“AND”: the importance of paradox to faith

Webster’s Dictionary defines paradox this way:  an argument that apparently derives self-contradictory conclusions by valid deduction from acceptable premises

Neat systems bother me.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s Calvinism or Arminianism, fundamentalism or liberalism, Catholicism or Protestantism.  All these constructs bother me for two reasons.  First, each system has its own inherent strengths and weaknesses.  Our role, isn’t to be fans of a system, but to be followers of Jesus, and this requires that at some level we be willing stand outside the systems and critique so that we can continue to be transformed.  Systems have a way of stagnating and eventually missing the point utterly. Just read church history.

Second, and this is the point of this post, systems often (though not always) seem to be an attempt to remove paradox from our faith declarations, which is supposed to make it more rational, more defendable, more believable.  This is rubbish, primarily because one can’t read the Bible and catch the grand themes without seeing that it’s as filled with paradox as yogurt is with bacteria.

Fully God and Fully Man – there are scriptures on both sides of this debate.  The early church though, was able to declare this paradox as orthodoxy.  Perhaps this is because they were living at a time in history when mystery was still acceptable, when everything wasn’t assessed by scientific method.

Living and Dying – “I die daily” says Paul, and of course Jesus says, “He who seeks to save his life shall lose it.  He who loses his life shall find it.”  The church embraced this paradox early too, perhaps because martrydom so quickly became a common experience.  These days in the west though, I’m suspicious that we give this a nod, but don’t wrestle fully with it’s implications.

Free and Chosen – I’m so tired of Calvinists telling me I’m chosen, but forgetting that I’m free.  Yes, I agree with my Calvinist friends:  I am chosen.  But Jesus stood up in the temple and said, “If any man is thirsty, let him come to me in drink…”  Did he mean any man, or was he lying?  He meant any man, because of course we read from Peter that “God is not willing that ANY should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”  If I land squarely on the side of God’s election, and ignore free will, I must conclude that God has destined some for destruction.  “Ah” you say.  “He did destine some for destruction.  Read Romans 9.”  I have.  Read II Peter.  Paradox.

Weak and Strong – “When I am weak, then I am strong” was how Paul put it.  Only weak?  You’re paralyzed into depression and inactivity.  Only strong?  You’re filled with arrogant presumption and living in denial of your humanity.

Believing and Doubting – “I believe.  Help my unbelief.”  If Jesus were a modernist, he would have tried to pin the man down.  “Which is it sick man – belief or unbelief?  Are you in or out?”  This isn’t license for having weak faith.  It’s acknowledging the reality that, right in the midst of our faith, doubt can also reside.  John the Baptist, having been imprisoned, tells his disciples to ask Jesus if He’s the Messiah, or if John missed something.  Jesus tells the disciples the answer AND says that poor doubting John is the greatest man that ever lived.  If you’ve no room for doubt, no more questions, I fear you’ve stopped growing.  If you’ve no room for faith, nothing but questions, you’re not reading this anyway.

Rational and Mysterious – Yes there’s evidence for all this.  There’s history.  There are martyrs.  There are documents.  But come on:  the sun stood still.  Dead bodies were reconstituted, and all of them will be some day.  There’s a spirit world, unseen, affecting lives.  And none of this can be proven by the scientific method.  Reduce the faith to a set of provable propositions, and you’ve stripped it of not only it’s mystery, but it’s power.  Make it nothing but mystery, and you’ve stripped it of it’s knowability.

I have at least five more, but don’t want to bore you.  Feel free to share some other paradoxes in the comment section, and let me know your thoughts.  I want to hear your critiques – and I don’t want to hear them.

60 thoughts on ““AND”: the importance of paradox to faith

  1. Has anyone read “The Gospel According to Moses: What My Jewish Friends Taught Me about Jesus”? It’s all about biblical paradoxes… I am not that far into it yet, but I would highly recommend it already.

  2. One of my favorite quotes by A. W. Tozer: “He (the Christian) feels supreme love for One whom he has never seen, talks familiarly every day to Someone he cannot see, expects to go to heaven on the virtue of Another, empties himself in order to be full, admits he is wrong so he can be declared right, goes down in order to get up, is strongest when he is weakest, richest when he is poorest, and happiest when he feels worst! He dies so he can live, gives away so he can keep, sees the invisible, hears the inaudible and knows that which passes knowledge.”

    1. I love the quote on this video from “Dr. Robert Raymond” starting at 6:50. Talk about a mouthful of hogwash. I’m not sure even he could follow his train of thought through such a fog of words.

      I think this paradox dilemma can be summed up in one word: faith.

      Faith is not knowledge in a mathematical or empirical sense. It is a trust in things unseen. Given the desire for reliable, testable results in our scientific culture today, I can understand the deep psychological need for absolute certainty in matters of faith (or what Paul Tillich calls matters of Ultimate Concern). The world feels so much safer when God is understandable, when faith is merely a matter of learning the proper equation, when I always know what God wants of me.

      But, if such knowledge were possible, would there even be a need for faith? Moreover, if God’s ultimate goal is for us to get our brains right, why didn’t he just have Jesus pass out a thousand copies of “Christ’s 10 Step Plan to a Better You” and be done with it. I don’t know about you, but all his bloody parables and “to live you must die” chatter just makes my head swim.

      Does this mean we can’t know God or have insight into truth? No, I think we can know God. But this type of knowledge is relational, emotional, spiritual. It’s the kind of interpersonal knowledge you gain when, say, you’re married to someone which is very different than the knowledge you gain from figuring out a crossword puzzle.

  3. I’m going to go out on a limb, here (partly out of curiosity and partly to spark some conversation) but I’m not certain as to why the presence of apparent contradiction within scripture would do anything to diminish its authority, and thus I am uncertain as to why this gentleman is so troubled by the idea of “irreconcilable paradoxes”. Why do we need to have everything wrapped up in a neat little package in order to find value in it?

      1. I don’t know; do you? Is the God of the universe so tame as to be contained and encapsulated within the pages of scripture or is God’s truth transcendent such that it can only ever be known in part (1 Corinthians 13)? That is somewhat beside the point, I guess, because my initial question has less to do with the presence of contradictory and irreconcilably paradoxical passages within scripture than it does our ability to approach and love God regardless of such a presence. So, you have rightly asked the question, Linda: can you profess faith in God if God very often does not behave rationally or reasonably?

      2. Personally, I have come to the conclusion that I would rather worship a God that I can not “get my head around” than one that I can totally make sense of in my own, very limited brain. Any god that I can make sense of in my mind is going to be very small…and also tainted by my fallen brain cells. How “good”–or what good–is that god? It’s risky, but I’ll go with the God who’s revealed what He wants to about Himself in the scriptures (along with what appear to be contradictions). I’ll do that because I believe in one simple thing that I don’t know to have a “flip-side”…God IS love.

  4. Where does one get off suggesting that they have it all figured out {referring to the video above}? That’s the kind of “christianity” that turns many away. God is a God of mystery, so why do many treat him as though God is reconsileable? That smug attitude presented in the above video comes across rather… may I say pharisaical?

      1. I think we need to be careful in assuming we can get it all figured out and have all the definite answers on things… I sure don’t! and I think it’s arrogant for people to think they have all the right answers. The God of the bible I follow sure doesn’t fit into a definable box… Do you think that we can know all the right answers, Linda? I am sure aboutt he bible–I am not sure that any human could fully comprehend it all.

  5. My response to your comments Linda is to ask you a question.

    By definition, fulness means that somethings capacity is entirely occupied by an entity, thus making it impossible other entities to occupy the ‘full’ vessel.

    So I’m wondering what you think: Is Jesus fully God, or fully human?

    1. The Lord Jesus Christ is BOTH fully God and fully sinless man, Jesus is not half God and half man. Jesus is the second person of the Godhead (Trinity).

      And yes the Trinity is hard to comprehend if that is what you are getting at. I think it is hard for humans to comprehend because we exist in time whereas God does not, or He can enter into time as Jesus (incarnation), yet Jesus is still eternal.

      1. Thanks Linda… and I agree with you 100%. My complaint then, is that this is the very kind of answer that is mocked and warned against in that guy’s video. Second, if the answer, ‘this is hard to understand because we exist in time…” is acceptable here, can’t it be equally acceptable for this: Yes, we have free will. Yes, God is sovereign and we’re chosen. Yes, this is hard to understand because we live in time and God does not.”

        I think we’re saying the same thing… but then I have to ask: Why did you post the video?

      2. Humans do have a will, but due to original sin we are born sinners and enslaved to sin, we are spiritually dead, the Bible supports the doctrine of total depravity and total inabilty to come to God. You must be born again to free your enslaved will so you will repent and trust in Christ..

      3. It sounds as though RD is not so much concerned with Chalcedon as he is with Nicaea, and his (and my) concern is somewhat unconstrained by any finite understanding of time. How can a being share equally in two natures which appear contradictory? How can Christ be fully God, boundless and unconstrained, and simultaneously be fully human and bound by the same categories of human finitude which bind you and I? If God is everywhere and everywhen then how can such a notion be reconciled to a human man who was bound to a specific spatial and temporal location? Frankly, I have an easier time locating Christ within the trinity than I do understanding how he could embody two such contradictory natures not in balance or harmony but in a fullness of each, wherein one does not negate the other. That is a paradox walking around on two legs, if you ask me.

    2. Understanding the tritarian nature of God is hard to comprehend because we are not eternal, and we are finite creatures, but the trinity is not contradictory..

      But to say that God is sovereign and that humans have the ultimate control in their salvation is contradictory. If God is sovereign then humans do not have control of their salvation, but they are surely accountable for their damnnation.

      1. This too is another paradox, but I think it is really important to remember that while we are born sinners, we are also born good. We are made in the image of God. I think that acknowledging the sinful nature without acknowledging the good is a dangerous pattern that we often fall into. Paradox is a part of Judaism (see the book that Ryan Lilly suggested above for starters–it’s fantastic) and Christianity is a branch off the tree of Judaism. Living in the “both/and” world can be challenging, but it is Biblical in my opinion.

        Oh, also, this might not be a true paradox, but kind of… the “already/not yet” is what gets me through the problem of evil and really it gets me through turning on the news to find that a Major killed 12 and… That the Kingdom of God has been inaugurated and yet is not fully inaugurated. That the glimpses of heaven we get on this earth point toward the real heaven.

      2. Rebecca, read Romans ch. 3
        see what God Himself say’s about how good unregenerate man is!
        “None is righteous, no, not one;
        11no one understands;
        no one seeks for God.
        12All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
        no one does good,
        not even one.”

      3. That’s a good illustration of paradox, Lamont, because Paul–in Romans 3:10-18–isn’t so much speaking the word of God as he is giving a greatest hits of religiously slanderous imagery from the Psalms. Most interesting, though, is his use of the phrase in verses 10-12 where he cites a passage from both Psalm 14 and 53, which also happen to be almost entirely identical. What do we do with this?

  6. The one that gets me is when God asks something of us, to follow Him, knowning we can’t do anything without His divine power. Where does my response begin and God’s work in me end?

    1. That’s a good one, a really good one. What drive’s me further down the rabbit hole is the idea that my response to God comes from my being created with the capacity to respond, that I only ever ask the question of God within the reality of God’s preexistent answer.

      1. Where’s the paradox Kevin? Paul brings together from different scriptures, the total universal reign of sin in man and his condemnation before God. Paul the prosecutor has leveled the irrefutable charge against man from Rom1 -3. Even the creation bares witness, but man supress’ that truth in wickedness! What do we do with that?

  7. I reached a point in my faith a while ago, where I became okay with the fact that the God of the universe can do whatever He wants… things I agree with and things I disagree with or don’t understand. Like a heavenly council deliberating on which one of them will go down from heaven as a “lying spirit” to deceive a wicked king (Ahab) into a war. We are not campaign managers needing to prop up our God candidate to suit the needs of our current society (addressing the apparent need for certainty in uncertain times).

    I believe God knows what he is doing, even when I don’t understand. I don’t agree with the fallacy in the video that says if there are contradictions in the Bible then it has no authority. Read the Bible… let it lead you to Christ… walk with Christ, seek to understand his ways, and then tell me it has no authority. Don’t cling to certainty for the sake of apologetics! (notice he didn’t even try to reconcile even one of the paradoxes…. that’s where things get messy….)

    Are there paradoxes in the Bible? Yes. Are they reconcilable in a once and for all definitive way… not that I can tell right now. Do I have the pleasure to explore the mysteries of God, finding moments of revelation and connection with the story of the ages? Yes. Am I fearful that I don’t have all the answers? Not in the least.

  8. “I’m a Calvinist!”

    Is it ok if I’m tired of people misquoting II Peter 3:9 then useing it as a pretext, ignoring the context, when there’s century’s of solid Reformed exegesis available?
    This is a typical example!
    I maintain that there is “NO” paradox here at all!
    Proverbs 18:17 The one who states his case first seems right,
    until the other comes and examines him.

    THE ERROR: “God is not willing that “ANY” should perish…” (Incorrect)
    The verse (esv) states: God is patient toward “YOU” not wishing that “ANY” should perish….
    Q. “YOU WHO?”
    Who is Peter talking to? Isn’t it a letter? Addressed to a particular person(s) in a particular time/place etc…? Notice the “2” before the name Peter? The number “2” lets us know that someting came before it, like 1 Peter… (Ch 1)
    “To those “ELECT EXCILES” (unbelievers are not called “ELECT!”) Therefore, Peter is writting to believers in 1 Peter! How about 2 Peter 1?
    “To those who have “obtained a faith of equl standing with ours…” (again, believers! unbelievers do not have faith! i.e. Rom 1:30 & 2 Thes 3:2)
    Now Look at 2 peter 3:1 “This is now the “SECOND LETTER” that I am writing to you, “BELOVED”
    The “YOU” of 2 Peter 3:9, are the Beloved in verse 1
    that the LORD does not wish that “ANY” should perish in 3:9! The “not wishing any to come to repentance is none other then the “elect” who have not come to faith yet, before the coming of the LORD in verse 10!

    See below for a full work on this.

    I recommend the book “The Potters Freedom” for a great lesson in exegesis, and a total dismantling of Norman Geislers book “Chosen But Free” refuting similar arguments as this.
    Soli Dei Gloria!

    1. What do reformed exegetes say regarding the quite probable notion that the second epistle of Peter was written well after the end of the first century, by a pseudepigraphical author? Even were this not the case, is the context within which this letter was written so easily discerned? It seems that the essence of RD’s original question was not if we could capture and objectify the gospel but whether or not we even should, and in doing so potentially strip it of its transformative power.

      1. Prove that it was Kevin! I take the Bible for what it is. God’s word! I don’t justify Gods Word! It is!
        Can you refute my exegesis? Show me my error?
        Or, are you going to dance around it, and not address what I said? I addressed this particular topic because I saw the common flaw in the authors opening statement in 2 pete 3:9, and you can’t deny that he omitted a very important part of it! In fact he totally (it’s a common thing, I would hope he would see what I’m saying, I mean him no disrespect!) disregarded any of the context. I know the context of 2nd Peter that’s why I caught the error! Soooo many people do that!

  9. Please edit prior entry in third para to read:
    The “not wishing any to Perish but wishing all to come to repentance” is none other then the “elect” who have not come to faith yet, before the coming of the LORD in verse 10!

    Thank you!

  10. “If any man is thirsty let him come to ME and drink…” (Jn 7:37)

    Did Jesus mean it when He said it? I believe He did!
    Does that mean that any man had the ability to come and drink on his own free will power?

    How could Jesus in John 6:44 say: “No one “CAN” (has the ability to) come to me “UNLESS” the Father who sent me draws him…
    And in verse 65 (same context) …”This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.”
    Q. If all men are free to drink, than why must they be “ENABLED” by the Father? (drinking is the same as coming to or believing in Jesus).
    Can X-tians ignore the multitude of verses in Gods word that tell us, for instance, Rom 1 No one seeks after God.
    8:7-8 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
    1 Cor 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
    In John 10 Jesus tells us that “HIS” sheep hear His voice and they will follow Him…. yet ,tells the Pharisees in verse 26
    “but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.”
    **Notice that Jesus did not say they were not His sheep because they didn’t believe, but, they didn’t believe “because they were not His sheep!”
    WOW! Profound!
    Therefore, the ones that will come and drink, are Christs “true sheep” who have been “set free” from satans grip (Jn 10) and born from above (Jn 3) and brought us from death to life . Titus 3:5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.
    Sorry for just a snippet. I hope at least it was comprehendable? and a starting point for debate.


  11. “FREE WILL?” (of course!)
    A rabbit is a herbivore by “NATURE.” It only eats plants!
    Take the rabbit, put it in a cage, and feed it a fresh Filet Mignon every day!
    Hey! The Rabbit died!
    Why? Because rabbits don’t eat meat! It’s not their “NATURE!” They won’t eat meat!
    How do we get the rabbit to eat meat?
    Change it’s “NATURE” (for man this is impossible, but for God…)

    A man is a sinner by “NATURE!” (in fact “Dead” in sin)
    Therefore he desires the things of that nature! Rom 7:5, 8:5-8 Eph 2:3 etc…
    Man does not desire God! Rom 1, 3, Eph 2-3.
    Mans “NATURE” must be changed in order to desire God Col 2:13, Jn 3ff. Rom 2:29.
    Dead men do not seek anything. They must be made alive I.e. born from above! only God can do that!

    Mens wills are enslaved to their nature! They only do what that nature desires! Men are not free to chose Jesus Christ because their wills are in bondage to sin and Satan, and must be set free by Jesus Christ!
    “IF” the Son sets you free….
    Believers are those who by Gods Grace and Mercy have been set free, and were “granted faith” (Phil 1:29) As a gift (Eph 2:8-10.). They/we still struggle with sin, but cannot will to not ever sin! I will have a free will in heaven, when I’m free not to sin!
    I stuck my foot in it, now I’m going to bed!

    Soli Dei Gloria!

  12. what saddens me most about this entire line of conversation is that the debate about Calvinism and II Peter is continuing long after the post is over, while there are two responses to the request for prayers in the wake of Ft. Hood shootings. I might be right, or I might be wrong in my interpretation of II Peter. But I’m not going to debate it here…

    I’m posting right now because, from my chair, it looks like we’d rather argue about who has the right interpretation of II Peter than pray for families who’ve been shattered by a madman. Why is this? And what might we learn from it?

    1. I suppose that what might be learned in the immediate is that those that read your blog and post in the comment section don’t always move through the same ambient of emotion in which you now find yourself. You may feel called to pray for the families of those affected by this tragedy, and by all means do just that, but others may also express the same sentiment in private. This diversity of expression does not necessarily connote any kind of moral imbalance, nor does it profit to cast those who are engaged in this discussion as being morally negligent. Your language falls on my ears as judgmental and falsely pious, but if you would like the discussion and debate in this thread to cease, then I will not oppose. This is your blog.

    2. RCP
      Sorry if you didn’t know that I hadn’t read that post, although, I had prayed (and will continue to pray) as am lead. When all of this 1st accured and didn’t need a blog article to do so. When/if I read that article, I will pray for them accordingly! BTW a Seattle police officer had died as well. Our prayers go out to these people!
      Your not going to debate this here?
      How shocking! “Make drive-by” slams against my faith (which I defended) then just blow it off?
      I suggest that you remove that paragraph and apologize for ever printing it? Or, defend it?
      BTW. Thank you Kevin!
      RCP has much to be commended for on other posts! I mean that sincerely!

      1. I apologize to both of you who were continuing along this line of discussion if my comment came across as either a ‘drive by slam’ or judgmental. It was meant as neither. I must confess that I grow weary of debating Calvinists, not because I think they’re wrong in the fundamental reality that we’re called and predestined (I agree completely), but because I think the interplay of our being predestined, and the, at the very least, seeming reality I get to make real choices, whether it’s what to eat for breakfast, or whether to say yes to God at any given moment, is a mystery along the lines of Jesus full humanity and deity. In the limited time I have to devote to a blog, I’m not going to get into it here. Clearly though, it’s pushed some buttons, so will consider next steps.

  13. RCP
    Thank you!
    I can appreciate your position!
    I was merely trying to point out that 2 pete 3:9 was mis-quoted and the context ignored (Like my response) making it a pretext.
    Which (I guess) is ok w/you?

    I leave your blog w/a couple of scriptural parting shots…

    Pro 16:1 The plans of the heart belong to man,
    but the “answer of the tongue is from the LORD.”

    Pro 16:9 The heart of man plans his way,
    “but the LORD establishes his steps.”

    Pro 16:33 The lot is cast into the lap,
    but its “every” decision is from the LORD.”

    Pro 21:1 The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD;
    “He turns it wherever He will.”

    Acts 17:11 Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

    I suggest…..
    “Are there two wills in God?”
    By John Piper.

    Heb 6:1

  14. Calvin did not like, nor did he want his name to be attached to his reading of and interpretation of Scripture. He is buried in an unmarked grave. He did not seek fame or fotune, only truth, and the historical truth that was established through the centuries to keep us on point, and within Christian Orthodxy (the councils through Church history were called because the Church was perilously drifting into error). Unfortunately so much negativity in todays evangelical, seeker-friendly, dispensational Arminian churches (sorry to throw labels out there – not intended to be cheap shots) toward “Calvinism” flies in the face of the great Reformer who was humbly bringing us back to the Scripture, and reminding us of the Councils of the past that had to be called to put us back on track (The Council of Nicea AD 325; The Council of Constantinople AD 381; The Council of Ephesus AD 431; and the Council of Chalcedon AD 451).

    The rise of Arminiamism and Dispensationalism–a term that is not in the Bible–is truly a reletively new phenomenon in the modern church. It’s recent rise in America can be traced in a very distinct and obvious way to the Scofield Study Bible, and the notes from that Bible that seem to have influenced it’s readers more than the Scripture itself.

    Jacob Arminius, the most prominant advocate of semi-Pelagianism or Synergism (aka “I cooperate with God for my salvation; although I’m almost dead in my sin, I still have a tiny bit of goodness left, which God has left me, so I may cooperate in and participate in my salvation WITH God) lived in the early 1600’s. His thoughts and teachings were so off the mark, according to traditional church history and beliefs, that the Synod of Dort was called in 1618 to set the record–and the faith–strait. The Synod and it’s 111 members from Holland, Germany, Switzerland, England and Scotland met for 7 months, and after 154 sessions they unanimously rejected the teachings of Arminius as being contrary to the Word of God (The Five Dilemmas of Calvinism, Craig R Brown, 2007).

    I bring all these things up, everybody, because much of the Evangelical world is way off the mark when it comes to “Calvinism/Election/Reformed Theology”, and even more importantly they are off in their OWN theology, and the church is becoming the worse for it. Calvin was trying as hard as he could to bring us back to the REAL faith. He would not have ever called his way of thinking “Calvinistic”. He would have called it true to scripture, and the basis for what we had a Reformaton for in the first place.

    Take off your bias against “Calvinism” off for a moment and look into the facts. Sometimes facts of the faith are uncomfortable to our “I’m ok/you’re ok” mentality these days. The things we don’t like about God or “elction” or a chosen people don’t matter really. I have fought it myself for a long time, as I have come from a synergistic to a monergistic faith. Kicking and screaming all the way, mind you.

    Who are you, oh man, to talk back to God?

    May I suggest http://www.monergism.com.

  15. One more thing, responding to Richard’s assertion that “I am chosen but I am also free”. The way I think about this, since I believe that to be true as well, is as follows:

    My 3-year old and I are both “free”. I, however, am MORE free. He could jump in a running car and drive, but he would probably die. I have been trained in/am more wise in the ways of driving. So even though we are both free agents, I, because of my place in life in that I am older, wiser and more capable of certain things, am MORE free than my child. A slippery argument, I know, and certainly not the same as the difference between me and God, but aren’t God and I both free? Isn’t God, however, MORE free?

    The distance between my understanding and my son’s is actually not that far compared to the distance between my understanding and God’s. He is the Sovereign creator of the universe, and his Word says that before time began he knew–and not only knew, but ordained–EVERYTHING that would come to pass. Just because we don’t understand or know now why God allows sin and terrible things to happen (Ft. Hood) in this world, He does allow it nontheless. Nothing that happens is outside of His wisdom or permission. So yes, even the evil that happens is in part “ordained” by Him, because He COULD stop it, but he doesn’t. To say otherwise is to render God impotent.

    Do any of us want to say that? We see through a glass darkly. One day we will understand what only He understands now. But it is all in His Sovereign control, and our lack of understanding of why He allows evil is probably something we should be okay to not understand. He will not be understood completely until we see Him face to face.

  16. Lamont and Dan,

    I have been down this road before with Calvinists and have yet to have them answer one simple question for me. So God ordains everything playing both sides of the “game” we live called life. Then God intended evil and created countless billions for hell without a salvation option and further forces all of us (even the chosen) to submit to this life filled with suffering. In fact he promises us suffering. Therefore God is a sadistic, narcissist, yes? And you can not just say it is a mystery we won’t understand in this life. Strict Calvinism demands that conclusion. That is a conclusion that radically changes the character of God.

  17. God “chose” suffering even for himself, in Christ. He was TORTURED and died on a cross, for His people (you). Sadistic I gather, in your view of it. Saving my and your soul in the process. It’s part of the equation, and I don’t completely understand it. How can we? Like others have said, if we could completely understand God, He wouldn’t be God. Part of His glory, however is that justice prevails with everyone. So–sorry–part of his glory is achieved in the damnation of people. If that is not true, then the damnation of people is actually a failure on the part of God. Right? What else could it mean? There is justice (which we deserve); there is non-justice (which would be God letting everyone off without payment); and there is grace, where God (Christ) takes the justice on Himself. That’s what he did for His people. His people were (and are) His covenant (chosen) people. Thanks be to God that Gentiles are included now! Looking at scripture as a whole, the “deal” has always been similar. Payment HAD to be rendered for sin. In the beginning God chose the Jews to be His people. Those that weren’t His people did not go to Heaven as far as I can find anywhere in the scripture. (Not fair to those not chosen)? So the first people were given the law, and they were under the covenant of the Law. We know they didn’t obey the law perfectly, but God accepted them anyway, because they were His People, no matter what! The people worked to achieve their salvation through doing works in obedience to that law. Then we moved to the covenant of Grace because God in His divine mercy “let us off the hook” by allowing Jesus to pay the required fine (death) in our stead.

    I would like to ask this Ken: Why does God save any of us, since, as it says in His word, we cannot do ANYTHING to earn our salvation, and even our greatest good is filthy rags compared to, and in the economy of God and His holiness. The fact that he chose to save ONE person by Christ dying for him/her is a miracle. The fact that he chose many is an even bigger miracle, and the reason we should fall on our faces, shut our mouths and worship Him. I realize this stuff becomes too big sometimes, and seems to be a topic that takes us off point. I used to think that, and as I mentioned before, I came to believe this but I didn’t want to. I wanted God to fit in the package I had made for Him. I found out I couldn’t do that, and even though I didn’t–at first–like what I was finding out about God, I changed when I realized I was one of the people He loved and had raised from the dead! The strange thing (paradox perhaps?) is that when you go down the rabbit trail and ask all the questions of an Arminian, they seem to believe what “Calvinists” believe–dead in sin/unable to save themselves/God saves them. HOW CAN IT BE BOTH WAYS? Either God saves us completely or we help Him. I don’t know any Christian that believes we “help” God save us. We have nothing in us that seeks after God. The only way we ever seek after God is when He first seeks us. Then our heart of stone turns to a heart of flesh, and we CAN come to God. We come to Him because He drags us to Himself.

    One final thing: If God intended to save ALL of humanity and it’s not happening, then His sacrifice was insufficient. Think of this: There is a man in a country that God is going to save when the missionary gets there to share the Gospel. The plane crashes. The missionary dies. God’s will is squelched because a man made airplane crashed! That doesn’t make sense. This is not to say in any way that we should not evangelize and “go out and make fishers of men”. God tells us His word is spread through the likes of us. Souls are awakened, however, by God, through the Holy Spirit. If that guy the missionary was going to reach is one of God’s people, he will be reached. None will be snatched from His hand. Arminianism/Semi Pelagianism actually makes it more stressful to be a believer, because you actually think that you are going out and saving souls. You are doing the work and being the messenger of God, but the Spirit saves souls. GOD saves souls. God gives us re-birth to understand and receive the Gospel. We don’t go “get born again” first, or on our own, which the TV evangelists, and TONS of American churches would have you believe. You didn’t ask to be born naturally; you can’t ask to be born again. Both are gifts of God.

    1. You are ignoring the simple question that becomes a paradox. Those who God created to die and go to Hell he does not love. Or does he? It is that simple. People we may love he may not or may but doesn’t have any plans for. There is nothing we can do, no entreaty, nothing. Does God care about those destined to Damnation or not?

      I believe that Moses changed Gods mind to save the people of Israel. That is what it says. God changed his mind. This is the paradox that God cares enough to alter his plan for his children.

  18. Thanks, Dan. That was precisely the answer I expected. You pointed out the paradox of Calvinists/Armenians very well. My point was that if as you say God plays both sides of the game of life, he created mere puppets. We love Him and evangelize because we are commanded to or we are simply one of the lucky ones and should respond so even though it has no influence whatsoever. We should also not question why some loved ones are created for condemnation. How dare we? We were chosen, be grateful. I do not agree that either extreme has “it” right. I agree with Richard that there are some huge paradoxes involved in this story.

    Did God plan everything? Of course. He is all knowing and all powerful. He by nature has to know with certainty every outcome of the interplay of His creation. He knows what our choices will be before we do. In fact He knew before all creation. He knows what will motivate us in every circumstance. Did God choose us? Yes.

    On the other side of the coin, we are in the game. The mystery that is impossible for us to comprehend is how we also choose. Choose is the concept we use (and scripture as well) to explain our actions within the grand game. The way I have come to see this, God wanted a piece of creation that could respond to Him. Perhaps there are other parts of creation that can, i.e. the rocks cry out, but that is not our story to know. If God could not create without knowing the outcome, how does He get some able to respond without coercion? Perhaps He must create all of this and all these people and all the innumerable interactions between them and all of creation to bring a few to the edge of salvation, to the edge of eternity with Him. For myself, the concept of an all powerful, all knowing, perfectly loving God creating this world to reveal Himself to me is dumbfounding. I believe that He works everything to reveal that reality to everyone. He didn’t want puppets. He created all the various personalities and individuals of history because it takes all them working together throughout history to reveal Himself. Everything in life brings us to Him. I believe that is true for everyone in life. The uniqueness of each individual responds as they were created making choices according to that stimulus. We all have a fair chance. God desires none to perish, but alas perhaps that is the most scary part of this picture. The one thing God could not do was be unfaithful to Himself. In creating beings that could be saved there also must be those that could not. There’s a mystery for us to contemplate for our entire lifetimes. I remember as a youth hearing the line, “God would you send me to hell?” and God replies, “No, but I cannot keep you from choosing it.”

    I went many rounds with a close biblical scholar friend in this debate a few years ago. I always believed myself a Calvinist until I really studied it. I came to see the massive paradox it presents us. If it’s accurate as Piper and others currently explain it, then the very nature of God is altered from what scripture clearly illustrates. There’s got to be more to the story. Is God a narcissist? In one sense, absolutely yes. Everything is all about God as it should be. Is He sadistic? No, I’m afraid that’s the part of the story for which we take full credit. Perhaps we cannot understand love and sacrifice unless it’s costly. The value of anything is calculated by what it costs us. If love were free and easy I do not believe we would place any value on it. Thus God’s great answer to gather to Himself a people worthy of eternity with Him was to create a costly vision of His nature in the knowledge that within that creation some would be saved. His creation crashes against mankind and works all things to soften us to God’s call. When by the full force of that work some are softened to the point of salvation, then by God’s grace He grants us rebirth, we repent and are saved.

    For all those on either side, I wish we could simply put those issues behind us and focus on living the life God calls us to. For us as believers to continually engage in biblical warfare only plays into the hand of our enemy. Unity in our faithfulness to God is our greatest weapon in a world filled with the misery of man’s making.

  19. Ken,
    Thanks for your eloquent and well thought out response. I agree with you in a lot of ways. I do count you and all Christians as my brothers and sisters, and I agree that this conversation can be contentious, and we don’t want contentiousness in the family if we can help it. I am not questioning your or anyone’s salvation. However I do think it’s more important than a “minor disagreement” on how we arrive at our salvation. Is it us, or God, or both that provides it? That is a pretty big and important question. If it wasn’t I wouldn’t be spending the time on it that I am.

    Your quote: “His creation crashes against mankind and works all things to soften us to God’s call. When by the full force of that work some are softened to the point of salvation, then by God’s grace He grants us rebirth, we repent and are saved”.

    So does His creation “crash against mankind” or does His Holy Spirit intercede in men’s hearts? How are dead people with hearts of stone “softened”? God’s grace “grants us rebirth”. YES! He GRANTS us re-birth (your words), so we are ABLE to repent. He gives us re-birth first. He chooses to change our hearts. We do not. That’s the point.

    It’s a bit of a chicken/egg argument, I know, but just like your new heart of flesh, God created it, and He created the chicken and the egg.

    1. I know God does it and I also believe our uniqueness makes a difference. Not by our accomplishments or works but by God’s forces upon us. All of those forces, Holy Spirit, other people, creation, everything. Look at it from the unsaved perspective, the individual that dies lost… perhaps that person would not, could not be saved because no weight of God’s glory was able to bring them to salvation. Their hardness of heart is unconquerable.

      The parable of the sower is my favorite parable. The Seed is God’s Word, the Truth. It falls upon us (rightly represented as dirt). Some falls on rocky soil and springs to life but has no roots and dies. Some in the thorn bushes and is choked by the cares of this world. Some on the road is snatched by Satan. And some on good soil where it grows and bears fruit. Amazingly it only gives Satan a third of the credit for not responding to the truth! The other two are our fickleness not allowing it to take root and or our distraction by the world. The point is, we’re all dirt! Over the course of our lives some dirt hardens, some is overgrown by the world and some by God’s amazing grace is worked until it is receptive to the Seed. Why was I so blessed to come to the Lord at age eight? Probably because I was simply more pliable to begin with. I don’t really know. It’s not to my credit but that’s my story. Why does someone else wait until they’re 89? That was the case for my bible scholar friend’s mother. She had to live 89 long, hard years of life to be tilled into receptive soil. But she did believe six months before she passed to eternity.

      We all have our place in this great adventure that God has created. I have come to believe He created us all to be part of the plan. Why couldn’t that plan save all? There is the question for the ages. Nearly fifty years as a believer has shown me the mysteries of the Truth get bigger as time passes. I trust Him that this plan is not only right, but in fact the best way to save a people unto Himself. Our call is to work the soil around us in the time we’re given so the Seed has an opportunity to take root, grow and bear fruit.

  20. Your quote: “no weight of God’s glory was able to bring them to salvation”.

    What you are saying about God is IMPOSSIBLE. God is ABLE in every sense of the word. The ability is in man or it’s not, and God puts it there! We don’t go get it, because we are unable, because we are DEAD. How many times does the Bible have to tell us this for us to believe it? God is infinitely able, and that’s why spiritual ressurection is just a miraculous as physical.

    We’re going in circles.

  21. That’s a label you’re putting on me, which God destined you to do. 😉

    I read the “Toy Soldiers” chapter in CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity and always believed we were free and not robots, and I still do. Although I don’t completely agree with Lewis anymore. “Free”, again, is a deep and complex term that I think you are under-defining.

    A shot across the bow back at you: Then you really do believe that you raised yourself from the dead, or you were NOT dead completely (un-biblical), and you came to God by your own, at least slightly good heart.

    We’ll just have to agree to disagree about that.

  22. Dan, I’m trying to keep my distance from this conversation, not because I’m not interested, but because I’ve a very full day today. However, your last comment to Ken seems naive in that it fails to look at the whole Biblical narrative. Could we please look at the Old Testament types of salvation for some guidance here? I Corinthians 10 gives us permission to do so.

    The Lord parted the Red Sea, but Israel walked through. Clearly they couldn’t save themselves. Clearly they played a role, unless they’re puppets.

    The Lord ‘passed over’ the doors w/ blood on them. Israel put the blood there. Who’s doing this? Was God overuling their human will and putting the blood there? If so, these people are nothing but puppets.

    Paul’s point, in fact, in I Cor 10 is this: “these things were written as examples so that we might not follow them” If I’m reading you right Dan, I can’t learn from them, because I’ve no will of my own anyway, so I simply won’t follow Christ, and declare that it wasn’t in my destiny to do so. Sadly, this underbelly of Calvinism has led to countless instances of defeatism and passivity. The other option isn’t some sort of arrogant ‘self salvation’. Again in the example of Israel, once they were on the far side of the Red Sea they didn’t sing: “Isn’t it cool that we had the guts to walk across the parted sea” Instead, all the glory went to God which, I believe, is that point Calvin was trying to make in first place.

    1. Richard,

      I love and respect you brother, and I know we won’t agree on this, but that’s okay. I know you think I’m majoring on a minor–so be it. I believed exactly like you do for my entire Christian life. I even had a pretty significant falling out with some friends several years ago, who were new Calvinists. I’ve been told that when you go over to the dark side as I think you and Ken think I’m on, you can be so zealous about it that you want to talk about it all the time, and you want others to see the truth as you see it. My Reformed friends have even advised that one just shut up for about a year after you come to the Reformed side, so as to allow yourself to calm down a bit, and not alienate your Christian brothers and sisters.

      That being said, and since you engaged me, I will say that you and I are seeing the Red Sea differently. The Red Sea was a miracle performed by God to save His people. He didn’t save anyone else in that event, did he? The human heart is like the Red Sea. It needs to be “parted” or turned to flesh. That is a miracle of God that I contend is an even greater feat than the Red Sea. But he parted the sea for His elect, chosen people, and he turns hearts of stone to hearts of flesh for His elect, chosen people.

      I am very curious, with all due, and humble respect: who are the the elect or predestined, when you read about them in the Bible?

  23. Thanks, Richard. I know we’ve gone many rounds on this together.

    Dan, let me say it once more… I did nothing to achieve my salvation. I was dirt, remember? God sowed the Seed in me after the soil was ready to receive. He raised me from the dead so that I might repent and believe. If I must dwell on any Truth, that is the Truth I will dwell upon. At the same time I know I am not a puppet and God is not an almighty puppeteer. That flies in the face of a loving and just God.

    One other thing, you might want to check your theology on how the children of Israel were saved. It has always been of God’s grace and man’s faith, never ever by works.

    1. Ken,
      If you did nothing to get your salvation, then what are we talking about?

      I didn’t say or mean the Jews were saved by works. I’m well aware you think my theoloy is off.

      Old and New Testament, it has always been by God’s grace and man’s faith–that God gives him. But somehow we’re at an impasse on it.

      1. And there you go again… God’s grace and man’s faith, qualified as the faith God gives him. You might find it interesting to look at some of the other views regarding the issue. Sometimes God has trouble being heard over His scholars. I can hear the catch phrases of the people you’re quoting more than all of scripture. But I am glad for this discussion. However just saying the same lines over and over won’t make something true. Step out of your comfort zone a bit like I found myself doing a few years ago and see what you might hear.

        The works question? From your 11/12 @ 4:31 PM reply… you stated, “The people worked to achieve their salvation through doing works in obedience to that law. Then we moved to the covenant of Grace because God in His divine mercy “let us off the hook” by allowing Jesus to pay the required fine (death) in our stead.” Kinda sounds like works to salvation to me.

  24. Ken, let’s just stop. I, of course, am stuck in saying the same things, because you haven’t heard anything yet. I’m myopic, but you have the right answer and you are not being myopic, because you have the non-calvinistic view. Fine, good night, and good luck.

    Seems you are as “there you go again” closed minded as you think I am. This is like a democrat debating a republican.

    I will read up on my theology so I don’t embarass myself any further.

  25. Feeling convicted, as I am feeling almost an anger toward Ken, and wanting to win this…

    I don’t. I’m sorry. This is not where Christians should end up, over and over. We need to test and make sure our theology is correct but at the end of the day we believe.

    I’m glad you’re a believer Ken.

  26. As I am glad to share the Kingdom with you, Dan. Please don’t feel anger. I’ve probably had more years of this sort of debate and have found it almost always profitable when taken with an open heart for God and man. There’s always something to learn. This subject is dear to me because it has risen several times in the past few years. I frustrate many in this discussion because I don’t fall neatly into either camp. I have come to see a wider picture here that the narrow focus seems to miss. I often get worried for fellow believers that narrow their focus on any subject so strictly. It is not usually what we think we know as much as those things of which we are absolutely certain that are dangerous. I have had too many certainties turned upside in my walk. You are right though, time to let this rest. Thank you for sharing your positions.

    1. Ken,

      One “quick” thing I wanted to bring up, in terms of my theology that you said was off. I am no theologian but I have come to believe in Covenant theology. Going to the arbiter of correct information (tongue in cheek) I am copying and pasting the following from Wikipedia.

      Covenant of redemption

      The covenant of redemption is the eternal agreement within the Godhead in which the Father appointed the Son Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit to redeem his elect people from the guilt and power of sin. God appointed Christ to live a life of perfect obedience to the law and to die a penal, substitutionary, sacrificial death (see penal substitution theory of the atonement) as the covenantal representative for all who trust in him. Some covenant theologians have denied the intra-Trinitarian covenant of redemption, or have questioned the notion of the Son’s works leading to the reward of gaining a people for God, or have challenged the covenantal nature of this arrangement. Those who have upheld this covenant point to passages such as Philippians 2:5-11 and Revelation 5:9-10 to support the principle of works leading to reward; and to passages like Psalm 110 in support that this is depicted in Scripture as a covenant.

      Covenant of works (what I understood you to say never existed)

      The covenant of works was made in the Garden of Eden between God and Adam who represented all mankind as a federal head. (Romans 5:12-21) It promised life for obedience and death for disobedience. Adam, and all mankind in Adam, broke the covenant, thus standing condemned. The covenant of works continues to function after the fall as the moral law.

      Though it is not explicitly called a covenant in the opening chapters of Genesis, the comparison of the representative headship of Christ and Adam, as well as passages like Hosea 6:7 have been interpreted to support the idea. It has also been noted that Jeremiah 33:20-26 (cf. 31:35-36) compares the covenant with David to God’s covenant with the day and the night and the statues of heaven and earth which God laid down at creation. This has led some to understand all of creation as covenantal: the decree establishing the natural laws governing heaven and earth. The covenant of works might then be seen as the moral law component of the broader creational covenant. Thus the covenant of works has also been called the covenant of creation, indicating that it is not added but constitutive of the human race; the covenant of nature in recognition of its consonance with the natural law in the human heart; and the covenant of life in regard to the promised reward.

      Covenant of grace

      The covenant of grace promises eternal blessing for all people who trust in the successive promises of God. Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of these promises. He is the substitutionary covenantal representative fulfilling the covenant of works on their behalf, in both the positive requirements of righteousness and its negative penal consequences (commonly described as his active and passive obedience). It is the historical expression of the eternal covenant of redemption. Genesis 3:15, with the promise of a “seed” of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head, is usually identified as the historical inauguration for the covenant of grace.

      The covenant of grace became the basis for all future covenants that God made with mankind such as with Noah (Genesis 6, 9), with Abraham (Genesis 12, 15, 17), with Moses (Exodus 19-24), with David (2 Samuel 7), and finally in the New Covenant fulfilled and founded in Christ. These individual covenants are called the biblical covenants because they are explicitly described in the Bible. Under the covenantal overview of the Bible, submission to God’s rule and living in accordance with his moral law (expressed concisely in the Ten Commandments) is a response to grace – never something which can earn God’s acceptance (legalism). Even in his giving of the Ten Commandments, God introduces his law by reminding the Israelites that he is the one who brought them out of slavery in Egypt (grace).

      1. Dan,

        Let’s remember where all this discussion began, the paradoxes in much of our Faith. As Richard said, and I wholeheartedly agree, neat systems bother me. The more time passes, the more the neat and tidy answers to life’s questions seem ever more difficult for me to reconcile with the increasingly complex vision God grants of His Kingdom. I just don’t see Him allowing us to “get a handle” on Him. I kind of like it that way. Why should we ever be able to wrap ourselves around God? It is great you are so thoroughly studying your beliefs. Keep after it. I enjoy your enthusiasm.

  27. Ken and Dan.
    My original post was…..

    “on November 7th, 2009 at 4:00”
    Of course it was never addressed.

    I took umbrage at the writter of this blog for “totally” disregarding what I wrote concerning his error of
    2 Peter 3:9. Not only did he not correctly quote it, he totally disregarded any context. His use of 2 Peter 3:9 was a blatant pretext, and he needs to admit and retract his false statement.
    There is no paradox there. Yes there may be “paradox’ in the bible, but not there. I think it’s easy to throw the “Paradox” term or the “see through a glass dimly” verse at what we don’t understand, rather then “search the scriptures to see if this is true” Berean call (No, not Dave Hunt).
    I even question the term “system!” Everybodys got one but the ones pointing the finger? I would label (if you will) Ken and RCP (Raincitypastor) Arminians, for the simple reason that if there is an agreement between us on the doctrines of grace (ie perseverance of the saints) it’s because it’s smuggled in from Calvinism.
    Their theology is “MAN” and not “God” centered, and, its inconsistant! To them, Gods highest goal is “Free Will” not the Glory of God. Why not look at 2 Peter 3:9 and deal w/the text? RCP is fighting scripture, not Calvinists! Exegesis, is what sets us apart. Not a system!

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