Unbelief Is Sure to Err

Unbelief messes up how we calculate reality and leads us to errant conclusions and really bad decisions.

After Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead in John 11, the Jewish religious leaders realized they had a serious crisis on their hands. They, of course, were already aware that Jesus was a force they had to deal with. And they had been trying, but no attempt had yet worked to catch him saying or doing something that would discredit him.

But now he had resurrected a man who had been dead four days. And there were lots of eyewitnesses — some of who had reported this alleged miracle directly to the Pharisees (John 11:46). Things were spinning out of their control.

Case Study in Bad Decision Making

So the leaders were summoned for emergency session, and the Pharisees said,

“What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” (John 11:47–48)

And we all know the infamous conclusion the council reached after deliberation: “They made plans to put [Jesus] to death” (John 11:53).

This turned out to be a really bad decision. Not from God’s perspective, of course. Everything was working precisely according to God’s “definite plan and foreknowledge” (Acts 2:23). But from the Jewish leaders’ perspective, it was a mistake of cosmic proportions.

Messed Up Faith-Math

What happened? How did they make this horrible mistake? It was a result of a miscalculation of reality. Essentially, they got their faith-math wrong because they missed the crucial factor in their equation.

Here’s how they did their equation in John 11:47–48: In spite of the signs, we don’t believe Jesus is the Christ or a true prophet (John 7:52); therefore if the prophet (P) continues, then we (Q) will lose the temple (what is meant by “our place”) and our nation. As a simple conditional equation, their logic looks like this: P yields Q. To avoid the outcome of this scary equation, the decision must be to eliminate P.

What made this calculation errant was that they got Jesus wrong. And by getting Jesus wrong, they chose unreality over reality. Unbelief completely messed up their equation. And the result was deadly evil. Their miscalculation resulted in fear and urgency that led them to take drastic, sinful action.

They saw the signs — they acknowledged it in verse 47. And Jesus himself pleaded with them:

“If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (John 10:37–38)

But they did not believe (John 10:25).

The Best Way to Avoid Costly Mistakes

William Cowper, in his famous hymn, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way,” wrote,

          Blind unbelief is sure to err
               And scan his works in vain;
          God is his own interpreter, 
               And he will make it plain.

It is true that the kind of blind unbelief that was at work in most of the Jewish leaders who met that night was the type experienced by the unconverted. “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

However, all forms of unbelief, including the kinds that we Christians are susceptible to, have this equation-wrecking effect. Unbelief blinds us to the crucial factor of God in our calculations of reality. When we fail to believe God, when we fail to trust whatever promise he gives us for whatever problem we are trying to address, our conclusions are simply going to be wrong. And the decisions we make according to wrong conclusions can be really bad.

This is the lesson we can take from the Jewish leaders: “Blind unbelief is sure to err.” Math matters, including faith-math. Miscalculations are costly. Unbelief always does damage — sometimes great damage. The best way to avoid costly and sinful mistakes in the Christian life is to believe Jesus.

Jesus is trying to save us from much pain and heartache when he says, “Do not disbelieve, but believe” (John 20:27).