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Posts Tagged ‘predestination’

Why would God make a world that He knew would be corrupted by sin?  If God truly created people, as evangelicals are so fond of saying, so that He could be in a love relationship with them, and if that is why He gave them free will, so they could choose Him or reject Him… then why didn’t God destroy mankind immediately after they rejected Him, and start again?  Why not keep flipping the coin until it turns up heads?

Ok.  Love isn’t like that, you say.  God already loved mankind, and so devised a way to rescue them from the consequences of their rebellion.  He planned to demonstrate His love to them.  Unpersuaded by creation, perhaps people would choose to love God because of His merciful sacrifice of His Son.  So.  Why did God let any more people come into the world?  Why, knowing that there would be millions of men and women who still reject His grace and refuse to love Him, would He allow those men and women to exist – or if free will is still a possibility with the sin nature, why not eliminate them immediately after their first devastating choice (thereby preserving the rest of the world from much of the wickedness it has actually suffered)?

People are quite often posing God-impugning questions to Calvinists.  They see our God as a cruel puppeteer, causing suffering for no good reason.  Such a God cannot be loved, for He forces those who love Him to love Him, and those who hate Him to hate Him.  Then He judges the haters by sending them to hell for His choice.  And He judges His Son for God’s choice in causing the redeemed to sin in the first place and need redemption.

Calvinists, because they believe in a God who is above their judgment, rarely pose to Arminians what are equally troublesome questions – questions that, to the created vessel accustomed to think the world was created so that God could shower love on him, also indict their God.  I wish for the Arminians to realize their contradiction not because it defeats them, but because it directs them to a view of God that brings Him worship, and a view of self that creates humility.

Another complaint leveled against the God of the sovereignists (tired of using “Calvinist” so I coined a new word) is the question of whether, when a person gets sick, it is an intentional act of God.  Is God so cruel as to cause pain and death and tragedy just because He likes some of the outcomes, somewhere down the line (it brings people closer to Him, teaches people patience or compassion…)?  But is it not more cruel to imagine a God who has the power to prevent pain, but doesn’t use it?

The God of the Arminian “sovereignly” chose to exalt man’s will above His intervention.  In the beginning, He stood back and let man choose to eat the forbidden fruit.  As a result, there is death and pain and toil, sadness and continued wickedness.  But, we know, because it has been recorded in the Bible, that God still sometimes uses His power to intervene, to prevent or alleviate suffering.  He heals the blind and the lame.  Jesus brought dead children back to life so that their parents would weep no more.  If God can and sometimes does stop the natural, deserved suffering – why not do it all the time?  God lets a child be born with AIDS, knowing only that, being all-powerful, He will work everything for good for those who love Him.  That is a God who has no better motive than that He wants us to experience the consequences of our free will.  He is the God who is still waiting for men to love Him.  He isn’t even continuing to try to buy their love.  He made His final offer: Jesus on a cross.  If God was really trying to persuade us to love Him, wouldn’t He be more successful if He held back more of this pain and death stuff that makes life so hard?

Look.  You may not like my God’s motives for causing suffering.  You may not like that the damnation of millions brings God glory.  That’s a position I can understand.  But stop pretending that some invented God can escape those same accusations or worse.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

PS: I really like the Wikipedia article on Arminianism.  It’s well-written, concise, interesting, and seems fair.

PPS: See also my Tough Questions for Calvinists

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Your God is Too Safe by Mark Buchanan – A well-written book about Christian living.  Dare to believe in a God who is not about rules, whose way is not comfortable or easy or popular.  Practice His presence.  Wait on Him and don’t give up, taking matters into your own hands.  It took me a while to read this book.  But every time I picked it up, it echoed the very lessons God was driving home in my lived-out life.

The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning – All about grace.  And grace is always good.  I knew before I read it to be wary of some of Brennan Manning’s ideas, so that didn’t hang me up.  Even when I disagreed, I talked to my Jesus about it, and *that* made my week.

Jane Austen Ruined My Life by Beth Pattillo – Was not a great story, not great writing, and not a great ending.  But I read it anyway, my first venture into Austen fan-fiction.  The title was the best part.  (To be Austen purist, I am pretty sure the author mis-identifies the inhabitants of Mansfield Park.  She should have said Bertram, but she said Rushworth.)

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (see full review)

Castles in the Sand by Carolyn A. Greene – A novel about the subtle ways pagan spirituality and eastern mysticism are becoming accepted in evangelical Christian organizations.  Focuses on the teachings and life of Teresa of Avila.

Annotated Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and David M. Shapard – The classic Jane Austen novel with lots of extra commentary as well as notes about history, economics, and fashion.  I liked it a lot!

Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul – Explanation of Calvinism especially versus Arminianism.  Focuses on the doctrine of predestination.

Tristan and Isolt, A Play in Verse by John Masefield – A short play telling a story of thoughtless love leading to tragedy.  What is real love?  How does Destiny figure in?

Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart by Beth Patillo – Another adventure in England with the Formidables, this time featuring a codependent heroine who has the chance to reinvent her life for a couple weeks without worrying what anyone needs her to be.  The exercise reveals her insecurity and causes her to confront her life choices.  Can a woman build a life on other people?

Green by Ted Dekker – Book 0 of the Circle Series, the beginning and end of the Thomas Hunter story.  I haven’t read any of the other books in the series, which Ted Dekker says is ok.  But it was confusing.  And I don’t think I like reading the end before the beginning.  I did like all the talk about hope.  And remembering that spiritual realities are real, even if they are unseen.

Miniatures and Morals: the Christian Novels of Jane Austen by Peter Leithart – A wonderful look at the beloved authoress’ use of satire, contrast, irony, and very good story-telling to communicate a morality originating in a deeply Christian worldview.


The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary by Peter Gilliver, Jeremy Marshall, and Edmund Weiner (see full review)

Why Pro-Life?  Caring for the Unborn and their Mothers by Randy Alcorn A short summary of the major points of pro-life Christianity.  Pro-life is also pro-woman.  The “choice” is a moral one.  Preborn babies are people, too.  Pro-life ministries also help women after the babies are born.

That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis (see full review)

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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In the few years I’ve been studying Calvinism, I’ve come across four major questions that are the hard ones for Calvinism to answer:

1. Did God create sin?

2. Does God choose some men to be damned? (or the reverse: Is unconditional election for salvation true?)

3. Does God ordain each moment, thought, and action (not just “big” things, “sacred” things, or salvation)?

4. Am I responsible to seek God’s one will for my life, instead of just seeking and choosing ‘good’ options?

Here are some of my response questions:

1. What is goodness, and where does it come from?

2. What is life, and where does it come from?

3. What is love, and where does it come from?
To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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It’s an interesting question.  In the book it makes a vivid point.  The Christian and the other man are driving together.  The other man believes in a God, rather because it was undeniable.  But he hasn’t trusted Jesus for salvation because he’s not sure he likes God.  After all, there is suffering in the world, and God could have stopped it. 

 

“The time is now…” says the Christian, referring to accepting God’s grace through Jesus’ death on the cross. 

 

“I know, I know.” 

 

“So what’s the problem?” 

 

“I can’t; I just can’t.” 

 

The Christian uses one of those pushy phrases, “Can’t or won’t?” 

 

And the conversation concludes with the non-Christian asking, “Is there a difference?” 

 

(adapted from a book by Joel Rosenberg, but I really don’t want to give anything away, so I did leave out a lot.  You should read his books.  Latest review coming later this week.) 

 

That question sums up the thoughts I’ve been thinking for weeks now.  Can’t or won’t; is there a difference?  Christians have been debating this for centuries.  I believe there is much more biblical evidence for an answer of “No, there is no practical difference.”  If you won’t trust Jesus, it’s because you can’t.  We humans are born completely without strength (Romans 5:6), utterly without righteousness.  Calvinists call this Total Depravity.  So how does anyone choose Christ?  He chooses them first, and gifts them with faith.  That’s what I believe, and it’s a topic pretty rampant in the New Testament. 

 

But there are those verses that don’t seem to fit, and I’ve been wondering if interpreting them away is fair.  Sometimes I believe the verses that initially seem contrary, in context and the original languages, actually say just the opposite of the meaning we get by just reading them.  Take James.  If you pull any one verse out of that book of the Bible, and try to build a doctrine on it, you’ve got a mess on your hands.  But if you read the book as a whole, one long argument with both sides of a balance, you get the idea that James knew exactly what he was saying.  He just didn’t have to go over all the doctrines of justification by faith alone, because they were already there, already “givens” in his proof.  I had an experience like that on Sunday as I taught our ladies Sunday school class.  We’re in the middle of a series, and I cannot possibly re-teach the four previous lessons just to build one more point.  I have to summarize the lessons before and move from there.  This is a point made in the ever-fascinating Hebrews 6.  We can’t keep reviewing the basic doctrines. 

 

Can’t or won’t?  Some people say it’s the other way, that because we won’t, we can’t.  God’s foreknowledge saw that we wouldn’t, so He left us helpless so we couldn’t.  I think this is rather illogical.  There’s no cause.  The question abides: if some won’t, why do some will? 

 

Can or will?  When people talk about free will, what do they mean?  Is there a different kind of will, one that isn’t free?  What does will mean?  I see it as the ability to choose.  If you have a will, you can make a decision.  Is it possible there are wills that will always make the right decision?  Are we saying that Jesus didn’t have free will here on earth?  Is it possible that there are wills always making wrong decisions?  Or could we explain human nature as will-enslavement to sin and evil?  “There is none righteous, no, not one.”  I believe this is taught in Ephesians 2.  (Read it in Greek; it’s ten times better!) 

 

In that chapter, we are told that before salvation, we humans were incapable of doing anything without the empowerment of the devil.  After salvation we were made alive through the empowerment of God.  But we now seem to have the ability (can) to move on our own.  This movement and will and choice can lead us into service of the devil again (Romans 6 and 7) though not empowered by him, or into submission to God, whose power through us produces good works.  Why did God leave us with that choice?  And are those choices, as quickened spirits, matters of true free will?  Doesn’t God still have control?  Is it true that we could have chosen the right thing when we as Christians chose the wrong?  If so, why didn’t we?  If not, why can’t we? 

 

What I’m coming to is a place where there are questions either way.  Right now I don’t have answers.  I still believe that God is sovereign, that predestination is true, and that God chose (elected) those whom He would save.  The details?  Why did God let the first humans sin and how did they decide to sin and is God responsible for allowing sin and death into the world?  Is God in control of our choices now?  Does God ordain my sin and rebellion?  Does He ordain the rebellion of nations?  Does He want to have rebels so He can punish them?  Does He want to have rebels so that His forgiveness can be demonstrated?  I don’t have answers to these.  Some days I think that I know.  Other days I’m in doubt.  Most days I’ll argue strongly for complete sovereignty and predestination of every event, choice, and inclination – whether I believe it or not. 

 

And all these things are difficult to express, to write down or even to talk about.  I run circles around the main questions, hoping to stab in and pierce through to the core truth.  Almost any question in life can be brought back to the issue of predestination.  Just now I can’t say what I believe. 

 

Can’t or won’t?  I’m pretty sure it’s can’t.  I can’t tell you facts I haven’t discovered, or conclusions I haven’t reached.  At least that’s settled. 

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Friday was one of those days in one of those weeks from one of those months.  My closest friends are out of the country or on their way out.  One will be gone for a whole semester, to the blissfully romantic Oxford, the Oxford in England, full of history and literature, thought and conversation.  In England there is rain, there is beauty, there is architecture, there are accents!  What’s more, she’s going to study worldviews in a small class of 9 Christian young men and young women, doing life with them.  Already she sends home emails reveling in happiness beyond her expectation. 

On Friday I was feeling rather alone and untraveled.  Autumn is here with an air of adventure, and none has knocked on my door.  But God is quite the gracious Giver of good gifts.  He blessed me with hours of conversation in the evening.  Friends gathered and the casual conversation was whether God changed His mind, and the way He ordains intercessors for us against His wrath.  Then we officially talked about jealousy, but we didn’t say much on that topic.  What actually happened led into a discussion on grace and glory, predestination and the rights of God versus the rights and capabilities of man. 

Even though we didn’t delve into jealousy, our text was 1 Corinthians 13:4: “Charity suffereth long and is kind.  Charity envieth not; Charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.”  Charity, or LOVE, does not envy.  It is not jealous.  Love is the call of all Christians towards their neighbors.  Jealousy prevents us from entering into their happiness in the way Paul describes in Romans 12.  The simple reminder that love is my call was enough to convict me of my attitude towards my friend.  So I decided to rejoice with her.  (I really am absolutely delighted for her experiences, and excited for their impact!) 

But the grace and the lesson didn’t end.  Deciding to rejoice with her, I was yet challenged by my friend’s confession of happiness.  Her email bubbled over with enthusiasm for life and people, and happiness at being where she was.  Once she even wrote she can’t remember the last time she was so happy.  When was the last time I was simply happy?  What did it look like? 

The privilege and delight of seeing a friendly face can light my face with a smile, and untroubled happiness.  Knowing God is in control and He’ll take care of the details is blessed happiness.  Knowing I am blessed is reason to be happy.  And I am so blessed.  So I set out to be happy. 

Saturday I went to Steeling the Mind Bible Conference, put on by Compass Ministries.  I imagined the happy me, which is much easier to live out when brought to mind!  Should I see a friend, I would be happy.  Should I spend the day with my dad alone, I would be blessed.  Should I get encouragement in my walk with God, I would have assurance that He was heeding my days.  And He was.  He let me know. 

For example, the second-to-last speaker was a woman raised as a Muslim.  One of her many points was that Muslims live in fear, not only of non-Muslims, not only of “monsterous” Jews, but even of each other.  Women obviously fear men, who have essentially absolute power over them.  They also fear the envy of others, by which the jealous party would, they superstitiously believe, put a curse on them: the evil eye.  Envy and fear of envy separated the community, leaving no room to trust anyone.  Jealousy is a serious issue. 

In the British Isles, there is rain.  Here the past week we have had rain more days than not.  Friday night it rained.  Saturday night, too.  I’m afraid to sleep for missing some evidence of God’s grace reminding me that “no good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.”  But even sleep is a peaceful, cozy gift. 

This morning at church we watched part of Beth Moore’s teaching on the Blessing of Asher.  Asher is a Hebrew word translated either Blessed, or Happy.  Leah named the second son of her handmaid Asher, after years envying Jacob’s love of Rachel and jealousy over his affection.  At last she simply named a son “happy,” content and blessed, going forward straight on the way, fruitful.  And Beth Moore taught us not to be responsible for the happiness of others (or of ourselves!);  happiness is a gift by the grace of God, so we ought to seize our happy moments, with gratitude. 

A friend blessed me with a compliment when I needed the encouragement, and her husband even offered to help diagnose my poor car whose Service Engine Soon light has been on and off for over a year (but I haven’t found a good mechanic to fix it).  My day was really too amazing. 

After church I sat in a meeting of youth leaders, pondering the high school girls small group of which I’m a part.  And I realized that I’ve been running around, forgetting to be God’s vessel, forgetting the blessing it is to share life with these ladies, forgetting that when I walk with God, I will want to and be able to connect with the girls in love.  There doesn’t have to be a formula or a schedule.  If I want to see them, this won’t be a burden.  In my life I’ve observed that happiness (and pain at times, and many other things besides) comes through people, through fellowship, through getting deeper into relationships and community.  Do you realize what release I remembered and reclaimed? 

Finally, on my way to visit my aunt in Greeley, CO (and my grandparents and a few cousins, an uncle and another aunt), I was riding in our big, truck-like van, watching light glint off the ring that reminds me of God’s presence and claim on my life.  So often I ask Him for things, but today I thought of the way characters pray sometimes in biblical dramatization novels by the Thoenes: “Blessed are You, O Adonai, who…”  So I started.  God is blessed for being, for doing, for giving.  Blessed is He for knowing the end from the beginning.  Blessed is He for ordaining good works.  Blessed is He for holding my friends in His strong hands.  Blessed is He for being my sure refuge and comfort.  Blessed is He for the blood He shed, and for reminding me of His faithful covenant through the Lord’s Supper this morning.  Blessed is He for the celebration that the Lord’s Supper is and represents, the community of saints waiting for the Beloved.  Blessed is He for hearing my prayers.  Blessed is He for being Almighty. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I love Enchanted.  I like the subtle spoof it is on earlier Disney movies (even Lady and the Tramp!).  The music is fun, and I like the premise “What if the heroes and heroines of Disney Fairyland were in the real world?”  Everyone told me before I saw it that it was a funny movie, but I think it is romantic.  Plus philosophically I see a lot of good messages, for a change, on love and marriage.  By way of disclaimer, before I enumerate my appreciation for Disney’s new take on romance, I thought I’d tell you the 5 things I really didn’t like about Enchanted. 

 Oh, uh, Spoiler Alert.  Obviously.   

Enchanted’s weaknesses:

1.  Giselle’s clothes aren’t modest.  The situation with the shower is less modest, as conduct and visually.  At one point she puts her hand very unnecessarily on Robert’s chest.

 

2.  A tiny bit of crass humor and adult insinuation (of the kind that kids can rationalize as meaningless).

 

3.  The evil in the movie is scary and occult, using spells, fire, smoke, dragons, and old hags. 

 

4.  Morgan uses her dad’s emergency credit card for a shopping trip. 

 

5.  Robert, who has invested in a 5 year relationship with Nancy and was intending to propose, abandons her (with her permission) for a woman he was basically falling in love with while still giving her the impression he intended to marry Nancy.  Giselle was set to marry Prince Edward, and promises him she will return to Andalasia though she is having doubts.  She, of course, ends up trading him for the New York lawyer.  Robert puts himself in a tempting situation by taking Giselle for a walk, a boat ride, a carriage ride, and pizza; finally he dances with her.  There’s an issue of faithfulness and honesty here. 

 

Enchanted on Marriage:

1.  Dreaming

Giselle starts by dreaming of her prince.  She has an ideal of simple romance, handsome, present, and royal.  It makes her sing, gives her something to talk about, and gets her through lonely days in the forest.  Her perspective nearly gets her into a marriage that, the day after happily ever after, isn’t going to be much of anything. 

 2.  Kissing

In Enchanted, kissing is the activity of marriage or those who will be married.  It is symbolic of permanence and commitment.  Near the beginning of the first song, Giselle sings that “before two can become one, there’s something you must do.”  This is an allusion to the story in Genesis, Jesus’ words, and Paul’s quotation – in the Bible!  Compared to most movies, or even Disney movies, Marriage is given high priority. 

 3.  It’s You Duet

Because of Giselle’s shallow perspective on true love, when Prince Edward rescues her singing on his horse, she immediately assumes he’s the one.  He also looks like the statue she made based on her dream.  With little explanation, the Prince, who already heard her song, decides they’re made for each other (note the predestination) and should get married in the morning. 

 4.  “Strengths and Weaknesses”

Robert and Nancy’s take on marriage is slow, thoughtful, and calm.  They’ve analyzed each other, have a functional relationship, and think they’re ready to take the next step.  He does seem to care whether they break up.  She trusts him.  But they each value things that the other does not represent for them: romance, emotion, and fun, for example. 

 5.  Separating Forever and Ever

Robert is a divorce lawyer, bummer of a job for a movie about happily ever after.  But he’s put out of a job by Giselle’s entrance.  Separating forever and ever is a terribly sad thing, she cries.  She reminds a couple contemplating divorce that there are attributes of their spouse that they value and won’t find anywhere else.  They hold each other’s hearts, and that brings responsibility. 

 6.  Dating

Dating is getting to know someone before you marry them.  It usually involves a nice activity like dinner out or a movie or museum.  You exchange information on your interests.  It is good to note that Robert and Giselle come from opposite perspectives, each teach each other something, and meet in the blissful middle.  Robert says most normal people date.  I suppose that’s true.  And if by date you really mean know them before you marry them, I’m ok with that.  Courtship and friendship pre-wedding would fall under this category for the purposes of the movie. 

 7.  “I Always Treated Her Like a Queen”

True love is not about manipulation or exchanging favors.  Love does not worship the other person in a way that denies truth.  A person must offer him or her self in love, not some trampled pantomime of what the other person wants.  Honesty and sincerity are important. 

 8.  “I Will Save You”

True love isn’t the only kind.  Enchanted portrays the love of friends and children as equally valuable.  Marriage isn’t this self-contained, self-sustaining relationship that comprises one’s whole world.  It is meant to be in community and to create additional community.  Chip is a faithful friend to Giselle, relentlessly risking his life to save her.  Her prince actually shows a great deal of chivalry in going after her despite no real interest in her as a person.  And Morgan’s relationship as a step-daughter is an important measuring stick of Giselle’s right-ness for Robert.  Morgan is part of the picture, and her needs are valued. 

 9.  Pain, Risk, Good Times with the Bad

At a later scene, the couple once pondering divorce is happily reunited, willing to work through their problems.  Reality has its problems, but that doesn’t mean you give up.  Reality is worth sticking around for.  This is a theme that will resonate with both Robert and Giselle.  Robert got burnt by his first marriage, and is leery of emotional investment again.  The hopeful outlook of his client renews his willingness to try for more.  Giselle, her dream dance interrupted by Nancy’s previous claim, is seduced by the offer of forgetting all the memories of love she won’t get to share forever and ever with Robert.  The woman was deceived, and she ate.  But she learns she was wrong. 

 10.  “So Far We are So Close”

These are the lyrics Robert sings to Giselle.  She’d been encouraging him the whole movie to express his true feelings in the convincing mode of a ballad, and now he’s singing to her without realizing exactly the import of his actions.  The gist of his confession is that they’ve been through a lot together.  He’s been angry and frustrated and confused, and she’s been angry and confused and conflicted.  Now they know each other, their strengths and weaknesses, not through analysis.  No, they know each other through experience.  They came from opposite points of view near to the middle of true, happily ever after love… so close. 

 11.  “Most Powerful Thing on Earth”

Is true love the most powerful thing on earth?  Song of Solomon says love is as strong as death.  But God’s love conquered even that last enemy (by Christ dying).  Does a kiss change evil?  Are there still things you have to fight?  Yes.  Love is powerful.  It does not, however, preclude a battle and a reality of pain and effort, falling and catching.  Perhaps it does guarantee the ending. 

 12.  Happily Ever After

The credits song, Ever Ever After, says that happily ever after can be true if you open your heart to be enchanted.  I really don’t like the credits song.  It missed all the good strong points of the movie.  Happily ever after is portrayed in Enchanted as marriage.  It is relationship, forsaking all others, and embracing a new life with determination, enthusiasm, and joy. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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