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>The means that God shall give

2009 November 17 2 comments

>George Muller, famous for orphanages in England, set up an institution for the spread of the gospel which he named, “The Scriptural Knowledge Institution For Home And Abroad.” This institution had several principles and objects. What I find inspiring is the refusal to ask men for money. People were aware of this institution, and then subsequent orphanages, which they were welcome to give to. But Muller was at pains to take his requests only to God and not to man.

And while Muller commenced activities he thought the Lord would have him do before all the provision had arrived, he refused to enter into debt for the same.

Further he sort to not use people to raise the profile of the institution if they were not Christian, and he refused the help and the employment of non-Christians in the work.

Here are the principles of the institution (appendix D).

  1. We consider every believer bound, in one way or another, to help the cause of Christ, and we have scriptural warrant for expecting the Lord’s blessing upon our word of faith and labour of love: and although, according to Matt. xiii.24-43, 2 Tim. iii. 1-13, and many other passages, the world will not be converted before the coming of our Lord Jesus, still, while He tarries, all scriptural means ought to be employed for the ingathering of the elect of God.
  2. The Lord helping us, we do not mean to seek the patronage of the world; i.e., we never intend to ask unconverted persons of rank or wealth to countenance the Institution, because this, we consider, would be dishonourable to the Lord. In the name of our God we set up our banners, Ps. xx.5; He alone shall be our Patron, and if He helps us we shall prosper, and if He is not on our side, we shall not succeed.
  3. We do not mean to ask unbelievers for money (2 Cor. vi.14-18); though we do not feel ourselves warranted to refuse their contributions, if they, of their own accord should offer them. (Acts xxviii. 2-10.)
  4. We reject altogether the help of unbelievers in managing or carrying on the affairs of the Institution. (2 Cor. vi.14-18.)
  5. We intend never to enlarge the field of labour by contracting debts (Rom. xiii.8), and afterwards appealing to the church of God for help, because this we consider to be opposed both to the letter and the spirit of the New Testament; but in secret prayer, God helping us, we shall carry the wants of the Institution to the Lord, and act according to the means that God shall give.
  6. We do not mean to reckon the success of the Institution by the amount of money given, or the number of Bibles distributed, etc., but by the Lord’s blessing upon the work (Zech. iv.6); and we expect this, in the proportion in which He shall help us to wait upon Him in prayer.
  7. While we would avoid aiming after needless singularity, we desire to go on simply according to Scripture, without compromising the truth; at the same time thankfully receiving any instruction which experienced believers, after prayer, upon scriptural ground, may have to give us concerning the Institution.

While I am not completely against the requesting of funds for a need, Paul asked the Corinthian church to help the Jerusalem church, the idea of only asking God for one’s needs has some appeal. In the natural it seems daunting, though our God has the resources of the universe at his disposal—how faltering our faith, but it has the advantage that only programs that God is involved in can prosper. Sure, God is involved in many organisations that appeal for money, but men can sustain efforts even when they abandon God’s plans. But when God provides the funds, only his tasks get funded.

Categories: economics, faith, sovereignty

>Proof-texting unconditional election

2008 October 24 9 comments

>In response to a recent post on sovereignty I received an anonymous comment suggesting my analysis contradicted the Bible. This is a bold claim, though I am prepared to defend my position. I will add that this post is an object lesson in why proof-texting can be a poor technique. While short texts of Scripture can refute error, they need to be understood and applied correctly. Anonymous did not expand on the texts or explain how they contradict my claims.

My claims and anon’s quotes are in italics, my response is in roman type.

Anon: This is a sad commentary. You analysis says exactly opposite of that the Bible says.

However others thought it a good commentary. jc_freak and travelah agreed with it, and kangaroodort affirmed it and linked to it. While this particular post was short on Scripture, it was not intended to be exegesis of a particular passage. Other posts have defended my view. In this post I was trying to identify a logical error, that being:

  • I don’t think sovereignty by necessity means God can force people to love him.

God can still be sovereign even if the whole whole rejects him. Our acceptance or rejection of God does not alter the fact that he is King and owns the cattle on a thousand hills.

bethyada: Calvinists have claimed that God chooses specific men for salvation because he is sovereign. Those are saved to maximise God’s glory in his mercy, and others are damned to maximise God’s glory in his wrath.

These ideas, I think, are incorrect. The issue of sovereignty is a logical question. And damnation, while giving God glory, does so less than salvation.

Anon:

Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory. (Romans 9:21-23)

And yet I quote this very passage latter on. Rather than interact with my interpretation you just quote it with the assumption that your interpretation of it is the right one and that alone is enough to refute me. Re-read my response. You are reading “prepared” to mean “pre-prepared.” While that is possible, especially given the following mention of “prepared beforehand” other verses suggest that men prior to redemption are objects of wrath and yet become objects of grace. See Ephesians 2:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

If we remain disobedient God prepares us for destruction, but he desires repentance.

bethyada: I don’t think it possible for God to force anyone into heaven. Or rather force anyone to love him; heaven is the destination. So I think the Calvinists are incorrect about sovereignty over who is saved because it is not an question of sovereignty.

Anon

So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills (Romans 9:18)

And what does mercy have to do with forcing people to love him? God can have mercy on whoever he wishes, but he has said he will not do so unless we repent. And if he gives us mercy we can still choose not to love him.

bethyada: God can create, God can woo (prevenient grace), God can save, God can give eternal life, God can create freedom of the will.

None of which man can do.

However I think that if God creates us as beings that have the ability to choose or reject God then I think it logically impossible to force love from such a being.

Anon

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

This is not about our acceptance or rejection of God, it is about God giving us the ability to do what we desire to do. Just because we choose God and reject evil does not mean we have the ability to walk according to our choice.

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate….

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7)

God in Ezekiel says this new heart will cause us to walk in his statutes, and while consistent with an unconditional election position, is also consistent with conditional election. God can give us ability if we desire it and he has promised it. If we desire it alone we cannot do it. God says here in Ezekiel that he will do this for his own glory, but this does not necessarily mean that he will do it to those who are evil and unrepentant. The question here is not about God’s abilities to help us live by the Spirit, rather it is about whether God changes us despite our will, and whether determinism allows love.

bethyada: To have such a high view of sovereignty that claims that God can make us love him, seems, to me, as preposterous as a high view of God’s omnipotence means he can make 2 + 2 = 5.

So I don’t think that non-Calvinists have a low view of God’s sovereignty, I think they have a more accurate one.

Anon:

…declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,… (Isaiah 46:10)

My claim was specific. I am not saying that God is not sovereign. Non-Calvinists acknowledge the sovereignty of God. The comment as it stands already refutes your response. A high view of God’s omnipotence does not automatically make God able to do the logically impossible. By analogy I claim that a high view of sovereignty doesn’t mean that God can make free people love against their desire. A verse reinforcing God’s sovereignty does nothing to prove me incorrect. If I am incorrect it is because my analogy is incorrect or inappropriate.

Further I think God can force activity and situation outcomes against the will of man; see Nebuchadnezzar’s 7 years. But Nebuchadnezzar still had to choose to love or reject God.

At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,… (Daniel 4)

bethyada: Further I think God does desire every single person go to heaven. I don’t think any have been created specifically for destruction…Calvinists are incorrect about this being the reason for creating beings for damnation.

Anon:

This is the wicked man’s portion from God, the heritage decreed for him by God. (Job 20:29)

The LORD has made all things for Himself: yes, even the wicked for the day of destruction. (Proverbs 16:4)

For certain people … long ago were designated for this condemn… [truncated by haloscan but from Jude] condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Jude 1:4)

And I can proof-text just as easily.

This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2)

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3)

I am not claiming that all men will be saved, just that God desires such. The verses from Job and Jude do not say that men were eternally elected to be evil and thus damned, they say that God will surely punish the wicked. The verses are compatible with a Calvinist interpretation, but they do not teach Calvinism. Jude could be read that the condemnation is determined before the wickedness, yet God’s foreknowledge allows him to determine their condemnation prior to the event even though the condemnation is because of the event. That is, the cause is the wicked actions even if knowledge of the wickedness predates the actions. The Job passage seems an odd rebuttal as the speaker is Zophar and the conclusion is that God decrees thus because of the evil man’s wickedness.

Proverbs 16 as it reads suggests that God has created men for the purpose of destruction. This is the ESV version (which I also use). But is the verse actually teaching this? The verse in the NET version is,

The Lord works everything for its own ends—/
Even the wicked for the day of disaster.

Which is compatible with God ensuring that outcomes will be just; that is, God will ensure our actions will ultimately have their appropriate consequences. Through other Scripture we know this takes into account God’s mercy.

A footnote in the NET states that the word “work” means to “work out” or “accomplish.” Another says that “for its own ends” means,

“for its answer.” The term לַמַּעֲנֵהוּ (lammaanehu) has been taken to mean either “for his purpose” or “for its answer.” The Hebrew word is מַעֲנֶה (ma’aneh, “answer”) and not לְמַעַן (lema’an, “purpose”). So the suffix likely refers to “everything” (כֹּל, kol). God ensures that everyone’s actions and the consequences of those actions correspond—certainly the wicked for the day of calamity. In God’s order there is just retribution for every act.

Thus God makes the day of destruction for the wicked, not the wicked for the day of destruction. (See also Matthew 25:41.)

I have no problem with quoting Scripture to support truth. The problems with proof-texting come, as can be seen here, when it is done

  • poorly;
  • without regard to context;
  • with no relevance to the issue; or
  • with the assumptions of one’s position which, while possibly consistent with the text, are not specifically found within the text.

It is better to interact with the Scripture and the points made by one’s opponent. Documenting not just what the Bible says, but explaining what and why it means thus.

Categories: freewill, sovereignty

>A clarification on sovereignty

2008 September 20 3 comments

>is in order. 3 responses to my recent post, God’s sovereignty and glory, while accurate, did not quite focus on what I was trying to say.

It is not that I think God gives us some freedom and still retains his sovereignty, even though that is true.

Rather, I think that if God makes us free agents then it is impossible for him to make us love him. Love is a free expression. If determinism is true then we can act affectionately (or in a way that has that appearance) but we a little different from programmed robots. If we are free to love then we either do or we do not. If we choose to reject God then God cannot make us love him. It is not a question of sovereignty. It is a question of logic:

If freewill then not forced love.

The nature of love means it is our decision to make.

A couple of side notes. I am not saying freewill equates to being able to do or think anything. We cannot do many things. It may not occur to us to think of many things. We cannot process ideas that are beyond our comprehension. And God is able to act on our thoughts (give us ideas or prevent us thinking something); and on our actions, force or prevent a certain action. Freewill means the ability to make some decisions independent of God. We may make some of these decisions contradictory to God’s preferences.

And even though God cannot make us love him he can prove his existence to us and he can act in such ways as to maximise the chances that we will desire him. He can pursue us to depths unimaginable.

Categories: freewill, logic, sovereignty

>God's sovereignty and glory

2008 August 29 11 comments

>Calvinists have claimed that God chooses specific men for salvation because he is sovereign. Those are saved to maximise God’s glory in his mercy, and others are damned to maximise God’s glory in his wrath.

These ideas, I think, are incorrect. The issue of sovereignty is a logical question. And damnation, while giving God glory, does so less than salvation.

I don’t think it possible for God to force anyone into heaven. Or rather force anyone to love him; heaven is the destination. So I think the Calvinists are incorrect about sovereignty over who is saved because it is not an question of sovereignty.

God can create, God can woo (prevenient grace), God can save, God can give eternal life, God can create freedom of the will.

None of which man can do.

However I think that if God creates us as beings that have the ability to choose or reject God then I think it logically impossible to force love from such a being.

To have such a high view of sovereignty that claims that God can make us love him, seems, to me, as preposterous as a high view of God’s omnipotence means he can make 2 + 2 = 5.

So I don’t think that non-Calvinists have a low view of God’s sovereignty, I think they have a more accurate one.

Further I think God does desire every single person go to heaven. I don’t think any have been created specifically for destruction. Neither are we created for redemption; rather for fellowship. Because of Adam’s choice we become estranged. God’s grace gives us a possible path back. Those who continually reject God’s drawing are handed over to destruction. They become unredeemable* objects of wrath whom God prepares for destruction based on our rejection of him.

It is theoretically possible that every person could choose God.

God does seek his own glory, but the Calvinists are incorrect about this being the reason for creating beings for damnation. Why? Because if we choose obedience and become objects of mercy, God gains even more glory.

God is glorified when he destroys the wicked.

God is glorified more when he shows mercy to the repentant wicked.

What of Romans 9?

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called,…

It is not that God creates beings solely so they can be destroyed and they have no choice to escape that destination. Rather they have insisted on wickedness, they have rejected God’s offer of mercy, therefore they are prepared for destruction. Given they are not redeemable, God uses them to maximise his glory in the view of the vessels of God’s mercy. God uses a bad situation for good.

If Calvinism was correct about God’s sovereignty then he would maximise his glory by saving everyone. That would bring him more glory than damning some.

*We are children of wrath because we are fallen (Ephesians 2:3). If we reject God to the point we are not redeemable then we are vessels of wrath prepared for destruction (Romans 9:22).

>Free will and determinism, a parallel in literature?

2008 August 22 10 comments

>I have argued that God does not ordain evil and raised the question: How can God will a man to do an action and God be without sin, yet the man be with sin despite being obedient to God’s intention in his life?

Some have claimed that there is a parallel in fiction. The author is parallel to God and the characters are parallel to created persons.

The problem with this analogy is that it is back to front. Fictional characters are not real. They are constructs of the author that do not exist in reality. They have no will of their own. If a character is murdered in a novel we don’t think of book author as evil, even though the murder solely originated in the mind of the author, because no one actually dies. We think of the fictional murderer as evil because we carry the fictional back over to reality. Book characters are not truly evil, they are fictional. But their behaviour as it corresponds to reality is recognised as evil.

The book analogy fails because we have been created with choice. We can murder or not murder (characters do not have this choice). It may be argued that this response is begging the question and the counter claim put forward that the book analogy is exact, we do not have a choice. If we have no choice then none of our actions are sinful. We are all doing the will of our creator. We are neither righteous nor evil.

>If God sends evil spirits does he cause evil?

2008 August 16 16 comments

>In response to my post, “Does God ordain evil” Michael asks if I care to comment on 3 passages. Presumably he thinks these contradict my proposal.

Firstly I would say that there are some passages of Scripture that may appear to favour 1 view over another. If this is the case then much consideration should be given to that view. However Scripture is a unified whole, and an alternative interpretation of a passage that is both valid and more in line with other Scripture is to be preferred.

The passages Michael mentions are:

And God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem, and the leaders of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech, (Judges 9)

Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the LORD tormented him. And Saul’s servants said to him, “Behold now, a harmful spirit from God is tormenting you. Let our lord now command your servants who are before you to seek out a man who is skillful in playing the lyre, and when the harmful spirit from God is upon you, he will play it, and you will be well.” (1 Samuel 16)

And Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left; and the LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said one thing, and another said another. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD, saying, ‘I will entice him.’ And the LORD said to him, ‘By what means?’ And he said, ‘I will go out, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And he said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do so.’ Now therefore behold, the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the LORD has declared disaster for you.” (1 Kings 22)

Michael could have also suggested this verse,

I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. (Isaiah 45 KJV)

There are at least 3 issues that are relevant here.

The first is that God is able to use wicked men (or wicked beings) for his own purposes. Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem were both deceptive. They had made wicked choices. That God allows or even sends an evil spirit to them is not saying that God willed the spirit reject him in the earlier celestial rebellion. There is no indication that demons are able to be redeemed but that does not prevent God from using them in his dealings with men. Similar could be said for the situations involving Saul and Zedekiah (whom Micaiah rebuked).

The second issue is that Scripture attributes to God things that he allows (presumably when they accord with his desires) even if the instigator is other than God. Because God has the power to do or prevent anything he is rightly seen as sovereign. This means that we can appeal to God in our situation. We can ask God why we are in some situation even if God did not cause the situation. This is because God has the power to prevent it. This does not necessarily make our appeal valid, but we can make this appeal. Satan oppressed Job, but could only do so with God’s permission, and Job’s response to his wife was,

“Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2)

Likewise when David held a census of Israel. 1 Chronicles attributes this to Satan but 2 Samuel mentions that God intended on judging Israel for their sin. Satan has intentions for evil against the nation of Israel just as he had against Job. In this situation it suited the purposes God otherwise had—judgment on Israel—and thus God allowed Satan to act out Satan’s intentions.

Thus far the assumption is that the evil spirit in these passages was an unclean spirit, ie. demon. This is the case with Satan and a case could be made for the evil and lying spirits in the 3 passages Michael quoted. This, however, is not a given, which leads us to the third issue: what does “evil” mean?

In the Judges passage “evil” is the word ra’ (07451), as is the word “harmful” in the Samuel passage. Lying is sheqer (08267) in the Kings passage. “Evil” in Isaiah and Job above is also the word ra’.

The problem with the word “evil” is that as an English word it has moral connotations. “Evil” means a negative event though we also associate “evil” with causation by a wicked agent. Compare the word “bad” in English which means a negative event but may not necessarily imply anything about the cause. Here are the definitions of ra’ when used as an adjective:

1) bad, evil
1a) bad, disagreeable, malignant
1b) bad, unpleasant, evil (giving pain, unhappiness, misery)
1c) evil, displeasing
1d) bad (of its kind – land, water, etc)
1e) bad (of value)
1f) worse than, worst (comparison)
1g) sad, unhappy
1h) evil (hurtful)
1i) bad, unkind (vicious in disposition)
1j) bad, evil, wicked (ethically)
1j1) in general, of persons, of thoughts
1j2) deeds, actions

So the question is what ra’ both means and implies in Hebrew. It can mean wickedness (1j above). Does it usually imply immoral causation? How much of its meaning is contextual compared to intrinsic? Note, for example, that the translation of Isaiah I quoted was the King James Version. Modern versions, including the literal New American Standard, use the term “disaster”. The modern versions give the word a negative meaning without the associated implication of a wicked agent.

I don’t know Hebrew to judge the appropriateness of this translation and I am reliant on translators. We do know that it is largely context that determines meaning. It is also likely that the Hebrews (at least during some stages in history) were okay with figurative and hyperbolic language; more so it seems than modern Westerners. Compare Rachel was loved but Leah hated, ie. less loved compared to Rachel (Genesis 29).

This could mean that the phrase “evil spirit” was not giving us information on whether we are dealing with the angelic or demonic. Rather the descriptor “evil” concerns the mission of the spirit: one causes confusion or harm. The New English Translation opts for this translation in the Judges passage:

God sent a spirit to stir up hostility between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem. He made the leaders of Shechem disloyal to Abimelech. (Judges 9)

Is it possible that the phrase “lying spirit” is a similar example? A spirit that deceives those who have rejected the truth; compare 2 Thessalonians 2.

>Does God ordain evil?

2008 August 12 32 comments

>God may will certain events. These events may involve sinful actions of men. Some have suggested that because God ordains these events then God is ordaining evil.

God does not desire evil nor ordain evil. When addressing the actions of God there are some subtle issues that need to be kept in mind.

Firstly, there are actions that God does that are not intrinsically sin despite the fact that man doing the same action would be sin. This is not arbitrary, this is because the action does not apply to God. Take killing as an example. God can kill but God cannot murder. This is because he created us and owns us. He is the author of life and can remove it at will. However man can murder. But not all killing is murder. So a man executing a criminal is carrying out God’s command for justice and neither the man nor God are sinning.

Let us suppose that God wills that a particular evil man should die. God could:

  1. kill him directly;
  2. command a ruler to execute him (judgment from a judge for his sin);
  3. command a man/ army to kill him (compare David); or
  4. allow a murderer to kill him.

In all but the last situation neither God nor the killer is sinning. In the last case the man is sinning but God is using it for his purposes. Note that in the last example God is not commanding the murderer to murder. Rather the would-be-murderer is to resist sin. In resisting murder (sin) he is obeying God. This is the best course he should take. Resisting sin in this situation does not thwart God’s will. God can still see to the execution of the evil man he wishes dead. The will of God here is that a person be put to death. It is not God’s will that a man commits murder.

If God wills a person to kill the evil man then he is not a murderer, he is acting as God’s agent of judgment (example 3) and is not sinning. God can command a person with the authority of the sword to put him to death. That person is doing God’s will and is not sinning.

If God desires something, how can God will a man to do an action and God be without sin yet the man be with sin despite being obedient to God’s intention in his life? Of course God can use evil men, but God does not intend for any man to be evil, he intends for them to repent. In our example God is not intending for the murderer to murder, he intends for the evil man to be put to death. That God does not prevent a murder and uses it for his goal does not make him the author of evil nor does it make murder God’s intention. The best option is for the (potential) murderer to repent of his intended actions and let God carry out his intentions on the life of the person another way. God can know the plans of a wicked man to murder said person. It is God’s will that the man be put to death. It is not God’s will that the person murder him.

That God knows murders will happen does not mean he approves.

Secondly, God does not necessarily ordain things that he uses. God can bring good out of evil, even greater good than had the evil not happened. This does not mean that God desires that the evil happens.

One cannot observe consequences of God working through the actions of evil men and assume that God’s activity equals his approval.

Take teaching truth as an example. False doctrine tests us. Responding to false doctrine may aid us in understanding true doctrine better. God may also use false teaching to purify his people. But better no false teaching than some false teaching. Spreading falsehood means judgment for both those who teach it and those who follow it.

>Objects of wrath

2007 December 22 2 comments

>The fall of Adam put us in opposition to God. It changed our nature and our relationship with God.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2)

This is not just some, it is all mankind. All men prior to redemption are by nature children of wrath. Even if we desire God’s ways we still sin and fall under God’s wrath. We deserve judgment.

This is not the pleasure of God. God does not desire that the wicked are destroyed. Jesus says,

God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3)

Paul tells us,

…God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2)

And Peter informs why the day of the Lord is delayed:

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3)

Jesus, Paul and Peter all state that God desires the salvation of every man. He would that heaven be filled, that not a single person lost.

Sure, the destruction of the wicked will demonstrate God’s glory but their condemnation his not his desire. God gains much greater glory by showing mercy than by just judgment. If God judges by justice alone he will send every man to hell.

So how do we square Jesus’ offer of mercy to all men with Paul’s comment on God’s mercy?

So then God has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. (Romans 9)

I find it interesting that the actions here are not opposites. God is described as hardening men, but not softening them. I am sure God can soften hearts, but the point is the context contrasts hardening and having mercy. These actions of God can be seen in connection to our response to God. We are all children of wrath because of our nature. So when one rejects God’s work in his life he is resisting the work of God in drawing him to himself. If we reject God and refuse his ways then God cannot gain glory by offering mercy to us. There is nothing else but to harden us that God’s glory may be maximised in our lives; not as objects of mercy, which is God’s preference, but as objects of wrath: that all may see that the rebellious will not prevail against God.

And for those who choose God, yet who by their nature are children of wrath, he offers mercy so that they may become children of God. If in judging those who deserve judgment God is glorified, how much more so when he shows mercy to those who deserve judgment!

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! (Romans 11)

>Sovereignty and free will

2007 December 18 Leave a comment

>There is an interesting passage in Jeremiah which inputs into the Calvinism debate:

The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.

Then the word of the LORD came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the LORD, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’ (Jeremiah 18)

There is a lot here that points to God’s activity in the world: God gives a command to Jeremiah (which presumes obedience is possible); if Jeremiah is obedient then God will allow him to hear his words; God can build up nations and destroy them.

The potter motif is interesting. God gives Jeremiah an analogy to act out. It is important to understand this analogy, what God is saying thru it and what God is not saying thru it—while there may be more than one meaning in many passages of Scripture, we must not over read it: for example in this story God is like the potter, the potter is mortal, this does not imply that God is mortal.

We have a potter forming an object, this becomes marred, the object is reworked into something different, the potter chooses what he makes.

God says that if the potter is able to work the clay as he sees fit, how much more so is God able to do as he wills: “…can I not do with you as this potter has done?” But further than this, not only does God have a right to do this, he is also able to do this: “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”

In what way is the house of Israel, or a nation, like clay. The answer is in God’s subsequent pronouncement. They are similar in that God is able to destroy a nation or prosper it, just as the potter is able to make an object of his choosing. They are similar in that God is able to change his plans for the nation, to destroy a nation he was planning to prosper, or vice versa, just as the potter can change what vessel he is making.

One must be careful in making claims about the nature of the clay from this analogy. One must look to what is given in explanation. The clay is spoiled in the potter’s hands. Is that because of flaws in the clay or flaws in the potter? Is it relevant? The point is just that the potter has sovereignty over the clay, before and after its spoiling. Theoretically the potter could have destroyed the whole project and started again according to his original plan, but God wanted to use the change in the object being fashioned to reveal himself.

The spoiling of the clay is the change in behaviours of a nation. Though “spoiled” carries a negative connotation, this is not the case in the explanation. This discrepancy suggests that the spoiling may not carry over any analogous qualities. Nations can behave in positive or negative ways. They can repent, a good response, or they can commit evil, a bad response.

And while clay has no will, clearly the nation does. God appeals to the nation to listen to his warning: “If… I declare…, and if that nation… turns from its evil, I will relent….”

While God has declared his sovereignty, that he has the right to do and is able to do exactly as he wills, he also states that his actions are contingent on the actions of the nations. He will change his behaviour based on our actions. It is not that we can force God’s hand, make him do what we want, rather that there are opportunities in which we can choose our path. God may limit the number of paths available to us, but there are outcomes we can determine, or rather outcomes (the specifics of which are determined by God) can be accepted or rejected by us. God does not force us or manipulate our thoughts to make a decision for him or against him.

In this passage God is talking about nations. Does the same apply to individuals? God’s commands to and requirements of nations are not always the same as that to individuals: the state is given a mandate to execute criminals, individuals, in general, are not. That this principle is relevant to individuals can be seen by comparing to Ezekiel.

But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations that the wicked person does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, for them he shall die. (Ezekiel 18)

While this passage describes God’s abundant mercy, the call to repentance comes thru out the Old and New Testaments. We may not be able to save ourselves, but we are able to choose to avail ourselves of this salvation.