God’s Sovereignty

Does God control all aspect of our lives?  Verses like the ones quoted below would indicate that he does.

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord  by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord  stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing:  Ezra 1:1 ESV

And they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy, for the Lord  had made them joyful and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, so that he aided them in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel. Ezra 6:22 ESV

However, we must base our theology on what the entire Bible has to say about the subject.  Recently, while reading 2 Chronicles, I came across the following verse.

And so in the matter of the envoys of the princes of Babylon, who had been sent to him to inquire about the sign that had been done in the land, God left him to himself, in order to test him and to know all that was in his heart.  2 Chronicles 32:31 ESV

Paul tells is in Philippians 2:12 to work out our “salvation with fear and trembling”.  How can we do anything about our salvation if we do not have free will?  Why would God command us to do something we cannot do?

Oswald Sanders quotes D. E. Hoste and Hudson Taylor as saying as they went further along in their walk with God, they found that God did not give them as much assistance in determining God’s will. God treats mature Christians as mature adults and leaves more and more to their own judgment [1]

The argument between God’s sovereignty and human free will is meaningless.  The Bible plainly teaches both are true.  There are times when God intervenes in human events to move people to accomplish his purposes.  However, there are also times where he leaves us to our own devices to develop us as persons and to teach us the lessons we need to learn.

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[1]   J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, Chicago:  Moody Press, 1967, pp. 112-113.

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Forgiveness

After Jesus taught us what we now call the Lord’s Prayer, the first comment he made was:

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:14-16 ESV)

The reason he did was because part of the Lord’s Prayer states:

“and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors”. (Matthew 6:12 ESV)

The words Jesus uses are interesting.  He assumes that we have and will forgive those who are in our debt.  But what does it mean to forgive others?  Andrée Seu Peterson explains in very concrete terms:  “Give your brother a clean slate every day” because we do not know how God is working with that individual.  If someone wrongs us we are to forget that transgressions; remove it as far as the east is from the west. (Psalm 103:12)  Christianity is to be positive and hopeful–“Love. . .believes all things, hopes all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7 ESV).  [1]

Do we really forgive others their trespasses against us?  Jesus’ statement in verses 14-16 is a warning that if we do not then God will not forgive us our trespasses.  If our sins will not be forgiven, then how can we live in the presence of God?  Our Christian doctrine tells us that sin separates us from God.  The whole purpose of Jesus death and resurrection for our sins was to obtain forgiveness of our sins without which, our doctrine tells us, we would be separated from God for eternity.

This passage makes it very clear that God expects more of us than just our belief in Jesus and his death for our sins.  God expects that we take action and in this passage God tells us one action he expects us to take is to forgive others their trespass against us.

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[1]   Andrée Seu Peterson, “Forgive those debtors”, World Magazine, October 15, 2016, p. 63.

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What We Recall

Over the holidays I chanced upon a book about a crew member of the USS Arizona who survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  This book was about his experience during the war and included information on his formative years.  He went to church when he was growing up and of that experience he states:  “What I recall from my place on a hard wood pew in that little Methodist church was not so much what I heard from the pulpit as what I saw in the people”. [1]

Mr. Stratton did not write a book on religion or our Christian beliefs but he stated what we all acknowledge–that what we do speaks so loud that others cannot hear what we say.  And yet we think our Christian faith is just a matter of belief and our actions are not involved.  How can we maintain such a belief?

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[1]   Donald Stratton with Ken Gire.  All the Gallant Men.  New York:  William Morrow, 2016, p. 21.

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Critical Thinking

I met Al Arnold at a Civil War reenactment where he was selling his book.  His book is about his grandfather who was a slave and who worked for Robert E. Lee as an orderly during the war.  This led Arnold to research the topic of blacks who fought on the side of the Confederacy.  I was intrigued by the subject matter—why would slaves fight for the system that enslaved them?  So I bought Arnold’s book.  And I am glad I did because his book is about much more than the topic that first interested me.

In his Preface, Arnold brings up a topic which should be common knowledge to us all.  He mentions that to think critically of ideas is a goal that we all should attempt to attain but to think critically of others is not. [1]  What struck me is the simple question of:  Why?  What is different between ideas and people where to be critical of one is admirable and to be critical of the other is not?

To think critically of ideas is laudable because our ideas and beliefs can be in error.  We need to be critical of them to correct any mistakes in our beliefs.  In fact that is the way we discover most of the mistakes in our belief system.

So why is it considered to be wrong to think critically of others, even when they are in error?  Evidently there is something special about humans—we are made in God’s image.  It is obvious that our ideas and beliefs are not.

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[1]  Al Arnold, Robert E. Lee’s Orderly, A Black Youth’s Southern Inheritance, Murrieta, CA:   Inknbeans Press, 2017, p. xiv.

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The Purpose of Scars and Dents

In a recent aviation oriented magazine, the owner of an airplane who leased out her airplane to a local flight school lamented the fact that whenever she flew the airplane she would notice new damage that was caused by student pilots.  Trying to keep the airplane is good condition was a challenge and she wondered if she should stop leasing the aircraft to the flight school.

The author of this article also recalled when her 2 year old son used a hammer he had received as a Christmas gift to “work” on the wooden floor of their house.  The floor was stained and where her son had “worked” on the floor the lighter color of the actual wood shown through.

The lesson the author learned from these experiences was that ”home is a place to grow and make mistakes and scratch up the floor as we actively live our lives”.  She also came to realize that “Airplanes were never meant to spend their time in a hangar, being kept in pristine condition.  They were made to be flown.”   “It’s not really about the airplane.  It’s about the pilot, whose character is shaped each time he tries again after not getting it right the first time.  Those scratches on the airplane help remind us what’s important:  learning to value our scars.” [1]

Is it not the same in our personal lives?  We are finite, sinful creatures and God’s purpose is to make of us a new creation.  As C. S. Lewis states:  “What [God] cares about is that we should be creatures of a certain kind or quality—the kind of creatures He intended us to be—creatures related to Himself in a certain way.” [2]  As we said in the last blog, the events of our lives are not that important.  What is important is the way we respond to those events; if we learn from those events.  And the way we respond to those events will determine the type of person we become, whether the kind of creature God want us to be or the kind of creature that is opposed to all God stands for and is.

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[1]   Natalie Bingham Hoover, “Scars and dents”, AOPA Pilot, November 2017, p. 24.

[2]   C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.  New York:  The Macmillan Company, 1952, p. 113.

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The Fleeting Moments of Our Lives

Depending upon which translation you read, the Preacher tells us that all of life is vanity, is meaningless, or is like a vapor (Ecclesiastes 1:2).  If we spend time evaluating his claim, we would need to acknowledge that he is correct.  There are very good reasons why the Preacher came to this conclusion.

  • What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9 ESV)
  • “What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?” And I said in my heart that this also is vanity. For of the wise as of the fool there is  no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten.  How the wise dies just like the fool!  (Ecclesiastes 2:15-17 ESV)
  • I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 2:18-19 ESV)
  • It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, (Ecclesiastes 9:2 ESV)

The events of our lives, taken by themselves, are meaningless.  Do we really think that 200 years from now any of us will be remembered?  Do we really think that 200 years from now the events of our lives will have an impact on that generation?

What makes our lives meaningful is the type of person we become.  What makes our lives meaningful is if we utilize our life experiences, whatever they are, to become more like God.  The events of our lives are fleeting moments in eternity but what will live forever is our soul.  And we determine what our soul will be like by the decisions we make during these fleeting moments of our lives.

The end of the matter; all has been heard.   Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.  (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 ESV)

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Rules or Relationship

People have many different opinions on what constitutes Christianity and Janie B. Cheaney points out a couple of these differing opinions in a recent article.  Some believe Christianity is discovering the right rules God has setup for us and then following those rules  Others believe it is a personal relationship with Jesus. [1]

There are problems with both opinions.  Jesus preached against just following the rules the Pharisees and Sadducees had setup.  Jesus told a parable of a Pharisee and a tax collector who went to the temple to pray.  The Pharisee’s prayer was about how he followed all the rules of his religion:  “God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get” In contrast the tax collector just humbly admitted his failures (Luke 18:9-14).  The Pharisee followed all the right rules but Jesus said that only the tax collector was justified before God.

If we view Christianity solely as a relationship with Jesus then of what does that relationship consist?   Jesus’ disciples had a relationship with him but very few were at his crucifixion.  The vast majority of his disciples deserted him in his moment of greatest need.  What kind of a relationship is that?  Can we have a relationship with Jesus and yet do what we want, ignoring what he desires?

I believe salvation requires both following the rules Jesus has given us and a relationship with Jesus.  As Jesus states, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.”  So why does not our doctrine of salvation include both?

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[1]   Janie B. Cheaney, “Lord and friend”, World Magazine, September 2, 2007, p. 14.

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The Great Lisbon Apocalypse of 1755

On All Saint’s Day, November 1, 1755, Lisbon, Portugal was hit with an earthquake, tsunami, and then fire that destroyed a great part of the city.  Communication was slow in those days but when the other nations of the world heard about this tragedy, most promised to send aid.  In reality, very few nations actually sent aid. [1]  So who actually helped the people of Lisbon?  Was it the nations that promised to send aid but did not or the nations that promised to send aid and did?

Jesus’ parable of the two sons in Matthew 21:28-32 asks a similar question.  A man asked his two sons to work in his vineyard.  One said he would not but later did.  The other said he would but did not.  Jesus asked:  Which son did what his father wanted?

The same question applies to our salvation.  If we tell God we believe in Jesus and his death for our sins but then live a life that is contrary to his commands, do we actually believe in him?  Justin Martyr, one of the early Church fathers, answers this question very plainly.

“And let those who are not found living as He taught be understood to be no Christians, even though they profess with the lip the precepts of Christ; for not those who make profession, but those who do the works, shall be saved, according to His word:  ‘Not everyone who saith to Me, Lord, Lord shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven’”. [2]

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[1]   Mark Molesky, This Gulf of Fire, New York:  Vintage Books, 2015, p. 260.

[2]   Justin Martyr, “The First Apology of Justin Martyr”, Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Peabody, MA:  Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1994, p. 168.

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Open to Criticism

In the last blog we quoted Michael Ward who asserts that true religion should be “. . .both self-critical and open to criticism from without, open to revision in the light of new knowledge and in response to new situations.” [1]  What situations should cause us to be self-critical and open to criticism about our religious beliefs?  One reason would be if there are contradictions within our belief system.  It would make sense to at least try to determine why these contradictions exist.

In this blog, we have identified three contradictions within the Christian doctrine of salvation.

  1. Our doctrine of salvation contains, in the worlds of the Christian philosopher David Elton Trueblood, “a contradiction at the heart of the system” [2] because a majority of people who have ever lived will be sent to hell for eternity even though they have never heard of Jesus. [3]  Yet God claims to be a God of love and justice.
  2. If we consider the fact that we are finite, we realize that being finite means we cannot obtain certain proof that Jesus died and rose again from the dead and yet God demands that we believe in these events if we want to go to heaven. And yet God claims to be a God of love and justice.
  3. We encounter passages in the Bible that teach salvation is through belief in God, our conduct, pattern of behavior, motivation, use of abilities, and repentance.  The Bible does not solely teach salvation is through belief in Jesus.  If we really believe that every word in the Bible is inspired by God, there must have been a reason he made these statements.

So why are not Christians addressing these questions; why do they continue to ignore them when they are raised?

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[1]   Michael Ward, “A Time to Scatter Stones and a Time to Gather Stones Together”, Imprimis, July/August, 2017, Volume 46, Number 7/8, p. 3.

[2]   David Elton Trueblood, Philosophy of Religion, New York:  Harper & Row, 1957, pp. 221-222.

[3]   John Sanders, What About Those Who Have Never Heard?, Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 1995, p. 9.

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True Religion

Michael Ward is a professor of Apologetics at Houston Baptist University and a Fellow of Blackfriars Hall at the University of Oxford.  He asks a question that not too many Christians ask these days.

Is it possible to be too religious?  To be so interested in unity and oneness that you never look for change?  Can’t the religious impulse devolve into a kind of frigidity or frozenness, a paralysis in which the way we’ve always done things must be the way we always do things, forever and ever, amen?

True religion should always be corrigible:  both self-critical and open to criticism from without, open to revision in the light of new knowledge and in response to new situations.  Not cramping in on itself, or incessantly ratcheting up the interior tension, but periodically relaxing, taking stock, surveying new horizons. [1]

In raising the questions about Christianity in this blog, what has been most surprising to me is that most Christians simply do not ask these questions.  When I confront Christians with these questions I have yet to find one individual who has challenged the conclusions we have reached on the basis of logic, reason, and what the Bible says.  Instead the response has been to just continue to ignore these questions.  Is that the type of religion to which Dr. Ward says we should aspire.  If that the type of religion we want to basis our life upon?

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[1]   Michael Ward, “A Time to Scatter Stones and a Time to Gather Stones Together”, Imprimis, July/August, Volume 46, Number 7/8, p. 3.

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