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Posts Tagged ‘sovereignty of God’

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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I have, over the past couple years, had some exposure to Open Theists.  To be fair I have never read their books or heard their speeches.  My friends who are interested in converting to Open Theism tell me their understanding of the theology.  My two main concerns are these: first, that the reason Open Theism is attractive is because God as described by the Bible is unattractive and so unacceptable to them; and second, that while Open Theists may find some verses that support their theory, their theory disregards and occasionally contradicts other passages of Scripture.  So before you convert to Open Theism, don’t you think you should be very familiar with the whole Bible, even those obscure God-revealing passages in Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ecclesiastes and Acts (I’ve started a list) that point to God’s sovereignty and comprehensive omniscience? Conveniently, God did not set us in the world interpreting the Bible – or even books about the Bible – by ourselves.  So even if I am not acquainted with a relevant passage of Scripture, it is likely that one of my concerned and involved friends will be.  I appreciate that.

In fact, in every case I can remember where my friends found it necessary to point out where the Bible contradicted my ideas, I came away respecting them much more, willing to listen to anything they have to say much more, and considerably humbler in my own handling of the topics of God and the Bible.  General observation would declare that I have a ways to go in the field of humility, so I am welcoming further interference by God’s Word-wielding friends.  That is one of the reasons Open Theism has become a fixture of tension-perspective in my studying.  My friends have been led by their investigation of the theory into bringing up parts of the Bible and God’s character that are rarely examined, parts I find comfortable to ignore.

Anyway, the other month someone mentioned NT Wright, and in the back of my mind I remembered reading that his theology was weird, but that was before I’d ever really heard of Open Theism, and something said maybe NT Wright was one of the original Open Theists.  I Googled his name and Open Theism and not much came up, so I was wrong, but then I was wondering what his deal was.

Two weeks ago a friend mentioned he was reading an article by NT Wright about the authority of Scripture.  Wow.  It’s so hard to explain that these are all connected in my mind, these topics, but trust me.  I am, as far as the “five points” go, a Calvinist.  And I discovered when I admitted I was a Calvinist that I had been a Calvinist all along.  Because Calvinists are those people who believe that God is smarter, wiser, and better than we are, so they submit to Him.  Submitting to Him is usually manifest, to these intellectual theologians, by submitting to the written Word of God, the “inerrant Scriptures”.  Sola Scriptura is the Latin phrase for one of the (again, five) pillars of the reformation.  Anyway, Calvinists almost always subscribe to Sola Scriptura (except for the CJ Mahaney, Sovereign Grace crowd) and I am a Calvinist, and Open Theists don’t agree with the Five Points much at all, so NT Wright arguing against the authority of Scripture is associated with Open Theism.  There.

Anyway, I’m interested in the “sola” part of Scriptura, having run around a bit with that Sovereign Grace crowd but having depended my whole life on the revelation of God being complete in the Bible.  So I went over to NT Wright’s article myself (online for free) and read it. Obviously most of the theologians I read would be skeptical of a Christian leader who sidesteps the authority of Scripture, so maybe, I thought, that was the questionable thing I had heard about him years ago.  The article is long, transcribed from a speech, but I skimmed and paid more attention to interesting parts.  Essentially his thesis is that the Bible was not written to be a law, so it is not set to be our authority.

Mostly the Bible is narrative, accounts of God’s ways, of God’s character.  The Bible is true, but how authoritative is it that once upon a time a prophet cured poisoned water by throwing flour in it?  Is it more authoritative that once upon a time a prophet told the Church to collect money weekly to have it ready to give to the poor when the messengers came for it?  Or is it authoritative that the apostles commanded the Roman Christians to submit to governing authorities?  Are the promises for us?  Are the commands?  Instructions?  Reasoning?  And, my goodness! Have you ever noticed how the apostles interpreted Scripture!  We don’t do it like them at all!

While still pondering these things, I was babysitting for a friend who is ordained in the Presbyterian Church.  Thus his house is full of Calvin, Sproul, Piper, and Grudem.  He is also an inner-city church planter, so he has numerous books that are borderline Emergent, books about “missional” living and “incarnational” ministry, the messy life books like Blue Like Jazz and semi-mystical works of early Christian authors like Augustine.  Every time I am at their house, I scan their bookshelves.  On this occasion, after the two little boys were in bed I picked up an issue of RC Sproul’s Tabletalk Magazine to read in the quiet evening ahead.  The subject was NT Wright’s doctrine of justification.  I discovered that this was the subject on which I had heard warnings against NT Wright.  For the purpose of this blog, I will not here describe or refute the “new Paul” ideas NT Wright has proposed.  (Piper wrote a whole book on it. Download as PDF at this link.)  Because while I was edified by Reformed teachers talking about justification, substitutionary atonement, etc. the most interesting article was the last one.

The final article in that edition of Tabletalk Magazine was not directly related to NT Wright at all.  It was a review, a recommendation for John Newton’s “On Controversy,” a letter of Christian wisdom written to a friend about to confront another man about a matter of disagreement.  I have been learning a lot lately about meekness and confrontation and debate, challenged to listen more and pray more and bite my tongue more.  This article reaffirmed that and pushed me farther.  There remains value in discussion, in communicating disagreement or different perspectives, especially when there is mutual respect and interest not to be seen as the winner, the correct one, but in having everyone know the truth.  We should not pretend unity by avoiding difficult subjects.  In fact we ought to have more in mind than mere consensus.

I have a friend who is a poet, who is burdened about the division in the Church and about the way Christians have boiled the Word of God down to a list of rules.  He wrote a poem about that and much more that I want to finish with, but you have to go read it at his blog.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Shadow over Kiriath opens with a conversation between Hazmul and a lesser demon, plotting to ruin Abramm and defame his God, beginning on the day of the grand coronation.  The demons have been spiritually attacking Abramm in the months since his victory over the Morwhol, also attacking his friends so that they will be unable or unwilling to help strengthen the king against the shadow-attack awaiting him. 

I was interested to notice how it affected me to know what the bad guys plotted.  I sat on the edge of my seat, fearing when things went the way the demons wanted.  Then the coronation happened, and when everything looked to be going over to the Shadow, the bad guys were thwarted by the grace and might of God alone, whose ways are unpredictable.  As the story progressed I learned to judge things not by who was getting their way, but by whether decisions were made out of love and faith and based on the truth of God.  Even if a character was having the worst day spiritually, in a single moment of humble request, God would come shining through, proving again that we are much less dependent upon our own performance than we would like to think.

Strange for a book about suffering to so emphasize the grace and sovereignty of God. 

For Shadow over Kiriath is about suffering, asking of its readers the questions Abramm had to struggle with: Does God restore what we sacrifice for Him?  Is suffering easy when we do it for the right reasons?  What does it mean when we read that all those who follow God will share in His sufferings?  If we lost everything, would we still trust God? 

From the coronation, the entrancing story flows into a dark attack from Beltha-adi, Abramm’s wrenching courtship and romance, attempts to relight the ancient guardstars in fortresses around Kiriath, and the seditious plot of the Mataians to take back the kingdom.  I found myself very involved in this book, relating to the questions asked of God and the huge difficulty of self-denial to do what is right – and desperate for everything to turn out ok for the characters, especially the unconventional Princess Maddie: royalty, detective, and friend. 

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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