Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Mystery Concealed and Revealed

For those of you who are unaware, I just finished moving out of my apartment in Avon and have just settled in Victor. I'm currently housemates with a couple of families as well as a couple of fellow singles. I must say, it's lovely so far. The commute now required to continue joining you fellow GraceLifers has certainly increased, but all in all, God certainly seems to be working in the midst of the changes.

I figured I'd bring out the old computer and jot down some thoughts because this new environment has certainly been a good breeding ground for theological discussion and the exchange of thoughts on the Christian faith.

My fellow housemate, Ryan Internicola has been a great source of encouragement thus far and has been a great conversation partner. Just this morning I stumbled across his most recent blog post, (click here to read) where he expressed similar feelings. Actually, it's because of that post that I figured I'd respond in kind and get my blog back on the road... though, in-keeping with my academic nature, I'll probably be far more long winded.

Last night was certainly a fascinating exchange of thoughts. We talked about the Trinity. We talked about the nature of the Holy Spirit's work. We talked about how God makes plans while having all past, present, and future knowledge. Good times.

What's funny, at least to those who have read my blog over recent months, is that our conversation basically danced around one of my favorite topics, which is (drumroll please...), election and predestination! Shocker...

However, even though we didn't quite touch on it last night, Ryan certainly got the ball rolling a bit with his post. Another funny thing, again, for those who know me, is that I didn't see a whole lot in his post that I disagreed with! Strange... it's pretty much my job as a theology nut to find things to disagree with.

That said, I'd like to compliment his post with a few nuggets of my own. My aim is mainly to nuance what's already been said, though I'll try to point out a few distinctions in our thinking that might keep the conversational ball rolling.

One thing that Ryan strives for is the preservation of mystery where God has remained silent. He, as an artist, seeks to allow paradoxes to exist without analyzing the beauty out of them. I share a similar impulse.

What I love about Ryan's post is his strong emphasis on the transcendent nature of God. Indeed, there is no lack in God and no power that he does not posses. Yet, at the same time Ryan seeks to preserve a belief in God's passion for relationship with us. Struggling to keep that balance has been a prime source of debate in Christianity for centuries.

Ryan, like most, seeks to preserve the truth that God is sovereign over the universe while maintaining the biblical truth that human beings make choices in the midst of God's rule. We are culpable for our sins, responsible for our choices, and are creative beings living in God's creation.

On this note, I'd like to push the question a bit deeper by bringing some other biblical truths into the mix.

While we are rightly compelled to maintain human responsibility as we express our theology, scripture, in my opinion, does so in a much more counterintuitive way. Take for example, the life of Joseph—a story that has brought encouragement to God's people for centuries. In this story, Joseph experiences some of the worst evils that any human being could be expected to endure. His brothers rob him of everything and send him into years of injustice.

However, most of us know how the story ends. All the evil that is brought against Joseph turns out to be God's means of saving his people. Joseph summarizes the story by saying to his brothers, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen. 50:20, ESV).

God did not merely “use” the evil that came upon Joseph, as though he did his best with circumstances out of his control. In the events that unfolded, humanity had evil intentions, for which they were responsible. Yet, in the same events, God had good and righteous intentions, for which he should be glorified. The very things that seemed to stunt God's plan and force him into a plan B were his very means of bringing about plan A.

The mystery we see is one in which humans are responsible and act according to their desires. Yet their choices are never made in contradiction to what God ordains. He will always be glorified to the fullest possible extent. The mystery is not whether human beings are responsible when God ordains all things, but how they are responsible. Both human responsibility and divine sovereignty are true, and what a mystery it is. Just because God ordains, does not mean we are to be passive. Just because we are responsible, it does not mean we create variables in God's plan. Go ahead... try to sort that out.

This brings us to the second truth I want to draw out. Human beings, as evidenced by Joseph's brothers, are sinners. While we are free in the sense that we can always follow our desires, our desires flow from a nature that is fallen. What I love about Ryan's words concerning the doctrine of God's foreknowledge is that he, whether intentionally or unintentionally, avoided a trap that so many Christians fall into. In Romans 8, Paul tells us, “For those whom he foreknew, he also predestined” (Rom. 8:29, ESV emphasis added).

As Ryan pointed out, “what was His criterion for each selection? Talent? Beauty? Goodness? Nah...” Contrary to what many Christians think, Paul does not say that God foreknew our qualities, or even our faith—as if faith was something God did not himself work in our hearts. Paul says God foreknew us—us helpless and wretched sinners.

When we talk about God knowing, we are not talking about him taking in knowledge, as if the God who brought reality into existence could do such a thing. We are talking about God's love for his people before time began. In Hebrew, to know often means to love—to choose in unmerited grace for the sake of relationship. In Paul's mind, foreknowledge almost seems synonymous with election, since only a few verses later he writes, “who shall bring any charge against God's elect?” (Rom. 8:33, ESV).

Paul and the other biblical authors did not express these truths in order to divide God's people in doctrinal debate, as important as debate can be, but to get them to glorify God for his gracious salvation. He did it so that we would know the profound and eternal love of God—yet in such a way that we would never know his love for us apart from the work of Christ. God's love for us will always redound to the glorification of him and the gospel of Christ's life, death, burial and resurrection. God's glory is always his and our chief end.

We're obviously dealing with some profound mysteries here. While I might not use Ryan's exact wording, “make truth, not sense,” I can see the target he's aiming for. While I don't want to imply that God is an illogical God, I must agree, the sense behind God's truth is often beyond our comprehension. Sometimes the sense comes through further study, yet much if it will not come until eternity. We must speak where God speaks, but we must be silent where he is silent.

So there you go... my long winded two cents. Hopefully they will provoke further discussion between me and Ryan both in private and in the blogosphere. But, more importantly, I hope you readers get into some conversations too.

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