Archive for the ‘sovereignty of God’ category

Suffering Eternal Decisions

February 21, 2018

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I often listen to podcasts in the morning as I shave, shower, brush my teeth and get ready for work. Today I was listening to Dr. William Lane Craig respond to some questions about free will and suffering, and his comments prompt this blog piece.

He made the following statement

“Natural suffering forms the arena in which the drama is played out of people being freely called to come into the kingdom of God and find an eternal relationship with God. It is not at all improbable that only in a world infused with natural suffering would an optimal number of people freely respond to God’s gracious and initiatives and come to enjoy a relationship with God and eternal salvation.”

Dr. Craig represents the Molinist view of the tension between God’s sovereignty, knowledge and power and man’s free will. On the Molinist view, God knows the future, but he does not determine it. Knowing the future, God chose to set the universe in motion, but he does not determine every aspect of it, including the choices that people make. Knowing the future, God chose to set the universe in motion, and to that extent, He determines the outcome, because He knows the outcome. He does not determine it, however, to the extent of interfering with the free will He gave humans who are created in His image. The fact that he knows the outcome, does not mean that He determine the choices each person makes. Each person is free to choose as they will, but God knows how they will choose from the beginning, and so He wills it.

This is (my simple version of) the Molinist view. It respects God’s sovereignty, while acknowledging the clear implication of free will and moral responsibility to which God holds us that is reflected from beginning to end in the Bible.

I tend to like the Molinist view, but I am always somewhat cautioned in my own thinking not to be overly concerned with doctrinal nuances. I don’t want to die on a Molinist hill other than the Gospel. The Calvinist resurgence in the church today stands in contrast to a more Armenian view of inviolate free will. Many have been the discussions and debates between these two views, and I fear we spend too much time and energy on debating when we should spend more time living out the Gospel. I think Paul might lump these debates in the category of vain discussions.

Still, I think it is good to chew on these things as they may be beneficial to our knowledge and understanding of God. As I thought about Dr. Craig’s comment above, I could not help think that this is a kind of divine utilitarianism – what is optimal for generating the most free will responses of love for, relationship with God and eternal life with God.

Dr. Craig’s thesis is an attempt to explain why suffering exists in the world when God is supposed to be good, all-powerful and sovereign. Why doesn’t God stop suffering if He is all those things? Why does he allow suffering at all?

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Who Are You Not to Forgive Yourself?

February 6, 2018

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Mary Poplin is a former radical feminist, new age spiritualist, liberal professor who became a Christian and spent some time working with Mother Teresa. Hers is an unusual and intriguing story.

Among other things, she talks about Mother Teresa’s radical forgiveness. For instance, Richard Dawkins wrote an entire book about Mother Teresa in which he criticized her vilely for taking money from other people, among other things. The brief glimpse Mary Poplin gives us into the life of Mother Teresa reveals a woman who, perhaps as much as anyone in modern history, lived the sacrificial example of Jesus. This stands in contrast to the stark, cold criticism of the atheist, Dawkins.

The point of this blog article isn’t a comparison between the two, however, but, to focus “radical forgiveness”. Mother Teresa’s response was: “It matters not; he’s forgiven.”

And when Dawkins heard the response, he wasn’t very happy about it. He scoffed that he doesn’t need to be forgiven, and he didn’t ask to be forgiven. Mother Teresa’s response when she heard about his response was to laugh and to say, “It’s not I that forgives; it’s God. God has forgiven him.”

The point here, is that though Dawkins had reviled Mother Teresa, she forgave him unconditionally. Mary Poplin, summarized Mother Teresa and her followers, “They didn’t have any hooks left in them.” They didn’t hold on to any ill will whatsoever.

I don’t know about Mother Teresa’s theology, but the example of living out the forgiveness that Jesus demonstrated and called us to live out is the key. It is radical, and it’s rooted in our acknowledgment that God is God, and we are not. You might as well call it radical obedience because it matters not what we think or feel about the subject.

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God Chooses Those Who Choose Him

May 2, 2017

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A fellow blogger has written on Paul’s writing in Romans 11:1-6 and The Remnant of Israel where Paul says that “God did not reject His people, whom he foreknew”. Rather, God “reserved” for Himself “seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal” in the time of Elijah, and Paul says similarly of his time when he wrote the letter to the Romans, “there is a remnant chosen by grace”.

This “dialogue” Paul has with himself in the letter to the Romans continues the theme I have been writing on lately: God’s choosing us (before the foundation of the world) and the choices God gives us. How can they both fit into our theology? How can it be that God chooses us and we choose God at the same time?

Paul’s brief summary of God’s interaction with the nation of Israel has evidence both of God’s choice and the choices He allows men to make. God chose Abraham and His descendants who became the nation of Israel. The history of the nation of Israel is replete with virtually the entire group, but for some outliers, – some of the prophets, a few kings and other nonconformists –  continually running after other gods and failing or simply refusing to love God and His commands.

Most of them rejected God, but Paul says God did not reject them – not all of them anyway. God reserved[1] for Himself a number – a remnant.

Is this God responding to the choices made by the people of Israel? Or has God carved out (reserved for Himself) a number of the people who would not turn from Him because He reserved them for Himself? Were the remnant chosen by God? Or did God choose the remnant who chose Him?

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God Chooses US

April 25, 2017

Creative Commons photo from Flicker

God lets us choose Him: “But to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.” But that isn’t the beginning of the story – or the end of it.

God chooses us. He gives us the right to become children of God[i], and He made that choice before the foundation[ii] of the world. We become the children of God not by blood descent, not by the will of parents or anyone else – maybe not even by our own will – but by God’s choice.[iii]

I do not have a systematic theology. I am not a theologian, and my understanding of systematic theology is limited, but free will has always seemed self-evident to me. It also seems eminently biblical. God created us in his own image[iv], and a primary characteristic of God is agency. We see in the story of Adam and Eve that God gave us agency too, by giving them dominion over the animals of the earth and in the choice to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The freedom to choose is also a necessary condition of love. God is love[v], and he created us in His image to reflect Him, to glorify Him and to love Him.

The point of an image is to image. Images are erected to display the original. Point to the original. Glorify the original. God made humans in his image so that the world would be filled with reflectors of God. Images of God. Seven billion statues of God. So that nobody would miss the point of creation. Nobody (unless they were stone blind) could miss the point of humanity, namely, God. Knowing, loving, showing God.[vi]

God created us to love him. Therefore, we must have agency/free will in order to be able to reflect back His love as He intended.

But there is another side to this. There is not only what we call faith; there is grace. There is God’s unmerited favor. God chooses us. We call this predestination and attribute it to God’s sovereignty

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Plans, Paths and Choices on the Way

April 3, 2017

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The plans of the heart belong to man,
but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord. Prov. 16:1

God expects us to make our plans. The ability to plan, to exercise choice, was given to us by God, who created us in His own image. But we do not control the outcomes. On the one hand, we do not control our own destinies. On the other hand, we are not left to our own devices.

The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps. Prov. 16:9

We have the responsibility to plan our ways, but God determines the outcomes. We can spend our entire lives planning our ways without any thought to God, who determines our outcomes. We have the ability to live as if God does not even exist, but we do not escape the One who establishes the course we actually take. We may have no choice in the outcomes, but we have choice in our planning.

To that extent, we could plan our ways with God in mind, seeking God’s wisdom, God’s purposes and God’s plans. Or we can choose to plan our ways without regard to God at all. God gives us that choice.

A man’s steps are from the LORD; how then can man understand his way? Prov. 20:24

The actual courses we take, however, are affected by the “circumstances” of our lives, the opportunities and obstacles that come our way, and the almost unlimited variety of influences, happenings and factors that ultimately determine the “steps” we take. This is just another way of saying that God establishes our steps.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance.  James 4:13-16

We don’t control our own way though we often think (presume) and act as if we do.  God doesn’t frown on our plans. He made us with the capacity to plan our own ways, but we err (sin) if we fail to understand that we are not in control of the outcome of our plans. Our ability to freely plan our ways creates an illusion that we are the captains of our own destinies, but thinking and acting as if we actually do captain our own destinies is arrogance of the first order.

What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. James 4:14

Our lives are but a breath. (Job 7:7) Our lives are like clouds that appear and then vanish into thin air. (Job 7:9) Our days on earth are just a shadow. (Job 8:9) Our days are like the runner, fleeing away. (Job 9:25) Our days pass on like grass boats slipping downstream. (Job 9:26) Our lives are like a wind that passes and never returns. (Psalm 78:39) We are like flowers that bloom and quickly wither. (Job 14:2)

LORD, make me to know my end and what is the extent of my days; Let me know how transient I am. Psalm 34:9

Don’t presume about your life. Be mindful that life is short. Be aware that God is ultimately in control. God has his purposes.  Pray and seek God and to understand His purposes. Make plans, but always be mindful of God and his plans and purposes. Invite God into your plans; seek for your plans to be harmonious with God’s plans.

We can live our lives on our own, going our own ways or we can live life in harmony with God and His ways. God gives us that choice, and we are responsible for the way we exercise that choice. At the end of our short days, as the bloom withers, what will be the outcome of our lives if we lived them our own ways?

The creed of this world lived our own way, apart from God, is I Did It My Way. We can do that. We can boast we did it our way. But, to what end?

As for me, when I think of the alternatives, when I consider the temptation to be the captain of my own soul, come hell or high water (as it is said), I think of the disciples complaining of the words of Jesus spoken to the crowds:

“This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (John 6:60)

Jesus didn’t change His message to accommodate His followers, and, as a result, “many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him”. (John 6:66)

In this context, Jesus turned to the twelve disciples and asked,

“Do you want to go away as well?” (John 6:67)

This is the question we all must face. This is point to which we all have or will arrive, either in this life, or when our days are done. How we respond to it is the ultimate choice we make or will make.

We don’t control when the light that is our life will go out. Our days are numbered, and they are in God’s hands. We don’t control when the choice to accept and follow Him can be made.

The plans of the heart belong to man,
but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord. Prov. 16:1

We make our choices, but God is the determining factor in our destiny. Will we choose to submit our selves, our plans, our destinies to God? Or will we go our own way.

When Jesus asked his disciples whether they wanted to go away too, as the others followers did when the message got difficult for them, Simon Peter answered for the group:

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

This, too, is my response. Though I often stumble, there is no other path for me. There is nothing else for me. There is nowhere else I want to be.

How about you?

Seeking God: Getting to the End of Self

March 20, 2016

Finding Jesus Part II

In Finding Jesus Part I (Seeking God: When God Does Not Answer), we explored the idea that God is near us at all times, but we cannot connect with Him because of us. We are the problem; we get in the way of “finding” God, and in order to “find God”, we must get out of the way (lose ourselves).

I will explore getting to the end of self where we can find God in this piece and follow it up with a look at Finding Jesus Part III (Seeking God: Different Paths and the conclusion: Finding Jesus Part IV (Seeking God: Finding Jesus)!

But first, I want to relate a conversation I had with my daughter. She told me that she has called out to God in the past, but he was not there. He didn’t respond, and she was discouraged.

I have been there too. I’ve called out to God at times in my past, and God didn’t respond. One time in particular, it was as if I was talking to the clouds, and my words were bouncing back at me.

I distinctly remember that time. I was perplexed, not knowing which direction to go. I had life choices ahead of me that were mutually exclusive. They were widely divergent paths, and I was torn. I was either going to go back to college for my senior year, or I was going to drop out.

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A City Set on a Hill in a Foreign World

August 19, 2013


One Sunday I recall the pastor deviating from the planned sermon to observe that Christians today sometimes act as if God is not in control. We do this by complaining about politics, our country, the world, etc. Sometimes when the Spirit leads, we need to stop from our planned way and consider what God is saying. If we don’t, we might miss God.

There is a segment of the church that believes and acts like the USA is God’s country, a Christian nation. I think this is where many Christians allow politics into their theology at a grave danger to pure religion, which James reminds us “to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world”. (James 1:27)

Yes, the founding fathers were “Christians”; and the country became a haven, a promised land, early on for people escaping religious persecution in England and other places. I love the fact that our country was founded on Biblical ideals, among other things, with honor for God. The freedom of religion and freedom of expression in the USA make this country great, the envy of much of the world, though not understood by much of the world as well.

Many hundreds of years before Jesus the Israelites were God’s chosen people. They were chosen out of all the people groups in the ancient Middle East on the basis of Abraham’s faith, and a promise was made to him that the whole world would be blessed by his progeny.

The promise of God to the people (Abraham and his descendants) to whom He chose to entrust that promise prepared the way for Jesus, the Messiah, except Jesus came with a plan and a message they did not expect. He came to his own, and his own knew him not. The Israelites were dug in, resting on the assumption that they alone were God’s chosen people. Many of them missed the boat. They rejected the Son of God because they had their own expectations and were not in tune with what God was doing.

We know the rest of the story, at least where the narrative continues today. God’s plan was to introduce the Christ for all people through the platform of the message entrusted to the Jewish people, who preserved that message and protected it. But many of them missed it. God does not always work as we expect Him to work.

We might say the Jews became nationalistic in their religion, and they missed the fact that God intended to bless the whole world. Yes, Jesus came to his own, but he also came to all who would believe on him. The new wine came, and the old wine skin could not contain it.

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