Thursday, December 27, 2007

God Chooses Faith

God has mercy on whom he will have mercy. For some, those words limn an arbitrary selection, made draft board-like by a God who keeps his own counsels. Though God speaks these words self-descriptively, are they meant to convey divine capriciousness? Considering that God says so much else about himself that is not capricious, I would say, no.

That God exerts his will to direct the course of history to a foregone conclusion does not mean that true independence amongst humankind has to be co-opted in order to accomplish his aims. In an earlier post, I pointed out God’s ultimate purpose in making us was to create family and friends that could relate to him on his level. Certainly, one aspect of that level, is freedom of choice and action. I believe it is essential, in God’s design in choosing ends, that humans express freedom of choice and action. Is faith even possible under any other conditions?

Paul tells us that faith is the crucial factor in God’s selecting. Faith is what includes us, unbelief is what excludes us. And just so we’re clear on this, faith is not the result of our desire or work, it is merely a reaction to God’s intervention. Apart from God interjecting himself into our affairs and presenting us choices, no one would call on him, but God sends word to us of possibilities with him. He asks us to trust him, to make a faith choice, a real choice. Who can get the credit for that but God? Those that get saved merely respond to God’s tap on their shoulder; nonetheless, everyone who walks into the kingdom to come will be able to say they did so because they believed in what God said and did. After all, we’re not puppets or pets.

God does not intend that people walk in uncertainty, wondering whether or not they are one of the ones that he’s pre-wired for salvation. Nor does he desire any to smugly rest on their laurels, certain that they are. He asks us to examine ourselves to see if we are in faith. It can serve little purpose, it seems to me, for folk to get lost in arcane theological conceptions of election when, practically speaking, the point becomes moot if one believes and has experienced the reassuring work of the Holy Spirit. The only truly helpful thing for those who call upon the Lord to know about election is that God chooses faith.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Why Did God Make Man?

Upon finishing the work of creating, God's evaluation of all he had made, including mankind, was that everything was good--no, make that very good. Of all that he had created, humans alone were described as made in his image. Apart from all else, they could relate to God correspondingly, in a way akin to Adam relating correspondingly to Eve. They were persons in a way analogous to God being a person.

If we understand Paul's description of completion, we begin to understand God's ultimate aim in making mankind in the way that he did. Mankind was not intended to be a pet in a menagerie, but a friend and family member to God. God made man in his image, because man was intended to share life on his level. If that sounds like a reach, note the soaring language of Christ's high priestly prayer.

I don't think it was ever God's intention (can one outside of time have such a linear conception?) to sustain Adam, Eve and their offspring in blissful, everlasting innocence (ignorance). Failure is possible from that state, and it is not what we are raised to at the end of time. In order to accomplish his ultimate aims, mankind would have to be let in on everything at some time, for that tree wasn't put in the midst of the garden for mere ornamentation or even temptation.

At the right moment, mankind would have had to be brought into the fullness of knowledge (i.e. knowing God and what he knows) and into the realm of sight. In the meantime, the essential quality that God was attempting to distill within the human race was faith. Faith does not operate in the realm of sight, but only in the face of ignorance in the experience of the not yet. In that state, it is the faith of the created in their Creator that allows God to ultimately share all that he is and has with them.

When one trusts in God, in turn God can trust him or her. It's like the old Hollywood storyline of someone fabulously wealthy hiding his or her identity and then seeking true love and friendship in the ignorance and innocence of other people. Life on God's level can only truly be led by God, but for those who have faith in him, such life can be shared with them. And that is what we've been made for.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Faith Is a Reaction, Not a Work

What child has not garnered some impish delight by suddenly jumping out from some dark hiding place and yelling, "Boo!" and then rolling on the floor in laughter and glee over the bizarre behavior of his or her victim? Screeching, screaming, throwing hands in the air, taking a swing at things, falling on the floor, dropping stuff, yelling unpleasantries, even laying hands suddenly on their tormentors are some of the reactions that reap ghoulish delight. Some of the accosted do nothing at all to the perplexity and consternation of their prodder.

Who can blame the victims when they do act in such uncharacteristic or even offensive ways? After all, it was just a reaction, not premeditated, not thought through, not really reflective of their determinations. It just happened-- an action and an equal and opposite reaction. We're all wired to react to stimuli, howbeit that each of us reacts differently.

I see faith in God, at least it's initial stage, in a similar vein. It is a metaphysical reaction by people to a word from God. Abraham, the model for what faith can accomplish, found his one day when God’s word came to him and he believed. We could say faith starts with a head turn in response to God’s tap on one’s shoulder. I believe everyone is wired with this capacity, hence God's command that all respond (coupled with the outpouring of His spirit on all flesh), but everyone does so with varying degrees of responsiveness. Some, like the unmoved prudes in the example above, give not so much as a rise to the word’s impetus, others go hog wild.

The Bible leads me to understand that faith is not a work, hence the contrast in that all too famous passage (as well as this one). Works are the fruit of will exerting effort, faith is the soul's reaction to God's interposition. We have all heard faith described as a leap, which is a reasonable perception, so long as one envisions the leap resulting from the Holy Spirit saying, "Boo!"

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

When Grace Leads to Universalism

What can we know about God's heart? About what drives him, what moves him, what makes him draw lines in the sand? The answer of course is the Bible, our source for all that is indisputable regarding God. I suppose that experientially, we can come to know these sorts of things in a more personally relevant way through our fellowship with God through his Spirit alive within us, but any and every thing we can know beyond doubt arises from the Word.

Some passages I've always found particularly salient in this regard are 2 Peter 3:9 (copied here for ease):

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

and Ezekiel 18:23 and 33:11, which virtually say the same thing (the latter is copied here):
As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.

and I Timothy 2:4
God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

What these verses tell me, indisputably, is that God wants people, all people, saved. There is no glory in his mind in anyone being lost. There will not be one person thrown into eternal torment whom the Lord would not rather have by his side in glory. Which leads to another thought--why can't God have what he wants? I mean he is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and omnitemporal. What stands in the way of such a God getting what he desires? Certainly, if he desires it, it must be good by definition!

As some fashion them, the so-called doctrines of grace declare that people get saved because of a sovereign act of God. He chooses, they believe and persevere, irresistibly. The only thing that stands between heaven and hell is God pushing the grace button within the soul. Once pushed, salvation is inevitable.

Is that a problem? Yes, if we actually take what God has told us about himself to be true! He has said of himself that he doesn't want anyone to be lost. The scripture is clear about this. If all it took to accomplish his desire was his own act, how would he act? Since I'm not willing to diagnose God as schizophrenic, 
I must answer that He would save everyone. God would have to be schizophrenic to state a particular desire (a desire that must be good because it's his), yet not be able to bring his considerable skills and goodness to bear to accomplish it.

However, we know not everyone will be saved. There must be some other factor in the equation that God is not willing to circumvent. Suffice it to say, to hold on to sovereign election as promulgated in the doctrines of grace and also to accept God's testimony about himself, one would be forced, it seems to me (and perhaps the history of Calvinistic churches in New England bears this out), to inevitably fall into the trap of adopting universalism.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Stepping Into His World

It's that shiny time of the year again. Houses shine, trees shine, kids shine, even churches shine. Everything that can does, with the possible exception of shoes. The whole thing has precious little to do with Christ, but I love it none the less and look forward to it every year. Not the shine, though I am a sucker for Christmas trees, it has much more to do with getting together with my family. I always feel a pang for those who can't get together with theirs.

It wasn't always so. As I kid, the holiday hype always set me up for disappointment. My father's alcoholism, like a proverbial storm, never failed to cloud our Bethlehem nights and blow away whatever warmth the day portended. The eternal optimism of childhood with its notoriously short memory, brushed the detritus of the last years disaster under the rug at the first glimpse of the Grinch or Rudolph on the TV screen. Anticipation shifted into gear, and quickly accelerated to full speed, incognizant of the upcoming bend in the road.

Things began to change once I became a Christian. Discovering the reason for the season shed a new light on its celebration.
God, the Father sending his Son, as one of us, to live like us, among us, in family centered the holiday on something other than hype. The picture of the holy family displaced Santa on the rooftop stumbling toward the chimney blinded by the lights of the season (not that I believed in Santa mind you). The joy of seeing family and enjoying time together, celebrating life and the blessing of God became the heart of the holiday for me.

That God himself would step into our world, as one of us, not only to walk a mile in our moccasins, but also, and more primarily, to do for us
what we could not do for ourselves provides more than enough wonder to fuel all the celebrations of Christmas the world will ever see. For so many, however, that's where the thought ends, but I think we would do well to lift our eyes just a little higher on the horizon. I am grateful for the work of the lamb of God and am so glad he came, but I'm absolutely astonished at his ultimate goal: he stepped into our world like us, so that we could step into his world, like him.