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Thursday, February 01, 2018

The Servants' Entrance

It used to be that "acceptable people" were allowed in the front door, but the "less acceptable people" had to go in through the servants' entrance. You know ... we needed them around; we just didn't want them to be seen.

Immanuel Kant, in three separate works, carefully and persuasively explained that it is impossible to prove the existence of God. In the view of many, what Kant managed to do was to usher God out of the front door of the Logic House. You know ... "Sorry. We don't want you in here." Or, "There is no God." Now, of course, Kant never intended that, but that's how it worked out. We know that he didn't intend it because he later wrote a short book, Groundwork of a Metaphysic of Morals, that explained that while we can't logically prove the existence of God, if there is to be any morality, God was a logical necessity. (Did you follow that? It's not easy.) That is, if morality is to have any basis, any weight, any teeth, there must be a God. Thus, having ushered God out the front door, Kant let Him back in the servants' entrance. "We don't really want to see You, but we really need You around."

The sad thing is that many of us do this ourselves. We will block God's entrance through the front door of our theology and then usher Him back in through the servants' entrance. How do we do that? One example is in terms of God's Sovereignty. We give a head-nod to His Sovereignty, but when faced with the real question, we close the door. Is God actually in charge of everything? "No!" we will respond with certainty. That is, when bad things happen, that's not God. When an illness strikes or a tornado hits or a car accident takes away life or limb, that wasn't God. When you get robbed or someone hurts you, that certainly wasn't God. "No, no, God is sovereign" (because by now it has degraded to a lowercase "s") "only insofar as human Free Will is not involved. God cannot or does not contravene the Free Will." "Oh, and He also doesn't control natural events like those hurricanes or cancer ... that kind of thing." So we carefully absolve God of any responsibility in "bad things" by closing the door on His Sovereignty. Nebuchadnezzar said of God, "He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, 'What have you done?'" (Dan 4:35) and we say, "Um, well, actually we do."

That's all well and good, perhaps, but, as it turns out, we're not actually happy leaving it that way. We're fine with the theory -- God limited by Human Free Will -- but we're not too comfortable with the practical outcome. So we borrow words from Scripture and pray "Lord, open their hearts to hear You" (Acts 16:14) without regard for whether or not they want to hear Him. We ask God to "guide the hands of the surgeon" without thinking about the surgeon's Free Will in the procedure. We pray for "traveling mercies" for folks even though we just said that God is not involved when traffic accidents occur. We "pray a hedge of protection" around people when we already declared He doesn't do that kind of thing. In other words, we're very firm in our theology that God is not "that Sovereign" but pray fervently that He would be. We are happy to let Him back in the servants' entrance if He'll just do what we ask, even when we already said we don't believe He does.

Just an example. I think if you consider it, you'll find it's true in many of God's attributes. Is He really Omniscient or only "mostly omniscient"? Is He actually Omnipotent or is it a limited edition of omnipotence? For some, they're perfectly happy to limit God in His justice or even His love if it violates their own perspective. But when it comes down to it, we don't actually want to worship and serve a God who is not actually all those things and more. "No," we tell Him, "You can't come in this way. You'll have to go around to the servants' entrance."

We expect unbelievers to ... well ... unbelieve. We know that those who are not people of faith have no faith. But that's not us. Or it shouldn't be. We shouldn't be undercutting God at the front door of our lives only to let Him in the servants' entrance to do those things for us that we most keenly require. We need to let God be God. That will likely require a realignment of our thinking, and likely more than once. Sometimes it is often. But we must allow God to be who God says He is rather than superimposing our own version. That's just idolatry.


Anonymous said...

As an interesting tidbit, I note there is a theory that Charles Manson's resentment of the wealthy people living on Cielo Drive stemmed from him being told by Sharon Tate's friend/photographer Shahrokh Hatami at the front door to go around to the back door, in what Manson would have taken as a bum's rush manner.

I have not taken a philosophy class and have never read more than an odd paragraph here and there of Kant. I am just curious if you are getting Kant through some third party, such as a modern theologian?

Stan said...

Not able to read German, I have to get Kant through a third party, but not modern theologians. I was getting him from secular papers on his writings.

Stan said...

Google "moral argument for God" and you'll get links to Kant from places like, Wikipeida, and Standford's philosophy department just to name a few.

David said...

How have I never put those two together? People praying for blessings on one hand and denying His willingness or ability to in the other. That was simply mind blowing.

Bob said...

I am not a theologian; but i played one, one time..
so what i do when i come across some inconvenient truth about God, is to measure his character against my sincere noble sentiments. if the bible says that God hates sin, then i simply ask myself " if i were God would i feel the same way? NO..." because God is love and does not hate. because hate is bad.. if someone tries to show me scripture about what God said, i just close my eyes and say.." silly little man don't you know that i cant read.." besides if God wanted me to know his will he would have told me in a dream or some other nebulous means.
besides what is all the fuss about? can't we just love each other apart from all this bible stuff? even now i can feel the spirit leading me to say something important.. oh yea , why cant all those third world countries get their act together and start reading some prosperity gospels?

Anonymous said...

Today I was thinking about a case on the TV show 'Forensics Files' that raises some interesting questions about the whole will & sovereignty issue. If anybody is interested, let me know and I will come back here and lay it out.

In the meantime, here is a hypothetical situation. Jurors are deliberating their case and after some time all jurors admit they have no idea how to vote. The foreman gets out a coin and prays that the Christian God will make it come up heads if He wants a "guilty" verdict, tails otherwise.

What would people here say are the chances the coin will match the decision that is factually correct?

Marshal Art said...

I don't think it follows that a belief in the Human Free Will necessitates a rejection or denial of God's Sovereignty. If I believe I was given Free Will, but I call upon God to "guide a surgeon's hand" or some such, that merely demonstrates that I "chose" God Who called me to Him through various events and experiences in my life. God is always Sovereign regardless of whether or not He grants us Free Will. I still don't see how the latter necessarily negates the former.

Stan said...

Sorry, I don't like those kinds of hypotheticals. What "Christian" has to do with the question eludes me, expect to attempt to sleep the answer. Nor can I imagine what it has to do with the article.

Stan said...

Marshal, When I refer to Human Free Will (with caps), I mean the idea of a free will that overrides God. I believe we have a free will (lowercase), just a limited one.

Anonymous said...

Hello Stan. As to the applicability to what you blogged about, some would say God has involvement with both hurricanes and coin tosses, while others would say just hurricanes, and yet others would say neither.

I am not familiar with the phrase "sleep the answer."

Stan said...

Autocorrect ... sheesh! I guess it didn't like "skew".

The Bible suggests God is involved with "coin tosses" (or, in biblical terms, casting lots). I, on the other hand, wouldn't recommend it to fellow believers as a wise decision-making tool.

Marshal Art said...

Stan...herein might be where there's been a problem between us on the Sovereignty issue. I don't know that I've actually heard anyone who is a believing Christian suggest that one's own will can "override" God's. I don't even know how that could possibly work, given that God, pretty much, can't help but have absolute authority over absolutely everything He's created...which is everything in Creation.

I'm wondering now, would you suggest that God's call is an irresistible force, or still subject to our Free Will? That is, the "elect" are those who responded to His call or drawing us to Him. What passage might you offer to address this?

Stan said...

I'm pretty sure you've heard it, but not as blatantly as I said it. As for me, in a recent discussion with a fellow believer I asked the question clearly -- "So you believe that our free will can override God's will?" They answered yes. But you've probably heard it more this way. Does God save those who choose Him or does God save whom He wills? That is, are there those who God intends to save but is blocked by their unwillingness? Your question suggests you believe that God does not save whom He wills, but only those who will align their wills with His in that choice.

The clearest passage is John 6:37-40 where the cause of those who come to Christ is the Father and those who come to Christ includes "all", but it's not the only biblical passage on the topic. On one hand is the biblical certainty of the condition of Natural Man (Rom 8:7; Eph 2:1-3; 1 Cor 2:14; etc.) and the ineffectualness of the will (Rom 9:16; John 1:13). In order for someone to choose Christ first before God acts to save, they would have to have capabilities the Bible says they don't have. On the other hand the necessary elements to come to Christ are provided by God. Belief, according to Jesus, is on the basis of a grant by the Father (John 6:65). Paul says repentance is, too (2 Tim 2:25). These are just a few. I am overcome by the preponderance of biblical evidence on the subject. As such, I conclude that in order for us to choose Him of our own free will (lowercase), our free will must first be enabled, and He does that in the case of those whom He chooses.

Anonymous said...

But does God not have sovereign control over Stan's autcorrect?

[Meant in fun--sort of, anyway.]