Squiggle

squiggly-lineAnd the Lord said to Job: “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.”

Then Job answered the Lord and said: “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.”

Job 40:1-5

As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But 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? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

Romans 9:13-24

Pastor Randy is back!

It’s only temporary as he’s leading a group on a two-week trip to Israel in the middle of this month (and alas, I won’t be going with them), but we renewed our conversation last Wednesday evening. We spent very little time in Lancaster’s Galatians book, but we did revisit Calvin and his five points, otherwise known as “TULIP:”

  • Total Depravity (also known as Total Inability and Original Sin)
  • Unconditional Election
  • Limited Atonement (also known as Particular Atonement)
  • Irresistible Grace
  • Perseverance of the Saints (also known as Once Saved Always Saved)

Oy.

I have to admit, Romans 9:13-24 is a devastating argument and one that I can’t ignore. The last time this came up in our conversations, I blogged about it and came to the uneasy peace that God’s mercy outweighs His justice and He desires that none should die, but all live in Christ.

And even Jesus said that “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16), which does not seem to mean for God so loved the elect… He loved…loves the world.

But what do I do with all this? I happen to agree that “He who makes the universe makes the rules” and that God is sovereign over all, even when we don’t like how He expresses His ultimate sovereignty over our existence.

If God “pre-chose” who would be saved and who wouldn’t be, who am I to argue?

But one of the things I really like about Judaism is that it’s OK to wrestle with God about the “hard stuff” and not be afraid (though I expect to get banged up in the process).

One theory of “election” is that God already knew before He created the universe who would accept Him in faith and who would not, so the “elect” are simply those who would have chosen God anyway and the “non-elect” are those who, no matter what, would never have accepted God.

eph-2-10-potter-clayBut that’s not how Romans 9:13-24 reads. It reads like God made His decision and, as his creations, as clay jars from the potter’s hands, we have nothing to say about how we are formed, if we are formed “saved” or “doomed.”

On the other hand (I actually argued this last Wednesday), we are all formed in God’s image, which means that everyone has something of the Divine in them/us. We are all searching for God, granted some in pretty malformed ways, but that’s why the very concept of “spirituality” exists in our world.

Pastor Randy didn’t buy it.

But I do remember reading a Rabbinic commentary (I can’t remember where anymore) that said part of being made in God’s image has to do with having a built-in desire to do good as God does good, which may account for both religious people and atheists trying to help our fellow human beings. Even the person who denies the existence of God still is made up of the essence of God, the Divine spark within man.

And free will is one of the effects of being made in God’s image according to the Aish.com Rabbis. But if we are “pre-chosen” since before the creation of the universe and we absolutely cannot lose our salvation as a “pre-chosen” group of people, then free will is an illusion.

Or is it?

I won’t give the details, but Pastor Randy did tell me a story that undercut his own argument. Apparently, he knew a man who was an exceptionally fine Pastor and Christian, a man who served God and man unswervingly for decades, a man who no one doubted was is in God’s hand and that doing the will of God was his only waking thought.

Then he suffered a terrible tragedy, but not one any more difficult than many other Christians. The effect through, was astounding. Again, I won’t paint you the full picture, but this man of God, who even Pastor Randy was convinced was a trustworthy servant of the Most High, did a terrible thing and sinned against not just a few, but ultimately against anyone who had ever believed in him.

Most of the time, if we take a Calvinist point of view, we can look at a “Christian” and realize that they are not really committed to Messiah as shown by their behaviors, their “fruits,” so to speak. Yes, even the best of us struggle with sin, but there’s a difference between that, and remaining captured by the ways of the present world and only paying lip service to God.

The falling of Pastor Randy’s friend was almost literally something that came out of left field, a totally unanticipated event. How could it have possibly happened? Even Pastor Randy is baffled. Either this guy was a world-class actor, or there is something wrong with Calvin’s theory. It could mean that God has allowed some small part of us to be completely outside of His control.

Free will.

fallingBut if God’s plan is absolute, cannot be defeated, and if God Himself can’t be surprised, what do we do with free will and what do we do with election?

We talked about another interesting thing that relates to all of the above: sequencing.

As human beings living in linear time, we understand the world in terms of sequencing. That is, something happens first, then second, then third, and so on.

But as far as I’m concerned, God isn’t subject to linear time. He doesn’t “see into the future” or “look into the past.” He exists outside of creation (although He can intersect it) and is not subject to the rules of our reality. For God, there is no before, during, and after…there is just is.

OK, this is all speculation, but what the heck, I can’t lose anything by giving it a shot.

God decides to create the universe but saying that, it really means that God has already created the universe, God is in the process of creating the universe, and God is about to create the universe, all at once. It also means some interesting things. God gives man free will to choose or not to choose Him but that happens at the same time (everything happens at the same time from God’s point of view) as us making all of the decisions we’re ever going to make from birth to death. Literally, the act of God creating the universe means that He is not just starting the universe and then letting it progress, He’s creating the universe from Big Bang to the last gasp of entropy and everything that occurs in-between in a single, unified act.

Try to get the implications of all this.

It doesn’t mean that God created the universe, and then the earth, and then the garden, and then Adam, and then Eve, and then all the animals, and then watched Adam and Eve sin, and then the fall happened, and then sin entered the world, and then….

It means that God created the universe, sun, moon, stars, earth, garden, humans (all of us), and at the same time, all we humans committed every single event every single living being would ever, ever commit from zero to infinity, all as the same creative act.

Yes, I can’t prove any of it so don’t ask me to try. This is just my imagination shooting off sparks and hoping that some illumination will occur.

But what if it’s true? What would it mean? It would mean that at the instant of creation, predetermination and free will, even seemingly minor and random actions (how dust motes float through the air), all happened in a single instant and as a single action.

It’s only from a human being’s point of view from inside the bubble of creation that concepts like election and free will have any “legs” so to speak. It’s not like God decided who was saved and who wasn’t before they were born, exactly. And it’s not like we have free will to defy God and His plan, exactly. Our decisions from birth to death were all part of the creation process. Yes, we will make, are making, and have made those decisions of our own “free will,” but since our entire lifetimes go “squiggling” across the nearly infinite panorama of cosmic history, we’re all part of the single creative act by God wherein He “created” that history.

It’s terrifically metaphysical and impossible to truly communicate in human language, since we (including me) are all designed to communicate accurately only about the environment contained in God’s creation. “Metacommunication” is practically a “mystic art” since it requires describing the indescribable.

creationThat’s the closest thing I can come up with to explain why God isn’t heartless and cruel (though, as Job 40 and Romans 9 seem to say, I don’t have the right to question…but as Genesis 32 seems to say, I do) and at the same time, feebly try to explain the co-existence of man’s free will and God’s total sovereignty. I know my theory’s got more holes than a golf course, but as I said, it’s the best I can do.

I think God created the universe exercising just slightly more mercy than He did justice, so we’d even have a fighting chance, but given that, at the moment of creation, our lives flashed across history like a hyper-energized photon, so even if creation took any time at all from God’s perspective, within that unimaginably fleeting instant, we made all of the free will decisions we would ever make, and when God declared creation a done deal, so were all our decisions…a lifetime’s worth.

It just seems as if we have future decisions to make from inside linear time.

So God has mercy on whomever He wills and hardens whomever He wills. Because His will was, is, and will be the will of Creation and we human beings willed (are willing, are about to will) inside of that creative act.

A lousy theory, I admit. If you’ve got a better one that explains all the facts and still accounts for God’s sovereign will and man’s free will, I’m all ears.

Oh, and if the hard and fast rule of Divine Election turns out to be true, what do we do about Luke 14:15-24?

142 days.

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14 thoughts on “Squiggle”

  1. My dear friends in Christ,

    I’ll have to work on this later when time permits a more complete responce.

    But two things come to mind:

    1. The Bible IS God’s Word, Inspird and protected by Him; BUT only when the ENTIRE Bible is used; not simply culled and incomplete teachings.

    2. There is only One Infallible RULE for right understanding of the bible:

    [caps for emphasis; not shouting] NEVER=EVER, CAN, MAY OR DOES ONE VERSE; PASSAGE OR TEACHING INVALIDATE; MAKE VOID OR OVERRIDE ANOTHER. This is an impossibility that would render the entire Word of God as worthless. Amen?

    Continud Blessings working4christ2 [a catholic]

  2. I think the real creative trick or challenge for HaShem was to “pull back”, to withdraw (i.e., “L’tzamtzem”), in order that this “instantaeous flash of all space/time creation” (as an attempt to envision timelessness) could include real, not illusory, linear processes of time, events, and human decisions. We’ve agreed on this before, I believe, but without meaningful human decisions most of the scriptures are meaningless, and HaShem’s demands upon humans to choose whom they will serve, or to pursue justice, or to choose life, are meaningless mockery. This makes Hashem out to be cruel, malicious, and mendacious, rather than loving and caring, and leaves only sadism as an explanation for bothering to create at all and to create linear processes that extend suffering for His victims. Somehow I find it hard to believe that this was what Calvin had in mind. Of course, I also don’t understand why he ignored such obvious scriptural statements as 1Tim.2:3-6 and its repeated emphasis on “all” rather than some select few. You would think that his strong emphasis on HaShem’s sovereignty would make him think that HaShem’s desire for all to be saved and come to true knowledge would be “irresistably” enforced. Of course, this whole notion of choice or “pre-choice” must also consider that matters are not all one way or another. Some choices are available to individuals or to entire aggregated groups; and some choices are even demanded to be made. Other matters are already chosen and determined by HaShem or even by circumstances that arise from someone else’s choices. And some choices have long-term (even eternal) consequences while others are constrained in their application to limited spheres of time, space, people, or other created elements. I remember reading a suggestion by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan that the purpose for creating linear time was precisely to enable the possiblility of change and process. Without these, there can be no repentance, because it depends entirely on the ability to change both a linear process of thought and one of subsequent actions. Without choice, there can be no voluntary relationship such as reciprocated Love. The arguments of Rom.9:13-24 say nothing about what HaShem chooses to do, and much about what He has a right and an ability to do. HaShem’s determined choice to demonstrate His power in the person of Pharoah was conditioned by Pharoah’s choices, first to harden his own heart repeatedly, after which HaShem amplified the hardening. But HaShem’s power could also have been demonstrated by Pharoah’s compliance with HaShem’s demand to release Israel, and Egypt’s voluntary cooperation with HaShem’s purposes. But Egypt missed the opportunity to see showered upon it the power of HaShem’s blessings and goodness rather than His plagues and destructions. The Potter’s actual decision about whether a given vessel is to be made for honor or dishonor seems to consider the quality of the clay as well as the possible uses to which it may be put. The vessel itself may be entirely incompetant to question why, but we know that the Potter is pretty smart and is not arbitrary or careless.

  3. James: Printed this off to mull over later…..but already knowing this is a gem, thank you. also the comments are good, printed them off to read later also. thanks.

    One thought: the knowledge between good and evil was absolutely necessary or else we could never have experienced (‘KNOW’) the ecstasy, heights and beauty of GOOD, and the horror and pain beyond description of EVIL (either by personal experience or by proxy by allowing us to not just read and listen to other’s suffering but really CARE and weep with those who weep). And, then, then….we would never long with hearts that are, by GRACE, also given the LAW on and in them, to choose ye this day Whom you will serve, and LONG with all sincerity for MESSIAH’S (King Jesus’) COMING and rule, so that we pant for it as a deer pants for water. And it is not just for ourselves we long for that but for all creation to know the joy/justice/etc. etc. that will bring. To be created in GOD’S image is a complicated thing…isn’t it?

  4. Shalom, friend.

    I’m pretty sure that I asked you this question a few months back, so please forgive me for the repetition, but just for clarification’s sake, what is your concept of salvation?

    More to the point; what exactly do you think Yeshua saved you from?

  5. There are some things about Calvinism that ring true. . .ish. But the problems are weighty.

    Since God allows the wheat and the tares (weeds) to grow together until HE determines it’s time to sort them out (Matt 13:30) and He allows the sun to shine on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matt 5: 45) and the Romans passage you quoted, we know there’s a distinction between the saved and the unsaved, and people who deny that aspect are not compelling, in my opinion, I’m not a universalist. But those passages and many others, point out it’s for Him to determine who’s who, not adherents John Calvin’s theology.

    The man who perplexed your Pastor was always a sinner, and God always knew it. Your Pastor didn’t, but therein lies the problem, even Calvinists cannot see the heart of man.

    In my 20’s I remember being smug about people who committed a certain sin, because it was never, ever, a temptation for me. (“How can they call themselves Christian and yet do _״) Until it was—once. What I realized after the dust settled, was that God’s grace and strength had given me that prior resilience, and it wasn’t because I was “all that”, or saved, or in any way incapable of that sin, it was that God’s strength had sustained me and I found out in short order that He could remove that strength from me.

    I reject TULIP because I reject folks thinking they know the spiritual situation of another and then act, or not act, on that assumption. I agree with your Pastor that not all people are looking for God or that all people will accept His invitation, but it’s for Him to sort out, not us.

    How many times does God say His “elect” is Israel? Yet the “U” (unconditional election) isn’t applied to them. Nor is the “I” (irresistible grace) which gives the “elect” the ability to overcome any resistance to the call of the gospel.

  6. I’m not sure I’m capable of answering the various questions posed here. I don’t think I was trying to take the conversation that far, since just what I’ve tried to address is hard enough to explain. The question is, do human beings have any sort of autonomy that God chooses not to control or were we all “predetermined” by Him before He even got around to creating the universe? My answer (which sounds like cheating but isn’t) is yes and no. I think God allowed us free will so all of the choices we made, are making, and will make are of our own will, but if God didn’t just wind up the universe and start it rolling at the beginning of time but rather, in a single creative act, created *everything* from the instant of the Big Bang to the last twinkling out of the last star at the end of all time, including the environment for us to make all of our own free will decisions.

    From God’s point of view, once the sixth day was done, not only was the basic universe created, but the end of the universe and all events in-between were created, too. From God’s perspective, we’ve already made all of our free will decisions, but that doesn’t negate in the slightest the fact that we haven’t made decisions yet and they are made of our own free will.

    That’s really all I’m trying to say. While the Bible may be “sufficient” for all our needs, it doesn’t tell us literally everything about God, how creation was managed, and how not only the universe works, but how everything outside the universe works. God included discussions on related topics periodically in the Bible, but these are the mysteries and puzzles we continuously argue about. These are the parts of the Bible that are apparently contradictory but that make sense when viewed from God’s perspective with God’s comprehension.

    I think the mistake some people make is that they think they can figure out literally everything from the Bible, and from my viewpoint, this is clearly untrue. We can figure out how to live a life of holiness and righteousness from the Bible, but even that in enormously difficult for us to accomplish. Some Bible scholars put both the Bible and God in a box. The Bible is the earthly manifestation of God’s will in the world, but because the Bible must use human language, contain a limited amount of hard data, and be of a limited size, it is…well, limited. Sufficiency does not mean totality of information. We have more questions (especially about metaphysics) than the Bible offers answers.

  7. Unrelated note here, but I saw this yesterday and thought it was a really well done video, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, James.

    Shalom to you.

  8. Romans 9: 13-24 has a context but Calvinists address it in isolation.

    The issue of the potter and the clay is one example of how meaning is drawn (by Calvinists) without reference to the rest of scripture. I suggest a look at what God revealed to Jeremiah about the potter and clay.

    I wrote about this a few years ago on my old blog:
    http://onefiles.blogspot.co.nz/2009/03/potter-and-clay-moulding-scriptures.html

    Jeremiah shows that the “clay” can change its destiny – that the potter doesn’t arbitrarily choose what kind of vessel it will be formed into. It is the clay’s response to the potter that determines the clay’s fate.

  9. God was and is quite capable of creating a Universe that is totally controlled by Him to the tiniest detail – where nothing can happen and no decisions can be made unless He has pre-ordained it all.

    We need to ask whether scripture shows us that God did that and whether that is the kind of Universe God would want.

    God created the Universe to fulfil HIS desires – if His desire is for mankind to FREELY choose to follow Him then surely He is totally capable of creating mankind in that way without diminishing His own sovereignty.

    I belive scripture DOES reveal God’s desire for man to make the free choice.

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