis are mine)
The focus of the passage is on God’s covenant promise to His own people. He cannot forsake them completely because He has promised them that He would not.
It is important to remember that God’s people were supposed to be different, holy, and blameless before the nations. They were to be above the other nations in holiness in order that they might see the hope that the LORD brought to His people.
But what about Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Job, and the scores of others who came before Israel was a nation? Didn’t these men seek God? The answer is emphatically yes! We cannot assume one way or another about these men because we are not told how or why they began to seek God. One of the major rules of hermeneutics is to let Scripture interpret Scripture, and If Scripture is to be our interpreter in this case then we must assume, according to passages such as Romans 3:11, 2Corinthians 2:14, John 6:44, John 6:66 and scores of others that it was God Himself that drew these men into a relationship wiht Him–unless of course, we admit that these men stood before God on their own merit, thereby ignoring all other Scripture.
2. The command to seek God was a call to repentance. The one common theme that ties these verses together is the prophetic element of God calling His people back to repentance. The Isaiah passage as well as the Hosea and Zechariah were all aimed at calling to repentance the wayward rulers who had led the people astray from worship of the true God to idols, perverted justice by taking bribes, and oppressed the poor by favoring the rich, among other things. God grew tired of His people’s waywardness and sent the prophets to warn them of His judgment. In fact, the majority of the commands to seek God are found in the prophetic books, with the context being a call to repentance.
3. The command to seek God was a message of condemnation. As previously stated in the second point, repentance was a common theme throughout the Old Testament. The reason for the call to repentance (i.e., to seek God) was to save the people from God’s judgment. God had warned them of pending doom through His prophets; He had told them that He would exile His people to a foreign land where they would serve the gods they loved. But because they were His covenant people He would not punish them without warning them. Therefore, when Isaiah and the other prophets declared, “Seek the Lord while He my be found,” it was an exhortation to repent before God brought judgment to the people. After judgment came it would be too late to seek repentance.
These passages, as well as all others, must be interpreted within their proper contexts if we are to faithfully proclaim God’s Word. To tell a lost person to seek the Lord when Scripture clearly states that they cannot is to do a disservice to them. Rather, we should proclaim the faithfulness of God in forgiving a sinner when he/she repents of their sins as we see the clear signs of God drawing them into a loving relationship with Himself.