Friday, November 30, 2012


"Frustration" is a theologically vague term. By that I mean that one can easily condemn it as indicating a lack of trust in God, without considering the frustration which the psalms so often give voice to. The psalms look rather bipolar: feelings of lostness and despair one moment, affirmations of the goodness of God and the rest we have in him the next. How? It is evident that the psalmist believes that God is in control. The questions are based on God's sovereignty, "How long?" "Why?" So the frustration does not arise from doubt. What then? Incomprehension. The psalmist brings God's promises to God, asking "how is it that you are this way, and yet these things are happening?" and ends in an affirmation that God is who he says he is, even if we cannot see how.

What is the sort of frustration that is bad then? There is a sort of frustration that is indicative of a lack of trust in God. A frustration with self. "Why can't I do this?" rather than, "Why is God allowing this?" "Why doesn't God do something about this?" How are they different? The first assumes that my ability is the deciding factor, it is not. Why can't you? Because it is better for you not to, for whatever reason, perhaps because you are relying on yourself instead of God--even Aquinas prayed to God for help in his philosophy--perhaps for some other reason. The second assumes that God's will is the deciding factor, and that God is good. If God is good, and God is in control, then there is a good reason and we can rest in our good God's love for us. The very assumption underlying the questions of the psalmist provides him with the theological foundation to accept an apparently silent God, because he knows that God is good. He may still be frustrated, the questions don't necessarily go away, but it is a frustration based on faith, based on God's sovereign goodness. It is a sort of peaceful frustration.

Growth in Holiness

The pursuit of holiness inherently involves self-forgetfulness. You cannot pursue holiness by mere introspection, as it is basically the process of becoming like Christ. We can only grow in this way by Christospection, otherwise we are running the race blindfolded. Certainly, it is not only by Christospection, we ought to consider our fellows as well, but that is because they ought to be reflecting Christ, and so it is still a form of Christospection. What about looking at ourselves? We are to put sinful acts away, and not do those things anymore. Does that entail some form of introspection? Not necessarily. If one were to really know, deep down, what Christ is like, then one would see with a sort of immediacy when their own actions did not fit with that picture. It would be like identifying tastes, no one needs to meditate upon whether the food is bitter, we can just tell. Now, no one has that perfect a knowledge of Christ, but the point stands: we are conscious of what we consciously think, so, to the extent that we are also united to Christ by the Spirit of God that we think in Christ, we will automatically know when we act contrary to the way we ought to live as children of God.

Introspection, however, is not necessarily harmful. We do not have a perfect grasp of Christ, he has a perfect grasp of us. Thus it makes sense to go looking for ways in which we might grow into he who is our head. We cannot put to death what we do not know about, and we have been told that we ought to "Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry." (Colossians 3:5) Our introspection, however, ought to still be Christospective. It is a comparing of our own state with what it will be, i.e., perfect imagers of God, in light of, because of, by virtue of, God's grace. A depressing introspection ignores that what will be will, in fact, actually come to be, in Christ it is already--we have the righteous of Christ--and in heaven we shall experience the righteousness of Christ in us fully. A self-righteous introspection ignores that it is by virtue of our union with Christ, i.e., the power of Christ in us, that we grow in holiness. Growth in holiness and repentance of sin are hardly more than synonyms, and, at the least, Growth in holiness necessarily involves repentance. Therefore it, by its very nature, involves a constant reminder that God is God and we are not, that we are not yet perfectly holy, and thus points us to the day when all shall be made new, even our human natures, such that we shall be able to image God to fullest that we were made to, as Adam did in the garden, and even more than that in light of how God has worked to redeem us and our world.

In all this there is a working that we do, which is good acting, thus entailing praise. In light of my previous post, it seems that an explanation of how we can be called to do this sort of thing, that is, how we can be called to do good and all the entailed praise, which, if we are entirely the ones acting, ought to go to us, going to God. First, I have no problem with praise going to people, what I have a problem with is praise not going to God. Growth in holiness, and our acceptance of salvation, occurs totally by virtue of God's immanent acting, and thus all praise for it must go to him. It does, however, occur by human action, thus, it is not wrong for praise to go to humans for doing what is right. That praise must, however, go through the human actor to God himself. The praising of a human ought to be the praising of the Holy Spirit's work in that human. It is not as though God working means that we are not, nor does God's doing all good things mean that we do no good thing, it merely means that all that good which we do is also done by God. Our doing of it is done by God, and yet we still are the ones doing it. Thus, the entailed praise goes through the human actor and all goes to God. Just as all power and authority is God's, and yet others still have some power. From him, and to him, and through him are all things, our growth in holiness and the praise due our good works. Indeed, God entails more praise than we do in our good works, for his motives are pure, whereas ours are often mixed, and it is rare that we do an act purely for the love of God, though perhaps repentance might, on occasion, count.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Two False Extremes

A couple of weeks ago, this article of "50 things to love about religion" was posted:

To which a guy I met during my year at community college responded with this list of "50 things to hate about religion":

I do not really agree with either list. Not only that, I do not find such lists to be in any way helpful to such a discussion. First off, note that neither list is really about religion. They are both about how Christianity comes across to certain people. Second, neither starts with God. This is to be expected from Justin Grey's list, but it is contradictory to a Christian perception of Christianity. Third, partly because they are both man-centered lists, they are each lopsided. 50 things to love is all about God's grace to us, his love to us, etc., while 50 things to hate is about the wrath of God on the one hand, and the implications of believing something that is false. This is the fourth: each assumes, in Justin Grey's case that Christianity is false (in which case we are of all people most to be pitied), in the Huffington Post's case that it is true, that it's truth is irrelevant, or that its truth is subjective, I'm not quite sure. Fifth, lists are inherently vague and unsupported. I'm not entirely sure what is meant by "3. No one preaches at me", "8. Jesus", "16. Silence", "17. Mystery", "22. No dogma","25. Oneness of God", "27. Hatred for none", "29. Inclusive", "39. Creativity of the Spirit", "42. Simplicity", or "45. Consciousness", to note the ones that jumped out most to me in the 50 things to love list. Not to say I don't agree in some way, just that merely stating such labels is misleading: there are many things that might be meant by, for example, "Inclusive," some of which I agree with, some of which I do not. Sixth, both lists mix doctrines (God's grace/wrath, etc.) and human things (beautiful liturgy, ugly sermons, etc.). The doctrines are fair game, so long as we are allowed to say, "but I don't believe those doctrines" or "what is wrong with that doctrine?" The ways in which people have misapplied them, not so much, unless we are allowed, similarly, to say "but we should not have behaved that way, and here is how acting like that contradicts our doctrines."

Both lists apply to false, human centered religions. Neither God's grace, in the way represented, nor his wrath, in the way that was represented, constitute the whole beauty of religion. Only the glory of God can satisfy, and the glory of God shows itself quite well in the cross: God's wrath poured out against sin, and God himself taking that wrath in order that he might save a people for his own possession, that we might have the immense privilege of glorifying him for his ultimate value--for he created us--for his grace to us--for we deserved that wrath--and for his justice against sin--that our guilt has been removed, and the world made right again--and these, his glory, we shall praise him for, forever and ever, thanks be to God.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

How God Gets All the Praise and No Blame

I said in passing in my last post that if free will exists, and is a factor in salvation, then humans have some claim to some praise. This is an old Calvinist argument which has been plausibly refuted. Along with this, I would like to note the requirement that salvation be "only by grace" in some way .

Refutation 1:

God gave us free will, thus our good actions that are done by means of free will are only able to be done because God, in his grace, gave us the free will that extends to the ability to do them. Everything is by grace alone, whether our having a body or our having a free will, and thus whatever good we do with our free will is also by grace alone.

Response 1:

Well, then, if we praise God alone for our salvation, done by our free will, which is given by his grace. What about those bad actions, the ones free will is supposed to free God from the blame of? If we praise God for our salvation because he gave us the ability to freely accept it, then why not blame God for our sins, since he gave us the free will which extends to the ability to do that too?

Refutation 2:

Since Christ died on the cross for our salvation, and this being his grace to us, therefore our salvation is by grace alone, not of ourselves, since we did nothing to force God to offer this salvation to us.

Response 2:

This only accounts for it being somewhat of grace. To be all of grace, all the components that are necessary for one's being saved must be out of grace. This attempted refutation leaves the act of free will as a component that is not of grace, yet which  is necessary for one's being saved. How is it that we do not incur praise by accepting salvation, then? Or, if we do not, how do incur blame by our freely willed sin?

Refutation 3:

God, in his grace, gives us a free will which extends to both allow us to accept the free gift of salvation, and to sin, as in Refutation 1, but in such a way that neither blame nor praise passes through that. We praise God, instead, for the act of grace which is Christ's work on the cross, as in Refutation 2.

Response 3:

This seems to suffer from the same problem as either Refutation 1 or 2. If praise or blame can still be incurred by freely willed human acts, then there is still praise that seems due to human beings. If praise and blame instead cannot be incurred by freely willed human acts, then we can blame no one for sin, nor can God. This removes all possibility for freely willed acts which result in guilt, and thus, either the only morally significant acts are determined, or it removes the necessity for salvation and the justice of hell.

The Problem:

Either free will incurs both praise and blame to us, or it incurs neither. If both, then there is some praise which is due us, but not God. If neither, then there is no blame due to us such that we need salvation and are justly under the penalty of death.

Transcendence/Immanence: Solution For Determinists or Compatibilists.

At first look, the same problem seems to rear its head for one who says that God actually does ordain everything as the one who grants God praise because he gave us the free will with which we accept salvation. The distinction I would like to make here, as usual, is between God's transcendent and his immanent acts. In the refutations above, I have assumed that all actions are immanent. This works, because God's giving us free will would presumably be an immanent act in his creating us, and humans can only act immanently.

When a human being acts due to an immanent act of God, the praise passes through the human and arrives at God. I doubt anyone will have a problem with this. However, God's immanent acts are always good even with respect only to what has occurred up to that point. All of God's acts are good transcendently. Thus, all that occurs due to a transcendent act of God is good transcendently, i.e., it is good that it happens in the final analysis, though not necessarily in the present moment when it occurs.

When a person sins due to a transcendent act of God, which I believe happens, since all things are at least transcendently caused by God, why is the person blamed but God is praised? The reason is that they are different actions. When the person sins he does so for some purpose that is not for God's glory--else it would not be sin. When God acts, however, it is for his name's sake, his glory, and out of the abundance of his wisdom and loving-kindness. Also, all transcendent acts are but one total singular act of the creation of all things, and thus the same act whereby he causes someone to sin is the act whereby he brings about the redemption of his chosen people by the death of his Son. Transcendent acts cannot be compared with immanent acts, nor can a transcendent act be assumed to be the same as an immanent act, unless the immanent act is the last act, done at the last time, in which case they are both done with respect to the entirety of history. I do not expect that such an act is possible, but even if it is, I also know that it will be good, for it will be done after Christ has redeemed his world.

Friday, November 23, 2012

God's Good Selfishness and the Problem of Hell

I have previously argued that God is most, in fact infinitely, to be valued, and that we ought to therefore seek him, i.e., his glory, with all of our being. I have further argued from God's honesty that he must himself seek his own glory with all of his own being. In this post I will attempt to show how it is that God is still love. I shall finish by attempting to show how hell exists because of God's love for us just as much as because of his love for himself, since they are inextricable, and go from there into an attempt at showing how free will is not desirable in solving the problem of evil at this level.

What is it to say that God is love? We tend to take it to mean that God loves everyone with a pure love, whether or not they have done anything to warrant his love or the removal thereof. It certainly seems to be right to say that God fulfills completely what is to be expected from one who loves. What does it define to say that "God is love," though? Does it define love, or does it define God?
So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. --1 John 4:16
It seems as if it is not a matter of defining one by the other, but rather, declaring the inextricable link between the two. God is the source of all love, and God's love is the source of all that which he does. Note that his love is not here limited in direction merely to human beings, though it is clear that his love is directed toward us.

It is impossible that God should exist by causing his own existence and not be selfish, since there is nothing but his own nature to cause him to will that he be. If he did not love himself then he would not have caused his own existence except in order that some other exist. If he caused himself to exist only so that some other might exist, then he ascribes value to himself only because of some value in that thing for the existence of which he causes himself to exist. But if he can cause that thing to exist from nothing, then he has in himself all that which went into that which he caused, and he is therefore more valuable than that which he caused. Thus, if God causes himself to exist for some reason other than self-love, then he is a liar.

It is impossible that God should be, in an essential way, love, and not be selfish. Whatever is an essential characteristic of a thing is a characteristic that the thing must have or else it would no longer be itself. It may be said that God caused the world out of love for us. However, in the case of God there must be some reason why he loves who he loves, some guiding principle that causes him to love one thing more than another. Whatever this principle is, it must have existed in order to guide him to love himself rather than something he might create, and thus cause himself. I would submit that the principle may be in some sense considered that of self-love, or honesty. If God is honest and most valuable, then he must call himself most valuable in all that he does. God then created the world out of love for himself. This is not to say that he did not in any way create the world out of love for human beings, but only in that we are made in his image, and he loves things with respect to how like him they are.

It is impossible that God should be love and not seek his own glory with all of his being. Because God is most worth seeking, he must speak to us as if he is most worth seeking. To do otherwise--to lie--would be to our detriment. Thus, since in causing the world he had respect to his own glory, whatever a thing is, it exists because of how it reflects God's own glory, i.e., how it looks like him. Because of this, the world is made in such a way as to point us to God, i.e., to tell us that there is a God and what kind of God he is.
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For 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. So they are without excuse. --Romans 1:19-20

So we know that God intentionally created the world so as to show us who he is. In a sense, then, creation is a massive--yet still so small, we shall never see all of who God is--self-portrait of God. What displays more self-love than this? Yet he does it because he loves us and wants us to seek him and find him, to taste and see that he is good, to find our joy in the only place where we may find it, which is God alone.

It is impossible for God to act for his glory in all things and not have that bring about the greatest joy for the greatest number of people. It is thus impossible that he act for his glory in all things and not love us with the greatest possible love, which is the same thing. For in creating the world to show his glory he also creates it so that his worth is shown, in the end, by how great the rejoicing in him is. The applause must be the greatest possible when Christ enters the stage. Thus God brings it about that as much cause for rejoicing exists as is possible. He desires glory, and to that end he shows his glory to us, and in seeing his glory we worship him, which is to say that we ascribe ultimate worth to him, that we imitate him, that we act out of love for him. This worship, because God created the world to show his glory, and therefore, because it is this worship for which we were made, is the most joy-inducing activity which a human being can participate in.

The Problem of Hell

The problem of hell is probably the strongest form of the problem of pain, or evil, since it is eternal suffering for the sins of human beings eternally estranged from God, never having fully paid for their infinite sin.

What, then, of Hell? It exists that God might glorify himself. How? By his justice, at least in part, perhaps in other ways. Why is it good that he pour out his justice on so many? Because by so doing he shows his glory in his justice, and also thereby shows his glory in his mercy and grace. How is this still love? By this showing of his justice, grace, and mercy he increases our joy in him that we might glorify him all the more, and this increase in our joy is greater than what might have come from there being fewer in hell and more of us in heaven. For there is no greater way in which we can come to understand to such a degree how great a sin we were once committing, and how great a punishment we have been saved from, and thus how great the mercy of God and the grace of God have been to us that we might enjoy God with us, our greatest joy, forever and ever, than that we see how worthy God takes his glory to be of having value ascribed to it, which is to him, by seeing how worthy those who have failed in ascribing that much glory to his name are to be punished, and thus how worthy we would be to be punished but for the fact that Christ took that punishment for us.

Does God then not love those who are damned? No! He loves them, though he finds his glory better revealed by their punishment than by their salvation, and thus he finds his love better shown by the salvation of some than of others. Can we say who is who? It is futile to try, for, not only does God often finds his glory better shown by surprising those who think they can guess how the mind of God works than by saving the ones we expect, but we do not have access to the inner thoughts of anyone, let alone how history is set to pan out. Indeed, it is nothing in us for which he chose us, but it is only his work in us that is good and brings him glory. Therefore he chooses whom he wills, and whoever he does will, he changes by his power. It is not necessarily the poorest, for some who are rich do end up in the kingdom, nor is it necessarily any other sort, for all sorts will end up in heaven. Indeed, this may be a part of how God chooses: let all kinds come to him, from the most likely to the least likely. And we praise God for this, even more than if we were all the worst of the worst as the world sees it. Though who can say? We are all wretched sinners. Perhaps God did choose the worst of humanity, how could we ever tell? But all this speculation is of no use, let us merely praise our God who did save us, and pray for those not yet saved, that God, in his love, might have mercy on them.

I may be charged with avoiding the question: How is it that God loves those who are damned? Come, I must say from scripture that there is a hell, and that it is not empty. If I say that God puts people there for his glory, at least I have a reason with which to comfort myself that the lost are not wasted. Some ask why God could not have obtained as much glory by people freely choosing to reject him. I find the concept of free will that is not super-ordained by God rather incoherent in the face of God's being the cause of many things in the Bible which are called evils at the human level, Job's suffering being the most obvious. Nevertheless, I shall make an attempt to answer the question.

Does it matter how they get there? Well, if God's ordaining damnation looks like a father picking and choosing which kids to save from running into traffic when he could save all, then God's allowing people to freely will one way or another looks like a father merely shouting at his kids to stay out of traffic when he could save all. If the first is cruel, then the second is apathetic. Surely, the picture is wrong? But if it is a bad picture for one, then it is also for the other. Do not say that God must respect our free will, he must do nothing of the sort. Where has he ever given a promise of free will to anyone? I would rather he shred my free will to pieces. Dash it against the rocks. May I never see it again, if I ever had it. I care nothing for free will, indeed, I hate it if it keeps me from God! Remove all semblance of free will from me if you wish, so long as I am allowed to be with God. We sing "you can have all this world, only give me Jesus." What is wrong with "you can have all my sanity, my free will, my happiness, my life, only give me Jesus"? What is lost in each case is gained in Jesus Christ, apart from, perhaps, if it ever existed, free will, which we rejoice that we shall be free from, in all respects relevant to salvation, in heaven, for we know that when Christ returns he shall renew all the world such that it shall never again fall into sin. I would charge those who prefer free will that it is a sort of squeamishness that is not worthy of one who trusts that God is good, and that it unnecessarily diminishes the sovereignty of God, whether the charge of heresy is avoided by suggesting that God diminished it willingly or not. We ought to weep if we ever find that the good God is not sovereign over something.

Indeed, I avoid the question, for if I have not answered it previously, then I find no sense to the question. I have said how it seems that God must ordain as he has in fact ordained, and even shown how he may do so out of love. Perhaps the glory God would receive from what occurs in hell might turn out the same, but the glory of God is not received only then. Is God as glorious if he is not sovereign over the hearts and minds of all people? No. Indeed, if anything we do can be called good, then we must say that it was caused by our union with Christ, and thus arising from, not our own life, but Christ's life in us. If we say anything else, then we claim glory for ourselves, and so deprive ourselves of joy. Let us, then, rejoice that our good God is sovereign over all creation from beginning to end and is, by his sovereign plan in his wise and loving way, making it new, and that we shall finally see him face to face and see ever more how great and awesome and majestic and glorious he is.

Edit: This post ended in a rant, in which I charged Arminians with theological squeamishness. At this point I am not sure whether to be sorry or not (i.e., whether any offense caused is proper or not), but, when I first posted it, I dreaded anyone seeing it. I do see what makes people squeamish in regard to this view of Hell. The same reasons, however, seem to me to allow the same squeamishness whether there is free will or not. Perhaps free will decreases it a small amount, but how much, really? I find Hell to be both horrendous and necessary. I can say that it is beautiful in how it shows God's justice, yet I still feel crushed by how much suffering there will be there. I do not think that it is wrong to feel both ways. Jesus wept for Jerusalem. Paul was willing to be damned if his kinsmen could then be saved (Romans 9:3). Hell is supposed to make you feel squeamish. More than that: it ought to induce a proper fear of God! Your squeamishness, and your fear, however, ought not lead you to question God's sovereignty over it.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Body of Christ

If my head is damaged, I may not be able to use my body as I once could. I may not be able to use language, or move my arm, as I used to. As it is, if I pick something up, it is the hand that does it, but it is me in that hand--without my willing it to move, it would not move. If I break my arm, it is not something wrong with me, per se, but with my arm. If I become paralyzed, it is not something wrong with my mind, usually, but with the connection between my head and my body. What happens to my head affects all of my body, and what happens to my body affects what my head does with my body.

We are the body of Christ, for we are all united to him, just as all the parts of the body are to the head. All that we do in him is his action, and all he has done is something that we, in a sense, share in--a soccer player kicks a ball into the air, and raises their arms in their happiness. The same power which raised Christ from the dead is the power which works in us. He who willed that the Church resist temptation in previous times is also he who wills every act the Church now does. The pain that the Church endures for Christ, it also endures by the power of the Spirit, and therefore in Christ. The Christ was crucified bodily on the cross in the first century, but, ever since then, his body, the Church, has been being in a sense crucified by the world. "Take up your cross..." The Christ who submitted his body to suffering to the end for our sakes now submits us to a kind of picture of that suffering, and endures it, which is to say that we endure it in him, for the joy set before him who is our joy, for the sake of those who are yet lost, that we might show how great the love of God is, and draw some to Christ. Thus Paul says, "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church," Colossians 1:24.

If the martyrs in ages past, and places far away, can endure suffering by the power of the Spirit, then what will stop us? It is that same power in us, to will and to work to his good pleasure--it is, indeed, a great cloud of witnesses. Yet, as when my foot hurts I sometimes hold it in my hands, and feel the sensation of pain in my mind, so the various members of the Church ought to feel the pain of their fellows. Just as Christ intercedes on our behalf, so should we on behalf of our fellows.

By his stripes, we are healed, and, by our stripes, the Church often strangely grows. May the Church, even here, be deemed worthy to suffer for the sake of the Gospel, that we might both see and show the glory of God in it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Glory of God: From, Through, and To Him

"For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen." Romans 11:36

This comes largely from Jonathan Edwards.

There is nothing good but it comes from God, for in him is all goodness. Thus, the capacity to ascribe goodness to him comes from him. This goodness is the virtue of God, which, with his knowledge and joy, make up the glory of God. The ability to glorify God is also dependent upon knowledge of God, that we might have something to glorify God for, and the joy of God, or we would be saying, not that God is great, but that he is a harsh taskmaster who created beings to find no joy in that which all things ought to do. A separation of what  it is good to do, and what is fulfilling to do would seem to be a punishment for good, and would make God unjust, but rather, because God is just, he has ordained that we find ultimate joy in the ultimate good, praising him.

God's glory being infinite, it thus causes him to express it. Therefore it is also his delight to manifest his glory to us, and even in us, through our union with Christ by the Spirit, such that we have some measure of the goodness, happiness, and knowledge of God. We then manifest that glory, the character of God, to the world, and thus manifest God to them, and in so doing we glorify God as we, by word and deed, declare the greatness of our God. Thus, the glory of God returns to him as we glorify him. In this way we do not add to him some glory he did not have before, but acknowledge as his that glory which he has always had, and share in that glory as it comes out in our lives.

We have the goodness of God in that we are united with Christ, and so we live, by the Spirit, in Christ and thus as Christ. We have the knowledge of God, not so much in our knowing about physics or some such, but in knowing Truth, who is God, and in seeing as God sees, with the eyes of Christ to some extent. We have the joy of God in that we are fulfilled by the treasure of glorifying him, which is our purpose, thus, our joy in God is our joy in being ever more human in the way that humans were created to be, and thus in the way that humans are designed to find the most pleasure.

Common Grace

Human beings are fallen creatures, the refuse of the earth. Where does the charity of even those who have not been redeemed come from, then? We are refuse, but that does not mean we are not capable of amazing acts. Our rubbishness consists primarily in our love of anything but God, not in our love of acting for the harm of our fellow humans. That common charity comes out because we still know that we were meant to behave like this, but it does not negate our depravity because we still do not do it for the glory of God. Our fallenness consists in our hate of God. Common grace is God's not eradicating us from the face of the earth, but letting us continue to bear his image to the extent that we can. We cannot bear it much, but this is because we hate whatever is of God, not because God has taken anything from us. Perhaps it should be called Common Mercy, rather than Common Grace.

I mentioned when I began this blog that I believe that beginning the search from truth centered on anything but God would be doomed, in the end, to failure. This is not to say that everything found from such a starting point is false, but that it is only true insofar as its center is near the Truth. Some can come closer to it than others, and perhaps no one can quite place him at the very center in practice, but we who say we love him ought to strive to place him at the center of our whole lives.

There is a tug in our very nature to image God to those around us, yet there is also, since the fall, a hate of God which repulses us from being like him, or by any action declaring that he is right. Thus we find people who sway between different sorts of behavior, yet, because they do all from a desire other than for God, it is sinful behavior. Yet we ought to love that they do that which they would do if they did love God, while weeping over their sin in doing it for the wrong reasons. People do amazing things, but too often from sinful desires.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Apathy and Revival

Two trends I have noticed. First, a concern about apathy. Second, a desire for revival. Revival will come when the Gospel is heard, and apathy will die when the Christ, who came full of grace and truth, takes over lives.

Truth: we are sinners. Grace: God is mighty to save. Truth without grace leads to apathy. We are totally lost, so why bother? Grace without truth leads to apathy. I'm okay, and even the little things are cleaned up. Why should I care if the world is going down the drain? I'm safe. Grace and truth: we were poor, a widow, an orphan, yet Christ is our riches, Christ is our husband, God is our father. Because that is who we once were, and because Christ saved us from that, so now image him to the world--go and do likewise.

But I desire more than just a cure for apathy. Revival is likely to bring persecution, so we ought prepare, and seek a revival that brings such passion as to bring us through any suffering. We must see the life that we have in Jesus, and the joy we have in him, and see the life we have in this present age, and the pain which we might be threatened with, and see that the first so overshadows the other as to make the pain and suffering of this age itself become a joy to bear because it shows how great our God is, because our suffering in this life for the souls of the lost is a picture of the immense suffering which Christ underwent for our lost souls, and because if the world does not hate us, then it is not seeing what it saw in Christ that it crucified him for.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Salvation: When What?

I mentioned in an earlier post that I might write a post on the temporal order of salvation, by which I mean an explanation of when the Holy Spirit unites us to Christ and when we accept Christ as savior, relative to each other. This is an attempt at that. I am assuming that the decree that a person will be saved is decreed equally at all times, since it seems best understood as a transcendent act of God, though if one wishes to view it as an immanent act, then I would say it was done "from the foundations of the world."

So, which comes first, the union to or acceptance of Christ as Lord? The easiest answer to this question is to say that they are simultaneous, and I am not sure that one's beliefs as regards Calvinism vs. Arminianism matters in liking that response. The problem is that then one might wonder how something can cause something that is at the same time as it. That problem does not occur for transcendent acts, as they are all everywhen, but this seems a very immanent act, one of the most immanent, God with us, acts. Thus, I would like to explain it immanently.

Before addressing the direction of causality, it is necessary to show that there may be a causal direction without time in between the events. This is relatively simple if one thinks about it right. I release the ball, it falls. There is no time in between my release and the ball's fall. The moment I am no longer holding the ball up, gravity draws the ball down. I pick up the ball, it rises. I am picking up the ball in order to raise it, and my picking up the ball is the cause of its rising, yet they are simultaneous.
Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” --Acts 2:37-39

First, it is implied here that our repenting and being baptized are what we we do in order that we might be saved. it even seems to be implied that receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit is directly linked with that salvation. We might even say that our repentance causes us to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and (by him) salvation. So much for unconditional election? Not quite. "For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself" Anyone who repents will be saved, and many are called, though few chosen. But this does not mean that there is no other work which causes us to obey and repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. "So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls." (Acts 2:41) Those who received his words. How do we receive the word of God? If we receive it, we will obey it, and if we obey, and repent and be baptized, then we will be saved, but our ears are stopped up.

Then how do we hear? It is by grace, but what grace? We receive the Holy Spirit after we repent, and we receive the word before, can we receive the word without the Spirit? Jesus tells the Twelve, well before he even died, "To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that 'they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.'" This is the difference, some have been given the secret of the kingdom of God, others cannot understand it. What is this giving? It is God's grace which allows us to be saved, allows us to repent. In some sense it may be what occurs in his ordaining some to salvation that he places this secret in us. What is given? The secret of the kingdom of God. The Gospel truly heard, not by human words or human ears, but by the spirit God tells us the Gospel. Then we can, and will, repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins.

So what is the order? First God ordains, then he speaks to certain people, even through ridiculously incompetent humans, then those he spoke to hear, for, when God acts in order that a thing be heard at some time by someone, they cannot miss it (they might hear it at a later time than they think they ought to have, but perhaps God chose to keep it from them for a time), and because they hear rightly they repent and are saved.

Thus, in preaching, teaching, evangelizing, we speak the Gospel. Some will hear but not understand, others will appear to understand, but not finally, still others will persevere to the end. Our job is merely to say words and deeds that they may hear if they have ears, if God speaks through us. It is like a man in a foreign country telling people that there is a danger. He does not know who will understand him, yet he tells them all in every way he can think to. The fact that some know his language already, and some will not understand however hard he tries, is unimportant. Our job is to speak in order that those who hear might respond with repentance, and we can do this boldly since those who will not hear have either not been given ears to hear, or it is not yet their time. At the same time, we cannot be proud that we have brought some number to Christ, since it was only because God gave them the ears to hear that they heard, we are only the tool. When it seems that what we say has no effect, we ought not be discouraged. Our job is to tell the good news, not to make people hear it, though we desire that they would.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Once Saved, Always Being Sanctified

If one believes in perseverance of the saints, why "work out your salvation with fear and trembling"? If God chooses, irresistibly, who is saved, then why should we bother with anything? The question I am attempting to articulate and then address is not, "why evangelize?" (ordains means as well as ends), since I expect that answer is relatively well understood. Rather, it is "once I am saved, why bother with sanctification?"

Because you cannot help it. If saved, then being sanctified, that is why it is the evidence of our faith. We come to love God more and more, if we truly love him at all. If we love him, then we will desire to do that which pleases him. What pleases God? Our worship. What is worship? Glorifying God above all else in thought, word, and deed. What is sanctification? Growth in godliness. What is that but becoming more and more like God in those traits where we ought to become like him, such as his holiness and love. That then portrays to the world an image of God clearer than the image seen in others. In other words, in sanctification, we become more like we were created to be, and thus show God to others better, which is worship, as we ascribe what is good in us as not terminating on us, but being an image of the God we serve, indeed, because of the fall and following redemption, we must say that our goodness is not our own righteousness, but God's righteousness counted for us.

Being saved and loving God are inseparable. The hatred of God and love of self is what we are being saved from, and we are being saved to love God, as we were made to, in which we find fullness of life. To continue in sin is to continue as if we still hated God. If we truly love God, then that should be hard, not the default! Certainly, it may involve great amounts of difficulty, but for us who love God, we ought to desire to rather do what it takes to show how much we love God than let it be a secret. If you love someone, you will act like it, unless something is severely wrong. If you love God, you ought to act like it, and acting like it is sanctification.

Certainly, there may be things we wish we could do to show our love for God, but in ourselves cannot. Thus we rely on the power of the Spirit of God in us to work in our lives to cause us to overcome habits and do that which we want to do. We rely on the power of God to work through us to accomplish great works for him. If our salvation is brought about by him, then so is our sanctification. We are not saved and then set afloat, nor even saved then merely guided. We are led by the Spirit of God into the Truth of God that we might thus live as children of God by the power and grace of God.

I am somewhat concerned that the original question might be caused by a misunderstanding about what humans are and what our relation to God is. Sanctification is not a hard toil that we need to be harrassed in order to do. Perhaps we will desire not to put the effort in, but the reminders, the incentive to put the effort in, is that we are in Christ, we are a new creation, our nature has been changed from the sinful nature to the Spiritual nature, so act like it. Yes, it is work, but it is good work, like playing sports is for some, you want to do this kind of work.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Two Issues I Have No Personal Experience With

Mostly the point of this post is to show that philosophy gets its fingers into everything, and is useful in certain places where it is currently ignored. There was a time when our questions could be answered without knowing how to detect a soul, or whether the world was designed purposefully. That time is beginning to pass. I have never had to act on the basis of my conclusions here, and for that reason they may be somewhat suspect, but the line of reasoning is still at least useful.


The abortion issue rests on the question of what makes a collection of cells have those rights which we hold in the United States Constitution to be endowed to us by our creator, specifically, what makes a collection of cells have a right to life? For a dualist, the question is, "how do we know what has a soul, and how do we know what sort of soul it is?" Why do humans have a right to life? If we do not know that, then there is no hope of agreeing on whether a fetus is also a human to the degree that it, too, has a right to life. It cannot be a part of the genetic makeup, or we cannot scratch, among other things. We do not know where consciousness arises from, though there are theories. But what if someone is sleeping? If it is some property of the brain, then it must be one that exists whether the person is awake or asleep, and whether they are under the influence of drugs or knocked unconscious. Can we even provide a reason why we ought to have this right to life from a materialistic world?

There is an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation "The Measure of a Man" where a judge notes that determining whether or not Data, an AI, is sentient (and thus not property), is a problem for philosophers, not for a judge. By the Turing test, he is sentient, and is ruled to be so. The problem with fetuses is that they cannot speak, nor do they seem able to provide other turingable materiel.


Suppose that the world was designed purposefully, which Christians, it seems to me ought to assume at the very least at a basic level. Well, then, there is a reason that there is male and female, and it goes beyond just reproduction. As evidence: there exist some hermaphrodite species. It seems to me that if males and females are equals in every way shape and form other than those differences necessary for reproduction, then it is a rather redundant system, apart from there being two. So, is it kidney-like, such that we donate one to a friend who has lost both of theirs, or are these parts interdependent so that they are two parts of a whole? Certainly, they may be redundant in some aspects, but I would at least expect that these two sorts of human would be different in as much as possible while still able to exist separate, and together be expected to create some sort of synergy. Systems seem so much more beautiful when they interact so that it appears so complex yet arises from simplicity, should we not expect that God created our relationships in that way? It seems to me that simply from the premise that God created human beings in two genders it follows that homosexuality at the least misses out on some blessings God imparted, and that there are no complementary blessings to be found in homosexuality.

Further, bringing in the Christian faith, in all that we do we ought to be portraying the likeness of God, since we were made in his image. Therefore, our greatest happiness will be found in doing that which glorifies him, since that is what we are fitted for. So, then, what picture is displayed by abortion, that it glorifies God? Tell a story where it does, in both the intent and the act of aborting the fetus. What picture is displayed in marriage that it glorifies God? Does not Paul say that it is an image of Christ's relationship to his Church? It is not Christ and Christ, nor the church and the church, but this image of Christ patiently, lovingly sanctifying, guiding, holding, his Church who is holding up her Christ, interceding on the world's behalf, praying that he return to make things right, and accomplishing his will until he comes. The image is affected by the fact that those enacting it are fallen, but not so much, I would think, that it is unrecognizable.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Knowledge and Action

You can know a lot of things without it ever making a difference to how you live. You can have salvation explained to you constantly for years on end, and never see its beauty. "even the demons believe--and shudder!" They get that they will be forever punished, they don't, and never will, get the beauty of the thing, the beauty of God. Christians struggle with sin, even while knowing reason after reason why the thing is sin, why it is dishonoring to God. We go, weeping, and repent, confess our sins to our intercessor in heaven, whose righteousness we depend on. We know that it is sin, yet still do it. In a sense we don't quite get it. But we do: give us a test on it, make us explain it; we can do that. Yet make us live it and we so often fail. How are we to escape this? This living in death, which we have been saved from. We are supposed to be in Christ, he is supposed to be living in us, why does it feel like the flesh is still ruling in so many areas of life? This is Paul's cry:
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:21-24)
What, then, is his answer?
 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin (Romans 7:25)
Is he resigning himself to sinning with his flesh? No! He has already emphasized that we ought not sin. So what is he saying? "Who will deliver me from this body of sin and death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" So Christ is our deliverer, and we will do what it is we can do, though it is very little, leaving the rest to God through Jesus Christ whom Paul implies is the one who will deliver him from this body of death. So in those places where I am able to serve the law of God, I do, and where I cannot, I don't.

In chapter 8 this is explained: In Christ we are not condemned because in him the law of the Spirit of life has set us free from the law of sin and death. God did what the law could not--he condemned sin in the flesh. Thus the requirement of the law is fulfilled in us who walk according to the spirit. Then he returns to the mind:
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. (Romans 8:5)
So if we walk in the Spirit, then we set our minds on the things of the spirit. And Paul says that he serves the law of God with his mind. Thus he walks by the Spirit. That is to say that, though he sins, his life his characterized by the thoughts that proceed from the Spirit. Perhaps these thoughts change him over time, but the point is not the change, but the glory of God that may be shown forth in that change. That is why it is the power of the Spirit that we rely on for sanctification, just as we were saved by the uniting of ourselves to Christ by the Spirit.

The Spirit has power which no person has to change people. We can think thoughts without changing, but we cannot have thoughts impelled into our very natures by the Spirit without changing. People argue, but all they can change are peoples' thoughts. The Spirit changes how people think and what they think about, changing our natures from death to spiritual life.