Monday, November 23, 2015

The Limits of Omniscience

Essential Omniscience: resting God's omniscience in the brute fact of his essence rather than sovereignty or observation. In other words, his divine essence is of such a nature that he knows all that can be known, including all free acts of agents throughout time, not because he sees all, but just because he is what he is.   (SLW)

If God knows everything by the brute fact of his essence, including the free acts of created agents, one has to wonder how and when such knowledge came to be. If God's omniscience is essential, rather than observational, then it would have existed as "long as" his essence has. Why not? On EO, he doesn't rely upon "waiting" for history to unfold or for agents to decide their choices--he "already" knows all by the brute fact of omniscience founded in his essence.

God's essence is eternal (i.e., without time rather than long-lasting). God is not developing, he doesn't gain some aspect of his essence, such as omniscience (if that is, in fact, the case), by means of time passing or by the instantiation of creation. That would make God essentially dependent upon something other than himself and breach aseity. So if God's omniscience is by virtue of his essence, it means he always knew what he knows.

But then if God knows every thought, every inclination, every action of every agent from all eternity, how can those acts and inclinations be the agent's rather than God's? If EO is the case, then each and every one of those actually existed in God's essence quite apart from ever coming into being in the creature. How then could those acts and intentions ever be proven or understood to be anything other than a projection of God's own mind? They cannot.

We cannot have our cake and eat it too. We cannot say that God is not the author of intentions and acts (particularly sin) that were ultimately "in" him before they were in others. If God had in his mind the evil acts of devil and man before the devil and man had a mind, then that evil finds its genesis in God--he had evil in his heart before any of us had a heart that could be evil. If EO were true of God, we would have evil in us because God has evil in him.

Determinism, Compatibilism, Molinism and Essential Omniscience all fail in this same way.

The interplay of omniscience and freewill can never be posited in such a way that free actions were settled or known certainly in the mind of God before creation. Any attempt to do so hits this same brick wall, which has God very specifically and extensively knowing evil before evil was. If evil acts were known by God by virtue of his essence eternally, then in his essence God contemplated evil and plumbed the depths of temptation and enticement apart from their existence in creation. Therefore, permutations of Simple Foreknowledge which resort to omniscience by brute fact of God's essence fail God's scriptural disclaimer that sinful acts in general (James 1:13-15), and certain sinful acts specifically (Jeremiah 19:4-5), were founded in the hearts of sinners and not at all in God.

The only way I can see to avoid this error is to align with the scriptural accounts of God in action and the biblical instances of his self-disclosure and attribute God's omniscience (at least insofar as creaturely freedom goes) to Omnitemporal Observation. Regardless of how philosophically distasteful it may be, any of the more philosophically palatable theories fail to keep God from being the source of evil. Scripture demands that sinful intentions and sinful deeds not be attributed to God--not in conception, not in practice, and not first in the heart of God before in the hearts of our countrymen.

God doesn't think evil thoughts, how would he preconceive them for others? It seems to me that even omniscience has its limits!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

How Does God Know the Future?

The future does not really exist (nor for that matter, does the past).

The past is merely the record of what used to be the present, and the future can only be what will be the present when the present gets to that point. It is the present where the action is and it is that action that produces either the past or the future. So the present is what is necessary for either the future or the past to have what existence they might, and never vice versa.

There are of course, circumstances which were in motion in the past and which determine the future to some degree. A huge asteroid could be hurtling toward us from ages past that will impact our future in very tangible ways. Celestial bodies move according to the laws of physics and their courses can be charted and accurately projected. Earthly bodies, and by that I mean humans, cannot--their responses to their environment, to one another, to God, or to themselves cannot be charted because their free actions are uncertain until taken (the Heisenberg principle of free agents?).

Freedom is entirely wrapped up in the present. It exists in the moment of decision. Insofar as choice is concerned, the past is inert and the future is is inaccessible. Decisions are made in the moment their action occurs, necessarily. Some choices are made which effect the future and/or are influenced by the past, but freedom to act, to choose, always and only happens in the present.

Therefore the future cannot be fixed in any real sense, because it is dependent upon a present which is in flux. A future which is dependent upon that which is in flux has to be in flux itself. It seems to me that if there is any truth at all to the notions of will, freedom and spirit (which produce flux) it is impossible for the future to be fixed, and by that fixity control the present. Nothing is actually written until it's written in its present.

That does not mean the future cannot be known. 

If an omnitemporal observer (God) could view all of the presents that will ever exist from a vantage outside of time, the future would be known to him, exhaustively, through observation of the present. That the future is known by this God would not make it fixed, in the sense that it determined the present, for it is the present in which action occurs, the uncertain becomes the established, and which God observes and thereby knows the future. God knows the future because God has seen the present timelessly, but it is never his knowing that causes what he sees.

It is, in fact, a confounding of cause and effect to assume God's knowing the future would bind the freedom of an agent in the present. Because God knows an agent will act in some fashion at a particular time is not equivalent to saying that the agent must act in that fashion at that particular time because God knows that agent will. On omnitemporal observation of freewill, the act of the agent causes the knowledge, the knowledge doesn't cause the act. Seeing timelessly is out of our wheelhouse as humans, and therefore justifiably confusing, but it should be straightforward enough to perceive that seeing an act omnitemporally cannot be said to necessitate causing that act in time.

Furthermore, an infinitely wise and powerful God could shape the panorama of time by a directive interposition here and there (or as often as he saw fit) without affecting the existence of freedom, generally, in any present. He could shepherd time to an appointed end without meticulously determining anything that occurred in time. In being able to do so, I see no reason to posit that he would require a mental "trial run" (i.e middle knowledge and/or deterministic decrees) in order to do so. He saw all at once, once he created.

I see no other possible way than this for the future to be known exhaustively by God, for creaturely freedom to exist in the present (see this and this), and, incidentally, for God to not have conceived evil before evil existed. We'll address that last concept later, for now, suffice it to say that if the future is fixed and thereby determinative of the present, will and freedom would have to cease to exist in any meaningful fashion. I see no biblical warrant to suggest such a course. To posit such is to misunderstand the nature of the future, to put the cart before the horse and totally miss how God knows the future.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Measure of Grace

"I tell you that to everyone who has, more shall be given, but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away."    Luke 19:26  NASB

I think grace may be something that is shown to us by God in increments. Not that I'm suggesting the spiritual equivalent of quantum mechanics, but I do think divine light dawns upon the human spirit in measures. If that light has the intended effect, then more light is shone. If it doesn't, then what light had been shining is withdrawn.

When "grace" (or "light") is used in this manner, what it really is referring to is the action of the Spirit of God. Grace, I think, is a term which is used, generally, very inaccurately in the Church. When it is used, more often than not, it conjures up a picture of some mystical force or power flowing from God unto that which he has made. Grace is not such a force or power, it is merely a sentiment in the heart of God toward that which he has made--joyful kindness, unmerited favor.

It is the Holy Spirit (or, at times, those ministering spirits called angels) that actually reaches out and touches someone or something with the application of light and power. God's grace actually does nothing, but God by grace surely does! Nonetheless, in keeping with the way in which grace is used broadly (even if erroneously), I use it here to refer to the unseen activity of the Spirit by which spiritual qualities are imbued to the spirit/soul of one who is a believer or one who may become a believer. In other words, grace is shorthand for the work of the Holy Spirit.

I do not believe that the seed of Adam is capable of receiving such grace unmitigatedly. The darkened souls of Adam's sinful race would be overwhelmed if that were to occur, and the effect would be to blight the image of God they still possess. The image of God entails freewill by necessity and God's design, and it is not God's will to emasculate or eradicate the independence that comes thereby. Therefore, God's drawing, convicting grace does not and cannot come upon man as a storm surge, irresistibly, or it would incapacitate the image of God within.

Grace, it seems to me, is measured out in incremental nudges.

Light shines in some measure upon the souls of men. The soul so illumined which responds to that light gets more light, and softens. The soul repulsed by that light remains in darkness and hardens. The journey of the faithful from rank unbelief to oneness with God is one of increasing grace and brightening light.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Why I Tithe

The crucifixion and resurrection of Christ put an end to the practice of hopeful sinners reticently approaching God from respectable distance while carefully managing their behavior according to script (law). "It is finished!" wasn't just the end of an earthly mission, but the period at the end of the old covenant sentence the faithful had been serving. Jesus wrote a new story in which the cleansed sinner bounds into God's presence and jumps into his lap, invited and accepted, because of the shed blood of the Lamb. Under this new covenant, any and everyone who believes can enter God's presence, and if they need something, they merely ask and they will receive.

Given such a view on the new covenant, some folk are amazed to hear that I've practiced tithing for virtually my entire life as a Christian. In fact, I can't hardly imagine a scenario in which I wouldn't give at least a tenth of my increase in the name of the Lord. Considering Paul's Holy Spirit inspired stance on legalism and my views on the contemporary practice of tithing (see this), some might wonder why. Hopefully, this article will explain my reasoning.

Jesus taught that believers should be giving people. Since we're meant to be like Christ, that certainly makes sense, for who is more giving than he? Jesus did speak about tithing within the framework of OT Jews giving as commanded; however, his three word declaration on the cross announced the fulfillment of that economy. Giving, under the new covenant, is a matter of identification and collaboration with the joyful kindness (grace) of God; therefore, Christians give, not under compulsion, but in exhilaration whatever they purpose in their hearts to give.

Years ago (1979), upon hearing the invitation of Christ, I knew I wanted to experience life as God does (he is the model for the image). I saw readily from the Word that becoming a giver was part of that, but in what way? I yearned for some dependable instruction from God that would clarify the nebulous purpose of my heart. In reading the scriptures and hearing some good preaching, I discovered that holy men of old found tithing an expression of faith in this regard, apart from any law, and something clicked for me.

I've been tithing ever since.

In all the years that have followed, I haven't secured anything nor assured myself of any measure of blessing by tithing. God has been faithful sure enough, and he's been real to me, but not because I've locked him into an arm's length contractual agreement by putting forth consideration. He's not a stranger I'm doing business with, after all. He shares what it's like being him with me, and it's my joy to cooperate with him and so experience what it's like to be kind and generous.

So I'm alive and well and free in the Holy Ghost, and I don't tithe because I have to...

I tithe because I want to.

Monday, November 2, 2015

I Just Don't Have the Tithe

In regard to what is to follow, let me refer you to Banking on God: the Tithe by Dan Edelen. It is an excellent interaction with the theological and biblical implications of the subject, and I highly recommend it.

The gospel is good news because it establishes our acceptance by God on the basis of the finished work of Christ rather than our works. That work of Christ was not undertaken just to change our label (e.g. saved or unsaved), but to change our very natures by enabling our dead spirits to be quickened by the infusion of the Holy Spirit. Believers in Christ are actually born of the Spirit, and made new creatures thereby. Christianity, therefore, is not about status but substance: we who were dead in trespasses and sins have actually been made alive in Christ Jesus, eternally.

On the other hand, the law (including tithing) was put in place (see Galatians 3:19-25) to serve as a custodian over sinners who were merely given the promise of Christ's coming, not the substance. It was only meant to keep Israel from running completely amok while they waited for the Promised One. Now that Christ has come, the law has been superseded by the realization of actual fellowship with God through the indwelling of his Holy Spirit. Reverting to the custodial to attain blessing from (or standing with) God through works of the law is a fool's errand, capable, only, of proving that in our natural selves we are sinners.

When I was a kid in nursery school, all the kids had their own nap mat. When nap time came, we unrolled our mat, laid down quietly and caught a few zzzz's. Back then I was always rested, my class functioned well and was always in good order, and I got stickers for being a good boy! Life was good and I had no reason to worry about anything.

Things were simpler then and more blissful, at least according to my idealized recollection, when there was something that clearly told me what to do and rewarded me for doing it. Nowadays, my life tends to be more harried: I'm often tired, things get chaotic, only duty tells me what to do, there are obligations to meet and bills to pay, and no one gives me so much as an "attaboy" for behaving myself. I wonder what people would think if I shucked my adult freedom and responsibility and hired a babysitter to keep me in line and give me stickers when I was doing well and being a good guy?

Christians who revert to legal principles (such as tithing) and depend upon rules and regulations in order to attain blessing or to assure themselves of standing with God have done that very thing. At best they are childish and at worst they are alienated from Christ. That's not a minor issue, but strikes at the heart of what it means to be born again. Such action is every bit as preposterous as an adult trying to establish the simple bliss of childhood by putting themselves in the charge of a babysitter! 

What this really comes down to whether or not it's appropriate for a Christian to claim that any objective, specific behavior (like tithing) serves as a basis for securing blessing from God. In truth, that is purely and simply a legalistic principle that has no place in understanding a believer's relationship to God. Under the auspices of the Gospel, all one has to do in order to get whatever he or she needs from God is to ask in Jesus name! But then, that requires the messiness of faith rather than a cut and dried formula that can be exercised braindead and worse, Spiritless.

I could go on, and on, and on dealing with the folly that's been perpetrated on this subject (e.g. seed sowing, 100 fold return, etc.) but right now, I just don't have the tithe.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Purpose of Discipline from God

When those Christians who do say it, say that God does not punish sin in our lifetimes (or really, at all for the believer), they do so reckoning upon the punishment for our sins Christ took upon himself. No condemnation remains for us to bear as a result. By that reckoning, anything painful experienced in this life which might appear punitive is either not coming from God or is not intended as a punishment. I must admit, there's much to commend in such a thought.

However, our thoughts about what God does or doesn't do must line up with each and every passage of scripture. Whereas it is certainly biblical to say that the Devil is seeking to bring us pain, it is not biblical at all to say that God won't or can't bring us things that are painful or punitive or both. We can say biblically that if God brings us to something painful, whether punitive or not, he does so for our own good and his grace is sufficient to bring us through it. To hold otherwise puts people who hold otherwise in the regrettable position of trying to make excuses for a theology that doesn't work in real life (unscriptural theology never does), or becoming incredibly self-absorbed trying to improve their faith to get a more desirable outcome.
"...have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons: “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him. For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives.” 
It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness."               Hebrews 12:3-12 NASB
Why would a loving father discipline his children through hardship and suffering? I think we have to trust that there is no other way to get us to where he wants us to be. Ultimately, that is by his side in eternity, sharing in all that is in Christ. Between now and then, Christ is our example, suffering can be a teacher, and the humility that goes with it is a boon to faith.

The bottom line in all this is understanding the reasons our forgiving God might use punitive measures in our lifetimes. Let's be clear, God's corrections mean legitimacy and life and are never without purpose. God uses corrective discipline so we do not go off the deep end and lose all we had in Christ. If punishment from God comes to believers, it comes not to write them off but to preserve them.

There's no reason to walk about shivering in fearful anticipation, looking over our shoulder expecting divine retribution for some misstep to overtake us and ruin our lives. God is not like that, he walks softly among us. But understand this: if you're on a path that could lead to your destruction as a believer, God is not above making an effort to stop you in your tracks and correct your course with a big stick.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Does God Punish Sin During Our Lifetimes?

Such a question arises because of the cross. There, Jesus took the punishment for the sins of the world to himself and suffered it completely, so what place is left for punishment of sin elsewhere? And yet, despite the universality of the atonement, the scriptures teach that Hades and the Lake of Fire are still in play for some sinners--namely all who do not trust in Christ. So the cross, despite its inclusiveness, does not effectively keep God from ultimately punishing at least some of the sin for which it was suffered.

If the cross, despite its universality and eternal consequence, does not prevent God from punishing some sin ultimately (i.e that of unbelievers), why would anyone suspect that the cross would automatically wipe out punitive measures from God temporally? Certainly, with regard to the unbelieving there can be no question. The cross does nothing for the unbelieving, now or later. If they are "uncovered" for eternity, they are absolutely "uncovered" now, but what about believers?

If one adhered to the Once-Saved-Always-Saved theory, there would be some reason to think that God does not punish the believer for sin in the now. If the cross crossed out sin and punishment for eternity, and our eternal situation is locked in now (as it is according to that doctrine), then there could be no basis for punishment either then or now. OSAS seems to me to logically entail God-Does-Not-Punish-Sin-Now. The problem, however, is that both concepts can be demonstrably proven false according to Bible.

I've presented one way the Bible does that in regard to OSAS, but let me say that it is also readily apparent from the texts used for that purpose that Christ clearly promises punishment in this life for those in his church who are sinning against him. 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 is transparently clear on the subject as well, though it is often conveniently ignored by many in my theological circles. What else can be made of other biblical instructions, such as Hebrews 12:4-13, or promises, such as Revelation 3:19? Suffice it to say, to hold that God will not punitively discipline the believer in this life is to hold unscriptural doctrine.

Of course, one can disbelieve OSAS and still believe that God does not punish sin within a believer's lifetime, or believe OSAS and yet believe that God can punish sin in the present. In either case, one would merely hold one biblical error rather than two (although if one believes the latter, any punishment in the present would be superfluous at best and capricious at worst). That God may overlook sin in the present and does not operate in a tit-for-tat manner in disciplining believers in no way, shape, or form undermines the general premise: God can, God has and God may well punish a believer for sinning during the believer's lifetime.

That a swat in the here and now doesn't translate into an eternal bath in the Lake of Fire should be seen as encouraging, not as a means of discounting the promise of discipline in our lifetimes. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Set Your Face Against Gog

Iran joins Russia in Syria

Are we seeing the precursor to Ezekiel 38? Frankly, I've leaned toward the idea that the prophecy deals with amassing troops in the second half of the Tribulation, but there has always been the possibility that it would precede and precipitate the rise of the Ten Horns. A few more players would have to come on the field to make it truly an Ezekiel 38 fulfillment, so it's not there yet. Regardless, it's very interesting to see this turn of events.

Bears watching, I'd say.