Friday, November 18, 2011

Why Does God Allow Bad Things To Happen? Part 2: The Sovereign God

I think the next best thing to bring to the table here are some of the attributes of God. Again, I, nor anyone else, can tell you all the “why’s” behind the actions of God, or the thoughts of God. This is just an issue of our inherently different natures. God is immortal and eternal and infinite. We are mortal, physically temporal, and finite. While every single person has an eternal soul, meaning it will continue on after death to either Heaven or Hell, our physical bodies and physical existence on this cursed earth is helplessly limited in many ways.

While Christians have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2), we are in no way, shape, or form as wise as God, nor do we know everything God knows, “for who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct Him?” By his divine revelation through Scripture we know what we need to know for salvation and holy conduct. As Deuteronomy says in 29:29: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

Right away, we should understand that there are things that we will just not know or begin to understand when considering the works of God. Why? They have not been revealed to us. For instance, why create the world and men in the first place? When is the second coming of Christ? Why the elect? How could God have always existed without a beginning? Some things we must believe without fully understanding. We believe because we have faith that was granted to us from God, who is our ultimate authority in all things. If everything could be explained within the incredibly limited realm of science, then faith would not be faith.

Is this a reckless faith, then? Certainly not. As Hebrews explains so well, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (11:1-3).

Going back to the 1 Corinthians 2 passage is helpful because it gives us the balance in understanding that God is God and we will never understand His mind, yet we do have the mind of Christ to comprehend the things that have been revealed. Herein lies the key to this whole issue. The things that God has not revealed and kept secret, we will never know. The things He has revealed in Scripture we can only fully understand and believe when we are given the mind of Christ and given the gift of faith in the first place. Capisci?

This is why Paul says earlier in this very same letter to the Corinthians, “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1:18). Unless God has revealed Himself to someone and opened their eyes to understand (Jn. 12:40) then the message just reeks of foolishness to people.

Consider also what other Biblical authors said about the unmistakably, unfathomable wisdom of God. Isaiah said in 40:13, “Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord, or what man shows Him his counsel?”

Paul echoes this in his letter to the Romans when he says, “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?’” (11:33-34).

Some other specific attributes we need to realize about God, specifically, is his omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence. These are important because they help us have a better understanding for how unlimited and magnificent God is and how He alone holds all the wisdom and knowledge of everything. They also help to put our million dollar question into perspective: How could God let bad things happen?

Let me copy a section or two from a post I did in February 2011 titled “Free Will & the Attributes of God”:

***What does omnipotence really mean? An online dictionary will quickly tell you it means having unlimited, or universal power. Scripture easily confirms this attribute of God. Genesis 18:14 asks, “Is anything too hard for God?” Luke 18:27 says, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

Paul has a great piece in his letter to the Colossians about the supremacy of God. Chapter 1, verses 15 through 20 say, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

How perfectly explained, the power of God. He is firstborn over all creation, living and dead, so that he is supreme over every possible thing. This means He is in control of everything. Nothing is beyond Him, nor can escape Him. Everything happens as He determines and purposes.***

Additionally, God’s omniscience is crucial to understand and believe as well. Again, it brings the right perspective to everything because we know that we are not in control and not “in the know” for everything that goes on in the world. Scripture clearly shows us that God is omniscient. In fact, our faith would crumble if God was a god that did not know everything.

I met a man in a Cleveland Starbucks once who asked me what I was reading and it happened to be a book about the history of the Protestant Reformation. We got to talking and God’s attributes came up and he flat out told me he didn’t believe God actually knew everything. He didn’t think God had any idea what would really happen in the future. I was bewildered at his confidence in his opinion. We ended up talking for a few more minutes about where the Bible talks about God’s sovereignty and such before his wife came with their drinks and they had to leave, but he was genuinely glad to have spoken to me and for that I was thankful. I had to disagree with his view on God and in our discussion he seemed quite intrigued by it, so I hope it challenged his opinion on the matter.

In either case, the idea that God is insufficient to know everything, is out there, even in “Christian” circles. This man I spoke to was a “proud liberal Lutheran” as he put it. Unfortunately, pride was all he had because he certainly didn’t have an understanding of Scripture, which was sad to see. My heart genuinely went out to him. I hate it when I see people really miss what the Bible teaches because it is to their loss that they do! This is why it is important for us to know what Scripture says about anything; In this case, about God’s omniscience. Here is another excerpt from my earlier February post:

***Omniscience means knowing everything. Nothing is unknown to God. He knows what has happened and what is going to happen from every wisp of breath to all the hidden plans of man for all ages. He knows how many hairs are on your head [Matt. 10:30] and when a sparrow will fall down dead [Matt. 10:29].

We see all throughout Scripture, evidence of God’s omniscience. Matthew 12 shows how Jesus knew the thoughts of the Pharisees, regardless of what they actually said. He knew their motives. John 2:24 & 25 says that Jesus knew all people and knew what was in each person. God alone knows every human heart (1 Kings 8:39). Isaiah says no one can fathom God’s understanding (another reason to not presume on God, or doubt what God says, even if it doesn’t make logical sense), (40:28). Psalm 139 is all about the infiniteness of God in knowledge and presence. Finally, 1 John 3:20 says so plainly that God is greater than our hearts and that “He knows everything”.***

I would also like to add that even the things we may consider “chance” or “luck of the draw” are all within the scope of God’s will and sovereignty. Proverbs says “the lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (16:33).

This is fleshed out in Acts 1:24-26 when the disciples were deciding which person should replace Judas. “And they prayed and said, "You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place." And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.”

Finally, God’s omnipresence should not be forgotten. This means he is everywhere at the same time. He is not limited to being in one location at a time like we are. This does not mean that he is partially here and partially there, either. God is fully here and fully there without diminishing his fullness in any way, shape, or form.

Why mention this particular attribute? I think it’s important to remember it so we don’t think that God can’t handle being God in one place because He is too busy in another. That just doesn’t happen. When terrible events happen and things seem to be unfolding around us, it can bring great peace knowing that the Lord is still with us and He will never leave us or forsake us (Deut. 31:8).

An absolutely beautiful Psalm that David wrote that proclaims and praises God for his many sovereign attributes is Psalm 139 as I mentioned a bit earlier. I highly commend to you to read that Psalm and think about all the ways it speaks of God’s unlimited and infinite wisdom and knowledge and power.

Of omnipresence it says, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me” (vv. 7-10).

And if that wasn’t good enough, then here are some words from the Lord Himself, spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, “Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD” (23:23-24).

The Lord also speaks through Isaiah and says, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest?” (66:1).

What we need to understand is that God is the Almighty Creator and the Lord of Heaven and Earth. Who are we to ever question Him? To ever doubt Him? To ever challenge Him? Or to ever reject Him? Additionally, who are we?! A real understanding of our depravity in the midst of God’s holiness should drive us to our knees in fear and submission and repentance. It is so important to know who we are dealing with on a day to day basis.

If I had to suggest one other passage to read through, it would be Job 38-41. It is perhaps one of the most humbling, perspective-clarifying, attribute-declaring passages in Scripture, spoken from God Himself.

It starts off (v. 4) with God challenging Job by saying, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”

It just gets better from there. You have to read it.

After this lengthy list of rebukes and challenges from God, Job had the proper response when he said, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (42:5-6).

Even Paul, in Romans 9, says to those who would ever second guess God’s sovereignty in salvation, “Who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” (vv. 20-21).

Our understanding needs to be that there is a lot about God that we will not completely understand, but that doesn’t mean God doesn’t make sense, it only means that we are finite creatures trying to comprehend an incomprehensible God. His greatness and glory are unfathomable, indescribable and incomparable.

I purposely want us to remember this majesty of God as we head into the murky waters of why bad things happen in the world and why it seems as though God would allow bad things to happen, especially to innocent people. Why the tsunamis? Why the earthquakes? Why 9/11? Why so much tragedy in this world? Why do they happen to good people? To young children? To unsaved people?!

Now that we have set the context in Part 1 that we are in a fallen world where Satan and sin abound, and we have set the standard in Part 2 that God is infinitely greater than we could ever comprehend and in control of everything, even over Satan… Stay tuned for Part 3 where we can get a little more specific to our question: “How could God let bad things happen?”

In His Sovereign Grip,


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Why Does God Allow Bad Things To Happen? Part 1: The Fallen World

It’s one of those theological million dollar questions. Perhaps one that will only make complete sense when we’re in Heaven asking Him about it. Yet, there is an answer to this that is worth discovering because it greatly builds our faith and greatly magnifies God in our eyes to even a greater level of worth and exaltation. Not that He wasn’t greater already, but because we can sometimes not have a high enough view of God.

At first, this topic was brought up to me by a friend of mine who suggested that I consider writing on it because it is one of those questions that stop you in your tracks when you try to answer it to someone who may be struggling with the concept of a loving God in a sinful world. If we don’t answer the question well enough then not only do we run the risk of not adequately representing God or correctly handling his Word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15) (one of my biggest cautions), but we may end up confusing someone even more! I have been there before and it is frustrating.

This is why I love questions like these because they force us to come to specific conclusions on our faith and on what we believe about God. It motivates and inspires us to get into the Word and find out what it says about stuff like this. Our life should be a continual growth in how we view God. This question helps get us there when we let the Holy Spirit speak through His Word about the sovereignty of God.

There are a handful of specific things that cannot be ignored when dealing with a question of this nature. Some will set the context of the question, like: “How do bad things start in the first place if the world was created by a perfect God?” Other instances will look at God Himself: “If God is omnipotent, then why do bad people get away with bad things?” or “If God is loving, then why do good families get killed by bad people, or by cancer?”

Let’s set the context for the world as we know it. It is true that God is perfect and created a perfect world. We see in Genesis that God called it “very good” when he was all said and done with it (1:31). It was on this literal sixth day of Creation when God also created the first-ever man, Adam. God said in 1:26, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Then in verse 27 it says, “So God created man in his own image […]”. Simple enough! What God wants, God does. That’s Theology 101, right there.

In this portion of the first chapter we have a summarized caption of the creation of man. It goes on to say in verse 27, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

What was man to do now? In verse 26, again, it lists some things that God already determined for man to do: “[…] Have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God gave Adam everything he could ever want or need and he was to rule over them. Already, Adam had a job and sun tanning while eating the choice fruit was not it, though he indeed enjoyed the Creation God gave him, no doubt.

Another aspect of man’s role on the earth was to have kids and expand the family. We see in verse 28, “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it’ […]”. They were to be good stewards with the land and good stewards with their bodies, being fruitful in both. Please take note that in this verse it says that God blessed them. Adam and Eve were blessed and they were already given tasks. It is important to realize that they didn’t have a lazy life of no work. They were blessed in the work that they had.

Starting in 2:4 and going through the end of the chapter, we get a more detailed account of how Adam and Eve were created. God, as we have seen, has already created everything in the world and it is already set in motion within the complete cosmos and reality as we still know it today. At this point, however, nothing was really getting done in the way of cultivation, besides the natural ways that God had created for plants and animals to multiply. This was not a bad thing, nor was it an indication of God’s design lacking something. It is simply stated in verse 5 that “no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground.”

So, then, in verse 7, “the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”

God wanted man to rule his creation, to be the steward of the whole place. We may not know God’s thoughts behind why, but God does what God wants. At this point we see where the garden aspect of Eden was set apart. Verse 8: “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man that he had formed.”

It is before woman was created that Adam was given his one, and might I add only, prohibition in verse 17: “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Herein lies many things that man is now faced with: a conscious choice between right and wrong; being obedient to God or being disobedient; temptation is now an issue.

Nonetheless, Adam is given a helpmate who is actually in correspondence to him, rather than the animals he has been busy naming, as indicated in the chapter. When he finally meets this woman he immediately recognizes her as being distinct from all the other animals in that she was a human like him, bone of his bones and the same flesh as his flesh (2:23).

Now exists Adam, with a divine instruction from God, and Eve, his suitable helper. Life is perfect.

Then, along comes Satan in the form of a serpent, or a snake. He does what he does best and twists God’s words into something that deceives Eve, which leads her to eat the forbidden fruit, who then gives it to Adam who also takes and eats (Gen. 3:6). This. Is. Huge.

They just deliberately disobeyed God, who gave them the specific command to not eat that particular fruit. The issue here is not the fruit, necessarily. The real issue is the disobedience. Adam and Eve are now no longer perfect and are now considered sinners, which explains the shame they felt when they realized their nakedness in a new way.

The standard for mankind has now been set. They are a fallen people and are born under that curse of the Fall. This Original Sin is something that we are all guilty of at birth. Anyone who has had kids knows how depraved a human can be. You don’t have to teach the kids how to be bad and disobedient and how to be unloving, disrespectful and sinful. They are naturally inclined to do that. In fact, left to themselves you will see a continual fostering of sinful patterns that will reap terrible consequences in that undisciplined life.

Humans are deeply and hopelessly depraved. We must understand this depravity in order to fully understand our need for a Savior and Lord who can live through us and in us. We must understand this depravity if we are to understand the consequences of unrepentant sin in eternity. We must understand this depravity if we are to rightly understand the world we live in and how much we are in need of God’s mercy and grace every single day. Understanding the Total Depravity of man is the best way to really understand the immense greatness and holiness of God. Do not ever let this escape your cognizant understanding of the Lord. This puts us in the proper place of humility and puts God in His proper place of exaltation and glorification. This is what helps us in our high view of God.

As Paul says in Romans 5:

“[…] Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned[…]” (v. 12).

He says it a couple different ways… “One trespass led to condemnation for all men” (v. 18), and “By the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners” (v. 19). The point is clear. Because of Adam, the whole human race is considered fallen, depraved, and sinful.

Keep in mind that God “begat” Adam and did so in a perfect way. Now that Adam sinned he could only beget sinful offspring, so of course everyone is born under the curse of his sin. It is impossible for a sinful human being to beget a perfectly sinless child. The only place where this would happen is when the Holy Spirit made Mary pregnant with Jesus (Luke 1:35). Again, it had to be God doing the begetting, though. This is why the doctrine of the virgin birth is so important. If Jesus was born by natural relations between Joseph and Mary then he would not have been perfect. He would have been born a sinner. Only God can beget holiness.

So now, we have a fallen world where sin reigns and Satan continues to wreak havoc on whatever he can to keep people from seeing the truth in Scripture. However, even though Satan prowls around like a lion, he is still within the control of God. The first chapter of the Book of Job should tell us this much since Satan had to have express permission to do anything to Job in the first place. In fact, Satan was told not to kill Job, so Satan didn’t. This is always an extremely encouraging thing to remember. Even Satan himself is subject to God’s sovereignty.

Why go through this whole discourse on the beginning of Man and the fall of Man? To answer the generic question of “why do bad things happen?” I can confidently say it is because of the sin that entered the world, through Adam. This begs many questions though, I understand. We will get there in upcoming parts because it is important to understand all of this within the context of God’s will and sovereignty, which leads us to the bigger question: “Why does God allow bad things to happen?”

For now, I will say that just because God may seem to allow bad things to happen, does not mean he is not in control or does not care or is not merciful and loving. He is most definitely sovereign over everything that happens, yet He still holds us responsible for our sin and our rejection of God. When people reject God and sin in general, they are contributing to the fallenness of the world and only more sin will come out because of that.

Now that sin is in the world and has been since Adam, God sovereignly works his grace and mercy to draw people to repentance of their sins since they are enslaved to their sin (John 6:44) (Rom. 6:20). It is sometimes through the worst circumstances and moments in our life when God’s grace and mercy is made abundantly clear.

In the upcoming parts I will cover the following in more detail:

-The topic of free will vs. God’s sovereignty

-How the bad things can be used for good

-The eternal perspective on death, since an early death is usually considered a “bad” thing

-How bad times are sometimes needed in order to turn us to God

-How bad things will be inherently different in the eyes of a Christian vs. a non-believer

I don’t know how many parts I’ll break this into, but I just want to make sure that I cover everything thoroughly and appropriately. Let me know if something didn’t make sense or needs to be expanded on. Since we can see where sin started and how it has brought a curse on to the very ground we walk on (Gen 3:17-19), it will help us realize that the things we deal with nowadays are within the context of a fallen world as a result of Adam’s “original sin”.

In His Sovereign Grip,


Friday, November 11, 2011

How C.S. Lewis Confuses Me: A Book Review of "The Joyful Christian"

C. S. Lewis had an amazingly keen mind and analytical nature. As best as I can say he was probably one of the best thinkers of his time and he still may measure up to modern day ones in some respects. I just finished reading The Joyful Christian, which is a compilation of many of his writings ordered into topics, both practical and biblical. It was a great way to be introduced to C.S. Lewis in my opinion because I was able to see what he thought about almost everything. He said some great things, but he also left me extremely disappointed.

Some believe he was the best Christian philosopher in his time. However, that brings some disturbing thoughts to mind when you mention Christianity and philosophy in the same sentence. It is vague. Quite vague. At least the part about being “philosophical”.

To me, it is vague because the word philosophy is vague to the common (post)modern mind. We all say we have some sort of philosophy when it comes to this or that, or we consider one business to have a poor business philosophy, whereas another one is much better. If we can isolate the word for what it means by definition, then that will help.

Philosophy is made up of the two more separate words philo and sophy. Philo means to have a strong affinity or preference for, or to love. Sophy means to indicate knowledge or an intellectual system. It comes from the Greek word for wisdom. So there you have it. Philosophy literally means the love of wisdom or intellectual thought. Makes sense.

Then we come back to the term we all know: Christianity. It is its own philosophy in a sense that it is based on the teachings we find in Scripture, God’s Holy Word for our correction, rebuke, teaching and training in righteousness (1 Tim. 3:16). Our wisdom is found in God’s word. God’s word is not man’s wisdom. We know that there are two types of wisdom according to James 3: So-called “wisdom” and wisdom that comes from Heaven. This much should be clear.

At the same time the very nature of philosophy is solely the love and pleasure of the things that are intellectual, profound, deep and mysterious. Anyone can become philosophical, but where this has developed is that philosophy has become a train of thought all of its own. Instead of an abstract depiction of loving “wisdom”, it has become a train of thought that can be broken down into smaller sub-categories, or schools of thought, as we have seen through the ages: Absolutism, Existentialism, Pragmatism, Dualism, Pantheism, Realism, Romanticism, etc. These just scratch the surface. The study of philosophy means, now, more than just what the definition of philosophy really is. It is the study of all of these schools of thought.

So, then, to say that C.S. Lewis was a fascinating Christian philosopher is a precarious thing because I then have to explain where and how Christianity and philosophy, as we know it, can co-exist. Can they?

Well, it’s quite simple really. C.S. Lewis is clearly of the philosophical type because of the deep thinking that he puts into the reasons for the existence of things and their purpose. I know that was an awkward sentence, but it says it all.

Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, et al, all struggled with what it meant to exist, or to be. It gets a little mind boggling after a while when you try to make it through their writings and understand their perspectives based on their limited science of the day. Even then, however, they indicated a clear lack of understanding of the Holy Scriptures and what it taught about Creation, the Fall of Man, the sovereignty of God, etc. The human nature; the human will; and the “off-chance” that a divine being existed took many different forms in the schools of thought.

When I started reading C.S. Lewis I sensed the same analytical spirit in him, yet it was with a Christian world-view. This is much different than that of Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates. The thinking of C.S. Lewis goes deep and he could often put himself in the other person’s shoes in order to explain a much better understanding of a given concept like he does so well in The Screwtape Letters.

He also showed a great deal of knowledge in the motives behind people’s actions. By this I mean that he was able to articulate what we are so often afraid to. Again, this can be noticed in his brilliant work The Screwtape Letters. In this book a master demon, Screwtape, writes letters to his understudy demon, Wormwood, to tell him how to make people stay unsaved and keep them away from the faith. He writes about how the little ways to make people think they are Christians are really fooling themselves and everyone else around them, which delights the older and younger demon. Lewis’ philosophical mind takes him deep into the understanding of these scary realizations as we can only agree with his careful assessment of human nature, left to itself. It simultaneously reminds us that spiritual warfare is real.

Where I think C.S. Lewis’ philosophical mind often “got the best of him” was in areas relating to the existence of free will vs. God’s omnipotence; inerrancy of Scripture; the existence of Hell; and the validity of certain Roman Catholic beliefs like praying to dead saints to intervene on our behalf to God. He even made some interesting, rather disturbing, book recommendations for spiritual reading, which I will get to. Yeah, I was surprised by this, too, but take a look.

A number of times he stated his clear belief that man had free will. So free, in fact, that God could do nothing about it, rendering God powerless over that individual’s free will. Some of you may believe this, but let me help show you where this is intrinsically wrong. I’ve worked on this in quite a few other posts, but stating that men have a completely free will denies God’s omnipotence. If God is not in full control and does not have full power and sway over people’s heart and soul, rendering Him powerless to their human will, then he is no God at all and does not deserve our praise for being mighty to save. Problems abound with the thought that men have a will so free that they can resist God.

C.S. Lewis in his own words, which is pulled from his book The Problem of Pain (keep in mind, again, that The Joyful Christian, which I read, is a compilation of most of his books, so I will reference quite a few):

“It is objected that the ultimate loss of a single soul means the defeat of omnipotence. And so it does. In creating beings with free will, omnipotence from the outset submits to the possibility of such defeat. What you call defeat, I call miracle: for to make things which are not Itself, and thus to become, in a sense, capable of being resisted by its own handiwork, is the most astonishing and unimaginable of all the feats we attribute to the Deity.”

Basically, Lewis gets really tricky with his explanation for his belief in the defeat of omnipotence by explaining how the defeat itself is really quite a miraculous thing that God allows. This is nonsense. God never “submits to the possibility” of anything, especially defeat! He is always in complete authority and control. Our will is still only able to act according to God’s good purpose by God working in us, thus we are still living under his grace to perform anything good at all (Phil. 2:13). For those who are unregenerate, their human will is, as Augustine would quip, indeed free: free of righteousness, but not freed.

His statement on omnipotence is interesting because it seems to contradict another statement he makes, which is pulled from the same book, originally (The Problem of Pain). He says:

“It remains true that all things are possible with God: the intrinsic impossibilities are not things but nonentities. It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because his power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.”

It needs to be understood that to say that man has total free will is in complete opposition to the fact that God has full omnipotence. They are two mutually exclusive alternatives and cannot coexist together. If man can resist God even when God calls him, then God is not omnipotent, nor is He effective. The issue at stake here is huge. This second portion from Lewis makes a great point, but his first one I mentioned just doesn’t fly…even in Lewis’ own other words.

The second issue that is extremely damaging to anyone’s faith is that he doesn’t hold a high view of Scripture, apparently. Does C.S. Lewis believe Scripture is inerrant? Let’s take a look.

In the section of The Joyful Christian entitled Scripture, which is pulled from his book Reflections on the Psalms, he says:

“Some people find the miraculous so hard to believe that they cannot imagine any reason for my acceptance of it other than a prior belief that every sentence of the Old Testament has historical and scientific truth. But this I do not hold any more than St. Jerome did when he said that Moses described Creation ‘after the manner of a popular poet’ (as we should say, mythically) or than Calvin did when he doubted whether the story of Job were history or fiction.”

I struggle greatly with this if I am understanding him correctly. He seems to be saying that he doesn’t necessarily believe that every single sentence in the Old Testament is historical, or even true. He mentions that Jerome seemed to be of the same opinion. Then he mentions Calvin, which perplexes me, because Calvin used Job as a brilliant example of how God sovereignly works through the actions of people, nations and even Satan for the purpose of His will. I don’t remember reading in the Institutes that Calvin actually doubted the historicity of the very story he used to reconcile God’s sovereignty with human responsibility, but maybe I missed it? Maybe he doubted it at one time and then confirmed his belief in it later. Calvin had an amazing grasp of the inerrancy of Scripture, so I have a hard time believing he doubted Job was historical or true.

Nonetheless, Lewis continues on to what it is that gives him confidence in knowing whether the Scriptures are entirely accurate:

“The real reason why I can accept as historical a story in which a miracle occurs is that I have never found any philosophical grounds for the universal negative proposition that miracles do not happen. I have to decide on other grounds (if I decide at all) whether a given narrative is historical or not.”

This is where C.S. Lewis’ philosophical mind gets the best of him. What I am reading here indicates that he is relying on his own ability to comprehend the possibility of a miracle only because he has “never found any philosophical grounds for the universal negative proposition that miracles do not happen.”

Thanks Lewie, that’s really helpful. You’ve wrapped your mind around the universe and concur that miracles are not proven to be unheard of, philosophically, and so determine that, indeed, maybe most of the Old Testament is historical!

Well let’s not lose sight of the fact that he said he has to decide on “other grounds” whether a story is historical or not. He continues:

“The Book of Job appears to me unhistorical because it begins about a man quite unconnected with all history or even legend, with no genealogy, living in a country of which the Bible elsewhere has hardly anything to say; because, in fact, the author quite obviously writes as a storyteller not as a chronicler.”

It gets worse:

“I have therefore no difficulty in accepting, say, the view of those scholars who tell us that the account of Creation in Genesis is derived from earlier Semitic stories which were Pagan and mythical.”

How can C.S. Lewis honestly believe he can have any real conviction on anything if he doesn’t accept the Bible as true and historical? For all of the other marvelous quotes we get from his books, this just blows me away. His explanation for this, again, is taking this absurd idea and making it sound like it is just God’s fascinating way of spreading his story:

“At every step in what is called—a little misleadingly—the ‘evolution’ of a story, a man, all he is and all his attitudes, are involved. And no good work is done anywhere without aid from the Father of Lights. When a series of such retellings turns a creation story which at first had almost no religious or metaphysical significance into a story which achieves the idea of true Creation and of a transcendent Creator (as Genesis does), then nothing will make me believe that some of the retellers, or some one of them, has not been guided by God…”

Once again, I find his explanation tricky and misleading itself. To his credit, he ends on the fact that the retellers are being used by God even though the retellers may be bringing in their own attitudes and whatever else. I get that. That’s okay. Paul had plenty of his “own” attitude that came through many of his letters, but it was still inspired by the Holy Spirit. All Scripture is God breathed (1 Tim. 3:16).

What is completely unacceptable to me is that he would refer to the origination of the Creation account as Pagan and mythical even though he said that God somehow miraculously turned it into an “idea of true Creation and of a transcendent Creator” for us all to believe in, in the end.

To me, it reeks of the same type of thinking that goes into trying to reconcile God with the Theory of Evolution by saying that God uses Evolution to create everything. The Bible does not support this. If we cannot take Genesis 1 literally, then where do we start taking the Bible seriously? Chapter 7? Where?

Again, to his credit, he later admits that on the “Road to Emmaus” account in Luke 24, Jesus chastises the two disciples for not believing all that the prophets of old had spoken, so there is clearly a mandate to believe what was written. Lewis then goes into a great explanation of how Christ reveals Himself in many of the Old Testament passages, thus determining that some of the OT passages had a kind of second meaning to them since they represented Christ, though not yet fulfilled at the time those OT passages were actually written.

However, what he does in this whole combined section is argue that “if even Pagan utterances can carry a second meaning, not quite accidentally but because…they have a sort of right to it, we shall expect the Scriptures to do this more momentously and more often. We have two grounds for doing so if we are Christians.”

His two grounds were what we just went over: 1) the fact that a Pagan myth could be sovereignly turned into a true depiction of Creation; 2) that Christ was throughout the OT, but the texts were more of a mystery in its meanings until Christ fulfilled His prophecy of His First Coming.

All in all, his philosophical approach to how he decides which parts of Scripture are historical or not are sadly shallow and faithless, yet he still tries to reconcile the fact that we ought to believe the prophets in the OT just as Jesus pointed out in his rebuke of the two disciples heading to Emmaus. My conclusion to this portion? C.S. Lewis was, sadly, confused.

The third issue I found in his compiled work The Joyful Christian was on the subject of the Doctrine of Hell. The first time I had read anything about C.S. Lewis on Hell was in some quotes that Rob Bell used in his most recent book (at the time of this post) Love Wins, a book detailing how in the end, all people will be reconciled to God and no one will be left in Hell because God is not a mean God that Jesus is trying to save us from, He is actually a God who wins in the end by bringing everyone to Heaven even if they die with no faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. Basically, Rob Bell’s book was textbook heresy to the nth degree. I was surprised that Bell found anything in common with Lewis because I always heard of Lewis being a strong advocate of evangelical Christianity, so I was happy to come across the very passages that Bell quoted from C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain to see for myself what he wrote in its full context.

Rob Bell hung on this line from C.S. Lewis for a good portion of his own book: “I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of Hell are locked on the inside.”

Bell used this to say in his book that people will keep themselves in Hell because they are so rebellious to God, but that eventually, God will melt their hearts and bring them to salvation (keep in mind they are already dead and in Hell in these hypothetical situations), which poses some other real problems about being “saved” after death, which is unbiblical.

Where both Lewis and Bell are overlapping in their theology is in the fact that they ascribe a great deal of “free will” to men. C.S. Lewis makes this clear throughout many portions of his book and Rob Bell is as far away from Calvinism as you could probably get. However, I do believe that Bell may have misused C.S. Lewis’ words.

Bell was trying to convince his readers that the very reason Lewis would have said the doors of Hell were locked from the inside is because of their own desires and not because of the wrath of God. God wouldn’t put people in Hell. People put themselves in Hell. God is doing what He can to continue pulling people out of Hell even after death because…you know: Love Wins in the end.

I don’t see Lewis outright rejecting the wrath of God, which is a good thing. People are indeed responsible for their rejecting God even though it takes God’s initiation to turn to Him in the first place, but as soon as any reprobate soul enters Hell, there is no mistake to them that they were wrong when they were in the mortal flesh. They were wrong about their state of morality and they were wrong when they rejected Christ. There is no more anger in those souls and hatred towards anything because all they can do is feel the punishment and pain.

A second part to this issue of Hell that even Bell was trying to push in his book was that Hell is not really eternal, as in forever or unending. Indeed, Lewis had his own misunderstandings of the eternality of Hell apparently:

“That the lost soul is eternally fixed in its diabolical attitude we cannot doubt: but whether this eternal fixity implies endless duration—or duration at all—we cannot say…”

Again, his philosophical tendencies bring him to a point of thinking too much about how eternity works. His human mind is getting in the way of his faith (or so it seems to me). We need to just believe that the Bible literally says Hell and Heaven will be an unending amount of time. Matthew 25 speaks of eternal fire and punishment prepared for the devil and his angels and all who don’t believe.

Lewis comes to a conclusion on Hell when he says: “They enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded, and are therefore self-enslaved just as the blessed, forever submitting to obedience, become through all eternity more and more free.”

While the regenerated souls in Heaven are as free as they can ever get as soon as they get there (not becoming more and more free) they are indeed blessed in the presence of God as he indicates. Not to be picky about his views on Hell, but I do care when I see anything that doesn’t present Hell as absolutely horrible and frightening, or eternal, because it is. To his credit, he did start off this portion by saying he was “not going to try to prove the doctrine tolerable. Let us make no mistake;” he says, “it is not tolerable.” Too bad Rob Bell tried to do exactly that.

Two final issues jumped out at me in The Joyful Christian. The first is his defense for praying to dead saints. There is a Roman Catholic belief that you can gain extra help by praying to dead saints, even Mary, the mother of Jesus, and they will intercede with Jesus to God for you. Lewis says of this: “There is clearly a theological defense for it; if you can ask for the prayers of the living, why should you not ask for the prayers of the dead?”

I don’t know about you, but his logic here does not satisfy me as being “clearly theological”. In fact I’m reminded of King Saul who sinned against the Lord by summoning the prophet Samuel for help in battle in 1 Sam. 28. It was sinful to go to anyone other than God for prayer or divine intervention. Even now, there is not one dead saint who hears prayers. Jesus Christ is our only mediator and even still, because of Christ, we can now confidently approach the throne of grace, of God Himself (Heb. 4:16).

The last issue I found as a bit disturbing was his recommendation he made for spiritual readings. I’ll make this quick. He mentioned a whole list of names and books that he found personally insightful and spiritually invigorating and encouraged his readers to pick them up if they had a chance or an interest. Once of his side notes was “I can’t read Kierkegaard myself, but some people find him helpful.”

I wish he explained more of what he meant here, but the little I have heard and read about Soren Kierkegaard was that he was a type of mystic in some respects and not a great proponent of all things Biblical. To quote an article I came across once, it said:

“[Kierkegaard] has marked structural similarities to mystics such as Eckhart, who is warmly received by the Japanese philosophical tradition, particularly in the writings of its Zen and Pure Land Buddhist representatives.”

Wow. Okay, Mr. Lewis. Bad recommendation. Yet, he makes another one:

“Have you read anything by an American Trappist called Thomas Merton? I’m at present on his No Man Is an Island. It is the best new spiritual reading I’ve met for a long time.”

Now, let me quote Merton himself in his Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander:

"It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, ... now I realize what we all are .... If only they [people] could all see themselves as they really are ...I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other ... At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusions, a point of pure truth ... This little point the pure glory of God in us. It is in everybody."

This is downright frightening. As Ray Yungen put it: “What Martin Luther King was to the civil rights movement and what Henry Ford was to the automobile, Thomas Merton is to contemplative prayer. Although this prayer movement existed centuries before he came along, Merton took it out of its monastic setting and made it available to and popular with the masses.”

It is downright irresponsible and reprehensible for anyone in the body of believers to support this kind of philosophy. Again, I just feel that C.S. Lewis was too much of a philosopher and not enough of a theologian and would oftentimes get caught in the very webs of human reasoning that he warned apologists not to get into. It is a dangerous place to be because it takes our eyes off of Jesus and places our faith in the so-called wisdom of the world, not the real wisdom that comes from Heaven as we read in James earlier.

I hope this book review of The Joyful Christian helped and that it at least challenged you to constantly keep a mind of discernment that is trained from constant study of God’s Word. I should clarify that I have quoted C.S. Lewis on a number of occasions for some of the great things he has articulated that brought great clarity to some type of biblical truth. This is precisely why I was shocked at some of the other things I saw in his writings.

I am thankful for a lot of the good things that C.S. Lewis has done for understanding certain biblical truths, but I do stay very much concerned for some of the theology that he articulated and recommendations he made to other spiritual sources especially since C.S. Lewis is one of the most popular Christian theologians being published in the United States today. Perhaps these reasons are why he still sells so many books. He is an incredible mind, but with a lack of solid understanding on key Biblical doctrines. Plus, with his affirmation of popular mystics, he no doubt holds some sway with even some of them still. This makes me sad.

This was a hard review to write because I love many other things he has written. Nonetheless, the things that seemed too wrong to ignore...well, they cannot go unnoticed.

Let me know if you have any questions or concerns on anything I’ve written. I only want to represent him fairly and the Bible accurately.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Paul Gets Defensive: God's Sovereignty Found in Galatians

Would the Apostle Paul lie? Some people thought so apparently. Welcome to Galatia. Our next study about God’s sovereignty in salvation is found in Paul’s letter written to the Galatian Church. This was arguably the first letter that Paul wrote, which immediately puts it into an interesting context as we will see. He wrote this around the same time James wrote his letter, though it is thought that Paul’s was indeed later, dating around A.D. 49 or 50.

There is plenty to unpack here and a lot of great truths to consider, so I hope you see the profundity in this letter as I did. On the surface, the references to God’s effectual calling may seem simple and short, however the underlying factors involved just bolster these truths even more.

Right away in Galatians 1:6 (again, keep in mind that this is his first correspondence to anyone in a letter) he states, “I am astonished you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel…”

As I have mentioned before, grace is best understood in God’s calling us to Him. Here we see all of this terminology being used together: “him who called you in the grace of Christ”. What do I mean by that? It is not enough to casually talk about God’s grace when he gets us through a rough day at work. Grace is found to be perfectly understood when we see that God calls us when we could not have called out to Him. Not to mention the crux of Christianity that is found in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. We are given something we do not deserve by someone who did not deserve to suffer for us.

Notice that it all centers on the issue of salvation. Salvation is the most important thing for us to understand. It is the most essential and life-altering piece of truth that we need to grasp. If we have a wrong idea about salvation (i.e. How to get it; where it comes from; what it means; etc.) then nothing else really matters does it? This is why the early Reformers had to articulate the specific theology that clearly articulated the Biblical authority about salvation. We know them as the Doctrines of Grace.

You see, “grace” is more than just a casual term; it is best understood in the deep and precious reality that salvation is by grace alone: God’s calling us to Him to place our faith in Christ. When we see Paul using the phrase “him who called you in the grace of Christ”, he is using the Greek word kaleo for “called”, which means ‘to call by name’, or ‘to invite’. It is the grace of God in action when he calls us. As is normal in the New Testament, this calling is always the effectual call to salvation.

To set this verse in its context let’s understand that Paul’s concern here is clearly that the Galatians are being led astray by people teaching a different gospel…“not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the Gospel of Christ” (vs. 7). Paul is basically saying, “How could you?!” During Paul’s ministry, the tendency and temptation for the redeemed Jews was to fall back into a legalistic righteousness, thinking that their adherence to certain rituals and laws added to their merit in inheriting salvation. When this happens, then grace is no longer grace. Paul knew the seriousness of this sin and had to correct it quickly. Having a deep understanding of this Christ-less philosophy as a recovered Judaizer himself, he knew the consequences of trying to work for salvation.

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ!”

When we start to place weight in anything other than Christ for our salvation, then we do effectively desert Him. He can only be accepted on an all-or-nothing basis. As Paul says later, “if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for nothing” (2:21). Nonetheless, in Paul’s amazement at their wavering faith, he articulates the truth of God’s effectual call.

There is something else here that we shouldn’t miss and that is that even though Paul knows our faith is a gift of God in His sovereignty, he still implores (and practically begs!) them to come to their senses. This is familiar to what he said to the Corinthians: “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20). We are still to yearn for people to come to Christ. We can see Paul’s yearning for the Galatian Church when he launches next into an incredible defense of the Gospel, specifically the doctrine of justification by faith alone, as well as his own apostleship.

As a side note, a Hypercalvinist may say that since God has his elect, then missions and evangelism are not necessary, but that’s a wrong view because God works through His people to accomplish his electing purposes (Rom. 10:14-17). We see this fleshed out in Paul’s aching to see people come to believe in Christ. For someone who gave the best defense for election and God’s sovereign plan in salvation, he sure tried his hardest to convince people of the Way. We will continue to see in the course of this study how these are not conflicting ideas at all.

Here’s what should be confirmed time and time again through our study of God’s work in salvation. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…because we do not know who God’s elect are, we need to preach that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Paul lived this philosophy through his whole ministry and it shouldn’t go unnoticed. He did everything he could to make sure that the Gospel was clearly articulated and understood. He made clear what was divinely revealed to him.

He says in Gal. 1:12, “For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” He knew what his job and calling was. He knew that the Gospel was the power of God for salvation and that only those who God called would respond positively to it, so when he sees his congregation in Galatia afflicted with their own legal tendencies, he urgently calls them out: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ…”

Not even Paul knows who God’s elect are, so he makes the general external call to everyone to stop turning away from the true faith and grace in Christ. He is amazed at their quick fading from the truth. He wants them to come back to the understanding of their freedom in Christ from the Law’s 'requirements' for salvation. Let’s not forget the importance of urging people to come to faith in Christ, knowing that the Lord is in ultimate control of that person’s heart, mind and soul.

The second place that we see Paul referring to God’s election is undeniably specific. This is when he is explaining and defending his own apostleship. Remember, this is the first time he has written anyone a letter, so he’s getting it all out: God chose Paul. This is crucial for Paul to make clear as he will continue to write to the churches explaining the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them. They need to know that even Paul was specifically called by God to salvation, which is the only reason Paul has any authority.

Starting in 1:11 and going through 2:10 we see Paul explaining just how much of a legalistic Judaizer he was in his earlier years. Within this recount of his conversion we see in 1:15-16 he says something remarkable, “He […] had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by His grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach among the Gentiles…”

He says two very revealing things here that should not be glossed over:

1- He was chosen (set apart) by God before he was even born.

2- God, then, still called him and revealed His Son to him for salvation.

Is it not enough for Paul to just say that he was chosen by God before he was born? Wouldn’t that be enough to defend God’s sovereignty in his life? Apparently there is a second portion that is absolutely necessary to understand, which is that God was still in control of Paul coming to the point of salvation after he was born. God was in control from (before) the beginning and to the end. His grace is the only – hope – we – have. Even after we are regenerated it is God working in us to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). It is always the grace of God that allows us to come to Him for salvation and continue living in obedience to Him as Lord.

Let’s just remember for a moment how ruthlessly he sought out and persecuted Christians for their faith. The Book of Acts gives us an amazingly compelling story of his leadership among the Judaizers and how he even stood watch over the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Paul was at the top of the Christian’s “Do Not Cross” list. Looking back, Paul knew that he was an evil person, the worst of sinners as he put it, and completely off-center from God’s real plan for salvation. This is exactly why he said in 1 Timothy 1:16, “I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost [sinner], Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” It all makes sense!

Here in Galatians he makes it clear that his whole conversion was pre-planned by God before Paul was even born. Furthermore, after Paul was born, it was still God who brought Paul to repentance and conversion. God always intervenes first to get our attention in order to turn in repentance and faith. He is so sovereign and in control of everything that He not only has a plan and purpose for every person in the world, but he engineers everything in people’s lives to draw them to Him.

In this specific passage in Galatians it is important to see that Paul is using this groundwork to prove his apostleship to the Galatian Church. He was not lying to anyone about the person he was and the Gospel he was preaching, which seemed to be an area of contention for some people as 1:20 seems to indicate. Furthermore, in 2:9 we see where James, Peter, and John had validated the “grace that was given” to Paul when they “gave the right hand of fellowship to both Paul and Barnabas. This was huge!

In John MacArthur’s commentary he explains that “in the Near East, this represented a solemn vow of friendship and a mark of partnership. This act signified the apostle’s recognition of Paul as a teacher of the true Gospel and a partner in ministry.”

Paul was indeed a new creation because of the grace that was given him by God. In Him we have an incredibly impactful testimony for what God’s grace can really do in someone’s life. For someone as bad as Paul was, it is amazing to see how much God used him after regenerating him to advance the Kingdom of God. He is one of the most familiar authors of the New Testament. Praise be to God for this!

After Paul is done proving himself as a legitimate apostle, called by God directly, he then launches into an amazing defense of Justification by Faith. Again, he is concerned for God’s children and their tendencies to fall back into a legalistic righteousness, thus nullifying the cross of Christ. Paul makes this clear when (and this is where we see yet another indicator to God’s election) he says: “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?”

Does this sound familiar to John 6:44 or 15:16, or 1 John 4:19? We choose and love God because he first chooses and loves us. Again, later in Galatians 5:8, Paul is asking them why they are hindered from obeying the truth by falling into legalism by saying “this persuasion is not from him who calls you.”

This Greek word in 5:8 for “call” is also Kaleo, which was defined earlier. Being specific and pointed to their sin of legalism, he bolsters his statement with the fact that it is not of God who has called them out of that very sin. It just doesn’t make sense that it would be of God.

In conclusion, we can see that even in Paul’s 1st letter written to a church that needed correction, he simultaneously made clear their specific call from God to salvation a number of times. The beautiful balance is that Paul still urges and begs his people to not turn from God in disobedience. God’s calling is final, but we are to still care about the spiritual condition of those who claim to be believers. We will never know with 100% certainty who God’s elect are at any time. That’s why our ministry is preaching the Gospel to all and calling people to repentance and faith in Christ for their salvation. God works in the inner man in the form of the Holy Spirit.

By God’s grace we are called to Him. Galatians has certainly shown us that. We also saw that Paul confirmed his apostleship and the Doctrine of Justification by Faith by showing how God's grace was manifested in Paul's call. Let’s be thankful for these truths and believe them all.

In His Sovereign Grip,


P.S. I welcome feedback and discussion on this amazing, yet sometimes difficult, topic!