1 Kings 13.11-22 – Sin as an objective reality
Posted: 18 February 2011 in 1 Kings

Now there dwelt an old prophet in Bethel; and his sons came and told him all the works that the man of God had done that day in Bethel: the words which he had spoken unto the king, them they told also to their father. And their father said unto them, What way went he? For his sons had seen what way the man of God went, which came from Judah. And he said unto his sons, Saddle me the ass. So they saddled him the ass: and he rode thereon, And went after the man of God, and found him sitting under an oak: and he said unto him, Art thou the man of God that camest from Judah? And he said, I am. Then he said unto him, Come home with me, and eat bread. And he said, I may not return with thee, nor go in with thee: neither will I eat bread nor drink water with thee in this place: For it was said to me by the word of the LORD, Thou shalt eat no bread nor drink water there, nor turn again to go by the way that thou camest. He said unto him, I am a prophet also as thou art; and an angel spake unto me by the word of the LORD, saying, Bring him back with thee into thine house, that he may eat bread and drink water. But he lied unto him. So he went back with him, and did eat bread in his house, and drank water. And it came to pass, as they sat at the table, that the word of the LORD came unto the prophet that brought him back: And he cried unto the man of God that came from Judah, saying, Thus saith the LORD, Forasmuch as thou hast disobeyed the mouth of the LORD, and hast not kept the commandment which the LORD thy God commanded thee, but camest back, and hast eaten bread and drunk water in the place, of the which the Lord did say to thee, Eat no bread, and drink no water; thy carcase shall not come unto the sepulchre of thy fathers.

If I remember rightly, I made a comment similar to this one some months ago. On that occasion the thought was sparked by a passage in Numbers. A few verses prior to the passage quoted above, the man of God is invited by King Jeroboam to eat and drink with him, and he refuses on the grounds that God has explicitly forbidden him to eat or drink until he has fulfilled his mission. In the passage above it is the old prophet who makes the invitation, and again he refuses, and gives the same reason for doing so.

So the man of God apparently does not sit lightly to God’s commandments. But in the second case, the old prophet lies to him, and tells the man of God that he has received a revelation from God, and that they ought to eat and drink together. So the man of God goes off to share the prophet’s hospitality, presumably with a clear conscience.

I suppose most people would be inclined to think that the old prophet had committed a morally culpable act in lying, and that the man of God was guilty of no intentional misconduct; especially in the light of his earlier insistence that he must abide by the will of God. What actually happens, however, is that the old prophet suffers no comeback for his deliberate lie, whereas the man of God is told that he will die because he has disobeyed God.

So the message here would seem to be that God regards sin as something objectively real, and that our culpability for it is not dependent upon the state of our conscience. In God’s eyes, we can be judged guilty of sin even when we have no sinful intention – we have besmirched our Lord’s holiness, and that is sufficient. It must be remembered that nobody can say to God, “What doest thou?” He has the absolute right to judge us in whatever manner he pleases.

Another quote from scripture which may make sobering reading in the light of 1 Kings 13 is:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. (Isaiah 55.8)

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Predestination in John’s Gospel
Posted: 17 February 2011 in John

“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1.12-13)

“And they said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? how is it then that he saith, I came down from heaven? Jesus therefore answered and said unto them, Murmur not among yourselves. No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6.42-44)

“But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.” (John 10.2-5)

“I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.” (John 17.9)

That there is some definite group of people who will respond positively to Jesus, and it is only members of that group who will respond positively, seems to be a theme which runs throughout John’s Gospel. In the first of the passages quoted above, those who will receive Jesus are identified with those who have been born of the will of God. In the second passage it is only those who have been given him by the Father who will come to Jesus. In the third passage people do not become members of Jesus’ flock by following him; instead they follow him because they are already members of his flock and recognise his voice. In the last passage it is again only those who have been given him by the Father that Jesus prays for.

It is easy to understand why the last of those four passages, in particular, should disturb people. Nevertheless, when I hear people saying that predestination is not biblical, I cannot help but wonder whether they are reading the same Bible as me.

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Acts 17.15-21 – God and the new atheists
Posted: 16 February 2011 in Acts

And they that conducted Paul brought him unto Athens: and receiving a commandment unto Silas and Timotheus for to come to him with all speed, they departed. Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry. Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him. Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection. And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is? For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean. (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)

Today’s new atheists seem to have the same problem the Athenians suffered from long ago. They can bring their brain into gear (just about), but they have great trouble engaging their heart. Worse than that, they are downright distrustful of it. But it is of course the heart which has a central role to play in any sort of relationship, and that is especially so in the case of God. It is at this point that a new atheist will typically intervene to tell you that the heart is just a pump. What has happened to make people so distrustful of anything other than the purely cerebral – and to such an extent that even such a commonplace metaphor as “the heart” has to be given a crassly literalistic understanding?

In fact, there is no way of knowing God except by engaging with him through the heart. As something ultimately mysterious, and beyond human conceptualisation, engaging with God must necessarily involve something more than the intellect. I speak as a Protestant myself, but I suppose Protestantism, with its emphasis on the written and spoken word, must bear part of the blame for the current situation. Words go to make up sentences, and sentences are manipulated by the rules of logic, so they practically invite a cerebral approach. But in religion the cerebral is worthless unless it also sinks down into the heart.

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2 Chronicles 8.12-14 – God and worldly affairs
Posted: 14 February 2011 in 2 Chronicles

Then Solomon offered burnt offerings unto the LORD on the altar of the LORD, which he had built before the porch, Even after a certain rate every day, offering according to the commandment of Moses, on the sabbaths, and on the new moons, and on the solemn feasts, three times in the year, even in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles. And he appointed, according to the order of David his father, the courses of the priests to their service, and the Levites to their charges, to praise and minister before the priests, as the duty of every day required: the porters also by their courses at every gate: for so had David the man of God commanded.

It occurred to me what the response would most likely be if a British Prime Minister let it be known that he considered himself to have a priestly function, in praying for the nation, for an hour each day in Westminster Abbey. He would certainly be lampooned by every newspaper in the land, and probably even the professionally religious would feel uncomfortable about it. In fact there cannot be many world leaders today who wouldn’t be much ridiculed in those circumstances.

But I suppose that goes to show how far even professing Christians have gone in removing God to the periphery of worldly affairs. We no longer act as if we believed God was Lord of the universe, and that his worship was central to the material and spiritual welfare of our lands.

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Revelation 17.7, 20.12,15 – Objectivity in religion
Posted: 12 February 2011 in Revelation

“The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.”

“And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works….. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”

The Bible exists, in large measure, to make objective what would otherwise be a completely subjective understanding of God. If somebody today were given free rein to write their own account of what they believed God to be like, it is a fairly safe bet that the ideas present in at least one of the above two passages would be absent.

The news that a.) anybody whose name is not written in the book of life will be subject to divine judgment, and b.) that the names in the book of life were written there before the foundation of the world, ought (at the very least) to inspire a sense of awe which is almost completely missing in much contemporary religion.

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