Romans 11:33-36

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Monday, May 31, 2010

God's Justice and His Love

God’s attributes are the chief way He has chosen to reveal who He is to man. When His attributes are viewed from the perspective of finite man, they can seem contradictory. For years, liberal theologians have tried to drive a wedge between aspects of God’s character. The textual critics have even gone to the extreme of saying the God of the Old Testament is a God of wrath and justice and is somehow different than the God of the New Testament, portrayed as a God of love, grace, and mercy. These apparent contradictions stem from the inability of man throughout history to answer the question of evil. One of the seemingly most asked questions is, “if God is a good God, how can bad things happen.” This is not a new question, as the Psalmist even struggled with its converse idea: “But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the boastful, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” Rabbi Kushner’s book Why do Bad Things Happen to Good People has epitomized an entire generation who questions the nature and character of God. Part of the fallout from such questioning is, even in evangelical circles, the idea that somehow God’s attributes must be balanced against one another. For example, I once heard a conservative seminary-trained Southern Baptist pastor say that God’s wrath and justice are balanced by His love and goodness.

Though well meaning, statements like that are contrary to Scripture and an offense to the nature of God. God is an ontologically whole being whose attributes exist in perfect fullness and harmony within His personality. The idea that any of His attributes stand in tension to one another is absurd. Balance is an unbiblical, Eastern philosophical concept that has permeated Western thinking and even, as evidenced by the above testimony, crept into modern evangelical discourse. According to The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, of the 18 times a derivative of “balance” is used in the Bible, none refers to balancing two of God’s attributes or precepts against one another. All references speak of the literal or figurative weighing of objects using balancing scales. An analysis of the concept of balance reveals thinking not only excluded from, but completely antithetical to Scripture.

To illustrate the concept of balance, picture a child’s seesaw. When two items are balanced, they are counterposed to, and in constant tension against, one another. An increase in elevation of one item requires movement and decrease of its polar opposite. None of God’s attributes or precepts is in tension against another. The focus of the seesaw’s tension is its fulcrum. Hypothetically, if God’s attributes could be in tension against one another, logic would dictate the fulcrum would be the midpoint between the two truths. The balance point would be reminiscent of Aristotle’s Golden Mean or Hegel’s Synthesis, instead of revealed, absolute Scriptural Truth. In the Taoist worldview, the concept of balance is essential. For the dualist-minded Eastern mystic, the goal of life is to achieve equilibrium in the balance between good and evil – hence the derivation of Yin-yang. Some human characteristics are designated as “yin” while some are classified as “yang”. For example, they purport the negative emotion of wrath needs to be counterbalanced by the positive emotion of love. In their worldview, the ideal is reached when one is stoically “balanced”. It is obvious from even a cursory examination of the Bible that God is not “balanced” in this way. He is pure love, pure righteousness, pure grace, pure holiness, pure mercy, and pure justice. The God of the Bible deals with man out of the fullness of His attributes, not in a synthetic, Hegelian compromise between them. God’s attributes are 100% pure and full, 100% of the time and are in perfect harmony with one another because they flow from the perfectly harmonious relationship existing in the Trinity. God can only exercise true justice because He is love. By the same token, He can only truly love because He is just. There is no contradiction or tension, only perfect characteristics of an infinite God.

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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Lord Guard and Guide the Men Who Fly

By Mary C. D. Hamilton

Lord, guard and guide the men who fly
Through the great spaces of the sky;
Be with them traversing the air
In darkening storms or sunshine fair.

You who support with tender might
The balanced birds in all their flight,
Lord of the tempered winds, be near,
That, having you, they know no fear.

Control their minds with instinct fit
Whene’er, adventuring, they quit
The firm security of land;
Grant steadfast eye and skillful hand.

Aloft in solitudes of space,
Uphold them with your saving grace.
O God, protect the men who fly
Through lonely ways beneath the sky.

Taken from my personal copy of The Airman's Bible, pg. 1129, that was presented to me upon my retirement from the US Air Force in 2006.

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Friday, May 28, 2010

June Edition of the West Virginia Southern Baptist

The latest edition of The West Virginia Southern Baptist, the state paper of the WV Convention of Southern Baptists, is available here. You can also use the sidebar link throughout the month.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

The Unchanging God Who Repents

How can God be described as unchanging when Scripture speaks of Him as repenting, regretting and experiencing pain? This question is at the forefront of the current debate with those who refer to themselves as “open theists”. Open theists such as Clark Pinnock, John Sanders, Gregory Boyd, and others believe God does not exercise complete foreknowledge. This process theology derivative holds that God is forever changing and adapting to the free-will choices made by man. He “knows” some future events based on His complete understanding of present circumstances and psychological and sociological factors. In their view, God is in indecision until man chooses a certain path. He then reacts to man’s choice and waits to react again. The root of the open theist’s heresy is a failure to answer properly the question of evil. In their quest to absolve God of responsibility, they have reduced Him to a figure that is much less than the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. While they scarcely address the root question, they proof-text Genesis 6:6 and other passages as evidence of God’s changeability.

As with most instances of proof-texting, context is the key to refuting improper hermeneutics. Some scholars attribute Scripture speaking of God as repenting and regretting as either anthropomorphisms, dispensational changes, or the fact that man in relation to God changed. I draw my analysis from Millard Erickson’s discussion of the subject in his book, What Does God Know and When Does He Know It? The question behind the open theist’s argument is, can a person know what is going to happen and at the same time experience remorse for the inevitable? It would stand to reason that if an example of this existed in our temporal world that it would be possible for it to be a part of God’s realm of existence. When a man and a woman unite in marriage, the traditional vows they affirm acknowledge the fact that one of them will die. When each partner promises, “till death do us part,” they are in a sense telling gathered friends and family they understand that nothing short of death will sever the earthly bonds of their marriage. By making that statement, the happy couple realizes that death is inevitable. The inevitability of death, however, does not remove the pain felt years later when the wife lies on the brink of death. Using the errant logic of the open theists, it would follow that the grieving husband should feel no pain because he knew it was coming all along. After all, he understood death to be the inevitable end to marriage years before at his wedding. This, of course, is completely absurd. When God spoke of His regret or repentance in Genesis 6:6, He was not taken aback at what He saw. To put it simply, He saw it coming. God, in His foreknowledge, knows the end from the beginning. Of course, “end” and “beginning” really have no meaning when one speaks of eternity, but in order for the finite mind to begin to grasp the infinite, God has “put the cookies low enough on the shelf for us to reach.” Because God knows and has foreordained the future in its entirety does not remove the pain and remorse associated with man’s rejection of Him. If one asks the mother of a handicapped child if she regrets having the child, she will say, “No,” despite the pain and hardship associated with it.

God’s experience of pain and remorse does not lie in opposition to His foreknowledge. Rather, God’s absolute foreknowledge speaks of His abundant grace. I have often asked the question, “If you knew before you had a child, that child would grow up to curse you, reject you, separate you from your own parents, beat you, and even kill you, would you still have gotten pregnant?” Virtually all couples (who are not giving the “Sunday School” answer) say they would have practiced birth control instead. If God has no foreknowledge, He can only claim to love us after the fact. He can only claim that things did not go quite as He planned and He has to come up with new and creative ways to get things to work out right. But the God of the Bible is so much more. He knew me before He created Adam. He knew I would rebel, yet He still created me – but there was even more. He knew the only way He could have a relationship with me was for His Son to be separated from Him and die. He knew that would be required before He laid the foundations of the world – from eternity past – yet He still created me. He did not need me, He existed in perfect triune relationship with the Holy Spirit and His Son – the Son He would have to forsake on the cross to atone for my willful and inherited rebellion – yet He still created me. That is the true meaning of grace. In an attempt to recuse God from the responsibility of foreknowledge, the open theists have made Him something less than God. Their god is one who only bestows mercy as an act of pitiful reaction rather than love. He only loves me based on my choices or current events – after he learns who I am. That kind of god is not the God of hope and assurance. He could not be my refuge or strength. Conversely, as the Psalmist declared in Psalm 139, the unchanging, immutable God of the Bible knew from eternity past where I will be in eternity future. It brings to mind the words of the song, “What a mighty God we serve!”

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Monday, May 17, 2010

God's Attributes

God is known by man as He chooses to reveal Himself. Since God is transcendently over and above man, He cannot totally reveal Himself. As God revealed through the prophet Isaiah, “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.’” The only way finite man can know who God is, is through His attributes. In the preface to Charnock’s classic work on the attributes of God, the writer describes God’s attributes as, “a grand foundation for all true divine worship, and should be the great motives to provoke men to the exercise of faith, and love, and fear, and humility, and all that holy obedience they are called to by the gospel; and this, without peradventure, is the great end of all those rich discoveries God hath in his word made of himself to us.”

While some would state that God’s attributes are synonymous to His properties, in reality, they are quite different. According to Erickson, “The attributes are qualities of the entire Godhead. They should not be confused with properties, which, technically speaking, are the distinctive characteristics of the various persons of the Trinity. Properties are functions (general), activities (more specific), or acts (most specific) of the individual members of the Godhead.” For example, Jesus has the property of having a physical, corporeal body. Even after his resurrection, Jesus bore flesh – albeit glorified – and had the properties of a physical state. He ate, walked, talked, and was able to be touched. God the Son has always had the property of a physical state. Realizing this truth makes it easy to understand all appearances of God to man have been Christophanies. After all, God told Moses that no man could see the Father and live. On the other hand, “God [the Father] is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” God the Father and God the Holy Spirit have the properties of a non-physical state – they are incorporeal beings. The key difference between the properties of the Godhead and His attributes is that God can divest Himself of His properties and still be fully God. If God were even to temporarily lose even one of His attributes, He would no longer be God.

God’s attributes are essential to His nature. All three persons of the Trinity share in all of the attributes of God. Omniscience is an example of an attribute of God. By Pinnock and the “open theists” contending that God has limited knowledge of the future, they take away a significant portion of who God is. If God is limited in one of His attributes, since they are all inherent to His very nature and character, He is no longer God – at least as He is described in Scripture. While God’s attributes are intrinsic to who He is, it is important to recognize that the attributes themselves are not God. In contemporary society, it is common to isolate a single attribute of God and hold it up in reverence as a deity. For example, it is understood by most people that God is love. This, however, is not a reflexive statement. In other words, while it can be said that God is love, it cannot be said that love is God. Unfortunately, many people today try to make that statement. There is another implication of the essential nature of God’s attributes to who He is. Many people seek to contrapose God’s attributes and pit them one against another. A prime example of this is when people say that God’s love must be balanced against His righteousness. The concept of balance requires a point of tension midway between two competing objects. God’s attributes are not in some sort of yin-yang face-off with each other. God’s character is manifest in His attributes and He is not bi-polar. He is perfect and He makes Himself known by His perfect attributes – all of them, in all their glorious, inscrutable fullness.

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Monday, May 10, 2010

The Personal Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit has been recognized as the third person of the Trinity since the earliest days of church history. While this is understood, it is also recognized that the doctrine has not been accepted without its dissenters. The Council at Nicea articulated the doctrine of the Trinity, and Constantine banished those bishops who opposed it. While Chalcedon and Constantinople further clarified the doctrine, there were still those who refused to believe it. Even today, there are those sects who deny the personhood of the Holy Spirit. The acceptance of the doctrine of the Trinity is a key watermark in determining the orthodoxy of believers. Although there are many reasons why it is important to orthodoxy to affirm the personality of the Holy Spirit, three stand out above the rest.

First, denial of the personality of the Holy Spirit is denial of the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity states that God is One yet exists in three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is widely accepted, yet is difficult to understand because there is no sufficient exigent analogy with which to liken it. If one were to believe the Holy Spirit was impersonal, He would stand in contradiction to the Father and the Son. Acknowledging the fact the Trinity is a mystery, it still must be understood that in order for three persons to exist as one, they must be ontologically identical. By way of illustration, the Bible declares that marriage is to be a man leaving his father and mother and cleaving to his wife, becoming one flesh. Is it possible for a man to cleave to an impersonal force? Can he become one flesh with gravity or quantum mechanics? In the same manner, God the Father and God the Son could not be One with an impersonal force. If one denies the personality of the Holy Spirit, one denies the fundamental truth of the existence of the Trinity.

Second, to deny the personality of the Holy Spirit is to deny the deity of the Holy Spirit. Throughout the 66 books of the Bible, God is recognized as personal. He has a mind, emotions, and will. The God of the Bible is not seen as an impersonal force that is to be conjured and manipulated by man. To say, as pagans throughout history have, that God is the unknowable chaos behind everything, or He is the vital principle that exists in everything is to say that a personal relationship with Him is impossible. This flies in the face of everything that is taught in Scripture. To avoid monistic or dualistic heresy, God must be a person to interact with man in a personal way. Either Jesus was an avatar as the Gnostics said, or He shared the traits of personality with the other members of the Godhead. Since it must be said that the God of the Bible is a personal God and, as argued above, exists in Trinity as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, it automatically follows that the Holy Spirit is a personal God.

Finally, to deny the personality of the Holy Spirit is to deny the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s personality is evident in the work He is described as performing. The Bible declares the Holy Spirit teaches. John 14:26 quotes Jesus as saying, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” This speaks of personality on two fronts; first, it declares acts to be performed by an actor. Second, it speaks of a personal replacement for a personal being – namely Jesus. Romans 8:14 testifies that the Holy Spirit also guides. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” In American churches, we talk so often of being “led of the Holy Spirit,” it often takes on the connotation of “may the Force be with you.” Even in Star Wars, by making the Force a leader, the writer betrayed the non-personal, vitalistic, Eastern mystical principles he was trying to convey. Man can only be led by a personal being. Probably the most vivid display of the personal work of the Holy Spirit is shown by His intercession for us. This speaks of personality two ways. The first goes back to the Trinitarian argument brought forth earlier. The only being capable of standing in the gap between man and God is God. God is personal. The Holy Spirit stands in the gap between man and God. The Holy Spirit must be God and therefore must be personal. The second, more touching, way the Holy Spirit’s intercession speaks of His personality is in the intimacy it displays. Romans 8:26 proclaims, “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” The sheer emotion carried by the weight of this passage’s words speak of compassionate personality. How can my weakness be helped by a non-personal force? How can a non-personal force translate my often incoherent, selfish, finite mutterings into Holy prayers, worthy of the Righteous Creator of the universe? The Holy Spirit is God and He is a person.

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Saturday, May 8, 2010

A Mother’s Work Is Never Done

Have you ever noticed that we are always looking for a future time in our lives when things are supposed to get easier? The same is true with mothers. Any of us who have gone through all the cycles of raising children know that it never gets any easier. The fact is that a mother’s work is never really done.

The manuscript of this Mother’s Day sermon from Titus 2:3-5 is available here. You can listen online or download the .mp3 audio file or podcast here.

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