Proverbs 3.5-7 – Living with a paradox.
Posted: 1 October 2014 in Psalms

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil.

Scarcely has wiser advice ever been given, but until the last paragraph, it might sound as if I am about to ignore it.

In recent days I have been contemplating the relationship between the Theory of Evolution and Genesis 1-3. Speaking personally, when Genesis 2 says that man was created from the dust of the ground, and science postulates that life emerged from a primeval soup, they do not seem to me to be saying fundamentally different things – provided that God is acknowledged to be the active agent in both cases. That is not where the difficulty lies. The difficulty arises when we come to the doctrine of the fall. That there was a fall, that guilt for that first sin attaches to all mankind, and that only Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient to redeem our thereby corrupted nature, is a doctrine which could hardly be more central to Christianity. But the fall is not something with which the Theory of Evolution even begins to concern itself, and nor does it seem to leave room for it. On the other hand, we have the testimony of even Christian biologists that the evidence for evolution is overwhelming.

In contemplating that conundrum, I hit upon, of all things, the situation quantum physicists find themselves in. As is perhaps generally known nowadays, an electron can sometimes behave as if it was a wave, and sometimes as if it was a particle. “Well, which is it?” is the obvious question, but is not one which physicists have been able to answer. So, instead of trying to answer it, they adopt the purely pragmatic approach that, when it is most useful to think of an electron as a wave, they will think of it as a wave, and, when it can most usefully think of it as a particle, they will think of it as a particle.

So generalising that approach, when a Christian biologist is at work, he might perhaps think in terms of evolution as being the adequate account of human origins; at least for the purposes of doing his job. But when he goes home at night, and becomes an amateur theologian, then the biblical account of creation may be the more appropriate way of describing the origin of life, and of the universe itself. As in quantum physics, the question, “Well, which is it?” is likely to immediately thrust itself upon our consciousness. But, as in quantum physics, the only answer may be that we have to live with the paradox of having two apparently conflicting accounts, both of which appear to be true.

NEVERTHELESS, and this is where the sage advice of the biblical author comes in, if somebody is unable to live with such a paradox (although given paradoxes such as the Trinity, they ought to be able to), and if they feel that they have to choose between the two, apparently conflicting, accounts of human origins, then the words spoken by God must always take priority. It is his truth we need above all others, and it is foolishness to think otherwise. Scientific theories are provisional, so perhaps a future theory will remove the paradox, and perhaps it won’t. But in either case, we must be faithful to the biblical witness – remembering from whom it comes.

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2 Kings 10.6-10 – God’s punishment of corporate guilt
Posted: 30 September 2014 in 2 Kings

Then he [Jehu] wrote a letter the second time to them, saying, If ye be mine, and if ye will hearken unto my voice, take ye the heads of the men your master’s sons, and come to me to Jezreel by to morrow this time. Now the king’s sons, being seventy persons, were with the great men of the city, which brought them up. And it came to pass, when the letter came to them, that they took the king’s sons, and slew seventy persons, and put their heads in baskets, and sent him them to Jezreel. And there came a messenger, and told him, saying, They have brought the heads of the king’s sons. And he said, Lay ye them in two heaps at the entering in of the gate until the morning. And it came to pass in the morning, that he went out, and stood, and said to all the people, Ye be righteous: behold, I conspired against my master, and slew him: but who slew all these? Know now that there shall fall unto the earth nothing of the word of the Lord, which the Lord spake concerning the house of Ahab: for the Lord hath done that which he spake by his servant Elijah.

The curse upon Ahab’s house, which Jehu here speaks of, is that spoken by Elijah, in the name of the Lord, following the murder of Naboth (1 Kings 21.1-13). It is not clear whether Jehu was consciously intending to fulfill the prophesy which God spoke through the mouth of Elijah, or whether he was simply pursuing his own political advantage. Given the utter sinfulness of mankind, it was probably the latter. Nevertheless, one thing spoken by Jehu was absolutely true, which is that not one word uttered by the Lord will ever fall to the ground – whether that word be with regard to the destruction of Ahab’s family, or with regard to the salvation of all his elect.

It may seem unjust that Ahab’s entire family should suffer for the misdeeds of Ahab and his wife. Nevertheless, if God wills it, it must, for that very reason, be just. It is not for us to contend with the Lord. The idea that the guilt arising from sin can be passed down through the generations is, of course, not entirely absent from the Bible. One of the central tenets of Christian theology we have all inherited the guilt of Adam’s sin. In a similar fashion, in Numbers 16 the whole of Korah’s family suffers as a result of his sin. In these days, when we think principally in terms of individual responsibility, corporate guilt is a difficult concept for us to accept, but since its reality is testified to by none other than God himself, it is an idea which we are obliged get our heads around.

Of course there are some passages, such as Jeremiah 31.21-30, which seem to tell against corporate responsibility:

In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge. But every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge.

But there is no need for the Lord to contradict himself when he wishes to inflict a collective punishment. In the specific case of Korah’s family, they would undoubtedly already have stood guilty of many previous sins, and so there was no inconsistency on God’s part when, as a result of Korah’s sin, the rest of his family suffered a punishment which was already justly theirs anyway.

But let it be repeated. Even if we cannot understand God’s ways, it is never fitting for us, his creatures, to question the Lord’s justice or righteousness.

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Genesis 31.4-9 – God’s unseen hand at work
Posted: 29 September 2014 in Genesis

And Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to the field unto his flock, And said unto them, I see your father’s countenance, that it is not toward me as before; but the God of my father hath been with me. And ye know that with all my power I have served your father. And your father hath deceived me, and changed my wages ten times; but God suffered him not to hurt me. If he said thus, The speckled shall be thy wages; then all the cattle bare speckled: and if he said thus, The ringstraked shall be thy hire; then bare all the cattle ringstraked. Thus God hath taken away the cattle of your father, and given them to me.

One of the things I take away from the above passage is in the final sentence, where God is represented as being sovereignly free to withdraw his gifts from whomsoever he will (Laban), and to bestow them upon whomsoever he will (Jacob). A partial explanation for the favour shown to Jacob, at the expense of Laban, may be found when, in a later age, it would be revealed to Moses that the Jews, of whom Jacob was the progenitor, were to be a people specially chosen by God, and that for the purpose of bringing his salvation to the whole world. Clearly we have here no deistic god, who creates the universe, and then leads it to go its own sweet way. We have instead a God who is the Lord of all history, and who governs the universe in such a way as to ensure that his purposes are realised.

Another thing I take away from this passage is the way in which the taking of cattle from Laban, and the giving of them to Jacob, is described by Jacob himself as being of God’s doing. The slightly surprising thing here is that, the closing verses of the previous chapter, a description is to be found of an artifice, whereby which Jacob himself tried to bring about the desired end:

And it came to pass, whensoever the stronger cattle did conceive, that Jacob laid the rods before the eyes of the cattle in the gutters, that they might conceive among the rods. But when the cattle were feeble, he put them not in: so the feebler were Laban’s, and the stronger Jacob’s.

It is very easy to imagine those verses drawing forth from an atheist a comment along the lines of, “Ha, ha, how ridiculous! Everybody knows that the appearance of the cattle depends upon genetic factors, and has nothing to do with what was before their eyes at the time of conception. You say the Bible is inerrant. What baloney!” In the light of the above passage it can be said that, in one sense, this hypothetical atheist would be right, but not in the way he imagines. Jacob’s actions would indeed have been ineffectual, had they denoted nothing but a human activity. However, these verses reveal Jacob’s actions to have been but an outward sign of a hidden and divine activity. The taking of cattle from Laban, and the giving of them to Jacob, was in reality the Lord’s doing.

An atheist, of course, will not give the divine Word the reverence which is its due. In blaspheming it, he is effectively blaspheming the almighty and most merciful God whose word it is, and who gave it to us for our instruction. In the absence of divine grace, such is the depravity of man. One of the reasons why not all are saved, in God’s providence, may be that the reprobate are to be a mirror within which the elect can behold the reflection of their own corrupt and sinful nature, and then to praise and glorify the Lord, because he nevertheless deigned to have mercy upon us. To paraphrase Paul: All things work together to the glory of the Lord. And that is no accident; it is the Lord’s own doing.

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Psalm 125 – God’s protection of his elect
Posted: 28 September 2014 in Psalms

They that trust in the Lord shall be as mount Zion, which cannot be removed, but abideth for ever. As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about his people from henceforth even for ever. For the rod of the wicked shall not rest upon the lot of the righteous; lest the righteous put forth their hands unto iniquity. Do good, O Lord, unto those that be good, and to them that are upright in their hearts. As for such as turn aside unto their crooked ways, the Lord shall lead them forth with the workers of iniquity: but peace shall be upon Israel.

This psalm, I suppose, can be read as a metaphor for God’s protection of his elect. The Lord will not allow his will for their salvation to be frustrated, and so believers can rest in the knowledge that they will be protected from the worst excesses of their own sinful nature, from the temptations of the world, and from the wiles of the Devil. Most importantly, those who have been given ears to hear, will be taught of God through his inspired Word, and come to Christ (John 6.45). In terms of the metaphor, this divinely imparted knowledge perhaps corresponds to one aspect of the mountains surrounding Jerusalem. Those who live under God’s protection will assuredly be brought to the salvation which the Lord appointed for them prior to the foundation of the world.

And yet the final verse of this psalm appears to speak of believers who do turn aside from God. Clearly God’s will to save the elect cannot be frustrated, and so the verse must therefore refer to those whose presumption leads them to manufacture a counterfeit of the faith which is only obtainable as a gift from God. They ought to humbly beseech the Lord for that gift, but their pride and their sin prevents them from doing so. When it is said that God will lead forth the workers of iniquity, therefore, that must refer to the just punishment awaiting those whose faith is counterfeit, and reveals itself to be so.

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Ezekiel 21.1-5 – The motive for true worship
Posted: 26 September 2014 in Ezekiel

And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, set thy face toward Jerusalem, and drop thy word toward the holy places, and prophesy against the land of Israel, 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 this passage it is said that sometimes, as in this instance, God will treat the righteous and the wicked in the same way. That may not be as unjust as it perhaps seems at first sight. Even if somebody (other than Christ) could live a completely righteous life, they would still be doing no more than fulfilling their duty to God, and in no sense would they be placing him in their debt. Therefore, they can have no necessary reason for supposing that God will deal with them more favourably than he does the wicked. He may do, of course, but only he can fulfill his plans in doing so.

The difference between the righteous and the wicked is that the former will recognise that God owes them nothing, and will worship him anyway, whereas the unrighteous, who have least reason to expect that God will treat them graciously, will curse their God if they find themselves suffering any kind of misfortune. The point is that the truly righteous will worship God, not for reward, but for his own sake, and for the sake of his everlasting glory. Love is, or ought to be, its own reward.

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