Saturday, December 22, 2012

God's Sovereignty and Man's Freewill

If asked, "Is God in control?" my answer, as I understand it from scripture, is absolutely, he most certainly is! In fact, God wouldn't be God if he wasn't in control over what he made. If his will can be frustrated, then ultimately, he's not omnipotent; if he can be surprised then he's not omniscient; if he's subject to time then he's not eternal. If any of these are true then he's not holy (separate from creation).

Is it possible for God, who is omnipotent, omniscient, and eternal, to not thereby bear ultimate responsibility for everything that occurs? If he's capable of speaking the worlds into being, then, minimally, he is capable of stopping anything he wants to, anytime he wants to, with a word! Since nothing happens that he was not aware would happen, then, maximally, he is the cause of all that does happen. God is sovereign, and therefore God is responsible. 

Why then do things occur that are specifically stated in his word as being outside of his desire and will? It would seem that it must be his will for things to occur that are not in his will. What kind of mechanism would make that kind of doublespeak possible without making God hopelessly divided against himself? Namely, independent will would, created by God, for God, and allowed under his governance to express itself as it, rather than he wills.

It makes sense even if it is counterintuitive, seemingly contradicting God's omni characteristics. If will wasn't independent it couldn't actually be will, it could only be instinct or some such like. When God created wills other than his own, independence or autonomy in their expression is what he willed for them in creating them. And evidently, having created them, he is not willing to contravene the exercise of them (at least not for a while). 

So, in his sovereignty, it is God's will that we express ours. That is real, God-given freedom. I take this to be the very core and substance of being created in his image. Because I see things this way I find that Arminianism, rather than Calvinism, more fully encompasses the truth concerning God's sovereignty. The truth is that God is sovereign, and that humans truly have free wills.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Why Do People Get Sick?

With this post we enter a series on the subject of Divine Healing. Before we get started, here is a list of pertinent scripture verses regarding sickness that you may want to read in conjunction with this article: Isaiah 53:3-51 Corinthians 13:9-10Romans 8:10-11Ephesians 1:13-14John 9:1-3Luke 10:1-12Mark 16:15-18I Corinthians 12Matthew 9:28-30Mark 9:23-24Mark 6:1-61 Corinthians 11:27-32James 5:14-20Revelation 22:1-3

First, we need to understand where sickness came from. I have no doubt that sickness was not part of the pristine, sinless creation that God called "good". The atonement of Christ included a provision for healing, so it would seem that when things are put right with God, sickness is taken out of the picture. The Apocalypse clears up any doubt on the subject by revealing that in the eternal age to come, trees will provide leaves which keep the body well.

So, sickness must have come into being as a result of the negative impacts that came upon mankind due to not being right with God. That would leave, it seems to me, two possible instigating agents for sickness: God or the Devil. There are scripture passages which attribute illness to God, and passages which attribute it to the Devil, so maybe sickness is a tag team effort.

I don't believe that to be the case, but let me ask you a clarifying question that may help us discover what is the case: "Did bacteria, amoebas, and worms exist before the Fall?" My answer is yes, they most certainly did. God alone is shown scripturally to have the ability to create life, so the Devil cannot be given the credit for their existence. Yet, most of what we experience as sickness is the direct result of creatures such as these infecting our bodies.

I'm led to wonder if our body's God-given equipment (namely our immune system) worked as well as it must have by design specs called "good" by God, would humans or any life form ever get sick? If the virulence of tooth and claw existence that resulted from our separation from God, from death, and from antagonism resulting from a justified curse upon sin did not exist, would there be anything to get sick from?

Even though I could see viruses, prions, cancer and genetic defects as being the result of some devilish ingenuity manipulating what God had created, would these types of things have any ill effect (let alone exist) if we were still in the pristine physical condition we had before the Fall? No, it seems clear to me that sickness exists because of the justified curse of death upon Adam and his race as a consequence of sin. In fact, it seems quite clear to me that disease actually results from death, rather than death resulting from disease. 

Our bodies were stricken with a curse which has them decaying toward death, really, from the moment they come into being. Everything in creation was stricken by God so that it opposes us and our physical existence--the ground, plants, animals, and even our bodies themselves. Our bodies do not work up to original design specs; they are infirm; they don't recover like they could; they age, and then they die. Bacteria, viruses, parasites, and genetic anomalies are a problem now, because of enmity imposed by the curse, and by our immune systems and the replication processes in our cells not working perfectly as they did in Eden.

Now that is not the Devil's doing, at least not directly by authority, it was God's doing, and God's alone. He had the authority: he spoke the curse. Does the Devil play a role in illness? Peter seemed to think he could. The Evangelists often referred to exorcism in terms of healing. It certainly appears that illness and physical affliction are tools in the Devil's arsenal against the human race (remember Job) in his antagonism toward them.

That is not, however, the same as saying disease is caused by the Devil and his demons. Disease, by general principle, is the result of the Fall, and therefore, in a very real respect, is the God-given, natural lot of life on this fallen planet. And all life is subject to it. That the Devil uses what is available to him to exacerbate our condition and to increase misery should not be surprising to anyone. But to see the Devil behind every bush, or every sniffle, is a mistake, and frankly, gives him far too much credit.

Why do people get sick? Simply, because they live in decaying (dead) bodies. The Devil and his roam about seeking to add misery and to steal days from us while we're in this condition, but they are merely the exploiters, not the authors of it. If the Devil and his minions were deep-sixed today, sickness would still be a possibility tomorrowUltimately, to solve the problem and possibility of illness, the curse of death has to be removed from our physical being.

So what's a body to do in the meantime? That, and a few other issues in the posts to follow, starting with this one.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What Convinces Us We Need God?

For many of us, life unfolds in the midst of having some worthy goal. We are working steadfastly toward its achievement, hitting the mile markers on the way which tell us we are doing well. We're getting the recognition of peers or consumers, we are achieving. We're together, at the top of our game and feeling good about it.

If we hear a preacher or someone witnessing for Christ who tells us we need God, our response might be, "for what?" Believe it or not, it is even possible for someone to self-identify as a Christian and slip into the same stream. Oh, these are not antagonistic toward God, or anything, it's just that they (even if they would never admit it) think God would be proud of them. If someone needs help, they figure God needs theirs.

When people are self-satisfied, they feel no need for God.

When our thoughts are invaded by the stupid, the silly, the sinful, or the absolutely debauched, a hint arises within us that maybe we're not quite so altogether as we had assumed. There's something in us we don't quite understand, itching to make us blunder and look all too much like the rabble of the unwashed masses. It's not so easily put under reins either. Maybe we don't have this life thing mastered.

It is the imposition of an unwanted thought, an undesired desire that arises within us embarrassing us as it sprouts into consciousness, which breaks the illusion of our self-control. Perhaps it is an irrational fear, or a secret prejudice that shakes our self-reliance. At some point, the failure that such things inspire breaks out in the open. In those moments we discover that we can't do this life thing by ourselves after all. We're less than we thought we were, we do need help, and from someone greater than ourselves--we need God.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Living Is a Gift from God

Since none of us has called ourselves or the space we live in into existence, our very existence, and any and every moment of our existence, is something that we receive from God. Life comes from his hands. If our lives at their most basic levels are what amounts to gifts from God, then everything that we hope will come our way in those lives gifted to us is a gift as well. The most fundamental description of our relationship to God, then, is that we are receivers of his gifts.

It is true that the nature of our present existence, even as given by God, makes some effort on our parts necessary in order to attain some level of and quality in life. We do eat by the "sweat of our brows" after all. But it seems to me that the necessity of earning at that level tends to makes us self-centered--we tend to think of living in terms of my effort, my reward, my ambitions, my desires. In the unending swirl of all that self-centeredness, one can forget (or even never awaken to) the fact that our very life, our very breath, is a gift from God.

According to the record of scripture, we only need to work so in order to get because of a curse imposed because of sin. Sin is in the world, sin is in us. If it was not for sin, however, we would not have death over our heads and we would not have to sweat to get our bread. Take sin out of the equation and we would have freely what God freely, liberally, gives us and it would be crystal clear that all was a gift from God.

This can be difficult for us to embrace. It is almost as if our sweating for our bread, the toil of scratching out a living separated from God all the while dying, plays a trick on us. Even if we happen to be aware of God's part in the big picture, we tend to project the concept of earning upon any blessing we could get from God. We think we have to earn whatever blessing we may be seeking from God, even as we have to earn to eat.

Even if we ask God for blessing we do so as earners, not as gift recipients. We seek his favor by making promises to him or by citing our rewardable behaviors. We try to find some valid reason for us to receive the reward we seek. Even if we haven't earned such a blessing in the past, we assure God we will do so in the future should he make that blessing ours.

All such boasting is antithetical to the purposes of God, and let's be clear, what that is, is boasting. Even more than that, it is living by the principles of the present darkness, it is living by sight. Sight, in effect,  says "give me what I deserve", but faith says "give me what you're willing to". Perhaps the greatest threshold faith must cross is getting over the boastful notions of humankind, borne of the reality of this present existence, that can only see life through the prism of getting what you've worked to gain.

Thankfully, God is willing to give us a lot without earning a bit. Most importantly, he is willing to give you what you could never earn by your efforts--everlasting life and standing in his eternal kingdom. All this is predicated upon us embracing, as a matter of faith, a new perspective which puts us in the mindset of receiving everything we receive from God as an undeserved gift. Living starts, really, when we see it as a gift from God.