Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Nature of Freedom and Depravity

Human beings are free to do as they wish. God made them that way. Adam and Eve were free to do as they wished. They could eat anything that grew in the Garden, save that from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam could name the animals whatever he wished. He could have named them this, he could have named them that. They could have eaten this, they could have eaten that.

God made humans that way in making them in his image. God does as he wishes--it is his most fundamental quality apart from self-existence. No being is freer of necessity than God, for who or what is there that could impose necessity upon him? He could have created the universe, or he could have not. He could have made beings like us in his image, or he could have not. But God did make us in this image of freedom, excepting of course, that he could not make himself, so the image is not as powerful, nor as free, nor as able as the original.

Nonetheless, that created in the image has to be free in a way analogous to God or it would not be in his image. If God determines our desires or decrees our choices we are no more free than a robot, and nor more in his image than a robot can be in ours. If our choice is circumscribed by desire, the result is not freedom but mere instinct. The Bible generally (there are specific exceptions) shows humans in a light in which the kind of choice described thus far would have to be presupposed in order for the accounts to make sense.

Mankind, since the Fall of Adam and Eve, are not as free as they were nor as free as a being made in God's image could be. Humans, on their own, could never replicate or reflect the choices that God would make (and they've been on their own since the Fall). Dead in spirit and separated from God, they have no means of discerning the way or the will of God. This lack of ability to discover anything or to do anything truly godly translates into mankind having neither the inclination nor the power to choose as God would have them choose. Even with God's word giving mankind more information than they could have ever gotten on their own, without spiritual renewal (regeneration) mankind remains depraved.

Fallen humanity does has the power of choice--the freedom to do as they wish. Their wishes, however, can never rise to nor align with the choice of God. Apart from the Spirit of God communicating the word of God into the soul of a man and thereby enabling faith, that man is not free to do as God wills or, indeed, to know what that is. With the action of God's Spirit bringing to bear God's word on the human heart and giving faith the opportunity to arise, something other than the general depravity of mankind is possible.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Letter to the Vision-Driven Church, Part II

Continuing our look at Christ's Message to the Church at Thyatira, the vision-driven church...

Some interpreters of the Revelation suggest that Jezebel was the wife of the vision caster in Thyratira. Even though there are a few linguistic reasons for such an interpretation, I find none of them convincing in the least. Primarily (as I've written elsewhere), the angels to whom these letters are written are not pastors, prophets, vision casters, or even humans--they are angels as is consistent with the use of the term throughout the Apocalypse. Pastors and bishops are never called angels (or messengers) in the NT, and it would be a novel application of the term to use it as such in these messages to the seven churches.

Furthermore, since the same Koine word means "wife" and "woman", it is not necessary to interpret the reference to Jezebel ("that woman") as "your wife", even if an extra pronoun (your, second person, singular) is attested in some minority manuscripts. She is female, she may be married, but there is no way she is married to an angel! The bottom line: there is nothing compelling about such an interpretation, and much that militates against it.

Christ gives this self-styled prophetess time to repent of teaching and misleading Christians in Thyatira to commit sexual immorality and participate in idolatry. Of course, in that time she actually has an opportunity to lead more astray, although time granted for the one leading others astray is also time granted for those being led astray to come to their senses and repent. If they don't, they'll go down with her because followers never shed their responsibility for following what they follow. The Antichrist may be thrown into the fire first, but those who follow him get thrown in just the same afterward.

Striking her children dead is a shocking threat, not really unique in biblical revelation, but appalling to our modern sensibilities all the same. Whatever else that says about God, it certainly undermines any notion that he is the touchy-feely type that loves everyone unconditionally. God is love, but he does with people as he sees fit, and who is there that can argue with him about it or question his judgment? History has an ample record of bracing catastrophe, e.g. the Black Death (~1340's), the Shaanxi Earthquake (1556), the Spanish Flu (1918), the Boxing Day Tsunami (2004), and the Haitian Earthquake (2010), which should convince any of us that it is a fearful thing to be in the hand of a God who can suddenly bring us into judgment.

If one sees the name Jezebel as a merely figurative assignation, (i.e. there was not a woman actually named Jezebel in Thyatira), then I would think it was permissible to see her children along the same figurative line. In that case, the children would be her second layer or level of followers rather than actual biological offspring. Those she commits adultery with would be the first layer, those that are won to her way as a result of the first layer would be the children. All three (her, her first followers, and the followers of followers) are justifiably threatened with judgment, for none are innocent.

When God strikes in judgment, it is meant to get our attention, but does he do so just because he desires to demonstrate his wrath? I think that the answer to that question must be both yes and no. No, in that he didn't desire it within himself as if wrath were an attribute of his nature; yes, in that given rebellion, he does desire to respond to it with wrath. Apart from creatures rebelling, there would be no need for, nor any expression of wrath--God is not innately wrathful. He doesn't have to, and hasn't fixed the game just so he has an opportunity to hurt someone and break things, but when it comes to unrepented of rebellion, God wants folk to know what reaction to expect from him.

So never read the wrong message into his patient forebearance--God searches the mind and heart, with absolute transparency. And what he knows in secret, he'll make known in judgment seen by all.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Thorny Issue in Healing

Continuing with the subject of Divine Healing, with a review of some pertinent scripture verses: 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

And let's review the basics I've presented up to this point: a) humans experience sickness because they are born in bodies that were stricken with the curse of death due to Adam's sin; b) only by getting new bodies not stricken by that curse will Christians not be susceptible to illness; c) the Devil attempts to take advantage of that susceptibility to bring us to greater depths of misery than we otherwise would experience, but he is not the ultimate author of sickness and disease; d) in expunging the curse upon sinners through his own unmerited death, Christ undermined the foundation of illness; e) therefore, when Christians do experience illness, they can call upon God for healing in very much the same way they would call upon him for forgiveness if they had sinned.

This all sounds so simple and straightforward, but if I'm honest I'd have to admit that things don' t work that crisply and cleanly in the real world. God, apparently, juggles more variables in governing our lives than we can ever be aware of. Just when we think we have it figured out, and have identified all the relevant factors, the unexplainable (or maybe just the entirely too complex) comes upon us and we face that same awe striking reality Job did. Our understanding distills in those moments like Job's did in his--God is God and that has to be enough for us.

Some issues Christians face are just thorny. Like Job, the Apostle Paul had his moment of clarity (or resignation?) concerning such perplexities. Even though we anticipate God watching over our lives to bring blessing, there are times we are pummeled with everything but blessing. What can we learn from Paul's or Job's experience? Even though Paul did what any person of faith should do when faced with a physical attack (i.e. pain, disability, or sickness), whether directly attributable to the Devil or not, he got none of the relief the atonement of Christ would have been expected to deliver.

Let me sketch out the particulars of his circumstance in the hopes that we'll see this the same way: 1) Paul was afflicted by a singular source of irritation that "beat" his flesh (which I find hard not to see in physical terms as pain); 2) the Devil was the agent which visited this suffering upon Paul; 3) Paul prayed diligently in faith for "healing" (as I've posited should be our approach); 4) God had a spiritual agenda operating for Paul's benefit which acted synchronously, almost symbiotically, with the Devil's evil one; and 5) in the end, Paul celebrated his "beaten but unhealed", condition because in not succeeding in destroying him, it demonstrated God's miraculous power (perhaps as much as healing would have).

When physical suffering is clearly from the Devil, as in this case, the certainty that it is not ours to bear is that much more definite. We are the blood-bought, blood-washed children of God. The Devil has no business nor any right in afflicting us. Operating from that perspective, Paul asked once for it to be gone, nothing. Twice, nothing still. Thrice the charm? Not in this case.

Paul's faith in God's deliverance through Christ was sure, hence his importunity. Certainly, he understood the implications of Christ's atonement as well as anyone ever did. If ever there was a candidate for the healing ministrations of Christ, Paul was that one. And yet God did not heal Paul, he gave him a word instead. It was a promise of victory even though it wasn't a promise of healing.

Huh? God promised that even though the affliction remained, it would not get the best of him. Despite that thorn, Paul would go on and God's grace would be sufficient to carry him through whatever the Devil threw at him. I'm led to conclude that overcoming can look different from God's perspective than from ours.

I know dear brothers and sisters in the Lord who are full of faith and lead outstanding Spirit-filled lives of love and faithfulness, yet they are chronically sick and feeble or are lame. Diabetes, in particular, is a stubborn culprit for many dear brothers and sisters in God's kingdom. Did a lack of faith either create their conditions or does it keep them in them? No, I don't think so, but I do think we, like Paul, need to express the importunity of faith before we resign ourselves to those conditions.

Healing has already been won for us by Christ, provided in his atonement. Why should any of us accept a thorn, that by rights is not ours, without a word from the Lord that tells us to?