Ezekiel 18.1-4, 21.3-5 – Apparent inconsistencies in God.
Posted: 13 July 2012 in Ezekiel

“The word of the Lord came unto me again, saying, What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge? As I live, saith the Lord God, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.”

“And say to the land of Israel, Thus saith the Lord; Behold, I am against thee, and will draw forth my sword out of his sheath, and will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked. Seeing then that I will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked, therefore shall my sword go forth out of his sheath against all flesh from the south to the north: That all flesh may know that I the Lord have drawn forth my sword out of his sheath: it shall not return any more.”

In the first passage quoted above, it seems to be suggested that we will be held individually responsible for our sin, whereas in the second passage it is said that the righteous and the wicked will both suffer in the judgement which is about to befall Israel for its corporate sin. Either this can be seen as an inconsistency on God’s part, or it can be taken as an example of his sovereign freedom to act in whatever way he thinks will best suit his purposes. It is another indication, if any were needed, that God always thinks in terms of how his eternal plan is best to be fulfilled, and not in terms which directly equate to human jurisprudence.

I think the idea that God is just like us, only larger, is one which theology badly needs to divest itself of. God operates on a fundamentally different plane to that of his creatures.

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Ezekiel 20.41-43 and John 3.3 – Allowing God to remake us.
Posted: 12 July 2012 in Ezekiel, John

I will accept you with your sweet savour, when I bring you out from the people, and gather you out of the countries wherein ye have been scattered; and I will be sanctified in you before the heathen. And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I shall bring you into the land of Israel, into the country for the which I lifted up mine hand to give it to your fathers. And there shall ye remember your ways, and all your doings, wherein ye have been defiled; and ye shall lothe yourselves in your own sight for all your evils that ye have committed.

Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

I have my doubts about whether it could truly be said that we loath ourselves when we sin against God. But, to the extent that it isn’t a true description of our inner state, to that extent we need to be remade by God’s spirit. That is why John’s Gospel talks about the need to be born again. In my opinion, the thing being talked about there is not a one off emotional experience, as is sometimes imagined, but a complete remaking of our inner most selves by the Holy Spirit. And that is not something which happens all at once. In that respect I suppose my theology is closer to that of Catholicism than Protestantism – the only important thing is that we are remade by God, and emotional fireworks are irrelevant.

If he wanted to he could do that in an instant, but it is evident that God chooses not to, and that it happens over a period of years and decades. It is not for us to ask why he chooses not to do it that way; it is only for us to accept what is an observable aspect of our Lord’s will. Also, we must allow God to remake us in any way that he wants, and to rejoice that his will is thereby being done. If he wants to make great saints of us – that is God’s doing, not ours. If, as seems more likely, our role is a fairly pedestrian one, we must quietly rejoice over that. Our part is to be clay in the hands of the potter, who will make of us whatever he will.

All of the vessels which leave the potter’s hands should, however, find that they dislike themselves whenever they transgress the least of God’s commands. To the extent that they don’t, to that extent the potter still has a lot of work to do.

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1 Corinthians 2.1-7 – Humility in preferring the wisdom of God to our own wisdom.
Posted: 11 July 2012 in 1 Corinthians

And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory.

The wisdom of God is, obviously, to be found preeminently between the pages of the Bible. But there are some things which cannot be got from the Bible, and that is because they are prerequisites to being able to read the Bible as God’s word. They are (amongst other things):

a.) Faith that God exists.
b.) Faith that God has revealed himself through the pages of the Bible.
c.) The humility to submit to God’s authority in all things.

The first two of those prerequisites imply that the truth of the Bible is divinely guaranteed, which is something we need to hang on to. We may misunderstand the Bible, and we may misinterpret it, but the fault always lies with us, and not with the divinely inspired scriptures. A central tenet of worldly wisdom is that we are the final arbiters of what can and cannot be accepted as true, and the third of those three prerequisites directly contradicts that. It might be further expanded upon as (amongst other things):

a.) The humility to accept as true things we might not want to hear – because they are spoken by God.
b.) The humility to accept as true those things which might not make sense to us. Again because they are spoken by God.

If aquisition of those prerequisites cannot be got through reading the Bible, they must come from some other source, and the only other source available is God himself. The ability, and more importantly willingness, to hear and accept a wisdom which is not this world’s comes to us as a gift from God. All the evidence (biblical and otherwise) points to that gift not being made universally available. Sometimes an evangelical can be heard telling an atheist that he (the atheist) secretly knows that God exists, but he is just unwilling to admit it. The atheist, meanwhile, seems to be quite clear that he has no such intuition. The reason the evangelical tries to insist that he knows the atheist’s inner state, better than the atheist knows it himself, seems to be an unwillingness to accept at least one unwelcome truth taught in the Bible. And that truth is predestination.

God is holy, God is wise, and, above all, God is our instructor in all matters pertaining to faith. (He is also our Lord.)

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Jeremiah 12.1-6 – Providence and obedience to God’s will.
Posted: 10 July 2012 in Jeremiah

Righteous art thou, O Lord, when I plead with thee: yet let me talk with thee of thy judgments: Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously? Thou hast planted them, yea, they have taken root: they grow, yea, they bring forth fruit: thou art near in their mouth, and far from their reins. But thou, O Lord, knowest me: thou hast seen me, and tried mine heart toward thee: pull them out like sheep for the slaughter, and prepare them for the day of slaughter. How long shall the land mourn, and the herbs of every field wither, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein? the beasts are consumed, and the birds; because they said, He shall not see our last end. If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? and if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan? For even thy brethren, and the house of thy father, even they have dealt treacherously with thee; yea, they have called a multitude after thee: believe them not, though they speak fair words unto thee.

In the above passage, Jeremiah correctly discerns that the wicked, who will eventually be judged by God, were also created and planted by him, whilst having full knowledge of what would then ensue. But when he complains to God, and asks him what he thinks he is up to, he gets a very dusty answer. He is simply asked how, if he cannot cope with the circumstances in which he has currently been placed, how will he cope in more demanding circumstances. God is not going to justify himself to Jeremiah, nor, by extension, to any of his other creatures. The book of Job makes the same point at much greater length.

It is, of course never legitimate to question God’s providence. The universe was not created for our convenience, but for God’s good pleasure. A well known hymn contains the following lines:

The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly,
And ordered their estate.

Nowadays the hymn is unpopular, precisely because it contains those lines. It is not difficult to see the misgivings which might arise in people’s minds because of them. Too easily could they be taken as an excuse for not helping the poor – after all they have been given their station in life by God. That is an attitude which is definitely at variance with what the Bible has to say on the subject. Nevertheless, if all things are from God, it necessarily follows that relative wealth and poverty are also from God.

It is definitely legitimate for people to try and extricate themselves from whatever unfavourable circumstances they find themselves in. But if they find their attempts constantly being frustrated, they must, ultimately, submit themselves to the will of God, which is thereby being manifested to them. In Jeremiah’s case, obedience to God – who created him for the very purpose he must now fulfil – requires him to continue his ministry in circumstances where his life might be in danger. For most of us God’s demands won’t be that extreme, but we have no right to expect that they will necessarily leave us feeling comfortable.

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Exodus 3.1-6 – Man in the presence of God’s holiness.
Posted: 9 July 2012 in Exodus

Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb.  And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God.

Here is the Bible’s account of the call of Moses. Perhaps not surprisingly, Moses first reaction to the site of the bush which burned, without being consumed, was to adopt the stance of the physical scientist, and want to examine it more closely. We know from elsewhere in the Bible that God can punish severely over familiarity on the part of his creatures, with Uzzah’s fate in 2 Samuel 6 is a case in point. Here, however, Moses is warned, before it is too late, that he is in the presence of God. He then reacts in a way which is altogether more appropriate to the situation.

Since God doesn’t change, he must be as concerned to protect his holiness today as he was in Moses’ day, and it seems to me that passages such as this cast a certain light on the “Jesus is my buddy” type of spirituality. Jesus is our Saviour, but he is also our Lord and the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.

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