Providence Revisited

It is not surprising that my previous post requires a follow up. Tom Rogstad, whom I have not known long but already consider a mentor and friend (check out his blog here), has provided some feedback and questions regarding my statement of God’s providence. I wanted to continue the discussion here because I think he raises some important questions. Tom said,

When Paul says that God subjected the creation to futility, doesn’t that necessarily imply that there are some events that are futile and, therefore, meaningless? How do you reconcile that with the verse in Ephesians 1 that says that “He works all things according to the counsel of His will?” doesn’t that verse necessarily imply that all events are purposeful? So, events can be meaningless and purposeful at the same time? Do meaningfulness and purpose belong to two different categories, so that we are not affirming A and not-A at the same time? They must. Otherwise we would be violating the logical law of non-contradiction. But I can’t quite see how the two are distinct categories. Maybe you can help me with that.

These are certainly important questions. Paul indeed says in Romans 8:20-21, “He subjected creation to futility, not willingly but because of the one who subjected it, to the hope that the creation itself will be set free  from the slavery of corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”  The word translated futility is used twice more in the New Testament. First, in Ephesians 4:17, Paul says, “This then I say and testify in the Lord, to walk no longer as the Gentiles walk in the folly of their thinking…”; And second, in 2Peter 2:18, “for uttering boasts of folly they enticed by sensual lusts of the flesh those who were indeed escaping those living in error…” So, what I think we have here is an emphasis on the folly, or error, of the object. For creation, it was subjected to folly in that that which was once perfect lost that perfect state. Thus, the curse of Genesis 3, “cursed is the ground because of you…thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you…” So, the subjection of the earth to futility (or folly) perhaps has something to do with the ground, and creation itself, no longer performing the function for which it was intended, thus it is futile. I think this can be further confirmed in Romans one, where one of the clear effects of the fall is exchanging the truth of God for a lie. This is the ultimate futility. So Paul can also say that the Gentiles walk in the “folly of their thinking” since they refuse to worship the true God. So in Peter, the boasts of folly are made by those who have turned to idolatry (v. 15).

Having said that, I do agree that their are events in time which from our perspective are meaningless. We simply cannot see and do not know enough for this not to be the case. Yet from God’s perspective all things are worked according to his will, even those things which are futile. So we grieve with those who grieve, and long for the day when the curse is removed and even creation’s subjection to folly is removed, along with all “death, mourning, crying and pain…for behold all things are new.”

As to your statement on providence, I think you should add or modify two things. It strikes me that much of your statement relies on God being outside time, atemporal. Is He? He certainly can’t be confined to time because He existed before time existed. But isn’t His relation to time the same as His relation to space? His omnipresence means He is everywhere in space as well as outside space. Couldn’t God be omnitemporal as well? I think that’s Bruce Ware‘s term. I wrote a paper for him on God’s relationship to time and came to a similar conclusion.

I certainly do think that God has entered into time. What I want to highlight is that God’s eternal decrees took place before he brought time into existence, thus his decrees even include his own actions within time. I suspect that since we cannot fully comprehend the relationship between time and eternity, then we will not fully comprehend the relationship between God’s eternal decrees, and thus his purpose for all things, and actions that take place within time, including those which are “futile.” I think omnitemporal is a great term to use! Tom, do you still have that paper you wrote?

I also think you should add something about God’s providence over human decisions. By quoting Joseph’s statement about his brothers’ decisions you obviously believe that providence encompasses acts of human will, but I’d try to add it to your statement of faith itself. (Hint: if you get stuck on these things it’s always helpful to see how the Westminster Confession of Faith handles it. I say that as a confirmed, intransigent Baptist  🙂

I do believe that God’s providence extends to the human will. And I think Acts 4 and Genesis 50, and many others, confirm that. I’ll revisit my statement in light of this discussion. Thanks for your comments, Tom.

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Statement of Belief: Providence

I’m continuing the series on my statement of belief I turned in for the internship at Clifton Baptist Church. In my first post, I discussed God as sovereign creator, who is perfectly holy in each of his attributes. In his sovereignty he sustains the universe and brings about his perfect will. In my second post on the Trinity, I talked about God’s nature: one eternal essence, three eternally distinct persons. These two both are important precursers to my next statement on God’s providence:

God’s providence is his meticulous care over all of creation. He “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3) and “in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17). When God spoke the universe into existence, his sovereign decree included all things that would take place in time, including his own actions. God’s providence means that nothing can happen to any of his creatures that is not known and ordained by him, thus he can promise that “all things work together for good unto those who love him and are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). God’s providence not only includes every aspect of our lives, but everything in creation as well. The winds and the seas obey him (Matt. 8:27). He sends the rains, winds, snow, and sunlight. Thus, God guides all things, creatures and creation, unto his pre-appointed purposes, for the good of his people and for his eternal glory.

Something I left out (thanks to my small group leader, Josh Stephens, for pointing this out to me) was how I understand evil and tragedy to mesh with God’s providence. I could spend a lot of time on this issue, but I’ll save that for its own post. But I will say this: nothing that takes place in time is outside of God’s eternal decree and providential control. At the same time, however, human beings are wholly responsible for their actions. God is not the author of sin, we who sin bare the blame. How do these truths fit together? I suppose part of the answer has to do with the relationship between time and eternity. God, in eternity passed decreed all things when he spoke into existence the very fabric of time itself. He did so in such a way as to uphold his meticulous sovereignty, as well as his impeccable holiness and thus human responsibility for sin.  I’ll give two texts which make my point, thought there are countless others:

But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people[a]should be kept alive, as they are today. (Genesis 50:19-20)

Here note that while the brothers’ intentions were clearly evil, and they are responsible for them; God’s intentions in the same act were for a good purpose. Did God or Joseph’s brothers send Joseph into Egypt? The answer is “yes!” One more text, a bit longer:

When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’—for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. (Acts 4:23-28)

In this prayer, notice that the disciples clearly hold those involved in Jesus Christ’s death responsible for such a sinful action, yet all involved did “whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” Who killed Jesus? Was it Herod, Pilot, the Romans and the Jews? or Did God kill Jesus? The answer is “Yes!” God’s hand and plan had predestined all that these sinful people did to Jesus. He is sovereign, yet they are responsible for the intentions of their hearts. Is your mind spinning? Mine too…yet the Word of God is clear, and it does no good to fashion a God in our own likeness. I’ll end with a quote from Charles Spurgeon which I think demonstrates how we should respond to what God has revealed in his Word, even if we cannot fully grasp it:

If, then, I find taught in one part of the Bible that everything is fore-ordained, that is true; and if I find, in another Scripture, that man is responsible for all his actions, that is true; and it is only my folly that leads me to imagine that these two truths can ever contradict each other. I do not believe they can ever be welded into one upon any earthly anvil, but they certainly shall be one in eternity. They are two lines that are so nearly parallel, that the human mind which pursues them farthest will never discover that they converge, but they do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring. – C.H. Spurgeon

Free will debate: What does free will mean and how did it evolve?

Interesting discussion in the scientific world on whether or not humans have free will. I guess its not only a Calvinism vs. Arminianism thing! I found this section interesting:

Arguments about free will are mostly semantic arguments about definitions. Most experts who deny free will are arguing against peculiar, unscientific versions of the idea, such as that “free will” means that causality is not involved. As my longtime friend and colleague John Bargh put it once in a debate, “Free will means freedom from causation.” Other scientists who argue against free will say that it means that a soul or other supernatural entity causes behavior, and not surprisingly they consider such explanations unscientific.

These arguments leave untouched the meaning of free will that most people understand, which is consciously making choices about what to do in the absence of external coercion, and accepting responsibility for one’s actions.

The definition of free will given, “consciously making choices about what to do in the absence of external coercion, and accepting responsibility for one’s actions,” is one that certainly even the most ardent Calvinist would affirm. In other words, to exercise free will is to do what we desire at any given moment. Another interesting statement is that “Other scientists who argue against free will say that it means that a soul or other supernatural entity causes behavior…” So for some scientists, to say that a supernatural entity causes behavior is to actually affirm free will, as opposed to our choices being simply a byproduct of our chemical makeup and reactions within our bodies. Anyway, thought this was quite fascinating…you can read the entire article here:

Free will debate: What does free will mean and how did it evolve?.

Booker on Wilson’s Defense of Darwinism

Here is an insightful review by Chris Booker of Edward O. Wilson’s work, “the Social Conquest of Earth.” Wilson defends Darwinian evolution, attempting to explain certain social phenomena from that perspective. Booker, however, doesn’t buy it:

“Nothing is more comical about Darwinians than the contortions they get into in trying to explain those ‘altruistic’ aspects of human nature which might seem to contradict their belief that the evolutionary drive is always essentially self-centred (seen at its most extreme in Dawkins’s ‘selfish gene’ theory). Wilson’s thesis finally crumbles when he comes up with absurdly reductionist explanations for the emergence of the creative arts and religion. Forget Bach’s B Minor Mass or the deeper insights of the Hindu scriptures — as a lapsed Southern Baptist, he caricatures the religious instinct of mankind as little more than the stunted form of faith he escaped from.”

Check out the rest here:

via E.O. Wilson has a new explanation for consciousness, art & religion. Is it credible? » The Spectator.

Three Unpublished Papyri of the New Testament

Mich papryi

It’s amazing to me how rich the textual history of the New Testament is, and it keeps growing! Read about a few recently discovered papyri fragments of 2 Timothy and Titus at Brent C. Jones’ blog:

Three Unpublished Papyri of the New Testament Discovered at the University of Michigan

The University of Michigan Papyrology Collection contains numerous Coptic biblical manuscripts that have been published over the years, not least of which is the famous Fayyumic codex of the Gospel of John (P.Mich. inv. 3521). There are, however, a number of Coptic fragments at Michigan that have never been published or identified…

via Three Unpublished Papyri of the New Testament Discovered at the University of Michigan – Brice C. Jones.

My Mom’s Eulogy

Here is the eulogy I gave at my mom’s funeral.

At the time of writing this, I have repeatedly pulled out my computer and stared a blank screen, not able to write anything, until I finally give up and write nothing. I suppose this is because my mom has meant so much to me over the years, the majority of my memories involve her, and she did and said so many things worth sharing. I could definitely recall many funny memories of the outrageous things my mom would do. One that comes to mind involves my mom and sister, Jeannie. They had been practicing for quite some time for a duet they were going to sing at a yearly mother daughter banquet. And when they finally got up on stage and my sister began to sing the first verse, my mom started pinching her rear while she was singing. And of course all the mothers and the daughters in the room began to laugh hysterically . Then, at the climax of the song, when the daughter is singing about how the mom is her hero and and causes her to “fly so high she touches the sky” my mom begins flapping her arms around on stage like an elegant bird. My sister is cracking up by now, as well as the whole room. Needless to say, what was no doubt intended to be a very serious and moving song became something our family and many others would always look back and laugh about. My mom had such a gift to make people smile, and her own smile would always light up the room.

But I guess the best way for me to summarize what I know about my mom is that she loved God and she loved others. When Jesus was asked the first and greatest commandment, he responded, “you shall love The Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And the second one is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

My mom’s love for God was seen so clearly seen in her desire to share the love of Jesus with others. I remember her telling a story about when her and my dad went out to visit a dying man in his home, and as they were leaving, my mom asked my dad to turn the car around because she hadn’t shared Christ with him, and if she didn’t, who would? She went back in and shared with this man the truth of the gospel. I can recount many other stories of my mom sharing God’s good news of Jesus Christ with those with whom she came into contact. How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news.

My mom also loved and cared for others, not only by sharing the gospel with them, but simply by loving them and listening to them and pointing them to Christ. Back when she taught in the youth group at fbc Seminole, I remember several occasions when she would have her class over for Bible study, or she would go over to their homes simply to talk and hang out…and they wanted her there. I remember thinking that it is not so common for teenagers in the youth group to trust and confide in an adult Sunday school teacher the way they would with my mom. This was confirmed just the other day, after I had learned of my mom’s death. I was in her and my dad’s home and I was looking at her ipad. Her facebook was still visible and I noticed a message she had received in the last week or so. It was from a girl formerly in her youth group, and out of curiosity I read it. She told my mom she was praying for her, and that she will always be grateful for the time my mom spent with her, and the advice that she gave her. She will always remember how my mom showed her that Christ’s love was the only love she truly needed. She thanked her for being a friend to her and she said that if it weren’t for my mom, she wasn’t sure if she’d be where she was today.

My mom also loved and cared for her kids. I remember every year in elementary school most of my classmates would miss a week of school to go to camp. My mom, knowing we would want to go, would always promise to take us out of school that week and we could do whatever we wanted. We would go to the mall, to movies and wherever else. This was of course to keep us away from all the germ infested lakes and other life threatening situations such camps entailed. If you knew my mom well you would probably agree that she had the gift of always seeing the worst case scenario when it came to the health of her kids. But now I am beginning to see that such was not a bad thing with two immune deficient boys. In such a household as ours the worst case scenario was probably the most likley! and there is no doubt in my mind that God used my mom’s sometimes overactive imagination to keep us alive much longer than we would have been otherwise. If it weren’t for the loving care of my mom, I certainly would not be standing before you today.

It is hard to describe my emotions over the last few days. I certainly grieve the loss of my mom. But this grief is not for my mom, but for myself and my family, who have lost someone so important to us and who we cannot imagine living without. But as the apostle Paul says, as believers “we do not grieve like those who have no hope.” For even stronger than my grief in this hour is an overwhelming sense of joy. Joy that my mom is no longer suffering; joy that she remained faithful to the very end; joy that she was greeted in heaven by her grandson Toby and her dad, whom she missed greatly; joy that I will soon see her again; but most of all, joy that she has now seen her Savior face to face, the one whom she lived for and who called her to salvation through is death on the cross for her sins. My mom could not be in a better place, and her joy we cannot begin to fathom, and so I rejoice with her. I leave you with the words of the apostle Paul that my mom treasured in her last days,

“Rom. 8:18-25 ¶ For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us… For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it as we patiently endure.”

My mom patiently endured much suffering, and now her hope has given way to the glorious presence of her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

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Statement of Belief: The Trinity

English: Scutum Fidei on Holy Trinity pulpit. ...

Scutum Fidei: a visual summary of the mystery of the Trinity.

Last week I posted a statement of belief about God (read it here). This week is the same subject but focuses on the nature of God as triune…

The Trinity describes the mysterious nature of God. He is one God for all eternity revealed in three eternally distinct persons. Each person shares in the divine nature yet are distinct in their work. God the Father is the transcendent immortal creator (Job 38:4-15). He sovereignly decrees and orchestrates all that comes to pass in time (Job 20:29; 28:26; 42:2; Ps. 2:7; 57:2; 93:5; 135:6; 148:6; Is. 14:24-27; Eph. 1:11; Heb. 1:3). He is utterly transcendent and holy and apart from special revelation we could never know him. God the Son is the second person of the Trinity (John 1:1). He was sent by the Father to reveal God to man and to secure the salvation of God’s people (1Tim. 1:15). In doing so the fully divine took on a fully human nature in the incarnation (John 1:14). This mystery is known as the hypostatic union and is essential for the work of redemption to have taken place. Finally, the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity, unique from both Father and Son yet sharing in the one divine essence (Matt. 3:16-17; Acts 5:4). He was sent by the Son after his ascension into heaven in order to apply the finished work of Christ to God’s people, and to conform each of them into the image of the Son (2Thess. 2:13; 1Pet 1:2).

In the next post I’ll summarize the last two concerning God and his nature and try to answer the question: “So what?”

Grace and Peace!