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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Your Father in Heaven Knows

CHICAGO - An Oak Park father of three was charged with eight counts of child neglect in Cook County Circuit Court after DCFS was called to check on his children. The report was that they were sickly, poorly clothed, poorly fed, poorly monitored and not attending school. The floors were covered with garbage and feces. The toilet was backed up, causing further damage. There was plenty of food in the house, but the children were emaciated.

When questioned by the prosecutor, the father said that he had worked hard to provide them with clothing, food, and education. He had given them warm clothing for the winters and plenty of food at meals. He had told them to go to school and offered to drive them. However, in all cases, the children had refused, preferring instead to wear their worn out clothes and eat junk instead while consistently refusing to attend classes. They made messes and wouldn't clean up no matter what he told them. They stuffed rags in the toilet. "What could I do?" the father asked the judge. "I did all I could, but I had to honor their free will."

The case was thrown out and the father was applauded for offering them all the best while holding their free will in highest esteem. He was commended by the judge and the mayor's office is planning to award a medal for this father's self-sacrifice.

Nonsense? Absolutely. "Fake news". Well, more like a parable. Because to hear people talk about how God supposedly treats His children, you'd think it should be the case. God will not intervene in the free will of His creatures, and if He does, He's wrong. We like this notion that God does not violate human free will.

This is why so many Christians protest the claim that "Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps." (Psa 135:6) We know that He can do all things and that no purpose of His can be thwarted (Job 42:2) unless that purpose is to change my choices. Nebuchadnezzar said, "All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, 'What have You done?'” (Dan 4:35) Nebuchadnezzar was wrong. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as invaluable and He does what He can with our choices so that we can and do often ask "What have You done?" God told Abimelech, "I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against Me. Therefore I did not let you touch her." (Gen 20:6) In fact, the Bible is full of passages claiming that God is not a non-intervention God (e.g., Isa 64:8; Prov 21:1; Prov 16:1,9; Prov 19:21; Jer 10:23; Lam 3:37-38; Rom 9:19; Acts 2:23; Acts 4:26-28; etc.)

Clearly human beings have free will. Clearly God allows us to use it ... a lot. But when we hold that He never alters human choices, how are we not applauding that father who allows his kids to live in filth and despair because he wished to honor their free will? I understand that we're trying to exonerate God for not fixing everything, but it seems to me that we're only causing a bigger problem by exonerating Him against His Word.

There is another issue here to me. It is rather important. I believe that the Bible teaches that those who belong to Christ will continue to belong to Christ until the end. On one hand, this is clearly a function of God's efforts (e.g., Phil 1:6; John 10:28-29; Jude 1:24-25, etc.). On the other hand, we are commanded to "work out your salvation" (Phil 2:12), so there is work on our part as well. So how is it that there can be any assurance of salvation in the end (1 John 5:13)? How can we know that once we are born again we can never again become "unborn"? It is this concept of God intervening in human free will. Scripture tells us that He has placed in us a new heart (Ezek 36:26) with a new nature (Rom 6:2). God says, "I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes and be careful to obey My rules." (Ezek 36:27) That is, this "new creation" that we have become (2 Cor 5:17) lacks the capacity to make a continual practice of sin (1 John 3:9) because God is at work in you "both to will and to work for His good pleasure." (Phil 2:13) This is the certainty we have that all who come to Him will surely be His in the end.

Does God remove human free will? No, of course not. Does He ever intervene in human free will? While most of us would like to say He does not actually do that, I don't think it is supportable from Scripture. Nor would we applaud the father who treated his earthly children that way across the board. Sometimes love demands intervention. I, for one, am grateful.

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