Monday, July 26, 2010

July 26

OT: 2 Chron. 17:1-18:34

Today, we read about Jehoshaphat's reign. The main story is of his alliance with Ahab and of the battle that ultimately caused Ahab's death. It seems that the chronicler is using Kings as his source, b/c this account is remarkably similar (though I didn't look it up. I guess that I should say it is remarkably similar to my memory of the account in Kings). I didn't have any new insight today, just the same old questions:

--Why did Micaiah first tell the kings a lie, when he had just said that he could only say what was from God? (18: 13-14).

--What did Micaiah mean when he answered Zedekiah, "You will find out on the day you go to hide in an inner room" (24)?

--And why did Jehoshaphat agree to attack anyway? What was the point of calling God's prophet if you weren't going to listen to his advice?

NT: Romans 9:22-10:13

Paul continues to grapple with the fact that his new faith tells him that many of his countrymen aren't saved. Needless to say, this troubles him deeply, and he just doesn't quite know what to make of it. And I could be totally wrong here, but I still have my theory from yesterday that God has not revealed the full knowledge of the situation to him. The Bible is inspired by God, yes, but that does not mean that its writers knew everything. There are some mysteries of God's will that I think we are just not meant to know, and that includes Paul. After all, in speaking of God's sovereignty and of God's control of his own life, David himself concedes that "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain" (Psalm 139:6). I have a good feeling that such knowledge is too wonderful for Paul, too.

But he can definitely theorize. He gives one of his theories in verses 22-23. I believe that it is a theory b/c Paul couches it as a question. He doesn't state it authoritatively; instead, he seems to be pondering and puzzling. His theory in those verses seems to essentially be that perhaps God is showing His love for His true chosen people by displaying patience for those who are not chosen. Hmmmm. Maybe Paul is totally right here. But still...that explanation just doesn't work for me. (Not that I think it has to "work" for me; I'm just describing my reaction to it.)

My working theory is still that, to an omnipotent being, foreknowledge ultimately means choice. God knows everything; He knows our every decision before we even make it. And when He chooses not to change our wrong decisions, He is making a choice. He could choose to force people to be saved, but He doesn't. And so, to foreknow of someone's destruction and to choose not to alter it even though it is in your power to do so, is ultimately to choose their destruction. Make sense?

Oddly, it does to me. And those gymnastics help me to reconcile the idea that we are chosen by God to the idea that we also have free choice.

Whew! Thankfully, Paul seems to be moving on from the predestination talk, though he is still on the topic of why his countrymen aren't saved. Like me, Paul seems to be absolutely baffled at how someone could be zealous for God's word and yet completely miss the truth. Predestination is one idea he puts forth. Now, he will add another one: motives.

Maybe those Jews missed the truth b/c "they pursued [the law] not by faith but as if it were by works" (32). Maybe they lacked the faith. Maybe they were too prideful. Maybe they thought that they were earning their own salvation. Thus, when someone came to freely give it to them, they balked. Maybe they were offended by a man who claimed to be able to forgive their sins. In their minds, they earned forgiveness when they offered sacrifices and followed the Law. No one could give it to them. They worked for it.

So maybe their motivation was off.

Paul ends on a hopeful note. In talking about the accessibility of salvation, Paul claims that it is not far from each of us. We don't have to go chase it down (10:6-7). Instead, God's truth is planted in each of us. According to Paul, "The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart" (8). I don't know if he is talking about people who have scripture or if this is somehow true for everyone, but I take comfort in the overall theme that salvation does not consist in a bunch of hurdles through which we must jump. It simply consists in a true, transformative faith in Christ.

Psalm 20:1-9

A kind of blessing psalm in which David wishes good things for the readers/singers of the psalm. At least, that's how I took it.

Proverbs 20:2-3

The first is a statement about the power of kings, and the second is an admonition to avoid strife and quarreling. Hear, hear! (Or is it, "here, here?")


  1. This story is AWESOME! I read it with bated breath (apparently I was in baby mode when we read it the first time), and with a giggle on the tip of my tongue the whole time! Oh the suspense!

    I am a little baffled at Jehoshophat's cluelessness ..seriously? Did he not get word that Ahab was a bad dude? I guess not.

    I love how Ahab responded to J's suggestion of asking a prophet of the LORD ..."I hate that guy! He only gives me bad news!" poor Ahab.

    Which brings me to one of your questions know I am reading in the NLT version. Well, in vs. 14 when Micaiah says they will be victorious, the NLT says "Micaiah says, sarcastically..." Now, it is worth noting that I dont find that word added in any other translation. So, take it for what it is worth. But, that makes sense "Okay AHAB, you will win (you moron, it would do us all good if you did die so...). I am just gonna say what all your moronic prophets are saying so you wont throw a fit over getting bad news again ...ya moron."

    Then, I see Ahab saying (vs.15) "Quit being a jerk. Shoot straight with me, Mic...what does He say?!"

    My interpretation, of course :)

    vs 17..another fit, love it.

    The whole thing about God having a pow-wow with the It doesnt fit my idea of God sitting up there making decisions all by himself cause he is God ..if that is a literal vision, then he asks the spirits around him for advice and they work together to do right by us (or wrong by Ahab, in this case).

    vs 23 ...more drama! A short (my imagination) little guy in a robe walks up to Mic and slaps him across the face (hilarious.)

    I think (next question) that the "hide in an inner room" thing is a way for Mic to say "you are about to find out where the Spirit of God rests when Ahab is an idiot, gets himself killed and then the next king comes after you! Think about me when you are hiding under you bed like a big baby." :) Again, just my interpretation.

    I dont know WHY J did what he did ..seems like the prophet of God would have put the fear of, well..God in him. I would think that he would have taken his two measly tribes and gone home. But, then again, it could be that He hadnt experienced the power of God personally (though certainly he had the blessing of God) and didnt understand that God was sending a resounding message through that one lone voice.

    Another idea, that Ahab is just a big bully and he smooth talked his way to convincing J that he should not only go to battle but wear the royal robes! (I mean, daft do you have to be there Jeho?)

    Either way, God saw fit to rescue the clueless king - which I bet soiled himself, right about the time he learned that God means what he says through his prophets! ...I bet that had something to do with the fire that is lit under his hiney in chapter 19!

    Good stuff.

    Romans ..good stuff, but I will put that off til later to respond to.

  2. He could choose to force people to be saved, but He doesn't. And so, to foreknow of someone's destruction and to choose not to alter it even though it is in your power to do so, is ultimately to choose their destruction.

    So does that mean that you do not believe that God interferes in the day-to-day lives of people? At least, in any way that might influence their decision to accept or reject God? If so, then have all of the people who have come to believe because they had what they perceived as a transcendental moment of God touching their lives were wrong? Unfairly influenced?

    Your idea makes sense on its own, but it does bring up a lot of other questions, the answers to some of which would make a lot of people feel like you are devaluing their life experience.

  3. First of all, I'm just happy to hear someone use the phrase "makes sense" in a sentence about my theory on predestination:).

    And I absolutely believe that God "interferes" in our day to day lives. His whole purpose in putting us in the places we are is that we "would perhaps reach out for him and find him, even though he is not far from any of us" (Acts 17:27). I believe that every good and perfect gift is from God (James 1:17), and that he gives us those gifts to draw us to Him. He gives us nature, our consciences, our blessings, our joys, our love. He uses other people to show Himself to us, He puts "coincidences" in our lives to point us to Him, the list goes on and on. I have definitely had many transcendent experiences in which I felt that I was in such close communion with God.

    The way my theory plays into all that is, what about the people who, despite those experiences and gifts, choose to reject God? If God is God, and if He loves them, then why doesn't He override their choice? Why doesn't He change their mind for them? In choosing not to do so, isn't He ultimately choosing their destruction? It's like this: Say you were about to eat something poisonous, and I knew it was poisonous, and I did everything in my power to "interfere" in your life and to convince you that it was poisonous. And yet, you didn't believe me. What if, instead of trying to physically grab it out of you hand, I said, "Okay, well, you made your choice. I'm not going to stop you." By doing that, wouldn't I also be making a choice? By choosing to let you make your own choice, wouldn't I be ultimately choosing your death? And again, that's how I can reconcile the idea that God "chooses" people to be saved or not saved, and yet ALSO gives us the choice. It has nothing to do with interference; I believe that God DOES try to influence our choice. But by giving us the final say, He is making a choice to lose some of us.

    Of course, I could be totally wrong. I always feel vaguely moronic trying to figure out omnipotence and omniscience in the first place. Truly, the concepts are simply beyond the grasp of finite beings...

  4. What is the borderline of permissible interference then? Most atheists have specific criteria that would convince them of God's existence (for example). Most of these things do not seem beyond the standard of reasonable influence (i.e., there's no twiddling with people's brains). And yet, God does not see fit to influence in these ways.

    Now, you may argue that anyone with criteria such as the ones laid out above would not really change their mind given such evidence and God knows it, but that would be arguing in a circle.

    Also, I know it's just an analogy, but if you didn't try to stop someone from eating something that would without fail kill them you would be morally (and quite possibly legally) culpable in their death.

  5. Just last night, Greg and I were discussing this whole thread, and he remarked how odd it was that God DIDN'T directly intervene in such ways as your linked essay suggests (this, even before we had seen the essay). I mentioned Jesus' story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, in which the rich man begs Abraham to send either him or an angel back from the dead to warn his brothers. Abraham's response was interesting: If they didn't believe the prophets, then they wouldn't believe even if someone was sent back from the dead.

    Greg's response probably mirrors yours: "Yeah, but you'd think he'd at least give it a shot."

    The truth is, I don't know why God chooses to act as He does. I'm sure you have picked up on that by now. I do know that I have seen several events that I consider miracles, or if not miracles, then at least direct interventions. I could regale you with tales of how God answered my prayers in really direct ways moments after I prayed them, a tale of my mom winning a car under extraordinary circumstances and extraordinary necessity (she promptly sold it to pay bills), tales of members of my church family making seemingly miraculous recoveries. But what would it matter? You don't know me, you have no reason to trust me, and I'm sure it would be easy to write off most of them as coincidences. After all, when Peter and the other disciples miraculously spoke in foreign languages at Pentecost, those predisposed to unbelief just assumed they were drunk.

    I also have plenty of experiences, of course, where God did NOT answer my fervent prayers. for the borderline of permissible interference, I have no idea. I guess that's up to God. I think the main difference between our ways of thinking about God is that you feel that we can define what is "moral" behavior for God, that we can impose our rules and logic on Him. And honestly, that is a natural impulse. I think that everyone (and this probably ESPECIALLY includes Christians) has an impulse to tend to "remake" God as a projection of themselves. I have definitely been guilty of that. The more I read the Bible, though, the more I see clearly that God is not just a glorified version of man. His ways are not our ways, and His Kingdom seems to be based on the absolute opposite of all our natural instincts. And He gives rules for us that do not necessarily apply to Him. He tells us not to judge, for example, not b/c judging is wrong, but b/c it is not our role. It is His.

    Apparently, I could ramble on about this all day, but I will close with one last thought regarding my analogy. I would think from your past comments that you would be all for God respecting man's foolish choices. At least, He gives us sovereignty in deciding our eternal fate, right? Even if that means letting us choose eternal damnation? To use another example, if I felt that homosexuality was a sin that lead to spiritual death, you would not want me to forcibly stop the practice of homosexuality through legislation, right? After all, shouldn't people be able to choose their poison, to continue the analogy? In short, I would think that this idea of God letting man choose would be appealing to you...

  6. Oh, I do think that people should be given a choice. I just think that some people (not you, but people who haven't thought about it as much), have a double standard when it comes to their beliefs about choice verses intervention. (And, as we learn in tomorrow's reading, God hates double standards.)

    I also still believe that if one accepts that God gave us at least some capacity to judge what is right and wrong, then we are meant to apply that to what human beings report as God's actions. But then again, that's no surprise since, if I were to believe the Bible were divinely inspired, the only way I could reconcile its many contradictions in both message and detail would be to accept one of the methods of inspiration that gives the human authors a fair amount of latitude to interpret the divine message they are reporting.

  7. I do agree with your last paragraph to a large extent. And I do see how that understanding is troubling when one reads the Bible. I definitely don't understand why God would do a lot of the things that He does in the OT. And so, a model of inspiration that allows for latitude sounds great to me, and I think that I might be even employing one in my mind a lot of the time, as much as I don't like to admit it in writing.

    At the same time, the problem for Christians comes in when we start dismissing things that are reported in the Bible b/c they don't jive with our sensibilities. I would hate to get to the point where I am just picking and choosing what the Bible says based on my own understanding and agreement. It might be kind of slippery slope argument, but as a Christian, I am scared of getting to the point where I mentally rewrite the Bible to tell me what I want to hear. Anything unpleasant goes out the window. I think we have a tendency to do that enough anyway with the Bible, and I don't want to be one of those people...

    I wouldn't want my conscience to become the highest authority, b/c it's NOT the highest authority. To treat it as such would be the height of arrogance, in my mind.

    I realize that all this has nothing to do with you or with our discussion, but your last paragraph sent me in a different direction. I guess to wrap my thoughts up, I can see how one would differentiate between questioning the writers and questioning God. It's just that those two things might look the same when we are talking about the Bible, and I have a hard time differentiating which is which. I absolutely, honestly do not question God, except as a means to get to know Him better. The idea of a finite being questioning an infinite, all-powerful God will always seem ridiculous to me. However, I guess that many believers have questioned the biblical writers....

    For myself, I do believe absolutely that the Bible is divinely inspired, even though I am not sure what "model of inspiration" I adhere to.

    Oh well. I will openly confess that all that gets confusing to me.

    Anyway, it has been nice talking to you, as always:). Sorry about the word vomit there at the end; I'm sure it was much more helpful and relevant to me than to you:).

  8. I think Abraham and Job could provide some interesting counterexamples to the appropriateness of questioning God. I think that even if you take a strictly Biblical perspective, humans are encouraged to question God, but God is not obliged to give an answer. In fact, much of the rabbinical tradition of Old Testament interpretation was built on the idea that humans should question God, that even though they accepted the Bible as scripture, questioning it and questioning God was the only way to figure out what was really meant.

    Now, this does introduce some subjectivity into understanding the Bible, but there are some who would argue that that was God's intent.