Posts for September 2010
5 Posts found

Malachi 1.1-4 & Romans 9.9-13 – Election and the Love of God
Posted: 25 September 2010 in Malachi, Romans

The burden of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi. have loved you, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob, And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness. Whereas Edom saith, We are impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places; thus saith the LORD of hosts, They shall build, but I will throw down; and they shall call them, The border of wickedness, and, The people against whom the LORD hath indignation for ever.

For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son. And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.

Elsewhere on the internet today, somebody posted a question about whether God loves everybody, with especial reference to the Jacob/Esau motif. The answer to the question is yes he does, because the Creator must almost by definition love his own creation. Rembrandt did not complete the Mona Lisa, and then immediately say, “What an awful painting – it’s absolutely terrible!” On the other hand it is clear that God does not love everybody equally – he has his elect.

One response to the post I have just mentioned was that God might hate somebody when they are sinning, but love them after they repent. That is clearly not what the Jacob/Esau motif is all about. In the Genesis story, as well as in the Malachi passage above, it is obviously the election of Israel which is being talked about. Then, in the New Testament, Paul uses the same motif in connection with the election of individuals.

Throughout the Bible God is portrayed as a God who elects individuals and nations, according to his own good pleasure, and for no reason which obviously inheres in those so chosen. This concept of sovereign election was almost as scandalous in Paul’s time as it is today. But whilst I am usually to be found insisting that the Bible is not a biology or physics text book, it does have one thing in common with them – namely that they are all in the business of reporting objective facts. It is no more open to us to reject what the Bible has to say about election, and decide for ourselves what we would like God to look like, than it is for us to reject the contents of a scientific text book, and decide for ourselves what we would like the laws of nature to look like.

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Ezekiel 28.1-10 – Self idolatry and who is truly blessed
Posted: 24 September 2010 in Ezekiel

The word of the LORD came again unto me, saying, Son of man, say unto the prince of Tyrus, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Because thine heart is lifted up, and thou hast said, I am a God, I sit in the seat of God, in the midst of the seas; yet thou art a man, and not God, though thou set thine heart as the heart of God: Behold, thou art wiser than Daniel; there is no secret that they can hide from thee: With thy wisdom and with thine understanding thou hast gotten thee riches, and hast gotten gold and silver into thy treasures: By thy great wisdom and by thy traffick hast thou increased thy riches, and thine heart is lifted up because of thy riches: Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Because thou hast set thine heart as the heart of God; Behold, therefore I will bring strangers upon thee, the terrible of the nations: and they shall draw their swords against the beauty of thy wisdom, and they shall defile thy brightness. They shall bring thee down to the pit, and thou shalt die the deaths of them that are slain in the midst of the seas. Wilt thou yet say before him that slayeth thee, I am God? but thou shalt be a man, and no God, in the hand of him that slayeth thee. Thou shalt die the deaths of the uncircumcised by the hand of strangers: for I have spoken it, saith the Lord GOD.

Here again human pride is being condemned; perhaps in especially forceful terms because, with his absolute power, an absolute monarch is particularly tempted to set himself on a par with God. The prince of Tyrus apparently succumbed to that temptation. God is Lord of all creation, and we all are his servants – including those amongst us who, like the prince of Tyrus, may dislike that fact intensely. Paradoxically, people whose self will is frustrated at almost every turn, and whom God allows little worldly success, are actually being blessed by God. Without any reason to think of themselves as masters of the universe, they are much better placed to allow God his rightful role in their lives, and, like Abraham before them, much better placed to become his friends.

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Genesis 15.7-16 – The God who is less than fluffy.
Posted: 22 September 2010 in Genesis

And he said unto him [Abram], I am the LORD that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it. And he said, LORD God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it? And he said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon. And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not. And when the fowls came down upon the carcases, Abram drove them away. And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him. And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.

The God of the Bible is clearly not the God of so much liberal theology. The God of the Bible is the one who promises Abraham that his descendants will spend four hundred years as slaves in Egypt. This is the same Abraham, be it remembered, who is elsewhere described as God’s friend. The God of liberal theology, on the other hand, is the God whose sole concern is to make our lives as trouble free as possible. The God of liberal theology is likewise the one who is exclusively the God of love, never the God of wrath, and who promises universal salvation. The God of the Bible, on the other hand, is the one who tells his disciples that few will find salvation:

Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it (Matt 7.13.14).

Belief in such a God leads straight into the “problem of theodicy”. The attraction of believing in a God whose concerns and motivations are exactly our concerns and motivations, is obvious enough. The problem with it is that it has little enough scriptural warrant. It is difficult to see how a theology, which ignores what the Bible has to say for itself whenever what it says for itself is found to be unpalatable, can reasonably be described as legitimate. It might be thought that the reintroduction of some objectivity into theology is long overdue.

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Ezekiel 18.25-27 – Repentance and Salvation
Posted: 8 September 2010 in Ezekiel

Yet ye say, The way of the LORD is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel; Is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal? When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them; for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die. Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.

One of the things which can scandalise people about Christianity is its doctrine of repentance. According to the Christian understanding, had Adolf Hitler had a dramatic conversion experience a few weeks before his death in 1945, suffered near suicidal remorse over his past misdeeds, and turned wholeheartedly to God, he would, according to the Christian understanding, have stood justified before God. On the other hand, somebody who spends most of their life working for the poor and underprivileged, whilst remaining resolutely atheist, and ridiculing religion at every turn, will stand condemned before God.

How can it be right, it is asked, that somebody who has lead a mostly evil life gains access to heaven, whilst somebody who has lead a mostly good life doesn’t. The question presupposes that salvation is based upon some sort of calculus, whereby if you do X amount of good in your life, and Y amount of evil, then, provided X is greater than Y, you get into heaven.

Imagine an alternative scenario. You have paid 80% of your tax bill, decided that you have parted with quite enough cash, and if the taxman wants the other 20%, that’s hard cheese on him. After all, you argue, he can’t reasonably complain, can he, when the amount you have paid him is four times greater than the amount you haven’t paid him?

Most people would be extremely surprised if that sort of argument worked with the taxman, but that doesn’t prevent them from trying it out on God. In reality it works with neither God nor with the taxman. What is more, we struggle to pay God even 50% of what is his due by way of our service and worship.

The difference is that if we want God to forgive us the maybe 99% of our “tax bill” which remains unpaid, the only requirement is that we be prepared to kneel before him and ask for forgiveness. That, however, is where pride can yet again intrude itself into the divine-human relationship. The very notion of humbling ourselves before God can too easily result in a rebellious conviction that we have done quite enough to earn our ticket into heaven, and there is no way we are going to get on our knees – before the Lord of all Creation or anybody else.

You don’t have to spend too long around the new atheists before you realise that is one of the unconscious motives behind their atheism.

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1 Corinthians 1.19-31 – The wisdom of the world & the wisdom of God.
Posted: 6 September 2010 in 1 Corinthians

For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.

The Christian God is not an incompetent fool. He did not create a universe in which the fall was an unforeseen catastrophe, and then have to mount a desperate rescue mission to try and retrieve the situation. That both the fall and the Incarnation would be part of history were known to God before the creation of the world. Since he is an omnipotent God, had he wanted to he could have created a universe in which the fall did not happen, and the Incarnation was unnecessary, and yet he did not do so. Why? Part of the answer is given in verse 29 of the above passage: “That no flesh should glory in his presence.”

It was not God’s will that we should be able to obtain our salvation through our own works, or through our own wisdom, because that would detract from the glory which belongs only to the God who is Lord and Creator of all things. Instead salvation was to be available only to those who would humble themselves before him, and submit to the wisdom of God, to use Paul’s words. God’s will is that our salvation should depend wholly upon him, and that our worship of him in eternity should be motivated, at least in part, by the unmerited gift of eternal life.

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