Monday, July 28, 2014

An Unforgivable Sin?

It is an extremely common perspective to think that suicide is a sure ticket to Hell. If any sin is unforgivable, it must be the sin of suicide. Why? Well, a successful suicide gives the person that commits it no opportunity to repent, and we all know that without repentance you can't be saved. Further, it is God who says, "But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (Rev 21:8). Suicide is self-murder. Next question?

I was reading Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress where one of the believers that accompanied Christian spoke of suicide as a sure method of going to Hell, even for believers. I got to thinking about it. I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to disagree with the good Pastor Bunyan on this one.

I think that suicide is a sin. I think it is a grievous sin. It is murder, a slap in the face of God who made us in His image. But I have to say that I can't come to the conclusion that it is unforgivable. Why? Let's look at Scripture.

First, there is the argument from silence. The Bible does not list suicide as unforgivable. There is, in fact, only one sin listed as unforgivable.
"Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven" (Matt 12:31).
Jesus's words. Note, first, "any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people." This is an "either/or" arrangement. Either you have committed "blasphemy against the Spirit" and cannot be forgiven or you have committed "any [other] sin and blasphemy" and can. Seems like this ends the question. Any sin and blasphemy except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit can be forgiven. But ... it likely doesn't. So let's look further.

John speaks of "a sin leading to death".
If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death (1 John 5:16-17).
Now, the commentators I've found can't be certain to what "a sin leading to death" refers. But almost to a man they agree that it is referring to physical death. All sin leads to spiritual death (in Natural Man). For the believer (John uses the word "brother" here), we stand forgiven.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
If we confess, we are cleansed "from all unrighteousness", not just the sin we've confessed. So the sin that leads to death likely refers to physical death. There are many, in fact, that can do that. Sexual immorality, drug use, and others can easily produce death. Murder can put you under a death sentence. Thus, to pray for someone who has committed one of these sins in order to restore them would be pointless. A believer is forgiven by God, but still faces the temporal consequences. But suicide would seem to necessarily fall outside that arrangement (since you can't pray for the restoration of a person who committed suicide).

What else can we learn from Scripture on the subject? Well, there is the example of Samson. In Judges 16:27-30, Samson prays for the strength to commit suicide, and God answers. In Hebrews 11:32 he is listed as a man of faith.

The most convincing to me, however, is this passage in Romans:
28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? 33 Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; 34 who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? (Rom 8:28-35).
Yes, yes, I know, a lot of stuff there. But it is an entire thought. God causes all things to work together for good. What good? To be conformed to the image of His Son. So Paul lists a chain here of unconditional things -- "These whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified." It's not what you or I do; God does it. Paul concludes from this certainty "If God is for us, who is against us?" He asks specifically, "Who will bring a charge against God's elect?" Not God. Not Jesus. The two that have the right will not bring a charge. "Who will separate us from the love of Christ?" The answer is clear. No one. Nothing. Impossible.

I think that suicide is a grievous sin. I can't actually think of a circumstance you or I might encounter that would mitigate it. But I can't conclude, based on these Scriptures, that it is unforgivable. Logically, if unrepented sin results in certain Hell, it is extremely likely that you and I will go to our deaths with something unrepented. No, we must repent, but our repentance is granted (2 Tim 2:25), not mustered and maintained. Our forgiveness isn't predicated on our ability to recall and repent of every single violation. If that's where I had to rest, I would have precious little rest. No, it is in the blood of Christ that I rest. You should, too.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Well Equipped

The Gospel -- the Good News -- begins with bad news because without bad news there is no good news. The bad news, then, is that "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23) and "The wages of sin is death" (Rom 6:23). The bad news is the fallen condition of each and every one of us. As humans we are hostile to God, blinded by the god of this world, dead in sin, intent only on evil, and all the rest.

The good news that Christ died to pay for our evil condition and the Holy Spirit will make us new is truly good news indeed. But it would be a mistake to think that, therefore, we who are in Christ are all wonderful people. The Christian life, in fact, is a life of "sanctification" (the theological term) -- a life of being transformed from the shortcoming that we are to the image of Christ. And that won't actually be finished this side of heaven.

This process of sanctification is a process of renewing the mind (Rom 12:2) and a life of obedience. Indeed, if you've looked at the call of God on your life compared with your own abilities, I don't think "inadequate" would be a sufficient descriptive. "Impossible" would be more like it. That's why I was so interested in Paul's second letter to the church at Corinth where he wrote,
Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Cor 3:4-6).
Paul speaks of confidence, but it is not confidence in his own abilities. "Not that we are adequate in ourselves" he says of his confidence. No the confidence is "through Christ".

The tendency, though, is to go to the other side. "Well, if I'm not adequate, I should just stay out of the way and let God do what He will." And Paul says that's wrong as well. True, we are inadequate, but that's not the end of the story. God "made us adequate."

You see how that works? Yes, if you are reasonable and honest, we are inadequate to do what God asks. But the conclusion is not that we should then not do anything. The way God works is to make us adequate and then use us. It's like the Philippians 2 passage where we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (our job), but we do it because it is God who is at work in us to will and to do His good pleasure (Phil 2:12-13). You see, we do because He does in us.

Do you see this amazing arrangement, then, in Christ? We come to Him as failures deserving eternal judgment. We trust in Him alone. In this new relationship, He calls on us to do the impossible, enables us to do it, and then gives us rewards for having done it. Does it get any better than that?

Saturday, July 26, 2014

I Don't Want to Hear It

When retired coach Tony Dungy was asked if he would have drafted Michael Sam (the gay guy who plays football) on his team, he made a serious mistake. He gave an honest answer. He said he wouldn't have, "not because I don't believe Machael Sam should have a chance to play, but I wouldn't want to deal with all of it." In his subsequent clarification, he said it was not about a problem with Sam, his sexual orientation, or his ability. It was about the media attention and the distraction that brings. That, of course, is still unacceptable. Well, that kind of thinking was acceptable when it was Tebow with too much media hype over his religious views -- no one rallied to his defense -- but this is something else entirely.

Yahoo Sports writer Dan Wetzel was irate. Tony Dungy was the first African-American to win the Super Bowl. He benefited from inclusivism rather than racial exclusivism. And now he's trying to exclude someone just because he's gay. Sam Champion[1] was quite sure that Tony would not draft Michael Sam because he 's gay ... which, of course, is the opposite of what Dungy said. And so it goes. The tirades have all been against Dungy.

Now, I wish to be clear here. I am not writing this because Dungy was right (or wrong) or because his detractors were wrong (or right) or because Michael Sam should (or shouldn't) play football as a gay player. What I find most interesting in all this is an underlying reality. In the public world, you're free to have private views, but we are not willing to listen to them in public if they don't agree with our own. Especially on certain issues. Like sexual orientation, gender identity, Christian values and morality, politics ... well, the list starts to grow rapidly. Here's the thinking: "If you disagree with me, I don't want to hear it." We will not analyze the disagreement and figure out where the truth lies and where the errors are. We will not engage in a civil exchange of ideas, a dialog where you can tell me more fully what you think and I can give you the reasons why I think what I do. No. We will have a loud, emotional response, resort to namecalling and character assassination, and figure out any other way we can silence and destroy the opposition. Because we just don't want to hear it.

My point? I am convinced that those who are unwilling to discuss, unwilling to examine, unwilling to evaluate opposing ideas (especially as they are rather than as we make them out to be) are actually unsteady on their own ideas and values. If one is thoroughly convinced of one's views because of careful thought and examination, there is no threat in listening to the other side. No harm will come from hearing it. So when the anger rises because someone says something with which I disagree, there ought to be a little warning light that goes off in the back of my head that says, "Methinks you doth protest too much." Because I'm convinced that those who are unwilling to hear and examine the opposition are likely not fully convinced of their own views.
________
[1] You know Sam Champion. He's well-known in the sports world for his sports prowess, experience, and wisdom ... as an NBC weatherman.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Fusillade

I like words. That's a fun word. "Fusillade". Don't know why. I just like it. It means "a volley of shots" or "a sustained attack".

So what?

I am a person that likes to examine things. I don't merely want to know what I think is true; I want to know the truth. Because I've found in the past that sometimes what I have believed to be true was, after all, not true. Simple things, complicated things, political things, spiritual things. I've found I've been wrong on all sorts of things. So, given a valid source of information and the proper set of arguments, I change my mind. I'm not nearly as interested in fighting or even in defending my position as I am in the truth. If I don't have it, I want it. If I have it, I want to keep it. And even share it.

So I grew up as what I thought was a Calvinist. By that I meant that I believed Once Saved, Always Saved (OSAS). Those Arminians, you see -- they believe you can lose your salvation. I knew better. It wasn't until I was well into adulthood that I discovered that not only was I a four-point Arminian, but that the one point I held that seemed Calvinist wasn't even accurate. Oh, no. For all intents and purposes, I was of the Arminian persuasion. And then I got hit with a barrage of Scriptures. They (the Scriptures) told me that the condition of Natural Man was not sin-sick, but dead. We aren't mostly inclined to evil; we are only inclined to evil. We aren't apathetic toward God; we are hostile to God. It's not that we don't do enough good. Natural Man does no good. All this and more. So when the evangelist walks into the graveyard with his best offering of the Gospel, he is offering it to dead people. "It's okay," he'll tell them. "Take your time. The buses will wait. Come to Jesus!" And he's right ... except that it's dead people he's talking to. The only way they can respond is if they are given life to respond, and that doesn't lie within their capabilities. There is only one Lifegiver. And when He gives life, they respond. They surely do come. They respond from the heart in faith, repenting and believing. And when they do, He casts out not one. He insures that every one of them perseveres to the end. All this I've found in the pages of Scripture in opposition to what I originally believed.

Now they (other Christians) tell me that I'm wrong ... again. They tell me that we're mostly dead in sin, but not entirely dead. They tell me that we certainly can understand the things of God -- Paul meant something different (1 Cor 2:14). They tell me that we make the choice and God chooses us for it. They assure me that a God who didn't freely offer this to all with the intent that all be saved and that all can come -- nothing at all stands in their way -- would not be a loving God.

Me? I'm a person that likes to examine things. So I want to know how this works. How can we be "dead in sin" but not? What did Paul mean when he said, "Natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised" (1 Cor 2:14) if he didn't mean that Natural man does not accept the things of God and cannot understand them? What did David mean and Paul when he quoted him when he said, "There is none who does good" if he didn't mean there is none who does good, or "There is none who seek after God" if we all know that it is common and prevalent? When John wrote that we "were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:13) and Paul wrote, "So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy" (Rom 9:16), in what sense does it all depend on our free will? If Jesus said that the flesh profits nothing and I'm supposed to believe that the flesh can produce the necessary faith and repentance to profit me salvation, how do I align these?

You see, I'm asking questions. I want to know how all of these Scriptures (and so much more) should be understood since they aren't to be understood as they appear to be intended. And all I typically get in response is a fusillade. (See? I worked that word in there.) I get a volley of shots over the wall. "You're wrong! Everyone knows it! You don't get it!" I've never actually seen, "Look, let's sit down and calmly examine the Scriptures in question to see how you've missed the point." No, it's that doggone fusillade. It is usually angry and rapid fire and aimed at my heart. I just want to know. But I'm not likely to get a calm give-and-take on this. Apparently it's a "hill too far", a point of contention that requires shooting rather than diplomacy. I don't know. Maybe "fusillade" is not such a fun word after all.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Suffer Not

Look, you're human, aren't you? I mean, don't we all make a point to avoid suffering? On the other hand, universal to the human experience is exactly that -- suffering. It is the problem of God, in fact, isn't it? "If God is love and God is good, why does He allow suffering?" The question, of course, isn't really offered as a request for information. It's offered as a supposed proof against God.

The Bible, however, is not silent on the subject. Some of the best information is found in 2 Corinthians.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort (2 Cor 1:3-7).
Paul starts with a blessing for God. The subject at hand? Suffering. Paul says first that God is blessed for comforting us when we suffer. That's good. We like that. Further, he assures us that we will suffer: "The sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance." Have you bought the notion that Christians (or, perhaps, anybody else) should not suffer. Not going to happen. We will suffer and God will comfort.

I find it interesting that Paul explains why God comforts us. He says exactly that He comforts us "so that" and gives us the reason for God's comfort: "We will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." God comforts you in suffering for His glory, of course, but also to give you the tools to comfort others in the same situation. It is schooling, so to speak. Your pain gives you a platform from which to offer assistance with the wisdom of experience. "Yes, I've been there. Let me tell you how God got me through it ..." The more you suffer and are comforted by God, the more you are able to comfort others. It's a good thing!

"But, Stan, Paul isn't talking about suffering so much as he is about comfort." Yes, so far. But read on. "If we are afflicted," he says (and he just said that the sufferings of Christ was theirs in abundance), "it is for your comfort and salvation." There it is in plain language. Why do we suffer? We are comforted in suffering in order to comfort others. But why do we suffer? "For your comfort and salvation." When you endure affliction and receive comfort from God, when you work through tough times and continue on the path, when you endure with thanksgiving the pain of life, others are comforted. You give others safer ground on which to stand.

We all know the catch phrase, "No pain, no gain." The Bible has its own version here. And I'm convinced that our most fruitful times of growth occur not when we're comfortable, but when we're not. When we're in the most pain, the most conflict, the most difficult circumstances and have nowhere to turn but to God's comfort, that's when we are most blessed and others are most comforted by it. Suffer not? I don't think so.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

On Biblical Hate

In the famous "count the cost" passage (Luke 14:25-35) Jesus says something that is disturbing.
"If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:26).
Wait, wait ... hate his own father and mother and wife and children? Are you sure that's what He said? Yes, indeed, that's exactly it. Of course, this is a problem because we are told not to hate (Matt 15:4). So what does He mean here? The answer is common and adequate. Look, for instance, at a story from Genesis. We learn that Jacob had two wives, one he wanted and one he didn't. The text says "he loved Rachel more than Leah" (Gen 29:30). The next verse says, "When the Lord saw that Leah was hated ..." (Gen 29:31). Now, wait a minute! It didn't say Jacob hated Leah; it said he loved her less than Rachel. Oh, and, yes, that's the idea. So the Matthew 10 language would be preferred.
"Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me" (Matt 10:37).
That's more the idea. A comparative response. Not hate as we generally mean it, but that the difference between loving father and mother and loving Christ would be so great as to appear to despise (consider of no value) father and mother, etc.

That's fine. Every commentator agrees on this. It has been the historical position. The context, the parallel texts, the similar concepts elsewhere all confirm this. And we're okay with it.

But ... are we? It's an odd thing, I think, but when we start to wrestle with this passage, we forget, well, the passage. We work through all this, figuring out just what Jesus did and didn't mean by "hate" and finally come to a reasonable conclusion. But we forget to plug that conclusion back into the text. I say that because look at the text. If "hate" here means "to devalue", then Jesus is telling us that we must devalue father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters ... yeah, we see that ... and our own lives.

Now, wait a minute! That's going too far! After all, each of us knows how valuable we are. We know how important we are. We know that Christ died for us, that we hold great value as image bearers of God, that we are gifted and called and saved. We are important. I mean, look, isn't it a given that we will love ourselves (Eph 5:29)? So this is a bit too much, even if it doesn't mean actual hate. It is the bridge too far, so to speak.

Jesus said that unless we hate our own lives, we could not be His disciples. We now have a choice. Will we hold to a higher view of ourselves, or will we agree with Christ? On the surface it may seem like an easy question. "We'll agree with Christ!" Really? How about when bad things happen? Will you complain, "Why, God?!", or will you say, "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord"? When trials occur will you bemoan the difficulties or will you "count it all joy"? Because, you see, it's much easier to handle hardships and trials from the hand of God if we don't have an over-inflated view of our worth. If, on the other hand, we're pretty sure God is lucky to have us, that gets a bit more difficult. Will you "hate your own life", at least in the sense of "devalue in respect to Christ", or are you going to stand on your own importance and value and demand that Christ agree? Because as far as I can tell the number one problem is our own demand for respect and consideration from God. "I will be like the Most High." And when He doesn't meet our demands, we're offended. Because, you see, we do not, in any sense of the word, hate our own lives. Something to consider.

Postscript:
Of course, there is another option. We can just say, "This text makes no sense as it is written and we will discard it in favor of some other obscure-but-favorable understanding because you can't treat the Bible like it's clear, true, or ... what ... divinely inspired? Come on!" But, then, you'll have to deal with every single passage that anyone might question and you'll lose any sense of basic certainty about anything "Christian". Your call.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

On Their Way Out

It is an undeniable fact. Many kids raised in Christian homes head off to college only to find their faith challenged and failing. They leave "good little Christians" thoroughly inculcated and come home "free thinkers", skeptics, and atheists. Now, to be fair, it's not just college-bound students here. Apparently it's all kids.

The Barna Group did a study that indicated that 60% of all Christians after age 15 "disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church life." Why is that? What could possibly be going so wrong? Barna offers 6 reasons.
Reason #1 – Churches seem overprotective.
Reason #2 – Teens' and twentysomethings' experience of Christianity is shallow.
Reason #3 – Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
Reason #4 – Young Christians' church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
Reason #5 – They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
Reason #6 – The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.
Don't worry. It only gets worse. Barna also indicates that "about three out of ten young people who grow up with a Christian background stay faithful to church and to faith throughout their transitions from the teen years through their twenties." Nice. So it's not just college and it's not just teens and it's not just 60%.

What to do? Well, we could run with the Barna research and fix things. Stop being so shallow. Embrace science. Certainly embrace sexuality and avoid being judgmental. Let's set aside this whole "exclusivity" thing, as if Christianity is the only way to God. And be more friendly to doubters, you know? These, of course, are simplistic answers ... at best. The church is likely too shallow today, but I'm pretty sure that young people from genuinely deep churches are also leaving the faith. It isn't actually true that Christianity is opposed to science. It may be opposed to some modern interpretations, but the two are not synonymous. What is being suggested, then, is not that the church embrace science, but that the church embrace modern materialism that denies the supernatural and ... oops! ... now we're out of Christianity. Young people would like to be allowed the free expression of their sexuality, but to do so would be a direct violation of Christ and the rest of the Bible (Matt 15:19; Rom 13:13; 1 Cor 5:11; 1 Cor 6:13, 18; 1 Cor 10:8; Gal 5:19; Eph 5:3; 1 Thess 4:3; Rev 2:14; etc.). And the "exclusivity" thing is both from the lips of our Savior (John 14:6) and logically required[1]. But, hey, I do indeed think that churches should bear one anothers' burdens, and doubt is one of them, so ... well, that's one of the 6 I can go with.

Others assure us that we're simply not preparing our kids well enough. If we only taught them Apologetics from their youth, they'd be ready to handle the questions when they arise. This, too, seems simplistic.

Randy Alcorn offers two issues that we are not preparing our kids to handle. First is the problem of evil and suffering. Second is the problem of sexual purity. Both, it seems to me, indicate a failure -- a failure to teach them "to observe all that I have commanded you" (Matt 28:19-20).

The other failure, in my view, is the failure of example. I don't think kids are leaving the faith because they simply aren't prepared. I don't think they're leaving their parents' faith. I think they're leaving a faith they've rarely seen, the faith genuinely lived. When Jesus washed His disciples' feet, He said, "I have given you an example" (John 13:15). Paul told the Thessalonians that he didn't do what he did because of rights, but "to give you in ourselves an example to imitate" (2 Thess 3:9). He urged the Philippians, "Join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us" (Phil 3:17).

I think young people are leaving the faith because they've never seen it. What they've seen is the tares among the wheat. They aren't suffering from an over-expression of too much genuine Christian love (1 Cor 13:4-8), but the absence of it. They aren't dying out because of too much good teaching, but from the absence of it. They aren't going out from us because they are of us, but because they never have been of us (1 John 2:19). In other words, they are not abandoning their faith. They haven't seen much of it and they've never actually had it. If this is true, no amount of "Apologetics" is going to solve the problem. Being an example of genuine faith, "teaching them to observe all that I [Christ] have commanded you", and presenting the genuine Gospel in love would be far more effective than classes on defending the faith and a better organized youth group. Sure, we do indeed need to prepare them (as Paul did the Ephesians in Acts 20), but those mostly mechanical methods don't begin to do the necessary task of discipleship and exampleship (yes, I just made that word up). Doing good things to the neglect of more important things is not a good approach (Luke 11:42).
________
[1] If all religions claim to be the exclusive truth (and they do), then there are limited logical alternatives. It could be that all religions are false, or one of them could be right. It is not possible that all (or even more than one) could be right, since they all make claim to exclusivity.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Jesus was a Liberal

Believe it or not there is actually a website dedicated to the proposition that Jesus was a liberal. No, seriously. Look it up.

What is a liberal? The question is kind of important, isn't it? I mean, after all, we need to know what we're talking about when we use the argument. (You'll need to know what a conservative is if you argue that way, too, by the way.) The dictionary is abundantly ... vague. It may mean "favorable to progress or reform." Or it could refer to a preference to representational forms of government rather than monarchies. (Yeah, who'd have thought it?) Popular in the definitions is "free from prejudice" or the like. You know, "tolerant", "broad-minded", "embracing those of different views and standards of behavior", that kind of thing. We can't forget "not bound by traditional ideas" and especially "characterized by generosity." I particularly liked "not limited to orthodox views."[1] And I was impressed with "not strict or literal; loose or approximate." And there was the completely useless definition, "member of the Liberal Party." Thanks. That was no help at all. I really liked how this article started out.
Liberalism is too dynamic and flexible a concept to be contained in a precise definition.
I suppose that encapsulates my problem here. Was Jesus a liberal? If you are going to say "He was too dynamic and flexible to be contained in a precise definition," I might just agree with you. But, of course, that's not what they mean when they say it. What do they mean? You see, I suspect that "liberal" is defined differently by conservatives than by liberals just as the opposite is also true. So who is making the statement is a big issue when trying to figure out what is being said. John Hallowell listed these as the key components of liberalism:
I) A belief in the absolute value of human personality and spiritual equality of the individual;
II) A belief in the autonomy of the individual will;
III) A belief in the essential rationality and goodness of man;
IV) A belief in certain inalienable rights of the individual, particularly, the rights of life, liberty and property;
V) That state comes into existence by mutual consent for the purpose of protection of rights;
VI) That the relationship between the state and the individual is a contractual one;
VII) That social control can best be secured by law rather than command;
VIII) Individual freedom in all spheres of life-political, economic, social,Intellectual and religious;
IX) The government that governs the least is the best;
X) A belief that truth is accessible to man's natural reason.
So, was Jesus that kind of liberal?

Well, Jesus believed in the value of humans. The human personality? Not quite sure what that means. He considered people "sick" (Matt 9:12) and "lost" (Luke 19:10) and in need of repentance (Matt 4:17; Mark 1:15; Luke 13:1-5). Is that a belief in the value of human personality? He certainly believed in the spiritual equality of the individual. "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:2-3). That is, they are equally in need of spiritual salvation.

Jesus believed in the autonomy of the will[2] ... but I didn't think that conservatives, Christians, or anyone else thought otherwise.

I don't think Jesus believed in "the essential rationality and goodness of man," just going off the passages I've already offered. He certainly didn't see the Pharisees as essentially good. He didn't pronounce woes over the cities of Israel because they were essentially good. He didn't walk into the Temple with a whip because they were essentially good. He didn't even tell the woman caught in adultery, "Go and sin no more" because He thought she was essentially good. No, that's not working.

I don't think we can find anything in Scripture that would reference "a belief in certain inalienable rights of the individual" in terms of "the rights of life, liberty, and property." He told the rich young ruler that the way to heaven was not to retain personal property (Luke 18:22) and offered His disciples two options with everything else: "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (Mark 12:17). His personal life of owning nothing but what He wore did not bode well for a belief in property rights. He didn't seem to think that property was particularly important.

Jesus didn't actually have much to say about the government, so no genuine biblical proof can be offered about Jesus's view on the existence of the state by mutual consent or the contractual relationship between individual and state. But I have to ask, do conservatives think differently on those things? Don't conservatives in general agree with the Declaration of Independence, too? So can these items (V and VI) be distinctively "liberal"?

I can say with relative certainly that Jesus did not believe that reform is accomplished by law rather than command. He believed reform occurred by rebirth (John 3:3-17) and training by the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). Reform in Jesus's mind comes first and foremost by a relationship with Him, not by law or command. Instead, He assured us "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15), making "obeying commands" a result of loving Him, not the cause.

Given Jesus's demand for obedience, can it be said that He favored individual freedom in all spheres of life? Do we think of "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me" (Mark 8:34) as a stand for individual freedom?

And given Jesus's claim that the Holy Spirit, not "man's natural reason", would lead them into all truth, it looks like Jesus didn't meet that one, either.

Now, to be fair, none of this is conclusive. He agreed with some parts and not with other parts and some we can't even know. Was Jesus a liberal? I'd say that Jesus didn't fall in the categories required sufficiently to say. But, since Jesus was God Incarnate and liberalism can't be defined, that's pretty much what you'd expect, isn't it?
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[1] I find this one actually funny because the underlying definition of "orthodoxy" is "right belief". If there was anything Jesus believed in it was right belief.

[2] By "autonomy" I mean that humans have the ability to make uncoerced choices. I don't think that, in the final analysis, anyone can rationally mean actual autonomy. Genuine autonomy is free of all limitations. At the very least, our wills are limited by things like physics. You can't, for instance, simply decide to fly because you choose to. There are limitations to choices everywhere. The amount of limitation may vary depending on your view, but no view includes no limitations, so genuine autonomy can't actually exist.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Testament

You know me. I'm a wordsmith. I think words are important. So, there I am, flipping through my Bible to my morning reading, and what do I see but the cover page for "The New Testament of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." "Well, sure," you might think. "Everyone knows that. Old Testament, New Testament, what's the big deal." The big deal is that I think words are important ... and I had to figure out just what was meant by the "new testament".

Let's see ... "Testament", noun ... okay, what is it? 1) a will setting out the disposition of personal property. Oh, yeah, we know that one. You're "last will and testament". Got it. No, that's not this. Okay, 2) a proof, attestation, or tribute. Like the book, A Testament to Freedom: The Essential Writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, attesting the importance and value of freedom. Got it. Nope! That's not it either. Hmmm. So what is this "New Testament" thing? 3) a covenant instituted between God and Man. Oh, now, see? We have arrived.

The "Old Testament" and the "New Testament" are written around the concept of covenants instituted by God toward Man. In Scripture there are actually quite a few covenants. There is the Adamic covenant (Gen 3:16-19) where God declares unconditionally the conditions on earth under the sin of man. There is the Noahic covenant (Gen 9:1-18) where God establishes human government, sealed by a rainbow. A famous one is the Abrahamic covenant, offered without condition. It actually occurs over several chapters of Genesis (Gen 12:1-4; 13:14-17; 15:1-8) and is reconfirmed with Isaac and Jacob. It guaranteed God's particular blessings to Abraham's offspring, the permanence of Israel, and the certainty of a "seed" that would save the nations. It was sealed with circumcision. Perhaps the best known is the Mosaic covenant. It is best known simply because the Ten Commandments form a major portion of this agreement between God and Israel. Oh, and this one was conditional. It included 613 laws and touched every Jew as well as the rest of us. It is, in fact, primarily this covenant -- this Testament -- in view when we refer to the "Old Testament". There were more, of course, but you get the idea.

Enter the "New Testament". It was guaranteed in Jeremiah. "'Behold, days are coming,' declares the LORD, 'when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah'" (Jer 31:31). But it actually arrives with the Messiah. We read about it in the Gospels. In the upper room Jesus said, "This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins" (Matt 26:28). Welcome to the new covenant between God and Man. This covenant is "new and improved". It folds in the previous ones, adding Gentiles to the mix, but it has a different quality.
Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen (Heb 13:20-21).
Get that? An eternal covenant. Now, with the former covenants, some had conditions and some did not. This one is simple. It plays off the Abrahamic covenant (Gal 3:13-20) but clarifies it as a reference to Christ, explained by the Law, and bases it on faith in Christ.
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them (Eph 2:8-10).
Saved apart from works by grace through faith. Created for good works. End of story.

When we read "Old Testament" and "New Testament", we typically think "This half of the book" and "That half." It is oh, so much more. It is a covenant based on faith and on the blood of Christ that guarantees an eternity with God. Maybe "this half of the book" is a less-than-satisfactory way to think about the amazing gift of this eternal covenant between God and every believer in Christ. Such a deal!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Law of Unintended Consequences

I'm sure you've heard of it. It's pretty simple. The concept is that actions, particularly those taken on a large scale as by governments, may have unexpected consequences. And we see it all the time. President Obama quickly and happily withdrew American troops from Iraq (action) which emboldened Al Qaeda forces and is now ripping Iraq apart (unintended consequence). Somebody figured out that certain naturally occurring silicates are fire resistant and could be used in things to improve resistance to fire and tensile strength (action) resulting in lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other deadly side effects of the use of asbestos (unintended consequence). Lawmakers decide that "three strikes" was enough and law-breakers that went to prison the third time would die in prison (action), which has encouraged people who have two strikes to murder if necessary to avoid getting caught again (unintended consequence). The "Stranger Danger" Campaign to teach kids not to speak to strangers (action) may actually endanger them if they don't speak to strangers who can help them (unintended consequence). Increasing taxes at some point (action) actually results in decreased tax revenues (unintended consequence). Science comes up with an effective insecticide to prevent bugs from killing crops (action) and the insecticides kill bees as well, endangering crops ... and life on Earth (unintended consequence).

I remember the story of a lake in Tennessee that was the home to a rare Brown Trout. Fishermen loved it. The only problem was the mosquitos that surrounded the lake. Well, now, we're not stupid. You can't poison the bugs without poisoning the fish. So they came up with a "natural" plan -- smoke. Lay down a layer of smoke around the rim of the lake and the mosquitos go away. And it worked (action)! Of course, the fish all died because the mosquito was their food source (unintended consequence).

My favorite example (maybe "favorite" isn't the right word) is the TV commercials for those wonder drugs that will ease your problems with depression (action) followed by the warnings that the drug may increase the risk of suicide (unintended consequence).

"Yeah, so?"

I am always amused when people tell me, "Morality is based on the concept of harm. Doing harm is bad. It's not bad if it does no harm." Given the constant, non-stop river of unintended consequences. It seems that there is hardly a single thing we can do that doesn't have negative unintended consequences. And then we have the audacity when God says "This is a sin" to say that "I don't see that it does any harm, so it can't be" as if we have a clear understanding of what does harm.

Don't be fooled. We live in a world of unintended consequences. We don't know how it works. We don't know the ramifications. We don't see the interconnections. So we have little reliable basis on which to correctly declare "no harm" regarding that which God says is sin. Perhaps we ought to let the Maker decide how His works operate.

Friday, July 18, 2014

God's Will for My Life

I can't tell you how many times I've heard people asking, begging, pleading, "How can I know the will of God for my life?" In truth, any genuine disciple of Christ would want that, but I just think it's not as hard as we try to make it. I always want to ask, "Did you ask Him?" Because it seems to me that His Word is full of "the will of God for my life." Take this passage, for instance:
1 Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. (1 Thess 4:1-7).
It's right there in black and white. "This is the will of God." No ambiguity. No interpretation. "Is He saying this is His will for my life?" Not a question. "This is the will of God." Okay, good! Something clear, concise, straightforward! What is the will of God? "Your sanctification." "Ummm, well ... you see, that's kind of vague, general, not entirely to the point. We know He generally wants our sanctification. But what specifically does He have in mind there?" Don't worry. It's not vague. It is precise, explicit, very clear. "Abstain from sexual immorality."

Seriously, it's as clear as that. He starts with, "Do you want to know the will of God for your life?" followed by the vague, "Your sanctification" and ending with, "I am speaking specifically here about sexual immorality." Lest you think Paul and I are being reductionists here, he goes on about this. He wants each of us to know how to control his own body in holiness and honor. We are not to operate on the basis of passion, of lust. (That ought to put a crimp in the whole "Go with what you're passionate about, son" concept.).

The King James says, "the lust of concupiscence". I like that word, concupiscence. Sure, it rolls trippingly off the tongue, but its meaning is so ... to the point. The word refers to strong desire. It is most often but not solely used in terms of sexual desire. So the idea is very clear. We are to control our bodies in holiness and honor, not operating on our passions.

But back up a moment, because I suspect this whole "contain your lust" idea might have derailed the train. We are not talking here about sexual sin. We are talking about sanctification which is the will of God for your life. What is God's will for your life? That you be sanctified. How is that obtained? Abstain from sexual immorality. And how is that obtained? Don't operate on passion and desire, but control yourself in holiness and honor.

Do you begin to see how big this is? This isn't a small item on the "be good" checklist. It isn't a side issue when people in your church are cohabiting. I know. The rest of our society sees living together before marriage as not only wise, but mandatory. No intelligent person would do otherwise. Except, of course, God's will for you is to "abstain from sexual immorality." No small deal. It's not like we're beating this whole "homosexual behavior is a sin" drum because we don't like gays. No! It's because God's will for you is to "abstain from sexual immorality." It's not small; it's central. "Yes, sure, I wrestle with porn. Doesn't just about everyone?" Not a wrestle, a primary problem. A direct contradiction to God's will. A direct assault on sanctification. A serious malady.

Isn't it odd that Paul doesn't expand further on this? I mean, what about the other sins? What about the other issues? Look, Paul, didn't Jesus talk about taking care of the poor and sharing the Gospel and loving your neighbor (oh, look out, close to a real problem there with our world's current definition of "loving your neighbor" as a sexual thing)? Why this whole "abstain from sexual immorality" as the only issue of sanctification as God's will for you? Well, I suppose it is first that it is by far the most common problem. In our culture everything has sexual immorality in it. Our commercials, our TV shows, our conversations, our Internet, our entertainment, our dress, our aims ... it is at the core of what our society thinks about. Our society, even among those that call themselves Christians, does not consider "sexual immorality" to be an issue. Sometimes not even a real thing. It's "normal" and "good" and only Puritanical, Victorian-era morality would think otherwise. So, secondly, it would stand to reason that if sanctification means "each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor" and sexual immorality is everywhere, then abstaining from sexual immorality would be at the core of learning to control your body. Learning to control yourself on the basis of holiness and honor rather than passions would be foundational to sanctification.

What is the will of God for you? Oh, that's easy. Abstain from sexual immorality. All types. Because it's everywhere and it's always a problem. Because God's will for you is the sanctification of controlling your body in holiness and honor. Look, I know ... there are lots of questions that begin with "What is God's will for me in regards to ...?" And maybe some of them will be more difficult to answer. But why not work on the easy answers first? I don't suspect that this one will be as easy as it sounds, but it is certainly clear. And what disciple of Christ does not want to do what God clearly says is His will?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Little Bit of Leaven

There are many churches today touting their "Third Way", their non-judgmental, tolerant way of embracing sinners "like Jesus did". By this they mean they don't mention the sin problems these people have. "It's not our place," they might say, but more often they're suggesting, "It may not even be sin." So when pollsters look at, say, divorce rates or "shacking up" -- sorry, "cohabitation" -- and find that the numbers among "Christians" and the secular aren't too different, we don't need to look very far as to why that is. No one is saying anything about it. Indeed, they're patting themselves on the back about that very thing.

Paul wrote to these churches. In his first epistle to the church at Corinth, Paul writes that he is horrified about the blatant sin going on in their midst (1 Cor 5). Now, to be fair, we're not clear on all the details of that sin. He says simply "someone has his father's wife' (1 Cor 5:1). It's interesting, for instance, that he does not say that the guy is sleeping with his own mother. He also does not say if she was still married to his father. All we know is that the man in question is a member in good standing of the congregation at Corinth and he has a woman identified as "his father's wife." Likely his step-mother. Likely his father divorced her. Certainly the church wasn't up in arms over it. Oh, no. "You have become arrogant and have not mourned" (1 Cor 5:2). This was a 21st century church. It welcomed sinners, embracing them with their sin, non-judgmental, tolerant. Nice church. Except Paul wasn't impressed.
Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened (1 Cor 5:6-7)
Paul's remedy was not "Let's have a love feast and tell everyone how open we are." It was "deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Cor 5:5). Paul was not non-judgmental or tolerant. He was outraged at the sin they were willing to accept.

"Yeah, you conservative Christians ... so judgmental. So hateful."

This is the suggestion when someone (you know, like me) calls for a solid stand on sin. And for some it may be hateful. For Paul it is not. When Paul writes his follow-up in his second epistle, he makes this clear. "I wrote to you with many tears; not so that you would be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you" (2 Cor 2:4). Nor did he want his readers to be confused themselves. "I urge you to reaffirm your love for him" (2 Cor 2:8). Paul's response to the sin in the church was not judgment and intolerance. It was love that required corrective action.

Peter writes of "righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men" (2 Peter 2:7). (I like the King James version -- "vexed".) Well, Paul was vexed, too. Sin in the camp needed to be handled quickly and decisively "so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes" (2 Cor 2:11).

There are sins that require this kind of response. They are sins among so-called brethren (1 Cor 5:11). In fact, there's a list there made up of sexual immorality, covetousness, idolatry, reviling, drunkenness, or a swindling. So when churches today proudly embrace the sexually immoral -- those engaging in sexual relations outside of marriage (including homosexual relations ... at all) -- and call themselves "more Christ-like", they do so in violation of Scripture, Paul, even Jesus (who told the woman caught in adultery, "Go and sin no more."). They demonstrate a dangerous ignorance of the schemes of Satan and assist him in carrying them out. They introduce "a little leaven" that, as we can clearly see today, is making a mess of the whole lump. It's not a good thing.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Equal

On Monday the Church of England voted to allow the ordination of female bishops. Less than two years ago they voted not to allow it. Were they pressured? There can be no doubt. British Prime Minister David Cameron called it a "great day for the Church and for equality." Equality ...

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal ..." So begins the classic Declaration of Independence. It stirs the heart and makes you lift your chin a little higher as we boldly declare equality among humans. The term is "egalitarianism", the belief in the equality of all people. And, lest you think it is mere human opinion, we have it from the mouth of Paul, too.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28).
There you have it, clear as day.

But ... is it? You see, I think we need to be careful here not to say what isn't true, and it isn't true that "all men are created equal", at least not in just about any sense that you might intend. You see, "equal" appears to be a little too ... broad.

We know, for instance, that "equal" can mean "alike" or "identical". In that case, we can be quite certain that no two people are equal because no two people are exactly alike. Ever.

"Equal" could be used to express "uniform in operation or effect", and again we'd have to agree that no two people are alike. We all vary in both operation and effect.

And perhaps you begin to see the dilemma of "equal". We are not, as anyone can easily tell you, equal in height, weight, physical characteristics, mental abilities, talents, skills, education, finances, spirituality, politics, emotions, religious beliefs, fortitude ... the list just goes on and on and on. We are not created equal.

So what do we mean when we all agree that "all men are created equal"? Well, of course, we're talking equal worth. As humans, one human is not worth more than another. A CEO is not more valuable than a janitor. A president isn't worth more than a bartender. A PhD isn't worth more than a high school dropout. A man is not more valuable than a woman. To this we all agree[1].

So it baffles me when Christian egalitarians disagree with Christian complementarians. Read, for instance, the Statement of Faith from Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE) International. I don't find a single entry in that list with which I would disagree. Where's the rub? Well, we know where the rub is. Complementarians believe that God created man and woman as complementary -- each complementing the other -- and of equal value as image bearers of God, but not the same. (I don't even think that egalitarians would or could disagree with that statement.) The Bible gives differences between men and women, like when Paul states categorically that "Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ" (1 Cor 11:3). Men and women have shared value and shared commands, but they also have differing commands (e.g., Eph 5:22-33; Titus 2:1-5; 1 Cor 14:34-36; etc.). Egalitarians deny this. Their call is for "no difference" even when they admit differences.

Sadly, this difference of opinion is at the heart of many of the major issues of our day -- "gay marriage", "gender identity", "no-fault divorce", and so much more. And when Christians argue for "equality" without any definition and complain when a definition is offered, they don't realize the effects of the arguments on the reliability and clarity of Scripture, biblical morality, and even the Godhead itself. All while not even thinking about what "equal" really means.
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[1] Note that the Declaration of Independence pins this certainty on one necessary fact: God. If we are mere accidents of the universe and no Creator endowed us with value, then we are of no more worth than the ants we gleefully execute when they invade our pantries and our "equal worth" is null.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Looking Where You're Going

When I was taking driver's training, my instructor taught us, "Don't look at the parked cars along the road. Look straight ahead, where you're going." Why? "Because," he informed us, "there is a tendency to unconsciously aim for where you're looking."

It's true, you know. We tend to head in the direction we're looking. It's hard to walk straight ahead when you're looking to the side. We also tend to go in the direction we're looking in life. How many, for instance, have been caught in the very sin they've decried for so long? How many, holding to marital fidelity at the start, end up in adultery because they looked too long at another person or at pornography? James says that sin results when a man is "is drawn away of his own lust and enticed" (James 1:14). Looking that way, we go that way.

That, I think, is a big reason the Scriptures do not tell us to look at nothing. We are to be "wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matt 10:16). We have to walk this careful line: "Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret" (Eph 5:11-12). Expose them, but don't talk about them. "Don't be looking there." This is why Paul tells us:
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, think on these things (Phil 4:8).
Notice it's not daydreaming or the like. It is not ethereal. It is specific. It is positive. "Don't think about nothing in particular. Pay attention here."

Look where you're going, because you will likely go where you're looking. On the road or in your spiritual life.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Wrong Side of History

This is a popular new phrase being lobbed at Christians who stand steadfastly on the Word of God when it comes to the twin topics of marriage and homosexual behavior. "The Bible says" followed by a biblical definition of marriage and a biblical denunciation of homosexual behavior will, in this current theme, put you on "the wrong side of history." But I have to ask myself, just what do they mean by "the wrong side of history"?

Here's what they want you to believe. They want you to believe that history will judge you as being on the side of wrong. It is, by definition, a "future guess", so to speak. It must start with the premise "You're wrong and we're right" and simply throw an emotional "just you wait and see" grenade as if it proves something.

Of course, others don't see it that way. Others think "on the right side of history" simply means "where history is headed". Clearly those who hold to a biblical worldview in modern America are headed for the "wrong side of history" in that sense. The world continues to become more hostile toward Christian beliefs; we will end up on the wrong side of the tides of morality there. But, of course, we're promised that, aren't we? In this view, the "wrong side of history" simply means "the side that lost" and ends up as a "might makes right" argument. In this view, then, there is no actual defense of an idea or attack on the opposition. It is a "you don't count because we're stronger than you" argument. And it's often thrown out exactly that way with impunity and a sense of moral superiority.

There are those who (naively) believe that the progression of human events will necessarily go toward something better. This is a mindless notion (because history shows how wrong it is) in that it avoids all arguments and sits squarely on a false assumption. "If it happens, it was good." Nonsense and nothing more. "Progress" is not always "improvement". It is simply movement. At its basic definition, progress is only movement toward an objective. If that objective is, say, the conquering of Europe, Hitler made a lot of "progress". That wasn't a good thing.

As it turns out, then, the phrase we are being offered as a dire warning is ... pretty much pointless. It has no certainty, no defense, no argument behind it. It isn't clear enough to prove anything nor can it be proved itself. And given our serious inability to actually determine what is or isn't harmful, it is always questionable to blindly make such an argument. It only serves to make the speaker feel better, intellectual, morally superior, wiser than you. In the end, it doesn't make any point. It simply, if you're paying attention, reflects badly on the one who uses it, no matter how they intend it. I would much rather be on the "wrong side of history" if that side is on the right side of God.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Stars Up Above

Dion asked the ageless question, "Why must I be a teenager in love?", and I, in my annoying style, have to try to figure it out. "It's a song. Leave it alone!" I can't. So, Dion, are you asking why you have to be a teenager or why you have to be in love, or is there something particularly different between being a teenager and in love from being, say, an adult and in love? And, seriously, man, why ask the stars?

Yes, it's a song, but you get the idea, right? The poor kid is suffering from love and is asking, "Why?!" like so many of us do. And, I think, you can find answers in the stars up above.

If you were to offer the question to a materialist, he would have to say, "No reason." The stars are inanimate objects without intelligence. The materialist universe offers no answers to suffering or pleasure, life or death, purpose or meaning. For this group, "Why must I be a teenager in love?" (or any other suffering question) would necessarily be answered from the stars, "They say that your suffering is random, mindless, purposeless and without any meaning. Why? Because. That's all you get."

If you were to offer the question to a spiritualist, her answer would be different, of course. "I see an answer in the stars." The answer would, by necessity, be without logic and without reason. It would be from the alignment of spiritual forces and birth dates and ... well, you get the idea. And the final answer would be ... varied. "Too bad; you lose" to "It's all a deeper meaning." A guru says something like "It's like the sound of one hand clapping" and people think it's deep thinking, and like that you might come away thinking, "Oooo, that was deep ... but it didn't mean anything."

If you were to ask the theist, oddly enough, you would get a genuine, useful answer. From the "stars" -- creation -- we learn that the Creator is Omnipotent. He possesses all power. We learn that He is Omniscient. He possesses all knowledge. Beyond the power to make everything and the knowledge of how, He is All Wise. Paul says He is "the only wise God" (Rom 16:27), putting Him in a wisdom category all His own. He can make everything, knows how to make everything, but also knows best how to make everything fit together. The beauty of creation tells us that He is beautiful. The care put into creation tells us that He is love. The orderliness of creation tells us that He is Sovereign. And so it goes. So what do "the stars up above" tell us about our problems below? God is in control. He has the power, the intellect, the wisdom, the love, and the Sovereignty to handle it. He allows what He intends for good and only that.

The materialist offers us nihilism. Nothing matters. The spiritualist offers us wise-sounding foolishness. It matters, but you can't really know how or why. God's Word offers answers. What do "the stars up above" tell us? "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork" (Psa 19:1). Yes, I overthink things. I admit it. Dion wasn't looking for real answers. But ... they're there. "His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made" (Rom 1:20). I'm happy with that answer.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Are You Ready for This?

It can't really be argued that the First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion in American has not been under attack of late. In the courts, photographers and bakers and florists and owners of bed and breakfasts and the like all lost their right to their free exercise of their religious convictions when their convictions clashed with potential customers. In the legislatures attempts to move to protect this First Amendment right have met with public opposition, killing it, for instance, in Arizona. The growing public sentiment voiced is "You're free to exercise your religious convictions ... as long as your religious convictions don't appear in public." In this climate, then, many were glad to see Hobby Lobby's case come out as a victory for the free exercise of religion.

Not so fast. It appears that this victory is resulting in a new attack.

In the wake of the Hobby Lobby decision, the ACLU and "several major gay rights groups" are withdrawing their support of the dreaded ENDA law swirling around Washington DC. What's ENDA? It's the Employment Non-Discrimination Act designed to forbid discrimination in the workplace on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or the like. "Wait," you say, "did you say they are withdrawing their support? Isn't this in their favor?" Yes, without a doubt. "But," they tell us, "if you're going to provide for religious exemptions, then we aren't going to support it."

The aim, then, of these groups in "employment non-discrimination" legislation? The aim is to terminate your rights to your moral perspectives. Your business may have the right to refuse to serve someone without shoes or shirt, but not someone who is a homosexual. You may think a "men's bathroom" and "women's bathroom" is clear and sufficient, but you would be wrong because (as in California) anyone can choose any bathroom if they feel like they're that gender and you can't say otherwise. You don't get to decide that you don't want a transgender to be the pastor of your youth group. Last year Heather Clements, a theology professor at the Christian Azusa Pacific University, decided that she would no longer be "Heather" and would now be "Adam". Azusa Pacific decided that they didn't want a transgender as their chair of theology and philosophy. Under ENDA (without religious exemptions), Azusa Pacific would have had their hands tied.

"Oh, Stan, you're overreacting." Maybe. But just a couple of days ago Democrats in Congress announced that they were introducing legislation to override the Supreme Court ruling. It is outrageous that the court would rule in favor of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. Their aim is to remove the religious freedom of business owners in favor of their own agenda. The Protect Women’s Health From Corporate Interference Act would override the RFRA (passed unanimously by the House and 97-3 by the Senate in 1993). The basis of the cancellation of religious freedom here is "for profit". If you make a profit, you forfeit your religious freedom. Indeed, Senator Harry Reid sees this as ammunition against Republicans in the November elections. "If you favor the free exercise of religion for Christians that own for-profit companies, you're not going to be in power" is the thinking here.

The point? "If we can't push you to our side with loud public opinion, we'll do it with legislation. You are free to exercise your religious beliefs ... as long as they don't conflict with anything we find objectionable. And we object if you don't embrace our 'sins' as you call them." Don't think that the Hobby Lobby decision was simply a victory and we're headed for blue skies. They squeezed by (5-4) on that one. It's not getting easier. At some point you may have to choose between working in the public world or holding to biblical principles ... as in "either/or" instead of "both/and". It won't be improving. At least, not without Intervention (with a capital "I").

Friday, July 11, 2014

Gender Assignment

The human race over millennia of existence has struggled over everything from "Is there life after death?" to "Is coffee good for you or bad for you?" There is hardly a single solitary topic on which there hasn't been disagreement. Religion, politics, land boundaries, sex, economics; you name it, we've disagreed about it. There are just a very few things on which we've agreed. Simple things like "You need food and water to survive" -- listening ... nope, no disagreements there -- or "Marriage is the union of a male and a female." Obviously that one isn't on the list anymore, only just added in the last couple of decades to the "we fight about everything" list.

One thing on which we have all been in agreement since the beginning of time is the simple, straightforward, undeniable fact that there is male and there is female. Birds do it. Bees do it. Every animal on the planet does it. Every single creature has male and female. The actual definitions may vary slightly, depending on your level of technology. In older times, the male was the one with the penis and the female ... not. And we knew that the male was the one who fertilized the female and the female the one that carried and delivered the children. This not tough stuff. Like the song from Annie Get Your Gun says, "My little baby brother, who's never read a book, Knows one sex from the other, All he had to do was look." Easy.

Or it was. Now that is also on the disagreement list. Christin Scarlett Milloy is a human rights activist, writer, and web developer based in Toronto, Canada. In a recent article in the Web magazine, Slate, she warned parents about an evil being perpetrated every day on newborns everywhere. What evil?
It's called infant gender assignment: When the doctor holds your child up to the harsh light of the delivery room, looks between its legs, and declares his opinion: It's a boy or a girl, based on nothing more than a cursory assessment of your offspring's genitals.
Oh, that evil! Wait ... what?

Yes, while every mother's child can tell one sex from the other, the new push of the intellectual elite is to make gender arbitrary. Sure, sure, they know the science as well as you do. They know that male bodies are different than females. They can read the studies that demonstrate that male and female brains are wired differently[1]. No one questions that a male has X and Y chromosomes and females have two X chromosomes. You don't have to trust the CSI shows to know that it's in the DNA. And there is a galaxy of genetic differences between men & women. (That's the title of the piece to which I linked, not simply my opinion.) Sure, sure, the facts are all there. But we've been lied to for so long and pushed so hard for so long to eliminate gender differences at all that we are on the verge of throwing out the last vestiges of sanity that even "little baby brother" can see in favor of making gender fluid and, thus, pointless. A father and a mother? Who cares? There's no difference. Patriarchy? How could anyone even consider it since there is no difference in genders? God the Father? Meaningless.

There are voices, growing in intensity, that think it is cruel to force your religion on your children. "Let them grow up without it and make their own choice!" "You know, I think it's child abuse to force religious beliefs on children." Now it's not religion. Now it's gender. They want your kids to be raised "gender neutral" with "gender fluid parenting practices." (I'm giving links to this stuff so you don't think I'm making it up or being alarmist or excessive.) Sweden has already added a gender neutral pronoun to its vocabulary "that can be applied to objects and people who don't wish to specifically identify as male or female." A natural next step, gender-neutral changing rooms already exist "in a local high school to avoid students being classified as male or female." In at least one school "Masculine and feminine references are taboo" ... at the kindergarten level. And last year California passed a law that allows "youth to use whatever bathroom and participate on whichever sports team they believe matches their gender identity."

Look, it doesn't take a super genius to see this. No matter what your little tyke may think he or she is, he will never birth a child and she will never father one. Sexual reassignment surgeries are a farce. They can externally mimic the opposite sex, but they can't be the opposite sex. Females who have surgery to appear male cannot produce sperm and males who choose to change their appearance to female don't have ovaries. It's nothing more than an elaborate costume. But our society has already bought the lie that youth are smarter than adults and swallowed the notion that parents should let their children do whatever they want, so guiding a little boy into manhood or a little girl into womanhood is now a meaningless concept.

And so are biblical concepts (which, by the way, include teaching males to be male and females to be female). "Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ" (1 Cor 11:3) is right out. "I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man" (1 Tim 2:12) is not only questionable, it is gone. Even among people who classify themselves as Bible-believing Christians. Serious Christians. And, of course, the Bible's concept of "God the Father" has got to go. It is my suspicion that this was at the heart of this attack all along. But, then, that's because I'm pretty sure that this is not the spawn of stupid people. It is the spawn of Satan. It's just that people are blinded by the god of this world (2 Cor 4:4) and more than happy to walk "according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air", "indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind", "by nature children of wrath" (Eph 2:2-3). Discouraging? Yes. Surprising? No. After all, "God gave them over to a depraved mind" (Rom 1:28), so what should we expect? Bright sinners?

Addendum

There is an interesting article from a personal perspective on the topic of "gender identity" that is worth the read.
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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Something's Gotta Give

Over at Wintery Knight (a blog I read regularly and regularly enjoy) recently there have been a series of assaults on Reformed Theology, predestination, and Calvinism. He has offered various debates and I've been listening to them because knowing the truth is more important than holding my own position.

I'm struck with the conflict. It boils down -- almost always seems to boil down -- to this. Either God is Sovereign or Man's Free Will is Sovereign. The majority of the debates between Arminians and Calvinists appear to be over this singular point. Either Man has Libertarian Free Will or God is Sovereign.

In case you missed it earlier, Libertarian Free Will is the opposite of Compatibilism. Compatibilism ("soft determinism") is the belief that God determines all things and yet allows humans the freedom to choose. The human freedom of choice, however, is limited by our own natures. We must choose according to our own desires. Libertarian Free Will, then, is the position that our free choices are made without any determination or constraints of human nature or God.

This conflict has its obvious spillover. If Libertarian Free Will is necessary (as the proponents argue) for God to be just and for Man to be accountable for his actions, then God cannot interfere in Man's choices. Look, here's the basic premise of Libertarian Free Will. By definition, a person must be able to choose A without coercion (with which Compatibilism agrees), but it must also be true that the person could choose not-A. And we're already up against a wall.

The wall we've hit here is God's Omniscience. Philosophical Christians of both Calvinist and Arminian stripes will argue that God is Omniscient with a capital "O". That is, He knows all things, past, present and future, and knows them all perfectly. But if He knows all things, then your choices are already known. And if your choices are already known, then you cannot make different choices, not because you have been coerced, but because they are already known and known perfectly. God can't be wrong. Of course, the Open Theist comes up here and helps us out. "No," he assures us, "you're mistaken about 'Omniscience' with a capital 'O'. God only knows what has happened. He cannot know what will happen because it doesn't exist yet." Open Theism is the current theological structure erected to solve the Libertarian Free Will dilemma of how God can be Omniscient and Man can make or not make the choices God knows. To be clear, it can't happen. Either God knows or He doesn't. If Libertarian Free Will is necessary, then God doesn't know ... and God is not Omniscient.

The Arminian and the Calvinist both rise up and say, "Nay!" Both point to the Open Theist and cry, "Heretic!" Well, sort of. But you get the idea. No, neither will accept that God is not Omniscient. How the Libertarian Free Will folk get around this problem is not clear to me, but they (in general) won't accept Open Theism.

It's not as if this is where the problem ends, though. In my view, this is what the conflict between Compatibilism and Libertarian Free Will always comes down to. Is God actually Sovereign? To be fair, both sides always say, "Yes!" without equivocation. Still, there's a problem on one of those sides. The biblical version of God's Sovereignty (with a capital "S") is expressed most simply in the phrase, "Whatever the Lord pleases, He does" (Psa 135:6; Eccl 8:3). Paul says God "works all things after the counsel of His will" (Eph 1:11). The Libertarian Free Willer ( just made that term up) would agree ... except that God is limited by Man's Free Will. Some don't choose God because Man has Libertarian Free Will. God wills that Man would choose Him and God wills that all would choose Him and God desperately desires to save everyone, but, well, He just cannot do that because Man's Libertarian Free Will prevents Him from accomplishing what He pleases.

There are a variety of steps taken at this point. Maybe God is "sovereign" in the sense that He does mostly what He wants except, of course, for what Man won't let Him. Maybe is is "sovereign" in what they consider the "ultimate sense" in that He sovereignly surrenders some portion of His Sovereignty to Man's Free Will, making Him all the more sovereign somehow. (I'm sorry. Absolute Sovereignty minus some sovereignty does not equal Absolute Sovereignty. It equals Less Than Absolute Sovereignty.)

So here's my problem. I define God's Sovereignty from what I read in Scripture. I could define Man's Free Will from what I read in Scripture, but I don't find any such definition there. I do find biblical descriptions of God's Sovereignty (1 Chron 29:11-12; Psa 115:3; Prov 16:9; Job 42:2; Isa 46:9-10; Psa 103:19; Lam 3:37; Prov 19:21; Rom 9:21; Eph 1:11; Psa 135:6; Job 23:13; Eccl 7:13-14; Dan 4:35; Isa 14:27; 2 Chron 20:6; 1 Tim 6:15; Gen 50:20; Phil 2:13; Prov 16:33; Prov 16:4; Jer 32:27 ...) (I guess there are a lot of references, eh?). So my version of "the Sovereignty of God" must fall within the biblical descriptions, and "limited by Man's Free Will" doesn't seem to be a factor.

The conflict is indeed between Man's Free Will and God's Sovereignty. Either Man has Libertarian Free Will with which he can either agree with God or not agree with God and God cannot or will not interfere, or Man does not have Libertarian Free Will in which case God would be Sovereign but we have to understand Man's free will in a different sense than the Libertarian Free Will folk would require. One or the other. What cannot remain is both Libertarian Free Will and God's Sovereignty (or Omniscience). Something has to give.

Addendum:
So, is Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason reading my blog? No, of course not, but it's interesting that he comes out with "Do Humans Really Have Free Will?" right after I discuss something of it here.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

The Problem with Middle Knowledge

In amongst the group generally referred to as "Calvinists" are those who believe in a concept known as "Middle Knowledge" and those who hold to "Compatibilism". Both try to align biblical Predestination with Man's free will. Compatibilism starts with God's Sovereignty and Middle Knowledge works from Libertarian Free Will. Well-known, respected men like William Lane Craig and Alvin Platinga hold to Middle Knowledge while other theologians from Augustine to R.C. Sproul hold to Compatibilism. (Thus, both carry "big guns", so let's not play the "Well, my side includes these people" cards.)

So, what's the difference? I mean, both believe in the Sovereignty of God and both believe in God's Omniscience. Both believe that God not only knows all that is or will be, but that He knows what might be. There is a lot of agreement here. Don't think otherwise. The question is way down deep. Does God choose to save some and then bring about that salvation, or does He base His choice of whom He will save on His foreknowledge of who will choose Him? That's the question. The problem for the Middle Knowledge folk is that God must allow this Libertarian free will or He isn't ... fair.

Libertarian free will is the key here. The concept is that our choices are free from the determination or constraints of human nature and free from any predetermination by God. Libertarian free will requires that humans be able to act contrary to their own nature and contrary to God's will[1]. This, they claim, is absolutely necessary if Man is to be held responsible for his sin. Middle Knowledge simply says that God knows what those unconstrained choices will be, and God works from there.

I have problems with this, of course.

Both sides (and every Scripture on the topic) agree that God chooses whom He will save. It is undeniable. Compatibilists hold that He chooses out of His own will. Middle Knowledge argues that He chooses whom He will save based on their choice of Him. That's a problem for me. It appears to be favoritism (Rom 2:11). And it would appear to offer the chosen one some grounds for boasting, having made his or her choice upon which God Himself bases His.

I can't figure out the basis of this "free will" question. It seems to me that "free will" means that each of us chooses according to his or her strongest inclination. Middle Knowledge affirms Libertarian free will. What is this "free will"? Or, to the point, how free is the will? Scripture says that "the intent of man's heart is evil from his youth" (Gen 8:21). Prior to regeneration, the mind can only be set on the flesh (1 Cor 2:14; Rom 8:5), and, as such, cannot please God (Rom 8:8). Indeed, as such, it is only hostile toward God (Rom 8:7). Jesus said that "the flesh profits nothing" (John 6:63). Enter Libertarian free will. The suggestion is that the proper set of circumstances, arguments, and other external forces can cause such a person to choose Christ. Is that "free will"? If the heart is intent on evil, hostile to God, and "of the flesh", wouldn't such a choice violate free will? Wouldn't such a person have to go against their natural inclinations and hostilities to take that option? Well, of course, that's the basic position of Libertarian free will, and I can't understand that premise.

My biggest problem, of course, is that I'm operating from a broader notion of God's Sovereignty[2]. From this perspective it would seem that God is limited. That is, from the perspective of Middle Knowledge, God can only do what Man will freely choose. If no scenario allows for that which God wills, God cannot do it. He can only do what might happen, not necessarily what He wills. In William Lane Craig's words, God "has to play the hand He has been dealt." He cannot play any other.

It's touchy, you know. People I respect hold to this view. I can't see it. I can't figure it, even though I once held it myself. I can't understand how this elevates God. It seems to me that this falls short of the glory of God. Now that can't be something any of us would want, would it?
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[1] Doesn't Gen 20:6 put an end to this notion?

[2] I wrote about this here where it appears that the Bible demands that God's Sovereignty be absolute, not limited.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

It's that woman You gave me

When God found Adam and Eve hiding in the garden because they were naked and heard their confession of guilt, He asked, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" Adam answered "The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate." Eve wasn't much different. "The serpent deceived me, and I ate" (Gen 3:11-13). It is the ever-present excuse. Someone else is to blame.

We are steeped in it. It's somebody else. My wife, my husband, my boss, my children, my friends, my circumstances, just about anything at all can bear the brunt of guilt for what I did. Anything but me, of course. "It was my upbringing or my infirmities. My parents were at fault. Society made me what I am today." Or, of course, today's most popular, "I was born this way."

We use this method practically daily to avoid the blame for errors and sins. It is a handy tool to escape consequences. "I didn't shoot the man; the gun just went off." "I know I gamble too much; I think it's just the product of an addictive personality disorder." Oh, yeah, that one is a good one. "Personality disorder." Happens all the time. The kid is too active or doesn't pay attention, so we label it as a "disorder" and offer medication. We lock up criminals and hope to rehabilitate them. We offer AA or NA or whatever other help groups we can found or find to assist people in overcoming their disorders. Because, as we all know, bad things happen to good people. And whether it's a personality disorder or a genetic disorder or a gender disorder, we can fix it. You just sit back and relax, poor thing. We can help.

Of course, while it may appear to ease the problems, I would argue that, in fact, it produces the opposite effect. First people faced with "disorders" become passive because, after all, "It's not me. It's something happening to me." And, don't worry. Help is on the way. So we wait. We don't work at fixing the problem. We call the landlord or we make a doctor's appointment ... or, likely, not ... because, after all, can they actually treat this condition? We wonder why the government hasn't come up with a program that will help and maybe petition the governor's office or march on Washington. Because this happened to us, so someone needs to fix it. And, oh, while we wait, you know, since help has not yet arrived, we will probably continue in the problem we are indulging due to, you know, the condition that has befallen us. "I might be able to get a job, but it's not a good job and it's not my fault that I'm in my condition, so I'll just complain about it and wait. Oh, hey, I know! Maybe I can get them to raise the minimum wage!" "Sure, perhaps I could make the effort to get off drugs, but there are programs and it's not my fault anyway and, besides, I'm in this condition so I can't stop anyway." As time passes, however, and cures don't cure, we start to wonder if the "disorder" is a disorder at all. "Hey, maybe it's normal! Yeah, that's it! Let's just say that it's a good thing! Look how many are like me! It can't be bad if there are so many of us."

Starting at the seemingly benign "It's that woman You gave me", we end up so ensconced in what, as it turns out, is our own choices that we can't break out. It's not that there is no possibility. It's that we're not trying. It's just "the way I am." Indeed, if we've worked it properly, we've embraced it. "Sure, sure, same-sex attraction isn't normal by any sane mathematical consideration, but I have it so I'll call it good and indulge it to the full!" People have made careers (using the term loosely) of never working, never having a job, perpetual drug addiction or sex addiction or some other "disorder" because they now see it as something to be proud of, not something to correct. Not because it is, but because they started with "It's that woman You gave me." You see, in the end, it is God who is to blame. Isn't that what they tell us? "If God made me this way, it's good." So, blaming anyone but ourselves, we find ourselves at the bottom of the pit looking up and thinking, "It's a good thing!"
Although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things (Rom 1:21-23).
Claiming to be wise, we become fools. Jesus's message, on the other hand, is not, "It's okay; it's that woman God gave you." It is "Repent!" (Matt 4:17; Mark 1:15; Luke 13:1-5; John 8:11).

Monday, July 07, 2014

The Law of Non-Contradiction

There is a section of Matthew (and elsewhere) in which Jesus denounces "the cities where most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent" (Matt 11:20). The section ends with that glorious "Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden ... for My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matt 11:28-30), but between verse 20 and verse 23 there are some startling words from the lips of our Savior.

I won't give you the quote. You can look it up. You should know it anyway. It begins with "Woe to you ..." and references cities that had failed to repent. Then He says something like "If the mighty works done in you had been done in ..." and refers to a city known for its vile sin and for being horribly judged by God, then "they would have repented long ago ..." It ends with the claim that "it will be more bearable on the day of judgment" for those from that pagan city than for those from the Israelite cities that rejected Him.

Now, perhaps you miss the significance of such statements. I see two serious ramifications.

First, if "it will be more bearable on the day of judgment", it can only be concluded that some sins are worse than others and that final judgment will be worse for some than for others. Now, of course, I wouldn't suggest that Hell will be pleasant for some, but it seems abundantly clear that, while all of Hell's experience will be torment, some torment will be worse than other torment, based on the sin that brings it. Now, if you're like me, that might strike you as odd because it always seemed like torment was torment and sin was sin and damned was damned. Apparently, though, that's not the case, and there are levels of sin, torment, and damnation.

Second, the statements have ramifications both on what we know about God's Omniscience and, in that Omniscience, His intent. Consider, first, that this clearly states that Jesus (as God the Son) knew what would have happened if circumstances were different in the past. It has been said, in other words, that God knows all contingencies. He knows all the "what ifs". That's a broader Omniscience than we might have thought. The Open Theist argues that God cannot know what doesn't exist, the future doesn't exist, so God cannot know the future. The Historical Theist argues that God knows the future certainly. But Jesus argues one point further -- God knows everything that might happen, but He doesn't know it contingently. That is, it might, but it won't. It might have, but it didn't. In other words, His Omniscience is complete and absolute.

But there is a step beyond. Knowing all contingencies and, yet, knowing nothing contingently, look at God's plan here. Note that God knew in advance whether or not Sodom and Gomorrah or Tyre and Sidon would repent. Not only did He know if they would, He knew how. He knew that sending "the mighty works" to these cities would have resulted in life-saving repentance. Indeed, "if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day" (Matt 11:23). Do you see what Jesus is saying here? God knew what would bring about repentance in these places and didn't do it.

Now, look, this might cause a dilemma in some minds. Perhaps God does not know what might happen and Jesus was just guessing. Perhaps it's an (unknown) idiom where He didn't really mean anything at all by it that we might understand. Perhaps the Bible is not reliable and Jesus was not to be taken seriously. Because, you see, we know that Paul wrote, "This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth ..." (1 Tim 2:3-4). So if He "desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth", how could He not do what He knew would lead them to repentance? Well, of course, even that will run into problems when we read, for instance, Paul's second letter to Timothy where he says, "God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth" (2 Tim 2:25). Wait! What do you mean "may"? Didn't we already establish that He does desire all to come to the knowledge of the truth? So we're still at this dilemma.

Look, I could offer my own personal considerations on the topic, but I suspect that most don't really want to hear it. Most have answers of their own. So you go ahead and think it through and see what you can come up with. I will say, however, that I believe it is possible to hold both that God desires all to be saved and does not plan for all to be saved and that no actual contradiction exists. But you'll have to see if you can figure that out. You know, without doing damage to your brain. Because either the Bible is true and does not contradict itself or it contradicts itself and is not true. Your call.