Is God capable of using a double standard?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

Question: Why does God have a double standard? When it comes to belief in other gods, God tells us to demand evidence before applying faith. In Isaiah 41:21-24 God says we must test idols. He wants us to search for evidence before we believe in other gods. But when it comes to belief in him, God demands faith before evidence… and he forbids us to ask for evidence and signs (Luke 4:12; Matt 12:38). I’m a Christian, but I see it as unfair that God demands a test of the other gods on one hand… but forbids anyone from testing him this way on the other.

Answer: Hello friend. By accusing God of using a double standard and of being unfair, it sounds like you’re picking a fight. So, here are a couple of statements that will set the tone for my answer: a Christian should take God at his word, and a reader should work with the author to discover what he is saying… and part of this is not using his words beyond their intended meanings.

For example, you said of Isaiah 41:21-24 “God says we must test idols. He wants us to search for evidence before we believe in other gods.” … but that is not what Isaiah is saying there. For one thing, that portion of Isaiah is Hebrew poetry… yet you are treating it as if it were one of Paul’s doctrinal statements. That’s a mishandling of both the language and information it contains.

God is actually having some fun in Isaiah 41:21-29 by “beating his chest” as a dramatic literary tool. He’s comparing his track record to the track record of those non-existent gods… and offering a performance-based challenge! I think that’s very funny… and I get his point! … but I don’t think he’s making a categorical statement about what we should do in every encounter with an idol. But that’s what you are accusing him of doing. If we are going to read meaning into God's words, why not say that God thinks false gods actually do exist? After all, he seems to be speaking to them in this passage.

This idea has no warrant because language doesn’t work that way. Sentences do not mean anything and everything. They only mean what the author intended for them to mean.

Now, Isaiah contains an incidence of God weighing-in on idols — and this an important piece of data. After all, it reveals his attitude about “other gods” … which should, in turn, affect our attitudes about how we handle them! But this section of Scripture is not like the Ten Commandments. It’s more like the Psalms. It’s Hebrew poetry… and we should avoid making categorical statements based on poetry alone.

That being said, we can (and should) use Isaiah 41 as part of a cumulative case about how God wants us to handle idols, but the idea of “cumulative” assumes that there are multiple citations.

So, we have two problems with the first part of your challenge: first, you’ve pressed poetry for doctrinal precision by using the soft images of poetry to challenge God’s concrete nature — a nature that he has revealed abundantly in Scripture, in creation… and in the human soul. Second, you’ve only given one citation in support of your premise. We would need more citations to build a case.

Concerning the second part of your challenge — that, by way of contrast, God forbids us to ask for signs when it comes to him — there is a different type of problem, and it’s demonstrated in both Luke 4:12 and Matthew 12:38.

Luke 4:12 is the account of Jesus interacting with Satan, and here Jesus is probably invoking (via “It is said”) Exodus 17:2 or Deuteronomy 6:16 — earlier verses that say testing the Lord in this way is bad.

“So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?” (Exodus 17:2, NIV)

“Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah.” (Deuteronomy 6:16, NIV)

But why is it so bad to test God? Why does he get a pass when he commands us to test other gods? It’s because he is — and because the other gods are not — the Creator God. There can be only one. He’s it… they’re not.

You see, there can be only one Prime Mover, Prime Morality... Prime anything! … and no one can just call out such a being! But Satan did when he challenged Jesus, and Jesus responded by quoting the Scripture because God had already covered that issue.

In like manner, the unbelieving Pharisees challenged God when they asked Jesus for a sign… not that asking for a sign is in itself bad (Isaiah 7:11). But they were motivated by their hard hearts (Matthew 13:14-15) … and they were asking for a sign when God had more important signs already in evidence!

This is the kind of test that’s forbidden — challenging God to jump through hoops… especially after he jumped through some pretty big hoops at the creation, the flight from Egypt, the walls of Jericho, etc. In the light of Jewish history, asking God to prove himself by doing what is tantamount to a parlor trick is downright insulting.

What’s at play here (and not just in the Bible, but philosophically speaking, too) is that any creator transcends his creation. That is the nature of any creator-creature relationship. Since the Bible teaches that the universe was created by God, then God transcends that entire creation… which includes us. As such, he is in his own category of being. He is a Creator-God… and there are no others in his comparison pool.

This is what we mean when we say someone is incomparable. And with an incomparable being, terms like “double standard” or “unfair” do not apply because there are no other entities in that comparison group to receive treatment of any kind… let alone the substandard kind… and this is where your first objection failed. It was based on the false premise that we were in God’s comparison group.

You see, God is sovereign over his creation… and sovereignty means that he can do whatever he wants to whomever he wants however he wants and whenever he wants — without justifying himself to us and without incurring any pejoratives. This is because God cannot do anything that contradicts his nature, and as such, he is the standard for everything. But this restricts him from employing a double standard or being unfair… by definition… and this is a properly basic assumption for Christian theists. God can’t do bad things.

The problem for humanity is not that God has a double standard. It is that he has a single standard — holiness… but he never gets that from us (Revelation 15:4). So, instead of applying a double standard for salvation (or instead of going “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe”) God enforced his single standard upon his Son…. and he sent Jesus to die on the cross for our sins.

If there were any way to avoid this (“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me.”) the Father surely would have. But Jesus knew that would have been a double standard. (“…yet not my will, but yours be done”), so he willingly went to the cross (John 10:18).

In my opinion, the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ is the highest proof that God neither employs nor condones double standards… and that he was more than fair to us (Romans 6:23). But since the “other gods’ do not exist (1 Corinthians 8:4), God has no obligations to even consider them… let alone treat them one way or another.

But we are his creatures, and he does have to consider us. So, he lets us know how to stay out of trouble, and one way is by testing the spirits.

“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1, NIV)

I pray that you continue with your curiosity about the Scripture — and I hope that you still “challenge” God. He’s up to the task! But it will be helpful to check your attitude at the door… and a little pre-study prayer can help here… and may God bless you on this journey.

(For comments, or to join the Monday Musings mailing list, contact us at To submit a question about God, the Bible or the Christian culture, click here.)