If God is Sovereign, I am Infallible

Part of blogging is talking through doubts and questions I don’t quite have figured out yet. This is one of those sorts of posts. Here is what I am struggling with:

  1. jesus-in-space-e1380965701538Everything in our lives is ordained by God
  2. God causes good things and bad things to happen, all for our good and for His glory.
  3. Therefore, other than sins, whatever I choose, it is God’s will.

If I choose path A and it works out, then it is God’s will to bless me. If I choose path B and it does not work out, it is God’s will to grow/humble me. My own fallibility, and ability to make poor judgment calls doesn’t seem to enter the equation. I am incapable of making mistakes.

If God is sovereign, I am infallible.

You would think this would be comforting. But I am hurting, and platitudes are like salt in a wound when you are hurting. Also, it just seems wrong.

We went to sub-saharan Africa and had to come back because of the heat. Why didn’t I see that my wife’s body couldn’t handle the heat? There were hints, there were signs along the way. She always shut down and got flushed & fatigued even in our norther heat. But I missed it. Maybe I could have seen it, maybe I couldn’t have. But am I allowed, in a Christianese setting, to say, “I could have/should have seen it, but I missed it. I was not perceptive enough. I did not ask enough questions. I messed up, and now we’re hurting for it.” Can I say that?

Or do I need to say, “God did this to us. This is His plan. He is the potter, we are the clay. He has a plan in it all…”

Because, honestly, if that was God’s plan, it seems like He could have done better. I can see how God can use my human failings. I can see how God can let us make less-than-ideal choices, then work with what He’s got to grow us and humble us. I can definitely see how this process has humbled me and made me a more “human” and compassionate human being. And I don’t have a problem with God foreseeing it all, or, in some vague cosmic sense, “predestining” all of this.

But I struggle with the idea that God took an eager, energetic young couple and put them through the wash just purely to develop some character benefits in them.

155185-362x331-small-pet-in-an-exercise-ballAnd I struggle with the irrationality of it all. I feel like I’m rolling around in a gerbil ball. Whatever I bump into people are like, “That wasn’t a mistake, that was God’s will!” Ok. Fine. So I cannot make mistakes. That should make me feel better. But it doesn’t.

If I cannot make mistakes, then I cannot improve.
If I cannot make mistakes then I cannot learn.
If I cannot make mistakes then history is doomed to repeat itself.

Regret is not the answer either: and I know I need to stop dwelling on the past and move forwards. But it seems like a crucial key to letting the past go is making sense of it all.

And it does not seem to “make sense” that the bad things that have happened in the past two years have only, entirely, all been “God’s will” for our lives. It seems like we have made some mistakes along the way – like any human would. God has been faithful to teach us through them, and continue to perfect and grow us. But that is not to say that our trajectory was “Plan A” in God’s mind.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to say that we missed Plan A, and ended up on Plan B or even Plan C…but that God in His sovereignty is able to redeem our failings, and make good come of this? And that yes, before time God saw all of this and somehow predestined it to happen. I know we are in some sense here, and not there, doing this and not that, because it is God’s will. But at some point, if we still believe at all in free will, it seems that we need to allow for the possibility of human error in the equation.

But exactly where does that fit?

Just some rambly thoughts on sovereignty and fallibility this sunny Friday morning.

Let me know what you think.

On Gay Marriage and Shellfish…

T12642992_1157319237642068_5851652579431485915_nhis article could be titled “the meme so bad it pulled me out of retirement just to respond to it.” But then, that wouldn’t be quite true. I saw the meme below on a friend’s page on Facebook, and it did make me mad. But not enough to blog about it. Mad enough to write, “This is a very uninformed perspective on Christianity,” in amongst the chatter and hatred below it. I got a little bit of push-back to my comment, but not much, and I mostly ignored it. Until someone asked: “Than that means being gay is ok since it was only condemned in the Old Testament. And Jesus never said anything about condemning gays. So in that case why are Christians saying gay is a sin?

Now that…that sounds like a serious question. To a very good question. And that, that is enough to pull me out of blogging retirement to write a response to the question implied here: “If the Bible condemns both shellfish and homosexuality in the Old Testament, why do Christians only believe that homosexuality is wrong? Isn’t that a double standard?

This question has a two-part answer. 1) how do we resolve the double standard issue? 2) does the Bible really condemn homosexuality/LGBT?

Stated another way:

“How can a Christian say gay sex is wrong, but eating bacon-wrapped shrimp is ok?”

MEET JESUS

Incase you didn’t catch it, Jesus Christ is kind of important to Christians. That’s why we call ourselves by His name, and even capitalize pronouns assigned to Him. For the purposes of this article, you need to know at least two things about Jesus: 1) He was Jewish, 2) He was God.

Jesus the Jew

Jesus was dedicated in the temple as a baby, and raised in the local synagogue. When He started teaching at around 30, and was accused of changing the Jewish religion (which He was) he responded that He did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets (Old Testament) but to fulfill them (Mat. 5:17). And so what does it mean for Jesus the Jew to fulfill the Old Testament?

Jesus as God

Jesus claimed to be more than just another faithful Jew: He claimed to be God (John 8:58). As such, He claimed the right to re-interpret Scriptures. He said often, “You have heard it said, but I say…” Not erasing the Old Testament, but re-interpreting it.

Some things Jesus clearly shows or says are not a big deal anymore. He says that “all foods are clean” – which was kind of a big deal for a Jew to say! (Mark 7:19) He also worked on the Sabbath, another biggie for Jews (John 5:17). So in some ways Jesus is more lenient than His Jewish teachers. But then some things are a bigger deal. Adultery isn’t just about sleeping with another man’s wife: it’s also about swimming in a mental space of lust and pornography. Murder isn’t just about taking a life: hatred is just as bad. And so on. (See Matthew 5-7)

When you stop to think about it, most of this makes sense. Intuitively, we all know that hatred and lust are wrong on some level, and that bacon and shellfish just don’t seem like a big deal.

But this leads to two very serious questions.

  1. Why did God prohibit shellfish/pork/clothing with mixed threads/etc. in the first place?
  2. How can Christians know which commands to take, and which to leave?

MEET MOSES

The Purpose of the Law

Galatians 3:24-25 state that the law is like a tutor (in the Greek culture, kind of like a live-in nanny, who also teaches k-12) which is meant to lead us to Christ. And so the Law had a specific, short-term, directional goal. Once a student graduates, they don’t have an ongoing need for their nanny.

God met His people the Israelites in the desert and they were a bit of a mess. Recently delivered from 400 years of slavery, they didn’t really know who they were or what a society needed to look like. And so God gave them rules, laws and commandments. (I hope you don’t see this as a negative thing. Stop and think where our society would be without commandments? Without speed-limits, laws against murder, etc.?) One can see at least three reasons for the Law that God gave to His people:

  1. Civil: To provide a basic legal and civil system, so the strong wouldn’t dominate the weak
  2. Ceremonial: To provide a religious system, to lead them to God
  3. Moral: To lay out some basic moral commandments on right and wrong

Taken together, these three types of commandments distinguished the Jewish peoples from the other peoples of the land. They developed a rich and beautiful culture. They lifted the religious aspirations of a people from orgies (1 Cor. 10:7) and child-sacrifices (2 Kings 17:31) to the writing of psalms and ethical principles such as forgiveness, hard-work and fidelity in marriage and family.

Once we realize that there are different types of commandments, which are given for different reasons, we can start to understand how Jesus “fulfilled” the Old Testament, and how Christians can take some things from the Old Testament and leave others, without a double standard.

TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT

Civil Laws: leave ’em

During the days of David and Solomon, the nation of Israel was a nation-state, governed by a King under religious laws. That is, it was a theocracy. However, Jesus was not interested in re-creating this situation – much to the dismay of many of his early followers. He said, “My kingdom is not of this earth,” (John 18:36) and that His Father is Spirit, and is seeking those who will worship Him in “Spirit and in Truth,” (John 4:22-23) rather than in a geographical location. For Christians, then, most of the Civil Laws do not apply: they do, however, provide some great ideas for building a legal system. You’d be surprised, in fact, at how many of the laws which are pillars of Western Civilization are based on the “out-dated, archaic” Bible that we are now discussing.

Ceremonial Laws: leave ’em

In the New Testament, the book of Hebrews is written specifically to the Jewish people, to explain the new situation brought about by Jesus. The author (who is anonymous) explains that all of the sacrifices, ceremonies, celebrations, and even the Temple itself were all shadows and symbols which pointed forwards to Jesus (Hebrews 10). But what becomes of a sign once the real thing comes?

An “Exit” sign could become a very important – the most important thing – in a burning building. But once one has passed it, what value does it have? Do you want to go back, gaze at it? Take it down, frame it? No. It was helpful to get you to where you needed to go: now you just want to go there and save your life! Similarly, the writer of Hebrews explains that “these things” (speaking of the temple, sacrifices, and the whole Jewish religious system) are now “obsolete” and “passing away” (Hebrews 8:13).

There is a lot that could be discussed here. Some of the ceremonial aspects of the Jewish religion look very strange from our Modern perspective: but all you need to know for the moment is that in Christ, that all has passed away.

And that is why we Christians have almost never been concerned with eating Kosher, wearing special clothes, religiously celebrating festivals, etc. That belonged to a bygone era: now, we have Christ and that is far better.

Moral Laws: keep ’em!

Mixed in with the Ceremonial Laws and the Civil Laws are quite a few Moral Laws. The most famous of which are the 10 Commandments:

  1. You shall have no other gods before Me.
  2. You shall not make idols.
  3. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
  5. Honor your father and your mother.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  10. You shall not covet.

We know that these laws still apply because, for one thing, it just makes sense. In our God-given conscience (Romans 2:15) we know very well that adultery, theft, lying, etc. are all wrong.

Other things which are prohibited are: kidnapping, bestiality, prostitution, rape, lending at interest, and yes, homosexuality or LGBT actions.

Which leads us to our conclusion.

So…what about homosexuality?

Leviticus 18:22 says, “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.”

So what do we do with that? Well, what kind of a commandment is it? In his weak attempt to explain this passage away, Tony Campolo seemed to imply that this commandment should be brushed away along with the Ceremonial and Civil commandments. But why? Sex is not Civil, nor is it Religious: it fits squarely in the “Ethical” or “Moral” realm. Which is, as we have seen, the portion of the Old Testament which we Christians have always kept and respected as still holding on us.

If a Christian began engaging in prostitution, kidnapping, or bestiality, we would all expect fellow Christians to gather around that man and say, “Look buddy – what you’re doing is wrong. Look here – there’s a chapter and verse for it and everything.” That chapter and verse would need to be in the Old Testament, because prohibitions against these, and a host of other sins, do not appear in the much shorter New Testament. But that would not be a problem for Christians, who still believe that the moral principles of the Old Testament apply to them. That is just basic, and you didn’t need this article to explain that to you.

But if Christians would like to say – as many now are trying to say – that it is now perfectly acceptable for “a man to have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman” then it seems that the accusation of a double standard would fit. How can you continue to agree that the Bible prohibits kidnapping, adultery, etc., but not homosexuality? It prohibits them both, in the same books, in the same language. They both fall into the same category. The commandment against homosexual sex is quite clear, and is restated in numerous places in both testaments, and alluded to in many more places. It is clearly ethical, and it really doesn’t seem like there is a way to side-step the issue without side-stepping all of Scriptures.

This is why I wrote elsewhere that the issue of Homosexuality has rightly become a Litmus Test of Orthodoxy in our day and age: that on this issue, one decides whether to keep or lose their faith.

 

 

CONCLUSION

Well, this post ran away from me a bit. I meant to keep it to a paragraph or two. But let’s try to summarize for anyone still reading, shall we?

  1. God gave the Old Testament to the Jews to create a people who would seek after Him
  2. Jesus came as God-in-the-flesh to “fulfill” the Law
    1. The civil laws no longer directly apply, since Jesus taught the separation of Church and State
    2. The ceremonial laws no longer apply because they all pointed to Christ
    3. The moral laws all very much apply to us
  3. The commandments against homosexuality are clearly moral laws, and thus apply to us
  4. (oh and by the way) homosexuality is clearly identified as a sin in the New Testament as well, making this one fairly clear-cut. (See Romans 1:18-321 Corinthians 6:91 Timothy 1:10

I hope that clears it up for my mystery-friend on Facebook, and perhaps for some other readers and friends out there. God bless!

On Slavery (and other weird laws) in the Old Testament

Last Sunday I gave a brief devotional on Exodus 22-23 which mentions, among other things, regulations on slavery.

During the course of my devotional I said, “Slavery, in the Old Testament, was a wonderful idea.” Find out how I defend this thesis by listening here.

For a more in-depth look at this topic, have a look at this post.

When Mountain-Tops Fail to Transform

Last Sunday I shared during the devotional portion (Torah Portion) at our local church. My passage was Exodus 24:9-11

Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself. Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they saw God, and they ate and drank.

Two things I found fascinating about this passage: first, that these elders were allowed to see God. Like, really see Him! Not in a dubbed-down form, not in a theophany: but God himself in all of His glory! Secondly, it is amazing that this event had so little effect on these men! So soon after (in less than 40 days, at any rate) these same elders were leading the people in immoral and idolatrous worship of the golden calf!

For full devotional and application, you can listen here.

 

 

Call Me Marah: Reflections of an ex-missionary

So, I haven’t been around much lately. This is due, in large part, to the fact that I have been preparing for, and then serving as a missionary in Africa. In the craziness of learning a second language, raising support, and then finally going overseas, there wasn’t much time for “recreational” blogging.

After a lifetime of preparations, our Africa experience was cut short after only 200 days due to health concerns. (We are currently serving in the French portion of Canada, and continue to be vocational missionaries) For me, who dreamt of being an overseas missionary since I was eight years old, it was a devastating blow. After a year of soul-searching, and hours of counselling, I’m not really over it. Maybe I never will be.

It’s not fair. I did everything right – but it didn’t work out like it was supposed to?!

Perhaps I will share the story with you all sometime. But in the mean time I wanted to share a short audio clip, and blog post from my heart, to share a small portion of our emotional journey.

It’s my way of saying, “Here I am, I’m back again.” Is this the start of another season of blogging? Heaven only knows. All I really know is that today, I felt the urge to share. And so here you go.

****

During our last ever presentation on our time in Africa, I concluded with this very honest five-minute reflection about what it feels like to be an “ex-missionary.” You can watch it here, or read it (with some edits) below.

TRANSCRIPTION

A little while ago you asked me how my theology has changed during my time in Africa.

Instead of answering that directly, let me say this: we choose our names, but God chooses our story.   Can I ask you – how many people here are named David? Or Joshua? Those are some pretty popular names. And we like these names because God choose to be glorified through these people’s lives, through their success.    Is there anyone here named Job? I didn’t think so. Who would name their child Job? No parent would want to call their child Job, because we don’t want our children to have Job’s story.

As I stand before you, talking about our Africa experience, I wish that I had Joshua story: I came, I saw, I conquered! But this is not the story God chose to write with my life.   Rather, I find myself in the book of Ruth right now.

Ruth 1:19-21 So they both went until they came to Bethlehem. And when they had come to Bethlehem, all the city was stirred because of them, and the women said, “Is this Naomi?” (Naomi means sweet) She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, (Mara means bitter) for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has witnessed against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?”

Is that OK? Is it OK for missionary to say they are disappointed in God? Struggling with bitterness, even?   You know, Facebook has this thing where it shows you pictures of your life a year ago, or three years ago. It’s painful. A few weeks ago I clicked on the file I had on my computer, it was a video of me sharing our mission and passion to go to Africa. I had so much passion. I was so confident. I was so determined. I was so sure about what God wanted us to do. I found myself wondering, who is that guy? Where did he go? How can I become him again?

But the book of Ruth does not end in chapter 2. By the end of the book, Ruth and Naomi are able to establish a new life in the land that they return to. Naomi stops being bitter, and becomes sweet again. The people of Israel sing a blessing over her, and she – an old, sweet woman, who has grown wise and gentle through suffering and loss – holds her precious grandson on her lap, and rejoices.   With the eyes of faith, I believe we will be there soon. But we’re not there yet.

And so if there’s anything I can share one of our story right now, it’s that we may choose our names, but God chooses our stories. Job was just as faithful to God as David was – in fact, he was more so! – and yet God chose to tell a very different story through Job’s life that he did through David’s.   And so I want to encourage you that if your story does not look like that of Joshua, or that of David, be encouraged. God chooses to be glorified through many different types of stories. What is important is that you stay faithful, and trust him to make it all work out in the end.

Psalm 37:3-6 Trust in the Lord and do good;
Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness;
Delight yourself in the Lord;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
and your judgment as the noonday.

When Jesus said, “I am the truth…”

I’ve been pondering, for a long time Jesus’ statement, “I am the truth…” How can a person be the truth? Recently it dawned on me. Either God is truth, or I am truth. Either His perspective is absolute, or mine is. Because at the end of two and a half millennia of philosophy, I think it is becoming clear that the only two tenable options are revelational theism, and absolute relativism. 

House says, “You cannot go back into the closet.”

So here’s me stirring the pot. We enjoy watching House because, among other things, they hit hot-button issues in culture, and present a strong case for their point of view. Interesting. So last night we watched an episode (season 6, episode 20, written by David Shore, titled “The Choice”) about a gay man who decided that he was “revolted” by his lifestyle. He took some hormone therapy, (an option called “barbaric” by the medical team…one wonders whether they would also be agains sex-change treatments for homosexuals…?) then began living a “straight” life. All this is fine and dandy. But what I found fascinating is that when a medical condition “outed” him, (on his wedding day, no less) the doctors and his fiancé all met his decision to “go straight” with absolute, inflexible unacceptance. “You’re just born this way, you cannot change.” Said House (in as many words.) “But we all make choices! I have made mine!” He pleaded to his fiancé. “And now you must let me make mine” she says, and walks out of his life.

Perhaps the discongruity is not apparent to some. But just imagine this episode in reverse: someone comes out as gay, and the show portrays doctors and family saying, “That’s impossible. You were born straight. You have no choice. We refuse to allow you to be gay.” Of course, such an episode would cause a fire-storm. You cannot SAY things like that on TV! So…why is it okay to send the message that if you have committed even one homosexual act (in this case, the man had one homosexual encounter, when very drunk) then you have no choice: you are gay, you were born gay, you can never change, you can never marry a straight woman, etc. Even if the lifestyle “revolts” you (words used on the show), you must continue in it, notwithstanding. What every happened to free-will? What about acceptance? Doesn’t this man have the right to choose how he prefers to live out his sexuality?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions!