Monday, January 15, 2007

Believing The Best About God

A discussion I had with some friends last night, including Steve at Theological Musings, and Christy at Until My Last Breath led to this post. Steve or Christy, please feel free to chime in with any additional thoughts or clarifications that you would like to add to this post. And of course, I would like to hear everyone else's input as well:)

Do we love God?

Love is...

"always eager to believe the best" 1 Corthinans 13:7 (Moffatt)

Are we eager to believe the best about God?

It seems to me that this is usually not the case. When natural disasters happen, when evil seems to prevail, when children suffer, most believers tend to think that it's all part of God's sovereign will. When pressed further on how one can reconcile the idea of an all-loving God with suffering and evil, most Christians fall back on the idea that "God is in control", and therefore this all must just be a part of His will for us. But is this true?

Most believers seem to derive their understanding of the character of God more from Job than from the One who's purpose it was to reveal the Father to us; namely Jesus. While Job declares "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away" (Job 1:21), Jesus says that it is "The thief" who "comes only to steal and kill and destroy;" but that "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." (John 10:10)

Jesus seems to paint a very different picture of God for us than we have come to know. Many Christians see God in the same light as do eastern religions; as a yin-yang of sorts--both blessing and cursing those whom He loves (even if it is as some say "for our good"). It is as if we have embraced a Christian form of Karma, which limits God to acting like us--operating only by the laws of tit-for-tat and reciprocity. What of grace? What of mercy?

While, admittedly the Old Testament gives us examples of the judgement of God being poured out on sinful people, and of hard-to-understand passages such as the story of Job, Jesus reveals to us a loving Father who "did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him."

So what do we do with these seemingly contradictory depictions of God? Well, in my mind, no matter what we believe we understand about God from the Old Testament, Jesus' ministry, life, death, resurrection, and ascension is the "trump card" for our previous understandings (or misunderstandings) of God. The writer to the Hebrews says as much:

"In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways,  but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son... The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being" Hebrews 1:1-3 (NIV)

Jesus, Himself, said the same:

"Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father." John 14:9 (NIV)

To me this means that any biblical passage that seems to contradict what we see in the ministry of Jesus is either being misinterpreted, misunderstood, or possibly has been completely... replaced.

At this point, many people want to run to the idea of God's immutability, or the idea that "God never changes". But just listen to how Jesus deals with the very words of God:

"you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' But I tell you, Do not swear at all" Matthew 5:33-34 (NIV)

"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also" Matthew 5:38-39 (NIV)

Who said the original statements? God! Yet, Jesus totally replaces something that God had previously said with a "new and improved"--if not totally contradictory--teaching! Wow! In other words, something radically changed when Jesus stepped on to the earth.

During the Christmas season one of the things I was thinking about was the annoucement of the Savior's birth to the shepherds. I love this part of the Gospel story:

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" Luke 2:14 (NKJV)

I love that! "Goodwill toward men!" With the coming of Jesus, God was expressing his goodwill toward all of humanity! No matter what we see under the Old Covenant, God is forever making a statement that His intentions are only good for all mankind!

So what of passages that tell of God's wrath and judgement? They must be interpreted using a new hermeneutic...Jesus!

Instead of running to ambiguous passages to try and discern God's character and will for us, now we simply need to look to Jesus. When faced with circumstances that seem to tell us anything but that God's intentions toward us are good, we must once again focus on the perfect representation of the Father...Jesus!

So when we are confronted with the decision to either believe that God is somehow causing us harm (even if it is said to be "for our good") or that God is only ever going to be merciful and good to us, what will we believe? Will we look to the ministry of Jesus, or will we look to ambiguous passages that we feel help us "make sense" of our current circumstances? Will we believe that God is the source of our problems--somehow both our persecutor and deliverer--or will we "believe the best" of Him? Will we choose to love God as He has "first loved us" and therefore, believe the best of Him too? What do you think?


Steve Sensenig said...

Bravo, Raborn! I couldn't have said it better myself. :)

christy said...

This is a very well written post. It is so refreshing to see someone writing about this topic (in this manner). It is very hard for me to understand why the tendency is to go to the LCD in these situations. Why is it that when speaking negatively about a current situation, you are told "oh, I am so glad you are being real" and if you speak positively, you are looked at as being arrogant and are told "just wait, if things are going good for you, it won't last long". How is that hopeful? And how is that indicative of the life of Jesus?
Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Alan Knox said...


You might enjoy this blog post: "Do you believe that evil serves the greater good?"


Raborn Johnson said...

Thanks! Funny the timing of our posts, huh?;)

Thanks for stopping by! I am all for "being real", but how can our reality run cross-grain to what Jesus revealed to us about the Father? This is not a "reality" that I want any part of! By the way, what is LCD?

Thanks for the link! Great post relating to this subject. I really liked the plain-logic approach to understanding the character of God. It's sad to me how we are quick to attribute harmful and even evil occurences to God, and yet call it "luck" when something good comes our way! Thanks again!

Gary Harris said...


Thanks for leaving a comment on my blog. I read your post as well, and I really enjoyed it. I think that the way people talk about God sometimes borders on making Him the author of evil. That's pretty scary stuff.

On a side note, both my wife and I were born and raised in Lenoir. Our entire families (which are collectively monstrous) live there. It's cool to meet a neighbor.


christy said...

Sorry, Raborn...I was being lazy! I didn't want to type the phrase "least common denominator" in my comment. I thought it would take too much time:)
So...hence the abbreviation! By the way, do you like my quotes (")?

Raborn Johnson said...

Thanks for coming on over!

I think that the way people talk about God sometimes borders on making Him the author of evil.

For all intents and purposes, I think that many people see God as such. How can we ever truly trust a God Who at times seems to be for us and at other times seems to be against us? If God caused the storm on the Sea of Galilee, why did Jesus calm it? Would this not mean that Jesus was undermining the Father's will? If we believe that God gives us disease to teach us something or to correct us, why then do we go to the doctor and thus try to be delivered from "the will of God"? Shouldn't we just pray for more, if indeed it is the will of God?

Good to hear from a neighbor;)

Raborn Johnson said...


Love the quotes!:)

Tony said...


I appreciate how you have pointed out that we often fall back on "greater good" type arguments to justify a bad situation or circumstance.

Yes, God can redeem any and all situations for good according to His purposes. But I am more inclined to believe the best about God even in the most grim of situations.

I was once in a discussion with a Calvinist about the nature of evil. Her response was essentially that God can use all things for good, even sin. He directs sin for His purposes. (???)

My response was, and admittedly, I was in a mood, "So, God directed those planes into the Trade Towers to prove some global point about sin?"

Gratuitous evil is where the rub comes in and most theodicies fall woefully short. However, it is in situations like 9/11 and Katrina that I am even more inclined to believe the best about Him, because it is then when Christians have an opportunity to be Christ.

Wonderfully written post.

Raborn Johnson said...

Thanks. I think that the idea of the sovereignty of God is very misunderstood. Many people jump to the "logical" conclusion that since God is sovereign, He must not only ultimately be in control of everything, but He also must ordain everything. This idea can keep people from every completely trusting God with their lives. It's hard to trust a Father who would give His kids cancer or send devastating natural disasters which end up stealing the lives of thousands of people while making life difficult for many more. Where I come from, we would call this behavior child abuse. Hmmmmm.

ded said...

hmmmm...., I've been pondering this post. God does discipline him whom He loves and discipline in the moment is not pleasant. Discipline is not evil and I would never attribute evil to God, though technically, as He is omniscient, He knew what Lucifer would do, so He really did create, at least, the potential for evil. And it was man's disobedience that unleashed evil on the earth.

Discipline would have to be counted as love as it brings about maturity. A more mature believer knows a fuller walk with God and what a blessing that is. Nonetheless, does God's discipline mean being..."uncomfortable" if not in pain?

Is God's discipline just the conviction of the Holy Spirit?

If we make a bad choice and the consequence is painful, not evil mind you, but painful, isn't receiving the logical consequence of one's behavior part of an economy established by God?

Paul says that punishment is reserved for those who know right and do wrong deliberately.

Ananias and Saphira lied and dropped dead. Not evil, but consequential in fairly monumental terms.

I completely agree with you, that many believers will experience an illness and attribute it to God as part of their cross to bear or some other such rationalization.
I also agree that we should not build an understanding of God by mixing the OT and the NT. I fully believe that under Jesus, the new covenant completely supplants the old. Yet it is NT that I have used here several times.

So... I can't help but believe that somehow, beyond our ability to understand perhaps, there is a severe side of God (behold His goodness and severity) that is experienced by the believer, yet it is all part of His goodness, a function of His love.

Once we respond to His discipline and turn in repentance to Him, oh the wonder of His mercy and grace!!

Steve Sensenig said...

If the difficulty or pain is solely a result of discipline (or is discipline itself), then I have no argument with what David has written above.

I think the problem is that when evil or disaster is attributed to God, it is rarely, if ever, in the context of "What might I have done in disobedience to require this discipline?"

All too often, the statement ends up being, "God has brought this into my life to teach me something, or to test my faith, or to help me grow. I always grow the most when things are going badly." And that, in my very humble opinion, distorts the character of God and shifts personal responsibility off of the person enduring the suffering.

Raborn Johnson said...

An interesting note: The word translated in Hebrews 12 as "discipline" is the Greek word
paideia, which according to Strong's means "tutorage, i.e. education or training".

In other words, this word can simply mean to "train or to instruct". I completely believe that the Father has given us His Spirit to train and instruct us. No, this training and instruction is not always pleasant and sometimes even painful, but in what way? Does "painful" necessitate the use of physical pain? I would have to say no.

Rather, I would say repenting (changing our minds) of false ideas and of incorrect ways of doing things can many times be a painful experience in and of itself. However, because we can trust our Father, we can understand that what He wants for us is in our best interest, and therefore this trust leads us to let go of harmful ways and embrace the quality of life that only He can give us. This, it seems to me, is the goal of "discipline".

In the Gospels, we never see Jesus telling someone that God is disciplining them or punishing them by afflicting them with sickness or plague. If anything, Jesus does the exact opposite by expressing the fundamental nature of the Kingdom of God by "healing every sickness and every disease among the people"; a non-verbal statement about God's desire for His children. In one situation, when asked by His disciples whose sin led to one man's physical ailment, He tells them that this kind of thinking is not only incorrect, but seems to show them that it is too introspective.

The Strong's definition also goes on to say "by implication, disciplinary correction". Notice that, according to Strong's, this is "by implication" and not necessarily a fundamental concept behind this word. What do you guys think?

ded said...

Not trying to be contrary but I have to disagree. Will God use physical pain to discipline, that is instruct or educate his child?

I have to think, "Yes."

I do not think God punishes us with pain in any vindictive or "take that" form.

So how could He use physical pain? It doesn't seem His character to do so.

Back up just a bit, if God allows something is He responsible for it?

God allows pain because we all experience it. Two weeks ago, I lay on my back with a light rain falling in my face and my ankle in searing pain. Coincidence, discipline, just something that happens to humans and God is not part of it?

One of the hardest testimonials I have ever heard, is from a Christian family whose daughter was raped. She had not put herself in harm's way. The intruder entered the young woman's apartment. He was a stranger who happened to pick her out. Did God fail to protect her, choose not to protect her, or not have power over the circumstance?
This situation was far more than physically painful and these folks had to find a place that was an expression of faith in order to survive. They did.

Now that is not about the topic directly, but it has bearing on the topic. What do we say about pain in the life of a believer?

Does God initiate physical pain as part of discipline, instruction? In the reference you made to Strong's "tutorage, i.e. education or training", Strong's also directly links that to "as in training up a child." (the edition I have anyway)

God is a father. Does a father use a brief bit of pain in order to prevent great harm to the child, when the child will not respond to vocal command? I did. Some two year-olds just won't listen to reason about the dangers in a wall socket.

In the news this morning, a man who was drinking went running down a hotel hallway. As he neared the end of the hallway, he lost his balance and plunged through the double-pane glass, over the bar designed for safety and down 16 floors to a side-walk overhang. The last of the seventeenth floor drop was a concrete sidewalk that would have surely killed him. As it turns out, he is injured--no doubt in pain--with multiple broken bones and internal injuries. But he will live.

Suppose this man once professed Christ and has since learned to ignore his conscience and the gentle leading of the Lord. God did not throw him out the window, he did that. God did not protect him from the fall. God allowed him to survive out of mercy. The pain he is now in, along with the wonder of being alive draws him back to God.

Is God responsible for His pain because He allowed the fall to occur? Is God using pain to discipline His child? I cannot say for a fact what is going through the mind of God. Also, the part that maybe this man once professed Christ is complete conjecture on my part.

I completely agree with you that it is non-sensical to see sickness as punishment when Jesus was all about healing.

However, I cannot say that God will never use physical pain to discipline His child. I am completely confident that there are NO NEGATIVE CIRCUMSTANCES in our lives in God. Such is the goodness of my Father. That's why I thanked Him for my ridiculously painful sprained ankle! Some of my circumstances in Him are painful, even physically so. Is this all part of my education in Him?

Raborn Johnson said...

Thanks for your thoughts on this topic. I believe that in some ways, we are actually on the same page. I do believe that God can use painful circumstances that come in our lives to discipline us--if in the idea of discipline we are talking about instructing us in the way in which we should go. But,

"Does God initiate physical pain as part of discipline, instruction?"

I would have to completely say "no". I do not remember one place in the entire New Testament where God initiated physical pain in the life of a believer in order to "teach them a lesson". I realize that the disciples, etc. did go through physical pain, but not one time do I remember reading that God was the author of that pain. How could God simultaneously cause our pain only to deliver us from the same? Did God cause the storm that Jesus calmed? If so, isn't His Kingdom divided against itself, and therefore, liable to fall into ruin? I believe that this is far more representative of something such as "yin-yang" than of the God we see revealed in Jesus.

I understand your illustration of a father using temporal pain (a spanking) to deter his child from long-term consequences (sticking a finger in an electrical outlet). However, I believe that another illustration could be more apt when talking about God's instruction.

Erica and I were talking last night about this topic. She reminded me of a time earlier this summer, when we were doing some yard-work. It had started to rain, so we were cleaning up. I had gone to clean out the wheelbarrow or something, and she was putting the tools back up. She said that she was trying to carry all of the tools in one trip and had both of her arms full, when she heard the still small voice say "don't carry all of these at one time". Instead of heeding the voice, she thought to herself "I'll be especially careful that I don't drop them". This time she heard "You should make two trips, this shovel is going to drop on your toe". But, once again she just kept going. Right as she got to the shed, sure enough she lost control of the shovel and it landed right on her toe. She still has a partially black toenail to show for not listening some 7-8 months ago.

Now, did God cause my wife to lose control of the shovel? I do not believe so. Rather, it seems to me that He tried to deliver her from the pain that He knew this would cause. But, she made a choice not to listen, which resulted in consequences brought upon her as a result of her own free choice. Did God turn this painful situation into a learning experience? Absolutely. I believe that Erica learned a lesson about listening to the still small voice.

I believe that God can use painful experiences that happen in our lives, but I believe that it is an assault on His character to say that He causes these circumstances to happen.

I am not saying that you believe this ded, but if we say that God brought about circumstances that led to something like the rape of the girl that you mentioned, how could anyone be expected to love, much less trust, a God who uses such evil, sadistic behavior to teach anyone anything...much less His own children.

It is interesting to me to note that no one seems to be able to completely put their finger on just what they were supposed to learn through a tragedy, such as a rape or murder, but still insist that God brought it about for "their good". Nothing of this seems to be reconcilable with the picture of God that we have in Jesus.

ded said...

We are on the same page in so many ways. I have not expressed myself clearly. Suffer me one more try.

There is the microcosm reality of our individual lives, from which we experience the Father and come to understand Him primarily. However, there is the macrocosm experience of God which is the story the Father is authoring and directing. The macrocosm is beyond but inclusive of the sweep of time on earth and all human interaction with God.

There is not really a battle going on between good and evil. That is a presumption on the part of humanity and is largely the explanation of human experience in belief systems which do not acknowledge our Father.

There is the holy kingdom of God and the rebellion against Him. To reduce that dynamic to a battle between good and evil reduces the significance of God and elevates the leader of the rebellion in power and prestige. Why shouldn't folks choose to worship Satan if he is, in fact, a power on the scale of God? If he is the underdog, but still a player in the same league, maybe all the better. The colonist patriots of the 1770's were the underdog and that story has "good" written all over those rebels hearts.

No, the real story is something entirely different. There is a holy God who wants to create something. He wants His creation to enter into fellowship with Himself.

Ahhhh...that requires something very unique. The creation must have a free will in the matter of choosing the fellowship. The Father creates Lucifer knowing the potential of his heart to become a usurper and seek to woo God's creation away from Him. God creates the potential for what we label from the microcosm level EVIL. Isaiah 45:7, God says:
"I create light and darkness. I create evil." Evil there can also be translated calamity.

We cannot write off everything in the OT with, "That was then, this is now." It adds insight for us into the macrocosm.

There is only one sovereign power in the universe. It is our God. He is the macrocosm. He created the reality where we experience calamity and pain. It is part of our microcosm and our collective microcosms.

As such, I conclude God uses pain; and I would go so far as to say, He is able, whether He chooses to or not, to use pain in the life of the believer.

I know that appears to run counter to the idea of His great love. A love so great that we cannot fully grasp it. But I do not believe it does.

To say God will not use pain in the life of the believer, puts a box around God in an attempt to explain His behavior. I think, MO of course, that box is a microsom explanation of God which enables us to categorize pain away from God, which enables us to trust Him.

The alternative, that pain is from God is all too inexplicable for us.

The rest of the story beyond the OT is the NT. Jesus submits to pain at the hands of the usurper.
This spilt blood offered in love satisfies God's judgment against all those who are in rebellion against Him. I don't think we truly undertand the need for a blood sacrifice. However, we accept it and it is core to our understanding of the place of the believer now. Only through this blood sacrifice may man approach God fully once again. God used pain on the cross. Did Jesus have a weak moment in Gethsemane? "If it be Your will, may this cup pass from me?" Jesus knew His love for us was about to be painful, emotionally and physically. God used pain, even as He endured it.

So what of our physical and emotional pain in the here and now under this wonderful covenant of redemption?

Again, I would never say that God inflicts pain as punishment or with any invective. But use it, yes.

Three more thoughts:

1. Simple pain. God did not inflict the shovel on Erica's toe. (Did she cuss? I would guess not, but many a "Christian" being "real" might.) The fact that our bodies know pain is evidence of God at work to protect us! Small pains help us learn how to avoid large pains, which are a part of life-threatening danger. He is in that instruction and He set up that economy.

2. Hard, unspeakable, horrific pain. Consider the young "Christian" woman who was raped. What is she to make of that? Please hear I am not calling God the agent of that event, but...
If God did not protect her, how can He be trusted? Yet it happened. So scratch that possibility. The pain of that cannot be attributed to His lack of action for then He becomes an indifferent God. Did He not know it happened? Scratch that possibility. Okay, so He knew it, and He was not indifferent to it. Why did He not act to stop it?

At the macrocosm level, He wept that the economy He had to establish of choices we face as people must include the opportunity to enter into rebellion against Him; must include the unleashing of the depths of selfishness in our microcosms. This woman, who is innocent, had to suffer horribly; yet though the temptation to turn against God was mostlikely whispered in her ear, she also heard the voice to offer up forgiveness and be like God.

Yes, I am rationalizing. Much of our lives is just that. But if you try to create a theology where the believer is protected from pain
(and God created pain), it fails because we are not so protected. The rain of earth falls on the just and the unjust. A theology which takes God out of pain and puts it all in the hands of the devil, reduces the macrocosm to a battle between good and evil. The story is greater than that to me.

If the woman of this sory does not have the greatest good imaginable, that her microcosm broke God's heart, but that her life was used by Him to bring her into the greatest and deepest experience of Him personally. And this event allows her to bring the depth of God's heart into the middle of the rebellion against Him, forgiveness for the perpetrator, then her experience is very cruel indeed.

3. Do immature Christians try to make their self-inflicted pain or small events like Erica's into some rationalized holiness which makes no sense? Yes. Unfortunately. What does God do with immaturity but correct it. Lovingly, of course. What if "Christian" rationalizing of this nature actually embraces elements of the rebellion? How should He respond there? He is sovereign. I won't try to create a box for Him.

Should you believe like me? No. This is how I put it together in my microcosm.

Raborn Johnson said...

While God has been sovereign from eternity, does not His choice to give man a free will in some way put limits upon that sovereignty? If not, then what more is this life but a mere chess game in which we are all nothing more than pawns? What then leads us to believe that we can indeed choose whether or not we participate in fellowship with God? Would this not then lead to the idea that God predestines some to hell while He preordains some to heaven?

I do not mean to create a false dichotomy, but when it comes to the idea of God authoring sickness, disease, car accidents, etc. in the life of a believer, I would rather err by questioning His power to stop these things (because of man's God-ordained freedom) than to err in judging His character.

To say God will not use pain in the life of the believer, puts a box around God in an attempt to explain His behavior. I think, MO of course, that box is a microsom explanation of God which enables us to categorize pain away from God, which enables us to trust Him.

I can see that. However, I think that seeing God as responsible for pain and suffering in our lives is a coping device many believers use to:
1. relinquish themselves of personal responsibility,
2. to try to somehow give their pain deeper meaning.

As to the first idea, I think that some people would rather "credit" God with the consequences of their mistakes than to take responsibility for circumstances reaped from the same. For some, it's easier to believe that it was "God's will" that their loved one died of emphysema than to believe that their smoking led to the disease.

As for the second idea, I think that when something inexplicably tragic or painful happens, many people see God as the source of their tragedy because it gives the pain in their lives a "deeper" meaning. It is hard for us to cope with senseless crimes like rape, murder, etc. It is hard and painful to believe that these events could happen without purpose or meaning. In these cases, it sometimes becomes a coping device to believe that God somehow had something to do with the tragedy. Don't get me wrong, I believe that God can bring purpose and good out of the tragedy, but to say that He sent it for a purpose is, in my opinion, a defamation of His character.

I see these ideas as putting "a box around God in an attempt to explain His behavior". These boxes help us to either explain away our personal responsibility, or give a deeper meaning to a tragic event. I believe that these are "microcosm" explanations of God's dealings with man.

I believe that it is potentially necessary for God to impose certain limits upon His power in order to completely give us the excercise of free will. Is not the story of the incarnation an example of God imposing limits upon His power in order to bring us redemption(Phil. 2:5-11)?

Once again, while I have not reconciled the seeming paradox, I would rather question God's ability to override man's choice to hurt others and cause pain, than to question His willingness to do so.

ded said...

God's character is not in question.

I completely agree with your points about coping. (My #3 thought in the last post about pain was making a stab at it.)

I agree with you about God's sovereignty. However, I could make a point there that that leads to deism. He set the whole thing in motion and stepped back to watch. From knowing other things you have said, I know we would both agree God does both limit His sovereignty and intervene in the lives of humans. When He chooses to do which and why is above my ability to comprehend and reduce to words of understanding.

I believe pain is part of what He intended from creation, but that hardly leads to predestination of some to hell. (I wonder if Adam and Eve's bodies could experience pain before the fall?)

I don't see the connection there you suggest at all.
But even if the connection can be made, I don't go there.

Thanks for the conversation, Rayborn. You are a blessing. I have not done some needed work to post so much here, and that will cause me some pain!!

Steve Sensenig said...

David, I have really enjoyed your comments here, even if I'm not completely sure I fully understand the implications of them or how much we are (or aren't) in agreement on them! ;) I think that we (along with Raborn) are mostly in agreement, but you bring out some subtleties that I, quite honestly, don't know how to answer at this point.

I must reiterate again, however, that you would be a great addition to the blogosphere as a blogger, not just as a commenter. I'll be happy to set it all up for you and be your technical assistant so that you can just focus on the content of your blogging, but you really DO need to get your own blog. Your writing is too good to always be "buried" in the comments sections of blogs like mine and Raborn's! :)

ded said...

I've been buried on Phil Wyman's, too.
It's not so bad, Steve.

Your encouragement is kind. What about all my sentence fragments? I get carried away sometimes and can't even get the whole sentence there. At squarenomore (phil's)
I used "their" for "there"!

Well...maybe someday I'll get a blog. Now I must focus (harder challenge than it sounds) on National Boards.

I think I'd rather paint than write anyway. ;^)

Raborn Johnson said...


While I believe that taken too far, a view which limits God's sovereignty could lead to Deism, this extreme view is not at all my stance. Deism would suggest that God put the whole thing into motion, left, and just sits back to watch the show--probably indifferent and definitely never interfering with what happens on earth.

My view, on the other hand, is that God is completely sovereign, yet has decided to put limits upon His sovereignty in order to give mankind the gift of free choice. This does not mean that God never intervenes in the affairs of man, and definitely does not mean that He is indifferent to us. How this works I'm not exactly sure, but maybe this will help:

An example (if a bad one) would be that of a landowner (maybe not so bad, Jesus used this idea). Let's say a landowner decides to lease out his property for one year. During that year, the land owner does not cease to own the land, but he does limit his interaction to only include intervention with the property in so much as he is invited to do so by the leasee. The tenant's freedom with this property is directly linked to the landowner's decision to limit the use of his rights as owner of the property.

I believe that by God allowing us to make our own choices, He has restrained Himself primarily to interactions that are proceeded by invitation from freewill human beings. Maybe this is one of the vital roles that prayer plays in the life of the believer?.?.? That is, inviting God to intervene in our circumstances. I realize that I cannot explain the times in which it seems that God intervenes "without permission". However, I believe that as a rule, God only intervenes when He is invited to do so. I believe that this is one reason why Jesus had to become a man; that is a free will human being who willfully chose to submit His will to the will of His Father. Isn't this the ultimate expression of love--submitting our wills to the will of the Father, letting Him use the gift that He has given us so that His "kingdom come" and that His "will be done on earth as it is in heaven"? God asks us to allow Him to further His Kingdom through our lives, but He does not force us to do so.

As to this statement:
I believe pain is part of what He intended from creation, but that hardly leads to predestination of some to hell. (I wonder if Adam and Eve's bodies could experience pain before the fall?) I don't see the connection there you suggest at all.
I was not trying to say that God causing pain directly leads one to believe that God predestines some to hell. Instead, I was trying to show that if we do not believe that God in some way limits the use of His sovereignty, and therefore is in control of every single situation, this would seem to lead to the idea that mankind has no free choice and therefore, cannot choose whether or not to be in fellowship with God. Hope this helps to clarify.

Thanks for your interaction on this (and other) topics, ded. Honest dialog helps me to think these things out. You have some great insight which I totally respect. Your comments are very thoughtful and I appreciate the time which you have obviously spent thinking about these things. In the end, we might just have to agree to disagree, but I am really enjoying our conversation and it is helping me to reevaluate why I think the things I do.

As for should have watched some of the American Idol auditions tonight!;)

ded said...

Yes, the discussion helps me think as well. Chalk up another reason why believers need the freedom to speak within the group. Through the exchange and defense of what we think and feel, without fear of golden-cows of the group, we find much of our heart and mind!

The sovereignty of God thing is a tricky piece to think over!! I agree with you about His self-limiting and response to being asked. Yet, what if we see ourselves as a vessel for His use; filled to brimming with His Spirit and by our choice submitted to His direction. Will He bring whom He wills into our lives without our asking? Will we not accept such a sovereign act as within the boundaries of the relationship established? Likewise, what if in response to our submission, He removes someone from our lives for His purposes? In either situation has He violated our free will with His sovereignty?

There is a prayer attributed to Augustine, "Oh Lord, grant that I may do Your will, such that when You do Your will, You are doing my will."

Is this a humble or a prideful prayer?

Raborn Johnson said...

I see this prayer as an expression of the Father's goal (and hopefully ours) for the believer's life. Thanks for sharing it.

I think that here we have reached a point of agreement. I think that the main difference in our thoughts is how God chooses to play this out. It seems to me that you leave the door open for God to use whatever He chooses to instruct His children and make them more like Christ. I appreciate your desire to not put limits upon Him. I really do.

I also would like to leave the door open for God to use whatever means He deems fitting for my instruction. The difference is that I believe there are certain means that He, as our Father, will not ordain to do the same; sickness, disease, etc.

I believe that Jesus' sacrifice redeemed us from more than just sin. In Isaiah 53:12, it says that Jesus "bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." Earlier in Isaiah 53:4 it says that "he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted."

The Hebrew word for "bore" in Isaiah 53:12 is the same Hebrew word used in verse 4 translated as "he took up". This would seem to suggest that in the same way that Jesus bore our sin, He also bore our infirmities.

Matthew quotes this verse in his account and it is interesting to note how he translates it.
"This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
'He took up our infirmities
and carried our diseases.'"

Here, Matthew substitutes the word "diseases" for "sorrows". Once again, to me this suggests that in the same way Jesus bore our sins, He also bore our sicknesses and diseases.

My thought is simply that God will not use as discipline something that He has redeemed us from. I don't believe that He would ever ordain sin in a believer's life to instruct him/her. I just believe that this same reasoning applies to sickness and disease.

Thanks for your patience with me in trying to spell out my thoughts. Iron truly does sharpen iron!:)

ded said...

I think we reached agreement, too, my brother, even if we don't see things the same way!

I love the paradoxes in the Kingdom!

Raborn Johnson said...