Deuteronomy 2 – God as the Lord of history.
Posted: 15 February 2012 in Deuteronomy

…..command thou the people, saying, Ye are to pass through the coast of your brethren the children of Esau, which dwell in Seir; and they shall be afraid of you: take ye good heed unto yourselves therefore: Meddle not with them; for I will not give you of their land, no, not so much as a foot breadth; because I have given mount Seir unto Esau for a possession…. And when we passed by from our brethren the children of Esau, which dwelt in Seir, through the way of the plain from Elath, and from Eziongaber, we turned and passed by the way of the wilderness of Moab. And the LORD said unto me, Distress not the Moabites, neither contend with them in battle: for I will not give thee of their land for a possession; because I have given Ar unto the children of Lot for a possession….. Rise ye up, take your journey, and pass over the river Arnon: behold, I have given into thine hand Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his land: begin to possess it, and contend with him in battle….. Sihon king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him: for the LORD thy God hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate, that he might deliver him into thy hand, as appeareth this day….. Then Sihon came out against us, he and all his people, to fight at Jahaz. And the LORD our God delivered him before us; and we smote him, and his sons, and all his people.

For me the interesting thing about this passage is the way in which it talks about God’s iron grip on history. It had been God’s will to give Edom and Moab to the children of Esau and Lot respectively, and the Israelites, on their way out of Egypt are told explicitly not to mess with them. But when it comes to Sihon, king of Heshbon, on the other hand, things are different. There it is the Lord’s will that Israel should dispossess the existing inhabitants. So God intervenes directly to harden the the heart of the king of Heshbon, and thereby ensures that Sihon comes out to battle with the Israelites and loses.

Christians sometimes talk as if God created the universe as a kind of playground for us. Thereafter we can do what we like in it, within reason, and his only role is to occasionally intervene to correct miscreants, and to ensure fair play, but otherwise he minds his own business. Sometimes we get angry when he falls down on the job we have assigned him. How dare he allow innocent suffering? The ancients were acquainted with suffering too, probably more so than us, but it generally did not occur to them to rail against God in the way that we tend to.

The God of the Bible, however, is not one whose primary purpose is to ensure our comfort. He created the universe, and everything in it, for his own purposes – not for ours, and we are here only to be his servants. The God of the Bible’s primary concern is to bring his plan for history to fruition. To that end he is quite prepared to preordain some to a life of comfort, and others to a life of suffering; some to eternal life, and others to destruction. Always he has in mind his ultimate purpose in creating the universe, and that is the furtherance of his own glory.

“The LORD do that which seemeth him good,” was Joab’s prayer prior to his battle with the Ammonites, because he knew that the outcome of the battle would depend solely upon that which God had preordained since before the beginning of the world.

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Revelation 20.13-15 and Matthew 25.45-46
The unpopular doctrine of eternal damnation
Posted: 13 February 2012 in Matthew, Revelation

“And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”

“Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”

Eternal damnation is probably the least popular doctrine with which Christians have to deal. What makes it even harder to accept is the doctrine of Predestination. But, irrespective of whether or not we like it, it is a doctrine to be found throughout the New Testament. It is one which comes, moreover, from the lips of Jesus himself (on more than one occasion). The language is (sometimes) obviously picturesque, but Jesus must have thought it appropriate, otherwise he wouldn’t have used it. God is a Mystery, and scripture is given so that we can have an objective knowledge of God.  The only alternative to accepting what it says is to construct an idol which is pleasing to ourselves.

A fallacy frequently heard from atheists is that something (such as eternal punishment) can’t be true, unless they find it unobjectionable. Perhaps we can sympathise to some extent, but is a bit ironical when members of a group, who typically pride themselves on their scientific objectivity, decide the truth of biblical doctrine on the basis of their subjective feelings. Christians ought not to fall into the same trap.

There are a couple of things which need to be remembered. The first is that we are explicitly forbidden (Matthew 7.1) to usurp God’s role, and judge for ourselves who the saved and unsaved are. The second is that, although all men deserve to be eternally punished in God’s eyes, he, in his mercy, has made available a way of salvation for those appointed to eternal life. Only those who refuse it will be condemned. It is almost certainly better to dwell upon God’s mercy than to dwell upon his justice, but not to the exclusion of the latter. If we would not blaspheme his holy name, we are required to confess, and ourselves believe, that God, as he is revealed to us in scripture, is just in all his ways.

We must further believe that he is worthy of all glory, honour and praise, for none other reason than that he is, and ever will be.

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1 John 5.10-13 – Christ as the only means of salvation
(and how that can seem unfair).
Posted: 10 February 2012 in 1 John

He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son. And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.

Set out in the above passage is the reason for the early Christians’ driven desire to take the Gospel to the furthest corners of the Roman Empire – quite unlike Judaism, either then or now. And the reason is simply that, without hearing the Gospel, salvation is impossible.

Today when an atheist, or somebody else, wants to make a Christian feel uncomfortable, they will typically pose a question regarding the fate of those who, through no fault of their own, have never heard of Christ. A common response from Christians is to say that God will make special provision for those who do not know of Christ, and judge them upon the basis of the kind of life they have lead. After all, anything else seems distinctly unfair. The problem with that response is that it does not appear to have any scriptural justification. The Bible only says that Christ is the only means of salvation, and there is nothing said about there being any alternative available.

If there is such an alternative, it becomes extremely difficult to understand why Paul, and others, felt so driven to take the message of Christ everywhere they went. There is no evidence that they believed such an alternative to exist, and Jesus’ great commission (Matthew 28.19-20) would have given them no reason to believe it existed. That some should be condemned through no obvious fault of their own may seem unfair, if salvation is viewed as something which we have a right to, rather than as something we have no right to, but which must be received as an unmerited gift.

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Jeremiah 17.19-22 – Prophecy and scripture.
Posted: 9 February 2012 in Jeremiah

Thus said the LORD unto me; Go and stand in the gate of the children of the people, whereby the kings of Judah come in, and by the which they go out, and in all the gates of Jerusalem; And say unto them, Hear ye the word of the LORD, ye kings of Judah, and all Judah, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, that enter in by these gates: Thus saith the LORD; Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem; Neither carry forth a burden out of your houses on the sabbath day, neither do ye any work, but hallow ye the sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers.

Reading Jeremiah, it suddenly occurred to me to wonder why no prophets are to be heard today, and such “prophets” as there are all sound like self serving conmen. Given the extent to which the modern world has turned away from God, at least in the West, it is not immediately obvious that there is no need for their voice to be heard. The answer, I suppose, is that we today have the Bible, and it is that which we expected to consult if we would hear the voice of God. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus has Abraham say to the rich man:

“If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead. (Luke 16.31)”

So it is with us. If we would not listen to the scriptures, which are inspired by God and contain all things necessary for salvation, neither would we listen, even if a new prophet were to appear amongst us.

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Psalm 35 and Matthew 7.1-2 – God’s mercy and our presumption.
Posted: 8 February 2012 in Matthew, Psalms

“Plead my cause, O LORD, with them that strive with me: fight against them that fight against me….. Let them be as chaff before the wind: and let the angel of the LORD chase them. Let their way be dark and slippery: and let the angel of the LORD persecute them. For without cause have they hid for me their net in a pit, which without cause they have digged for my soul. Let destruction come upon him at unawares; and let his net that he hath hid catch himself: into that very destruction let him fall…..”

“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”

Reading psalm 35 I had the feeling that the psalmist was praying in a way that only Christ had the right to pray, but I was not quite sure why. Then I realised that, as God Incarnate, it was only Christ who had the right to judge his persecutors. He was exercising a right which is God’s alone. In Matthew 7.1-2 (above) we are warned explicity against abbrogating that right to ourselves. Instead we are told to pray for our enemies. Yet, although it is only Christ who has the right to judge his enemies, he is probably also alone in not having exercised that right during his earthly ministry. It is we who seek divine retribution upon our enemies, even though it is also we who (like the psalmist) have no right to do so. In Luke 23.34 it is God Incarnate who is depicted as doing what he commands us to do, in praying for his enemies:

Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.

How different are God’s attitudes and our attitudes. We have been given an example in Jesus, but still it is we who act as if we had the divine privileges.

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