Saturday, March 16, 2019

Providence

To understand God's providence more, let's look at 1 Samuel 23:

David is on the run from Saul, who wants to take his life. At the same time, the inhabitants of Keilah are being plundered by the Philistines. David does not know what to do, because fighting the Philistines is extremely dangerous, so he asks God. God tells him to fight. David does, and he wins. Here is an example of David willingly submitting his will to God's will. He asks what God's providence will be, and God tells him. He submits (23:1-5).

The next scene has Saul knowing about the deliverance of Keilah and amassing his army to go besiege David. This is such an interesting scene: Saul's will it to take David and destroy Keilah. David asks God what will happen. God tells him if he stays in Keilah, the people there will turn him over to Saul. David decided, on this information, to leave Keilah. Saul hears about it, and does not come to Keilah at all (23:7-14). It appears God has given David an alternate future, one that was conditional, and when David made his decision, God changed the future accordingly. Some theologians say this means the God not only knows the future, but he knows all possible futures as well.  After meditating on these verses, I have reached a different conclusion: God never sees the future; God causes the future to happen. Yes, he has foreknowledge, but his knowledge is of what he, himself, is going to do. Providence now transforms from a deistic, natural set of occurrences into a focused, powerful set of ordained actions on the part of God. God is not impotently sitting on the sidelines and waiting for us to make our moves, cheering us on when we make the right moves and crying when we make the wrong ones.  He didn't have two possible futures that he knew and let David decide his fate. No, he give David a deeper glimpse into providence to show him how it works.  If your will wins, he tells David, this is what would happen, but my will will always win. My will will have victory. Providence is God's will being played out without causing violence to our own wills.  But his will is always played out, because he wills the good of those who love him.

The third instance shows this. David has left Keilah and is running around in the wilderness to avoid Saul.  Saul has surrounded David, surely he will get him.  But then a messenger comes to Saul, telling him that the Philistines have made a raid on his own land. So Saul departs. Here is God's providence working itself out. He did not control Saul's actions.  He did not control David's actions. Capture was certain, but God's providence ordained the Philistines to attack Saul's land at that time, and the message came to Saul at that moment. God did not control the Philistines, but he made them, and he knows their nature, and he knew how they would act, and he set up secondary causes to influence their attack on Saul at that time.  God did not control the messenger, but he set up secondary causes so that the messenger would reach Saul with the news at the exact right time. This is how providence works. He caused the events to happen without infringing on the free will of the people involved.

David retreats to a cave and there writes Psalm 57, where he reveals his understanding of God's providence:

Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me,
For my soul takes refuge in You;
And in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge
Until destruction passes by.
I will cry to God Most High,
To God who accomplishes all things for me.
He will send from heaven and save me;
He reproaches him who tramples upon me.
God will send forth His lovingkindness and His truth.

To God who accomplishes all things for me. Romans 8:28 reads, "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose." We see this in the ultimate good for those who love God: namely the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. In Mark 8:31, Christ teaches his disciples the he must suffer, and he must be rejected by his own people, and he must be killed, and he must rise again. This is not God predicting the future but ordaining it.  These things must happen. They will happen, and nothing we will can interfere with God's plan. In fact, God's plan is carried out with the aid of our wills, because he made our natures, and he knows how we will behave and act. When Peter attempts to exert his own will over Christ's, Jesus tells him to, "get behind me, Satan!" His will will not be infringed. Once again: God does not foresee the future. He causes the future to happen. We have free will, but God's will supersedes our wills.

Jesus did not force Judas to betray him. Jesus picked Judas to be an apostle, because he knew he would betray him. He didn't see Judas betraying him in the future. He knew Judas' heart, and knew it would be his nature and will to betray him. Think of someone stronger then you. His will is going to win in a battle, because he is more powerful. He has not taken over your will; he does not control your actions like a pawn on a chessboard. He just has his way. You are allowed to exercise your will to the extent where it doesn't interfere with his. Think of renting an apartment. You can decorate the apartment with whatever you wish, live your life in it however you wish, but you can never sell the apartment. It's not yours to sell; it is the owner's. And if he plans to sell it to a developer, who is going to tear it down, you have no say. You just have to leave when the time comes. If you decide to stay and go down with the building, the plan of destroying the building has not been altered in any way. You are merely destroyed as well. Your free will has not been infringed. This is how God's providence works.

Finally, God's providence will eventually be understood and clarified to the saints in the next life.  Christ tells Peter, when he is washing his feet, "What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter (John 13:7)." Individual instances of providence will be revealed to us over the course of our lives, but when we are finally with the Lord, all of his providence will be revealed, and it will astound us.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Job's Friends' Error

Here is a paraphrased segment from Joseph Caryl's Practical Observations on Job, Vol 2:

Job has three friends that counsel him in his distress. One of the confusing aspects of this book of the Bible is that his friends' counsel seems doctrinally sound, but we know from the book's conclusion that they are in error.  How can this be? The answer is that there are actually four principles the friends and Job discuss, and the friends actually agree with Job on three of the four principles.  The fourth, however, and the most crucial, is where the error lies.  Here are the first three principles where Job concurs with his three friends:

1. All afflictions and calamities that befall man fall within the eye and certain knowledge of God.
2. God is the author and efficient cause, the orderer and disposer of all afflictions and calamities.
3. In regard of his most holy majesty and unquestionable soveriegnty, God neither does nor can do any wrong or injury to any of his creatures, whatsoever affliction he lays or however long he is pleased to continue it upon them.

The third one may be shocking, but let's look at them again in an even briefer context:

1. God knows all man's afflictions.
2. God causes all man's afflictions.
3. These afflictions are not wrong.

In other words, the afflictions which God ordains are for our good. Now, here is the fourth principle, which the friends hold with the other three, but which Job utterly denies. This fourth principle has two parts:

1. Whoever does good receives good reward to the measure of the good he has done, and whoever does evil is rewarded with evil equal to the evil he has done.  This is karma.
2. Whenever a wicked man seems to prosper, it is only momentary, and he will soon (in this life) be afflicted. Also, whenever a godly man faces adversity, it is only momentary, and he will suddenly (in this life) be blessed. Observation and experience reveal this not to be so.

This builds up the fourth principle: because Job is greatly and lengthy afflicted, therefore he is numbered with the wicked.

Job disagrees with this last principle, and Job's view is doctrinally sound.  It is this:

The providence of God dispenses outward prosperity and affliction so indifferently to good and bad, to the righteous and to the wicked, the no unerring judgment can possibly be made up of any man's spiritual estate by the face and upon the view of the temporal.

Afflictions happen to the godly and the wicked alike.  For the wicked, the afflictions are judgments. For the godly, they are disciplines that perfect the believer more into the likeness of Christ.

Original Sin

In this first Sunday of Lent, I want to look at what Original Sin is and how it differs from actual sin. To start, we have to look at Free Will, so let's start in Genesis:

1. God created man in his own image (1:26-27).
2. God created man very good (1:31).
3. God endued man with free will, the ability choose life or death (2:16-17).
4. Adam (man) chose death (3).
5. All of Adam's descendants are created in Adam's image (5:3).
6. This spiritual death is ingrained in the nature of all Adam's descendants (5:3).

So, there's this spiritual death, along with physical death, that is genetically passed down to all mankind. This death is also filled with selfish desire and sin: emnity against God and self-worship. Here is what Christ has to say about this original sin in the Gospel of Matthew:

1. Sins do not come from outside the body and then contaminate the spirit (15:11).
2. Sins come from the dead soul we are born with and come out of us (15:11).
3. In the heart is emnity against God. This is original sin from out of a dead soul (15:18).
4. From this emnity comes actual sins, such as evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders (15:19).

Paul gives us an overall view of the situation in Romans 5:

1. Through Adam, sin entered into the world (5:12).
2. This self-centeredness and rejection of God causes death (5:12).
3. All in the image of Adam (all humanity) are in this condition (5:14).
4. However, God has bestowed upon humanity a gift of grace in the from of Jesus Christ (5:15).
5. Jesus Christ is a second Adam, but instead of breeding emnity and death in the human soul, he removes the emnity and breathes life into the dead soul, making it alive (5:17).
6. So, Adam transfers spiritual death to his descendants, but Jesus Christ transfers spiritual life to all who put their faith in him.

All of this fits in with the whole gospel as expressed best in Ephesians 2:

1. Everyone, saved and unsaved, began dead in sins (2:1).
2. God is rich in mercy and makes us alive (2:5).
3. This grace from God is a free gift (2:8).

From all this we must know these important truths:

1. God is not the author of sin. He is not responsible for it, and therefore he is not responsible for the death that accompanies it.
2. God is responsible for the rescue of sinners from this state.

Keep these things in mind this lenten season.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Salt

In Matthew 5:13, Jesus tells his disciples that they are the salt of the earth, and that if they lose their salt then they are no longer good for anything. What does it mean to be salt? It means that one's interaction with others is to gospel-filled: one's language, ideas, words, all must be biblical. Two aspects of salt are most apparent:

1. Salt keeps meat from rotting, and so in being salt, we bring the gospel to others to preserve their lives and keep them from perishing.
2. Salt adds flavor, so the conversation is deeper, more nourishing, and gospel-filled.

Now, what are some aspects of being salt to others? A good place to look at gospel-filled speech and interaction is from the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians, chapter one. Here we learn:

1. Salt does not equal cleverness of speech, such cleverness nullifies the cross (1:17).
2. Salt is foolishness to those who are perishing (1:18).
3. Salt has power to those who are being saved (1:18).
4. Simplicity is wiser than academic cleverness (1:20).
5. God has arranged things so that the most clever and "smart" people, the academics, are farthest from knowing God (1:21)
6. The simplicity of "foolishness" of the gospel message--salt--has a saving effect on those who believe (1:21).
7. Christ crucified is a foolish message, a simple message, that makes no sense to the worldly (1:23).
8. This foolishness, in fact, is wiser than the most clever wisdom of the world, because it has power, whereas the wisdom of the world does not (1:25).
9. God actually used unlearned people to preach his message! Not the academics (1:26).
10. Even academics like Saul of Tarsus had to be humbled and unlearn all they they knew in order to be qualified to preach the gospel (1:27).
11. A salty man is a humble man (1:29).
12. Paul was humbled by God in order to proclaim the gospel (2:1).
13. Paul's message is reduced to two things: Jesus Christ and Him Crucified (2:2).
14. Paul came to the Corinthians weak and trembling (2:3).
15. This is key: because of the simple message, his words had no power to persuade in and of themselves, so the converting power of the message was completely on the side of the Holy Spirit (2:4).
16. This key aspect of salt puts all the power in God's hands and not in man's (2:5).

All this has to do with the preserving of men's souls from corruption, from death. This is the preserving aspect of salt. This is the salt that brings unbelievers into a state of believing.  It is entirely on the part of God the Holy Spirit that this occurs.  Our message is foolish, or simple, and has no power in itself to save. It is a lifeline cast out that may or may not be grasped. The Spirit of God is what turns the heart and draws the believer to the lifeline.

Now, the second aspect of salt, the depth and flavor of conversation--discipleship--is touched on by Paul directly after these verses in chapter two:

1. Among saved Christians, among maturing Christians, deeper things of God are conversed about (2:6).
2. This wisdom is deep, more complex, and "academic," but it is still not the wisdom of the world by any stretch of the imagination (2:6).
3. God's wisdom, his depth, is plumbed by searching the scriptures and unlocking the mysteries of God's doctrine for the continued sanctification of believers (2:7).
4. These mysteries are things the world cannot see. They are "white noise" to the unbelieving, but to the saved, they are rich revelations of truth (2:8).
5. These mysteries are revealed, again, through the Spirit, but now the Spirit dwells inside the hearts of believers (2:10).

Salt means the ability for a disciple to speak a simple, saving message to the world. It also means the ability to share deep and complex doctrines among fellow disciples. The thing both sides of saltiness has in common is that both revolve around Jesus Christ and Him Crucified. The cross of Christ saves the lost. The cross of Christ is also the mystery revealed in all the scriptures.

Now, being aware of this, examine texts like the Sermon on the Mount. Whenever Christ speaks complexly (like 5:13), this verse is meant for disciples, because it contains a mystery to be unlocked. When Christ speaks plainly (like 7:7), he is reaching the unbelievers on the outskirts of the crowd. The verse alone may not be complete for salvation, but it can be grasped easily and draw someone closer to faith. Once you see this distinction, you can find it everywhere in scripture.