Sometimes, we gloss over what we read in the Bible too quickly, and we don’t spend enough time digging deeper. I have read over the following verse in John 1 many times before I thought, “Wait a minute!”
“But to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.”
John wrote that “all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, HE GAVE THE RIGHT to become children of God”. My emphasis added is the phrase that caught my attention.
For all the verses in Scripture about God choosing us, predestining us, foreordaining us, we find verses like this that put agency squarely in our own hearts and wills. But that isn’t the beginning of the story – or the end of it.
Yes, God chooses us; and in choosing us He gives us “the right to become children of God”.[i]
Yes, He made that choice before the foundation[ii] of the world, and He made us 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 His own choice.[iii]
We didn’t choose Him; He chose us, but the vehicle of the choosing was to give those who received Him the right to become children of God. The implication is that He didn’t those who did not receive Him the same right to become His children.
I do not have a systematic theology. I am not a theologian. My understanding of systematic theology is limited, but free will has always seemed self-evident to me as I read Scripture.
Daylight had spoken So clear and so plain I’m the keeper of nothing But an old flame Consuming the shadows Caught in the light Blinded by hunger And fed to the night
I went to bed with the presidential election in the balance, teetering on the brink of madness – madness that we are so divided as a country over, perhaps, the two most unpopular candidates in our country’s long history.
We have gotten used to the “lesser of two evils’ voting mantra. Not that each candidate doesn’t have their crazy fans. And, that’s part of the madness too.
But daylight broke once again. Like Groundhog’s Day the movie, its constancy is inimitable. So, it is fitting that the Book of Lamentations states thus (3:22-23):
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
In my daily Scripture reading, the passages were no less apropos:
As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Matthew 27:57-60
So, it was the night Jesus was crucified.
The passages for the day also included the description of a small entourage of women waking in the morning to bring spices to the tomb. When they got there they found the tomb empty. (Mark 16:1; Luke 24:1-3)
Finally, the passages for the day included the appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene, the woman from whom he had cast out seven demons. (Mark 16:9) Mary was the first person to whom Jesus appeared. That significance can not be understated.
The men back were still hunkered down where they had been since darkness draped over the world the night Jesus died. They didn’t believe her when she told them she saw Jesus. (Mark 16:11)
So it is that we arrive quickly at assumptions and hold on to them. Jesus died before them and the onlooking world. Jesus was dead. Who would believe otherwise?
Of course, he had been telling them since they met him that his body would be destroyed, and he would raise it up three days later, but they never quite got what he was saying.
I left for the office pondering these things.
The votes are still being counted today. The outcome is less than certain. There is talk of fraud, injunctions and refusing to step down, and I can’t bear to think of four years of Biden… or Trump.
But the new day has dawned. God’s mercies are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness. Jesus defied sin and death, rose again and ascended into heaven. He sits, now, at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead – so the creed goes that was canonized over three centuries after Jesus died.
Pontius Pilate, the leader who presided over the death of Jesus, is nothing but a footnote to the world’s greatest event – the death of God at the hands of His creation, for the sins of His creation, to provide His creation a real hope that cannot not be eliminated by an election, injunction or even crucifixion – and the resurrection!
So, Donald Trump or Joe Biden will become their own footnotes in history as the purposes of God unfold. The world may seem to be teetering out of control at every turn, but the only thing teetering is our illusion that we are in control. God’s word goes out, and it does not come back void. Jesus is still on the throne.
The song that woke me yesterday morning ends like this:
My search was unending And my soul was bare And Darling, you came to me like a midnight flare Out of the ocean The stars had all gone My heart was broken Lost and alone
[Outro] Darling, you came to me like a beacon, leading me home
Substitute Jesus, for Darling, and it’s just about perfect.
Job poetically says of God that He gives orders to the morning and shows the dawn its place. (Job 38:12) Because of the tender mercy of God, the “Dayspring” [Dawn/Jesus] came to us from heaven to shine on us who live in darkness – in the shadow of death – to guide our path into peace. (Luke 1:78-80)
I have been blogging on the problem of pain. (See the Introduction, Part 1 and Part 2). This is “the” problem, with a capital “P” for the Christian who maintains, based on biblical revelation, that God is all-powerful and all-good. If God is so powerful, why can’t He stop the evil? If God is so good, why doesn’t He stop the evil? Either God isn’t all-powerful, or He isn’t good, or (ultimately) the God of the Bible doesn’t exist.
I am working my way through the puzzle, putting the pieces in place. You will have to read through the previous posts to catch up (if you want to). The piece of the puzzle I want to explore next is the cosmic drama that is evident in the Scripture.
Jesus refers to Satan as the ruler of this world. So Satan most have some authority and jurisdiction over the world. If God is really God, the authority of the Devil to do what he does must have give by God.
But why?! If the question isn’t simply rhetorical, there must be a purpose? Why would an all-powerful God allow restraints on His power to allow opposition from a being He created?
Before I try to answer that question, I want to dive into the evidence of this conflict that we see in the Scripture. then I will look for clues as to why that conflict would be allowed by an all-powerful God.
I have taken a prompt from the explore God discussion series going on simultaneously in over 800 churches in the Chicago area to write up a summary of the problem of evil. More specifically, I was spurred on by the discussion of The Problem of Evil and Suffering on Veracity Hill between Kurt Jaros, the host, and John Peckham from Andrews University.
I think this is the most difficult problem to deal with in the modern western world for the theist, and specifically the Christian who maintains, as Scripture reveals, that God is both all-powerful and all-good.
If God is all-powerful, why did He create a world in which evil, pain and suffering exist?
Does that mean He really isn’t all-powerful?
Or maybe God isn’t good?
Or maybe the God of the Bible doesn’t really exist?
Many people who can’t resolve this problem in their minds (or maybe their hearts) end up rejecting the idea of God altogether.
I began the discussion in an introductory blog, and I laid some groundwork to address the problem in Another Look at God in Light of the Evil in the World (Part 1). I can’t rehash it all here, other than to emphasize that we should not be lazy in our approach to the challenge. As with science, we need to work through the premises of the truth as understand to a resolution, if indeed there is a resolution to be had.
If there is a resolution to the problem, we can’t do it justice by abandoning the premises we are given. We need to work through them.
For the Christian, those premises don’t just include the omnipotence and omni-benevolence of God. We need to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together. I have come to believe that, if we hold on to and expand the premises we are given, and fill out the picture, some clarity begins to emerge.
One of the additional puzzle pieces is that God isn’t just good; God is love. In fact, God is love in His very nature.
Some people have trouble with the idea of the Trinity, three in one. We can understand God’s triunal (communal) nature in the context of love. As three in Person and one in Being, God’s very character is love from before time even began. (See The Plurality of God) God has community and relationship (love) within Himself.
And, Scripture says that He made us in His image. If we are made in His image, we are made to reflect His love. This is another of the puzzle pieces.
Love requires freedom. Coercion has no place in a loving relationship. Thus, for us to know love and to love God, we need to be free, and that includes freedom to reject God and what is good.
The Christian, who accepts the premise that God is good, rejects the idea that God is evil or caused evil to exist. Evil is not in the nature of God because God is who He is. Evil, then, must be a byproduct of the freedom God gave His creation. Evil is the rejection of God and what is good.
Pain and suffering aren’t, per se, evil, though evil produces pain and suffering. God created a world in which pain and suffering exist from the beginning. (see Part 1). Pain and suffering are actually part of the creation God made and called good.
Finally, we find that God’s grand plan and purpose is that His creation would enter into a loving relationship with Him, not because it must, but because His created beings want to.
These are the basic puzzle pieces. (If you want to examine these premises more closely, you will have to read the previous posts and do some research of your own.) From here, we will go back to the premise of God’s power (sovereignty) and examine more fully how it can be that an all-powerful God (who is also good) can allow evil to exist.
As I was listening through the last four chapters of the Gospel of John this morning, these words impressed me:
He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” John 19:9-11 ESV
This was part of the interchange between Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect of the province of Judea, and Jesus. Pilate exercised the authority given him over the province of Judea in the Roman empire given him by the Roman authorities, but Jesus said, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.”
I am reminded of God’s sovereignty. Jesus came to die. That was his plan. Pilate was just part of the plan. We tend to think of Pilate in negative terms as we look back at the story, but he was just part of God’s plan, like Judas.
Of course, Barack Obama was also our president. So was Bill Clinton. If we really believe the words that Jesus spoke to Pontius Pilate, these men would not have authority as presidents of the United States unless it was given from above.