Ezekiel 14.9-10 and Psalm 33.14-15 – The Paradox of Predestination
Posted: 25 June 2012 in Ezekiel, Psalms

And if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand upon him, and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel. And they shall bear the punishment of their iniquity: the punishment of the prophet shall be even as the punishment of him that seeketh unto him;

From the place of his habitation he looketh upon all the inhabitants of the earth. He fashioneth their hearts alike; he considereth all their works.

Both of the above passages contain a thought which the biblical writers seem to have taken for granted, but which modern man has great trouble in accepting. Namely that the actions of all men are both directly under the providential control of God, but that men nevertheless are morally responsible for their deeds. In God’s eyes sin is always culpable, and will always bring judgment upon the sinner. That is also something the inspired Word of God makes perfectly clear. Here, of course, is a paradox which would do any quantum physicist proud. But both physicist and theologian are required to live with their respective paradoxes. Unlike the physicist, however, there is no chance that the theologian will ever have his paradox resolved, because it is something which lies buried deeply within the mystery of God. It is revealed to us, but not explained.

Jesus told his disciples to address God as their Father, and for those chosen to be God’s cildren – those who were born of God (John 1.13) – that is an approprite appelation. But perhaps we can guess that predestination exists, at least in part, so that we can tremble before the God who is Lord, thereby giving him the fear and reverence which is his due. And lest we forget that, in addition to being Father of his children, he is also the Lord of all Creation – disposing all things according to the good counsel of his own will.

No comments

Ezekiel 13.4-8 and Zechariah 13.3 – Biblical revelation as the successor of prophetic utterance
Posted: 24 June 2012 in Ezekiel, Zechariah

O Israel, thy prophets are like the foxes in the deserts. Ye have not gone up into the gaps, neither made up the hedge for the house of Israel to stand in the battle in the day of the Lord. They have seen vanity and lying divination, saying, The Lord saith: and the Lord hath not sent them: and they have made others to hope that they would confirm the word. Have ye not seen a vain vision, and have ye not spoken a lying divination, whereas ye say, The Lord saith it; albeit I have not spoken? Therefore thus saith the Lord God; Because ye have spoken vanity, and seen lies, therefore, behold, I am against you, saith the Lord God.

And it shall come to pass, that when any shall yet prophesy, then his father and his mother that begat him shall say unto him, Thou shalt not live; for thou speakest lies in the name of the Lord: and his father and his mother that begat him shall thrust him through when he prophesieth.

We ought to be grateful to God that the age of prophesy is over, because it means that we are no longer faced with the problem of discerning false prophets from the true. It is not as though it was only the false prophets themselves who were the recipients of divine wrath – so was anybody who listened to them. Today God reveals himself to us through the pages of the Bible, and, unlike false prophesy, it does not change to suit the changing agendas of men. So it is to the Bible that we must go if we would learn of God’s nature and of his will. As Paul says (Romans 1.20) there is just enough revelation outside of the Bible for us to hang ourselves if we ignore it, but the Bible is certainly the only major source of revelation.

But that means, of course, that we must accept what God has to say for himself in the Bible. Not just those parts of the Bible we find conducive, but also those parts we feel uncomfortable with. It is very easy to think that God should conform himself to our ideas, and to the spirit of the age, when we ought to be conforming ourselves to his ideas. I suppose a case in point is eternal punishment, especially in the light of predestination. It is very easy to understand why that makes people feel uncomfortable. But the Bible says what it says, inspite of attempts to explain away the passages we might prefer not to be there, and, since God is righteous, his will must not be questioned. Progress in the Christian life, I suppose, is probably to be found in the slow acceptance of those things we don’t like, but which are nevertheless revealed to us as being true.

That is not to say that there is nothing in the Bible which reflects the time in which it was written. Inevitably there is – Paul’s easy acceptance of slavery, for instance. But that is not to be used as an excuse for disregarding anything we find difficult. If we are not to deserve the scorn of atheists for “cherry picking” a much higher degree of objectivity than that is needed. The chief sin of liberal theology is to substitute subjectivity for objectivity, and at least some of the time that is done quite consciously. In biblical times, not only were false prophets listened to, but true prophets were rejected, and we will find ourselves in the same position if we abandon any attempt at objectivity in attending to God’s Word.

No comments

The gift of repentance.
Posted: 9 March 2012 in Joel

The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the LORD come. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the LORD hath said, and in the remnant whom the LORD shall call.

One of the things wrong with Arminiansm is that the Bible makes it crystal clear that it is God who directs the course of history, according to his own good pleasure and will. We are but players in the working out of his eternal purposes. As the passage from Joel makes clear, even repentance is only possible for those called to repent. A God who grants repentance to some of his creatures, but not others, is hardly a God those same creatures would be likely to invent for themselves. But that very fact is a prima facie reason for supposing the Bible to be speaking the truth, when it reports such to be the case.

No comments

John 14.6 – Christian exclusivism
Posted: 7 March 2012 in John

Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

I heard it again just recently: Namely that God wouldn’t condemn somebody for not believing in Christ if they had never heard of him. The problem with this line of argumentation is that it loses sight of sin as being the primary cause of condemnation. Disbelief in Christ only brings condemnation in the secondary sense that somebody was not availed themselves of the only means of salvation from the consequences of sin.

Suppose that five men were on trial for the same criminal offence, and at the end of the trial, when sentence is pronounced, each one has the option of a heavy fine, or a jail term of six years. What if four of them are lucky, and they had rich relations who were able to pay their fines for them, but the fifth one was not so lucky, and he went off to jail. Was he being treated unjustly because he was the only one given a jail term? Not really, he was just collecting the due reward of his nefarious activities.

Similarly, for Christians Christ plays the role of benevolent relative in saving us from the consequences of original sin, and we have it on the authority of the Bible that there is no other means of salvation except him. But that does not mean somebody who has never heard of Christ is being treated unjustly if he is condemned without ever having heard of Christ. He stands before God with the guilt which is shared by the entire human race.

If the attempt is made to argue that a Muslim, Hindu or atheist ought to be capable of salvation, because they have led good and moral lives, then we will very quickly find ourselves back with a religion which revolves around salvation through works – and one which overlooks the fact of original sin.

No comments

John 17.1-5 – Our place in God’s universe.
Posted: 5 March 2012 in John

These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.

Whenever the Bible gives a motive for the actions of Jesus, or of God, that motive is almost always that God should thereby be glorified. Even when he punishes sin, it is because he has a concern for his own glory. In the Bible religion is very much God centred, whereas in the modern world it tends to be man centred. Probably it is that fact, more than anything else, which helped to empty the churches in Europe, with America following, not far behind. The surest sign of that process being underway in America is the so called prosperity gospel.

Once man has become religion’s central concern, it is not long before the idea begins to take hold that God is there to serve us, rather than us him. Then, when God begins to fall down on the job, as it seems to us, people begin to question whether he is there at all. That idea is reinforced when material prosperity seems to be something we are able to achieve for themselves, whilst ignoring God completely. So the process is complete, and the churches empty.

And what is the Church’s response to that? Well, they decide that they only have to have the prayer books in modern English, and they will have people come flooding back through the doors. When that fails, they only have to replace staid old organ music with pop music, and they will have people come flooding back through the doors. When that too fails, they only have to be socially “relevant,” and they will have people come flooding back through the doors. And so it goes on.

All the time those facile panaceas are being tried, the root cause of the problem is being ignored. And the root cause is simply that we have lost the sense of the transcendent and, with it, any sense of the true God, who dwells in unapproachable light. Instead we tha a stunted and domesticated god. Until God is set back on his throne (so to speak) and we resume our role as his servants, the churches will remain empty in Europe, and emptying in America.

Perhaps it isn’t altogether self evident that the way to fill churches is to emphasise the sovereignty and transcendence of a God who is Lord over all. In this consumer ridden society of ours, the idea certainly seems perverse. But unless the Church ditches the anaemic God theologians have constructed for themselves over the last hundred years, and reconnects with the God it is supposed to worship, it won’t stand a chance of reinvigorating itself.

1 Comment