Tag Archives: God

God’s Will Here and Now

Knowing God’s will is something we all struggle with. But I think we too often approach the problem from the wrong end. We want to know the final will of God—or at least the will of God far enough down that we know a major route to take. We want to know if God wants us to be history majors or theology majors. We want to know the big picture of God’s will. Is it God’s will for me to spend my life as a pastor? Is it God’s will for me to spend my life in business? Is it God’s will for me to marry and raise a family? However, we get so wrapped up thinking of these questions as being so important we forget to discern God’s will in the moment by moment. Far more important than these is knowing God’s will now, here, where I stand, in the situation I currently face.[1] I need to know if obedience requires me to go right or left, hand out or withhold, speak or remain silent.

I have over the last couple months developed a practice which I now look forward to each week. I take Monday morning as a special quiet time with God. I get up, do whatever correspondence from the night before needs done, check some quick news, then shower, dress and get away to a quiet place. I take my bible and good Christian devotional books and nothing else—no phone, no computer. During that time (usually about two hours) only God is permitted to speak with me. He can speak directly to my heart, through his Word, or through the writings of good Christian authors. I allow no interruptions, even from myself. This gives God a chance to speak to issues and allows me to get my focus back where it belongs as I start each week.

Yesterday was my special time with God. After some prayer, I was reading the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman. This left me a strong impression about the moment by moment will of God. Allow me to explain. Why was Jesus at the well? Was he there because he expected to meet this woman and minister to her? No. The passage tells us that, while his disciples went into the town to purchase food (John 4:8), Jesus sat by the well because he was tired from the journey (John 4:6). Jesus was not there for a known appointment. He was not there because he knew someone in need was coming. Jesus sat there resting, because he was tired. Likely he assumed, because it was not the early morning hour when people would usually come to the well, that he would not be disturbed and could find some quiet rest. That is his situation. While there a woman came to him and he took the opportunity to speak with her. At the end of the conversation (which I’ll speak about another time), Jesus spoke to his disciples, who had returned, telling them that the conversation with the woman was the Father’s will and as such was his assigned work (John 4:34).

This means Jesus was simply looking for a time of peace and rest, but recognized in the moment that God had another plan. He saw a need and responded to it. How did he know this was God’s will? Nothing in the passage says exactly, but there is a way for us to know. Jesus knew it was God’s will for two reasons: God had given him the opportunity to help this woman, and the ability to help her. Since God had allowed this woman into his presence and since he had the ability to help her, he knew exactly what God wanted him to do. God’s will was obvious. All he had to do was accept it as such, and obey.

In the same way, we might know moment by moment God’s specific will for us. Often, we find ourselves in situations and wonder if God would have us help. Should we give money to this person? Should we feed that person? Learning from Jesus’ experience with this woman can help us understand exactly what God would have us do.

We see two criteria in knowing God’s will for us to help or not: opportunity and ability. By opportunity I mean the place where we are currently standing or our proximity to the person in need. I see you in need, because I see you. I do not have to wonder if you exist somewhere. Neither do I need to find you. For example, a person walks up to you with his or her hand out asking for change. The only question to ask is “Should I help this person?” It would be silly, in such a situation, to ask, “God is there someone, somewhere you want me to help?” There is a person standing in front of you—the opportunity to help someone is there. This is also a very different question from whether God wants us to seek out and help those we have never met. Does God want me to seek out the poor and help them? This is a question of calling, not one of God’s will for this moment. The only thing to discern, at the moment, is whether God has placed this person in your path to give you the opportunity to help. This is known by the second criteria.

The second criteria for knowing God’s will is ability. Has God given you the ability to help this person? If we look back at our example of the individual coming asking for our pocket change, we have the opportunity to help (the person is in our presence), but do we have the ability? In other words, do we have what they need? Do we have any change to give them? There are three parts to this answer. The first part is whether I have any change, whatsoever. If I have no change (many people carry no change or cash, but only credit cards), and have no reasonable way to get some, then can I help them? If I am just unable to help them (for whatever reason) then it must not be God’s will for me to do so. Had he wanted us to help them, he would have given the ability along with the opportunity. I mentioned there were three parts to this answer of ability. While I may not have what the individual needs upon my person, I may be able to secure it for them. Let’s look back at the person asking for change. Suppose I have no change, but have a $20 bill. Perhaps I can step into a store, make change and give some to the person asking. Here I have the opportunity and the ability. We have not addressed whether this means I must do so yet. That will come later. However, we must admit we could help them. The third part of this answer is a bit more finely tuned. Imagine I am walking in downtown San Antonio (where I currently live) and a person asks me for a quarter. Suppose all the money I have on me is one quarter. I have the opportunity and the ability to help. However, what if this happens while I am running to my car to put my last quarter in the meter to keep it from getting ticketed, booted or towed. Do I really have the ability to help that person? No. I don’t.

So, when discovering the answer to the second question (Do I have the ability to help?), we must know if we can reasonably help that person. Yes, there may be times when we should go way beyond reasonable means to help one in need. However, this is an example of going beyond one’s duty. Such actions are praise worthy and bring much blessing, but they are not morally obligatory (that is what makes them praise worthy).

I know it is God’s will for me to help another person when he gives me the opportunity to help and the ability (within reason) to help. If these coincide, then I must help. It is his will for me to do so. Jesus had the opportunity to help this woman at the well, and the ability to do so. He interpreted this as meaning doing so was the will and work of the Father.

Before I end, allow me to show how this works through an illustration that happened to me within an hour of my quiet time. After I had my time, I drove over to check the church building. I wasn’t planning to, but we have a refugee group using our building for worship on Sunday afternoons, and I wanted to go make sure everything had been secured properly. When I arrived, I found a homeless man sleeping on our front porch trying to stay out of the rain. I had an opportunity to help him, but did not yet know how much help I had the ability to offer. I brought him into the church to have coffee and talk. He told me he was a veteran. Two weeks ago, I had met with a group who help homeless veterans. They have shelter in place for them and get them into the system to for permanent housing. So, I knew I had the ability to help, but still needed to know the reasonable way to do so. If I called the organization, they would send a driver to come and fetch the man. However, part of the reason I almost didn’t come to the church was because I was going to visit a friend on the East Side of town. It would have been quicker to take the southern route around downtown from my house, but since I needed to check the church I decided to go the other way. Well, this meant that on the way to visit that friend, I would be passing right by the organization this man needed. Obviously, God had set up a divine appointment for me to drive this man to the very place where he could get exactly what he needed. I had the opportunity and the reasonable ability to help this man. It was God’s will for me to do so. There was not need to do anything else, but obey and thank God for allowing me to serve him by serving this homeless man.

I don’t share this story to brag, or make you think I am somehow “holier than thou.” I share it to show that more often than not, the will of God in a situation is very obvious. We may wish it was less obvious because we do not want to help. But if God has given you the opportunity to help, and the reasonable ability to do so, how can refusal not be disobedience?

Now, some will say, “Yes, but what about…” and list all kinds of situations. One commonly asked is, “Well, what if the person asks for money, and they plan to use it for drugs? Or alcohol?” Actually, this is answered already. I said that you must have the opportunity and ability to help. If you know the person plans to do that with the money, then giving it would not be helping, but hurting. However, this is more often an excuse not to help than an actual reason. How do you know what the person will actually do once they are out of your sight? You can make assumptions. But you can assume wrong. Years ago, when I lived in Ashland, Montana, an Indian[2] man I knew, met me outside the grocery store and asked for $20. I was just leaving and had to get somewhere. It looked like he was about to walk in the store, so it was reasonable for me to assume he was getting food with the money. I pulled out a $20 bill and handed it to him (I had opportunity and ability). He thanked me, turned on his heels and ran across the street into a local bar. How did I respond? I simply prayed, “What I gave him was given to you God. He is responsible for how he chooses to use what is yours.” I went on about my day. I made a reasonable inference, and it was wrong. I gave it no more thought. Had I not been in a hurry, I probably would have taken him in the store and bought him food, but because of my schedule I did not have the opportunity.

If I know the person is going to harm themselves with what they request, then I would not give it. But often we use this as an excuse to refuse help. I’ve met homeless people who do not smoke, drink or do drugs. Yet, people look at them and assume any money they give will go into a bottle or a needle. Why? Because this assumption gets them off the hook to help. If you think they will drink up the help you give, can you help another way? Have you considered other ways to help, or simply refuse without any further thought because of how the person looks to you? If you do that, then you are deciding if the person is worth helping. It’s a good thing Jesus didn’t do that with you, when you needed salvation.


[1] This desire to know what God’s will is for our whole future is often misguided. When we struggle with this, we are often doing so because of fear. We fear spending the next twenty years doing something only to discover we have missed God’s will and will not be blessed. We fear that if this happens too late in life we will find our lives have been wasted and we will never be able to return and do the will of God. Doing this, we fear, means going our whole life without the full blessings of God. When we realize this, it is easy to see this desire to “know God’s will” is really a desire to know the future (What career or life direction will God bless in the future?). It is little different from a Christian version of going to a psychic for career advice. God can and will make his calling for your life known. There is no need to struggle with it.

[2] I use the term Indian here, instead of Native American, because the former is the term this man himself would have used. The latter term is an innovation seldom used on the reservations, in my experience. They referred to themselves as “Indians.”

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God returned to the Garden

In Genesis, God walked in the garden with his creation, mankind. This intimacy and fellowship between Spirit and flesh were ruptured by sin and the fall. No more walks, no more intimacy as man went his own way. The gardeners forsook their duties.

All that changed, when God came to earth as a man. The God who once walked and talked with man in intimate union, now walked and talked as man in hypostatic union. He came to live, to die, to rise, to ascend. He came that, through his sacrifice, the Holy Spirit could be given to indwell his people, calling us back to the garden.

First man and woman tended the garden. New men and women restore the garden. God once again walks, not only among us, but within us.

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Every Good Blessing

It’s just after midnight and I find myself unable to sleep. Things keep flowing through my mind about my church, the Lord, things I want to say and things the Lord wants to change in me. I decided to go to my desk and journal a bit, while also reading the Word of God for a bit and spending some intimate time with God. As often happens, I struck upon a verse where God spoke to me and I feel a driving compulsion to share it. The easiest way for me to do it is with a blog post.

I simply opened my Bible to Ephesians 1 and was dumbstruck by verse 3, even though I’ve read and studied it a thousand times. The verse says (ESV) “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,…” It goes on to say that this was done “even as he chose us” and predestined us (verses 4f). The “even” in that passage (Greek: καθὼς) means “just as,” or “inasmuch as,” or it can also mean the two happened at the same time (Mounce, 2006). So, our being blessed in verse 3 is very closely related in manner, degree and/or time to our being chosen and predestined. The blessing is not severable from these. Just as from the foundation of the world he chose me to be blameless and holy and predestined me to be adopted as his son, he blessed me with every spiritual blessing and did this through Christ.

Now, let’s dig deeper into this blessing. When Paul speaks of “every spiritual blessing” the word for blessing is εὐλογίᾳ. This is the word from which we get our “eulogy.” This is from the same root as earlier when Paul says, “Blessed be the God and Father…” He is telling us the Father is worthy of blessing (literally: good speaking). He deserves our praise, our blessings for what he has done for us. Just as he deserves our “good speaking” about what he has done, “good speaking” is a fitting description of what he has done for us. Don’t forget that Jesus is the Word (λόγος) of God. God’s Word (Jesus) was powerful and when he spoke the world into being, it was the Son (the Word) who created (John 1:3). In the same way, when God “speaks good” into our lives and upon us, it is a creative and active event. He has spoken all good into our lives.

Don’t take that last sentence the wrong way. This does not mean He has determined that I will have all things I consider good. This is not some backdoor magical Name-it-and-claim-it prosperity atrocity. This is not saying that He has declared I am to have everything I ever desired. This means everything he knows to be good, he has spoken into our lives. He has made pronouncements in our lives, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, these pronouncements are all sure and irrevocable as our being chosen and predestined.

It does say “he has blessed us […] with every spiritual blessing.” So, there are no spiritual blessings he has withheld from us. To use the word “every” is to create a container into which all items which are defined by God as a blessing are placed. None are withheld. “Every blessing” means there are none he is yet to declare. He never said, “This is a blessing, but I will withhold this from them.” Of course, as I write this I know some will claim, “Well, there is one blessing he has withheld. He has not revealed to me the time of the return of Christ since scripture says he has even withheld that knowledge from the Son.” This assumes such knowledge would be a blessing—a good thing spoken into our lives. I contend that such knowledge would be far too great for man and, in this way, would become a curse. He withheld no blessing from us. If you feel he has withheld one from you, then check your definition of blessing.

Finally, he says he has spoken these good blessings into our lives, he has given us these blessings—all of them—“in Christ.” No blessings, no “good speaking” of the Spirit, no active, creative pronouncements of God come through any other route but the Son of God—Jesus Christ. He gives us all blessings. He holds none back. The only restriction to them is that they will all be given through (in) Christ Jesus. We are to look for them nowhere else. We are to expect them from no other source. They are found in no other place. They are offered in Christ and Christ alone.

 

References

Mounce, W. D. (Ed.). (2006). Mounce’s complete expository dictionary of Old & New Testament words. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan.

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God Is Only Bound By God

Yesterday, while thinking about several things, my mind shifted to focus on my reaction to situations and how often I’ve witnessed the same reaction is in others. All Christians have hard times. If anyone ever told you that being a Christian meant never suffering, or never facing difficulty then they lied to you. If anyone is telling you that all you must do is claim the good results you want and they will magically be yours, I would ask them, “Then why didn’t Peter claim his deliverance from the cross upon which he died?” “Why didn’t Paul respond to his own hunger and thirst, referred to in 1 Cor 4:11, with such a claim of guaranteed abundance?” This idea that we can just claim our deliverance or our blessings is based on the same weakness that causes us ask, “God, why don’t you do something about this?”

I, like many others, found myself asking God that very question. We have recently faced some difficult burdens which have been quite hard and have left us in a state of being unsure about what the future holds. I found myself asking God why he didn’t do something about it. At that moment, a thought sparked. I realized where such questions come from. Questions about God in such things come from an assumption that we deserve his response—that something within us makes us worthy of God’s immediate attention to our current need. We, like Job, find ourselves believing God to be unjust in not acting on our behalf (Job 34:5). Of course, most of us are not bold enough to flat out accuse God, so we do the passive aggressive prayer, “God, why don’t you do something about this?”

I was guilty of assuming I deserved God’s intervention. Even if God chooses to let me go all the way through the most horrible of experiences, this does not make him unjust because no matter how horrible, I deserve fully anything God allows into my life. If it is to die, then I deserve death. If it is allowed for me to face financial ruin, then I deserve financial ruin. If it is to face persecution, then I deserve persecution (These are examples only, so please do not try to read into them what my family and I have been facing). The problem is that we see ourselves as far more deserving than we are. We are so used to claiming and defending our rights that we forget we have no such rights before God. God, as the author of our rights and as the one in whose image we are made, has full and unrestrained sovereignty in our lives. We can deserve nothing before him, because such would make us sovereign in that circumstance. The only thing that limits God, or binds him to any course of action, is his own nature. So long as his actions—in permitting, or stopping—does not violate his own nature, then his actions are appropriate and we are best to say, “Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?” (Job 2:10b NIV).

Does this mean we must stoically accept whatever comes from God and never question or plead with him? Well, if we take our lead from the Psalms of David, “the man after God’s own heart,” we know better. Just as David poured out his heart before God, and on occasion vented his spleen. Such is natural, and can be cathartic. It is often in such times, when I find myself venting at God, that he seems to sooth me with the “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12 KJV). However, this does not change the fact that demands for God to act show more about us than about him. They show that, at that moment, we presume to demand something from God, that some fact about us or our lives gives us leverage to force his hand. Such feelings show that we still place ourselves upon the throne—we seek the place of God. Such feelings show how much we (me included) still need to be transformed. Perhaps that is part of what inspires our suffering.

Do I deserve to have God act on my behalf? Absolutely not! Do I (in and of myself and based upon my own qualities) deserve anything good from God? Again, no! But this is not something to mourn. It should inspire us to celebrate how much he does for us. We can trust him, because of who he is. We can trust him to keep his promises, not because we deserve what was promised, but because he chose to promise and, in that way, bound himself to a course of action—sovereignly.

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Building the Kingdom with Kingdom Tools

Isaiah 30:1-2 (ESV):

“Ah, stubborn children,” declares the Lord,
“who carry out a plan, but not mine,
and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit,
that they may add sin to sin;
who set out to go down to Egypt,
without asking for my direction,
to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh
and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We as a church want to reach our community. We want to draw people in and disciple them to be followers of Jesus who truly live like him, demonstrating his character in our community. Only in this way will we transform our community and bring peace to those around us suffering under the weight of sin. However, this passage reminds me of an error that is far too easy to fall into. It’s easy to default to the ways and methods of the world and overlook reliance upon the Spirit of God.

In the geopolitical setting of Isaiah, it was natural when threatened by one country to approach another country for protection. If a small weak people could find protection in stronger people most would see this as common sense. God is warning his people about seeking security using the ways of the world. They should turn to him for protection. They should repent of their sins and trust in his Spirit. Instead they found it easier to trust in Pharaoh.

The reason this so struck me is the knowledge that we as a church can easily be tempted to neglect prayer and dependence upon God by replacing these with the world’s tools. Marketing and branding are a part of our world today. They are also important considerations for the church. In a way they are just secular terms for essential spiritual practices. We want a positive name and testimony so the world thinks of us positively. This, the world calls ‘branding.’ We also want the community to know we exist, where to find us and what we have to offer. This, the world calls ‘marketing.’

Such terms are not evil. Neither are the methods they describe—so long as they are honest, giving an accurate portrayal of Christ. What is wrong is leaning upon these worldly tools while neglecting the spiritual tools: prayer, witnessing, loving. We can create radio and print ads, for example. Yes, they are outreach tools and can draw in people. Some will be believers seeking a church home; others will be nonbelievers, giving us a chance to reach them. However, we must remember limits of these. They must be kept in their proper place.

We do this through prayer. Everything we do as a church must be bathed in personal and corporate prayer. Prayer can give power and impetus to the tools we use, even those of the world. However, if the tools of the world replace prayer we should expect the world’s results—and the world can deliver no one from sin.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Prayer is only part of our communication with God. We must expect God to answer. His way of answering is to speak to us through his Word. We must be a people who seek God’s direction coming to him in prayer and then digging into his Word expecting him to speak to us. Both sides of the equation are necessary.

By keeping both in our focus we communicate with God, seeking his will and receiving guidance.

We also must keep the tools we use in their proper place. We must remember the world’s efforts are meant to undergird not replace the more spiritual methods. Personal friendship evangelism is still the best tool for reaching the world. The best evangelist to reach a person is one who already loves them—one approaching without judgment, simply desiring to spend eternity with them. Personal sacrificial service is still the life which we are to model. Nothing touches the heart more than another human giving of themselves without expecting anything in return. No ad; no website; no social media post can replace this.

As we move forward, let’s remember to rely on God’s tools—without throwing away any worldly tools that can be effective. We must market and brand the church—these are important. However, we must first of all be a praying people. Second we must be people of the Word. Third, we must be a loving reaching people serving the hurting and seeking the lost. Finally, we must live out our testimony so the world sees an accurate image of Christ. When they see us, they must see Christ. It is only if built upon this foundation that the world’s methods will be of any use. Better to lay them aside than to build only upon them. But even better is to use whatever works to reach the lost and love them into the kingdom.

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Walk in the Light You’ve Been Given

flashIn Judges Thirteen, an angel appeared to a Danite woman named Zorah, wife of Monoah. The angel promised this barren woman that she would conceive and deliver a son. This is how the story of Samson begins. The information she was given by the angel was pretty sparse. It includes the promise to conceive and instructions for her to follow during the pregnancy, along with a command to raise the child from birth as a Nazirite. The angel finished by saying, “He shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines” (Judges 13:5 ESV). As is to be expected, she quickly reported this to her husband.

The husband prayed for the angel to reappear and teach them more. When the angel reappeared, his responses to the questions of Monoah were interesting. In verse twelve, Monoah asks, “Now when your words come true, what is to be the child’s manner of life, and what is his mission?” These questions are only natural. We all want more information. However, the angel’s answers are telling.

The angel responded without giving any more information. He simply reiterated the commands she was to follow during the pregnancy. He gave no answer whatsoever about the mission of the child. It is natural for us to want more guidance. We want God to tell us not only our next steps, but to lay out future direction. All humans have a natural fear of what the future holds, and we want access to that information. This is why fortune telling and astrology are such big business even today in the twenty-first century. Zorah and Monoah, like us, wanted to know more about the child’s future—especially more about what he was to do. It is easier to get the future right if you know the direction God wants you to take. “Lord, do you want me to go to the right or the left? Am I to preach? Am I to teach? Are you calling me to start a business?” If God would tell us which way to go, thus assuring us of his blessing, life would be much less confusing, and the future less frightening.

Unfortunately, no matter how much we ask or plead for direction and more information, God often responds by reminding us to simply obey the commands we have already been given. He has given us a great deal of direction in the Word—instructions for morals, foundational beliefs, etc. We are to continue in these and walk day by day knowing he has a plan. We may not know his plan, but we can still put one foot in front of the other and walk in obedience.

We always want more information. We want to know more about God’s plan and about his purpose for us. We forget that the information we have been given is the information we need. If we needed more he would give more. If we needed to know all, then he would show us all. The fact that he has not shown us more, is evidence that we have the information we actually need. Walk in the Word already given. Obey God with the next step, letting him worry about future steps and the final destination.

So, does this mean we should simply be satisfied with the guidance we have and not ask for more? Of course not. We should continue to seek more information from God. We do this through prayer, through studying the Word and through the input of other believers. God will show the way, but it is usually just one step at a time. One example of this is my personal call into the ministry. Years ago, I was sure I had been called to preach. Beyond that, he gave no other information. Friends confirmed it, the Word seemed to confirm it, but nothing else came—where, when, to whom? It was years before I finally got to preach my first sermon (which helped to confirm the call). It was still more years before he showed me where. Over the years he has moved me from place to place. Sometimes, I have feared that I stepped out of his will by leaving one place and going to another. However, he has shown that in each place, at each step, he was in control and guiding me invisibly behind the scenes.

Pray for more guidance. But expect God to give you only what you need and accept what he has given as all the information needed. Walk in obedience of the light you have been given and wait upon him for more light as needed. Spend time in the Word, pray, speak to believing friends and observe opportunities. Trust him to guide you and don’t sit frozen waiting for more information. Obey what has been given; trust the rest to him.

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God not like other deities

Reading this morning in Isaiah thirteen, I’m struck by the contrast between the gods of ancient pagan societies and the Biblical God, YHWH. Most societies of the day, did not see their gods as being universal. Most saw them as dwelling somewhere within their land. The power of these gods was seldom seen as reaching far beyond their own borders. Most of these nations were locked in a state of struggle or negotiation with surrounding peoples and, as polytheists or henotheists, they viewed their gods in a similar relationship to the deities of those others. In their mind set, “You are my enemy, so your god is my god’s enemy.” When one nation overthrew another, it was seen as a victory for the people and their gods. We see an example of this thinking in 2 Chronicles 32:14-15 (ESV):

“Who among all the gods of those nations that my father devoted to destruction was able to deliver his people from my hand? Now, therefore do not let Hezekiah deceive you or mislead you in this fashion, and do not believe him, for no god of any nation or kingdom has been able to deliver his people from my hand or from the hand of my fathers. How much less will your God deliver you out of my hand!”

It was assumed, “My gods want me to succeed; your gods want the same for you.” This was only natural in societies who saw the offerings made to their gods as somehow bestowing benefit upon the gods. When conflict between people arose, victory was believed to be a sign of who had the more powerful gods.

YHWH (Jehovah) is very different. He was not the tribal deity of a band of wandering Hebrews. He was the God of heaven and earth who had chosen this people through which to work his plan—bringing forth the Messiah to redeem all of mankind. As such, he wields power over all peoples in all situations. He even uses the other nations as if they were his tools. God speaks of his use of foreign people as, “The Lord of hosts is mustering a host for battle. They come from a distant land, from the ends of the heavens, the Lord and the weapons of his indignation to destroy the whole land” (Isaiah 13:4c-5 ESV).

When God’s people suffered defeat, it was not because he had been overcome by more powerful gods. It happened because he was disciplining his people. But there is another dimension to which I alluded a moment ago—the self-interest of the deity. If a people is convinced that their gods need their service and offerings, then the gods must do everything they can to keep such service and offerings coming regardless of the morality of the people. We see a perfect example of this in the mythologies of the surrounding peoples. Their gods were not moral. Those gods lived amoral existences and cared little about the morality of their people. Their greatest interest was in keeping the offerings coming. They were believed to protect the people because they needed what the people brought them. Any punishments meted out were either for neglecting service to the gods, or because the gods had chosen one person over another.

YHWH was different—and I don’t just mean because he existed and the other gods did not. YHWH did not need the offerings being brought to him. The people needed him, but there was no codependence. God could have chosen any people or no people. He chose the people of Israel out of his sovereign power to choose, but not because they deserved to be chosen or because he needed a people to serve him. This keeps God independent. His only self-interest was in fulfilling his final plan. He didn’t need to keep the offerings coming. He didn’t need to preserve the people at any cost, regardless of their moral failings. He could do what was needed to accomplish his purpose: the creation of a chosen people from which to bring the Messiah.

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God does good or God is good?

A friend recently asked me if God was the absolute authority on morality and how I could support it. I wrote this for him. it is not meant to be an exhaustive treatment of the subject, but I thought I’d  share it in its initial form.

Two questions:

Is God the authority on morality?

How does one support that?

This is actually a very ancient dilemma. Plato asked it in Euthyphro when he asked “Is it good because the gods love it, or do the gods love it because it is good.” We ask it today as, “Is it good because God commands it, or does God command it because it is good?”

This is actually a much more important distinction than we imagine, and even many Christians get it wrong. If I asked you, “Dan, why would God do that?” (God commanding is an action of God, so for the rest of the article I will speak of actions done or performed by God) You would likely say, “Because it is good.” I believe you would be exactly 180 degrees wrong! God does not choose to do A or not do A because one or the other is good (meaning has the quality of being good). God does or does not do A, and which ever he chooses is good, because he is God. So, “Why would God do that? Because he is God and chose to do it. Since he did it, it is good.”

This is actually demonstrable in symbolic logic:

Let x be an action, Px mean “x is performed by God” and Gx mean “x is good”. This: Ɐx(Gx→Px) [my apologies if the sign for universality does not appear in your browser] would say, “For any action, if the action is good then God performs it.” This would make God’s choice dependent upon a separate moral code that transcends God. If there is such a code, then who wrote the code? One would expect a code giver, himself superior to God. It would also mean “If the code says A is good, then God who by nature will always do good, would necessarily do A. He would be without actual choice, because the code that determines it to be good would dictate that he do it, or be less than perfect good.”

In the symbols above Ɐx(Gx→Px) God performing (P) the action is a consequent of the action being good (G). But God does not act consequent to anything other than his own sovereign choice. In other words he acts because he chooses, and not because someone else, or even any code, has dictated his action.

The only way to preserve the sovereignty of God, his own necessity and superiority and transcendence is to reverse the formula: Ɐx(Px→Gx). This makes it say “For any action, if God chooses to perform the action, the action is good.” This makes the goodness, the morality of an action consequent of God’s doing it. This means if God does it, it is good no matter how another may view it. If God had chosen to wipe man off the earth, even before the fall (“Hi Adam! Welcome to earth, now you’re dead!”) it would have been a good act, because God did it. In the same way, when we face a moral question of do or do not, the command or example of God is sufficient to determine the answer.

To say otherwise makes God the slave of a greater moral code, which implies a greater moral code giver.

Some may say, “But God created that moral code, and then chooses to limit himself by it.” This is just the same thing I have said, “It is good because God has chosen it.” The moral code in question would exist and be followed because God created it and then chooses to follow it. Isn’t it just easier to not imply some unjustified degree of realism to this code and simply understand morality as being the actions of God and, for us, this means our moral action is those that correspond to what God would have done in that situation and setting, or what God commanded in special revelation.

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Idols of Wealth and Security

Isaiah 2:7-8 (ESV), “Their land is filled with silver and gold, and there is no end to their treasures; their land is filled with horses, and there is no end to their chariots. Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their own fingers have made.”

The land ‘filled with silver and gold’ tells us God had blessed them financially, allowing them to amass great wealth. The land ‘filled with horses [and chariots]’ is an indication of military might and security. They we safe in their land and secure from outside attack because they were well armed with the tank of their day—chariots.

The people of God were wealthy and secure. But the last sentence tells us they responded to God’s blessings by filling the land with idols. In the place of God, who created and blessed them with his own hands, they created gods with their own hands, crediting those idols with their blessings.

In our day and culture, few would set up a statue and worship it. Few would bring offerings to it and ask it for blessings. Few would credit such a statue with bringing the good things of life. But are we that different from them?

We actually differ very little. We may not make statues, but we do raise created objects to the place only God belongs. 

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God’s Pleasure

We talk a great deal about God’s forgiveness. But I wonder what image many of us have about it. It is quite true that we can only be forgiven because God gave his son to die for our sins. Unfortunately, we can often find ourselves thinking in a surprisingly negative way. It is too easy, and I have seen it too often, that we imagine going to God with our sins and him saying, “Well, a deal is a deal. I agreed to forgive you because of Jesus’ death and will have to abide by that agreement.” Fortunately, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. This morning I was reading Micah 7:18 which, in the ESV, reads:

“Who is steadfast like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love.”

God doesn’t forgive because of a bargain struck and sealed in the blood of Christ (though it is only through this blood that forgiveness is available). This sacrifice makes it possible for us to be forgiven, but as Romans 5:8 tells us this sacrifice was done because of God’s love. You see, God does not forgive because he is bound to by a bargain or contract. God forgives us because he loves us and (hear me on this next part) because he delights in forgiving your sins. Imagine that for a moment! God of heaven, maker of heaven and earth, omnipotent, omniscient, holy, and just judge of the universe takes pleasure in forgiving your sins.

Don’t go to him sheepishly racked with guilt. Go to him quickly, boldly, happily saying, “Father I have sinned. Please forgive me.” He takes pleasure in forgiving your sins, so be quick to please your Lord. You do this by taking your sins to him, turning from them and seeking his face.

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