Sunday, February 15, 2015

Pie in the Sky? No.

Skeptics have a field day with Christianity. As the skeptic sees it, Christians enjoy no special protection,  no blessings, no advantages, and are often, rather, persecuted for our strange beliefs. And when we claim—rightly—that our ultimate blessings come in the next life, we are met with rolling eyes and a sarcastic, “Sure they will.” The claims of the Christian are placed by the skeptic under the rubric, Pie in the Sky in the Sweet By and By. In a word, they consider us deluded.

But think about it from the perspective of the skeptic. Other than the historical record of the Bible itself, none of our truth claims can be verified in this life. We are saying that they will be fulfilled in a future that, as far as the skeptic is concerned, doesn’t even exist. That’s pretty handy for us. We can claim whatever we wish about the life to come, and no one is able to disprove us. For the skeptic, our faith is nothing more than the hollow shell of wishful thinking. The gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing (1 Corinthians 1:18).

And yet the coming Kingdom of Christ is as certain and secure as tomorrow’s sunrise—more so, really. It is at this point the suffering saint is confronted with an unavoidable question: will you walk by faith or not? Will you walk in the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen” (Hebrews 11:1). It’s easy to do when your bank account is fat and your health is good. Not so easy when you’ve lost your job and you are burying a loved one.

The sons of Korah knew of this pattern of suffering now, blessings later. The psalmist writes in the midst of suffering in Psalm 42:3, My tears have been my food day and night, While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” But he knows where his ultimate hope is located: Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him For the help of His presence (verse 5).

Calvin writes of the pattern of delayed blessings in his Institutes, Book II, chapter X, paragraph 17 (emphasis mine):
Therefore, . . . , let us learn that the holy fathers under the Old Testament were not ignorant that in this world God seldom or never gives his servants the fulfillment of what is promised them, and therefore has directed their minds to his sanctuary, where the blessings not exhibited in the present shadowy life are treasured up for them. This sanctuary was the final judgment of God, which, as they could not at all discern it by the eye, they were contented to apprehend by faith. Inspired with this confidence, they doubted not that whatever might happen in the world, a time would at length arrive when the divine promises would be fulfilled. This is attested by such expressions as these: “As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied when I awake with thy likeness” (Psalm xvii. 15).
Calvin goes on to list a number of similar verses that demonstrate the Old Testament saint knew he was waiting on death to experience God’s ultimate promises.

Therefore, suffering saint, let not the skeptic cow you with his snarky doubt. Let not the bleakness of the day nor the blackness of the night shake you. The promises are true and firm. He has graven you upon the palms of His hands (Isaiah 49:16); He will not forget you nor your suffering. How shall He, who gave His very Son for us, not freely give us all things (Romans 8:32). Wait patiently, suffering saint, today you walk by faith, but a tomorrow is coming when faith shall be sight.

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. (1 Peter 5:8-10)

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Financial stress is a revealer of the heart

The "Prosperity Gospel" is a damning indictment against those who preach it. The false prophets of earthly prosperity are guilty of perverting the pure doctrine of Christ, and turning the Cross into little more than a good deal.

But think about the indictment against those who sit under the prosperity gospel, listen to it, and love it week after week. They are revealing their loves, their kingdom allegiences, and the driving motivations of their hearts. Those who tolerate the prosperity gospel are placing on public display the idols of their own hearts.

But when I find myself worried and fearful about a financial situation, how am I any different? Am I not revealing what I trust (financial security) even as I reveal what I don't trust ("Lord, I don't trust your goodness and sovereign purposes in the midst of hardship!")?

The Prosperity gospel is an easy target, my own love of financial security, less so. But no less damaging.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Progress Report #1 on The Candidate

'Twas a productive afternoon. I now have my Moriarty, and as importantly, I know why he is doing the dastardly deeds in which he is engaged. I have landed upon his evil motivations, and they are quite authentic.

A point of trivia: his initials in the story are BG and they come from my typing page after page of schemes, only to toss them and start over. So I used the initials BG as shorthand for my antagonist, rather than typing out a name over and over as I story-boarded my tale. BG? Though I have now fitted him with an appropriate appellation employing those letters, BG really stands for Bad Guy.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Communicable Attributes of God

A few days ago I posted an intro to Session 7 (on the Incommunicable Attributes of God) of the class in advanced theological training that we offer at BFC. The thrust of that intro dealt with the comfort we gain from the proper knowledge of God. Posted below is the intro to Session 8 (on the Communicable Attributes). The main point below emphasizes that what God does arises out of who He is. While this may not appear to be a particularly profound point, read on. You might be surprized.


There are some aspects of the nature of the Godhead that must forever be owned exclusively by God Himself. This is due to the essential difference between the Creator and the creature, the Infinite and the finite. These we call the “incommunicable” attributes of God, such as His eternality, His omniscience, and His omnipotence. But there are other aspects of the nature of God that are “communicated” to us by virtue of being made in the image of God. While most of these attributes exist faintly in unregenerate man, they are weak, defective, and corrupt because of sin. The regeneration of the Spirit experienced by the redeemed restores their potential, though much of that potential is not realized until we are glorified.
As the adopted children of God, the believer is commanded to emulate these characteristics of His heavenly Father:
  • Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:29 (NASB)
  • Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1 (NASB)
  • But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23 (NASB)
  • Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, . . . ” Ephesians 5:1-2 (NASB)
  • Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus . . .” Philippians 2:5 (NASB)
The aspects of the character of God that we are to demonstrate in our own lives, such as love, mercy, wisdom, gentleness, and so on, are referred to as the communicable attributes of God. Obviously God possesses these qualities in sublime perfection. We possess them only in pale imitation; nonetheless we do possess them and are able to exercise them as a consequence of the new nature imparted by the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Bear in mind that these attributes are not parts or components of God’s character. Were they such we could well imagine that they could be in conflict at times. Some theologians mistakenly write of a tension between God’s mercy and God’s justice. There is no such tension. God’s attributes describe what God is in His very nature, not just what God does in His actions. We say that God possesses the attribute of love, for example, not because He does loving things but because He Himself in all His ways is the very definition of what love is. God possesses the attribute of justice not simply because He enacts justice but because He is the definition and standard of justice.
This is an important distinction. All the acts of God are wholly consistent with the character of God. Indeed, all of God’s deeds necessarily arise out of His character. God cannot choose to not be loving, for He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13). Ultimately, though our finite minds might not know how to grasp this, even God’s eternal judgment of sinners will be wholly consistent with His love, just as His pardon of sinners is wholly consonant with His justice.
This fact distinguishes the living God from the god of the Muslims, Allah. The god of Islam is wholly arbitrary—capricious—doing whatever he wills to do. He can at one moment speak truth, according to their religion, and at the next moment deceive. The god of Islam is pure will—Islamic theology doesn’t really speak of what he is in his nature, his essence.
Someone might dispute this by, for example, quoting Surah 1:1 of the Quran, “In the name of GOD, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.” The Quran is thick with such statements. It certainly seems to make a claim about the nature of Allah—but it isn’t. The Quran is describing there what Allah decides to be at times (ie, gracious, merciful). It is not making the claim that this is what Allah is in his essence. This is, for instance, why the doctrine of abrogation (a changing, even reversal, of Allah’s revealed will) is no problem for the Muslim. Allah decides one point to command his followers to be good to “the people of the book,” the Christians and Jews, and at the next moment to slaughter them in the cruelest ways imaginable. No problem. It’s simply Allah’s will.
Not so with the true and living God of the Bible. There is no doctrine of abrogation in Scripture. God enacts mercy because God is merciful, and He always acts in complete alignment with His character. In fact, His righteousness could be described as God’s perfect consistency in acting according to His essential character. Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever.”
So as we consider the communicable attributes of God, once again we are venturing into the Holy of Holies by the invitation of God Himself, safely hidden in Christ from His holy wrath, invited to see Him as He really is. Our vision and understanding will be limited by our creatureliness, but we will see Him truly as He has revealed Himself.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A Motivation for the Study of Theology

[From my introduction to the student notes for ATT Session 7, on the Incommunicable Attributes of God]

There is an important lesson waiting for us in Scripture, and it has to do with knowing God. The lesson is this: the true knowledge of God, when wholeheartedly embraced, is in itself sufficient to enable us to meet life's suffering and disappointments

We humans get this backwards. In our minds, what is necessary to meet the need of human suffering is human comfort. It certainly is important to care and express human sympathy, support, and compassion. And it is quite right and loving to do so.

But the Book of Job has something to contribute to this discussion of the sufficiency of the knowledge of God. Job suffered as few have. He lost his children, his wealth, and his health. All in a single day. His wife's helpful advice was, "Curse God and die!" (Job 2:9).

Job had three outstanding friends who sought to comfort him, investing a huge amount of time with him, grieving silently with him for seven straight days and nights. Then they sought to help him by bringing some perspective to his suffering. It is easy to blame Job's friends, but you must admit that they had earned a hearing by their obvious care for him. But their attempts at comfort fell short. They blamed Job for sin he had not committed, and Job retreated into self-righteousness, ultimately intimating that God was unfair.

But it was God who brought resolution and comfort to the situation. God sent a young man by the name of Elihu to set the stage by defending God's sovereign righteousness. God Himself then finally appeared and spoke to Job. What God said to Job is jarring to our perception of how a suffering person should be comforted. God essentially said, "Job! Look at me! Are you as great as I am? Can you do what I can do?"
When God was finished, Job repented of his self-righteousness and became satisfied in his God. Did you get that? Job was comforted when he gazed on the greatness of his God!

Think of the Letters to the Seven Churches in Revelation chapters two and three. Each of the churches was suffering some form of persecution. They each were facing certain dangers. But God opens each letter by describing Himself, and closes each by giving them a promise. 

What I am saying is this: we are so designed, so created, so wrought that we find our greatest comfort, satisfaction and delight in knowing truly our God. At the end of the day, your proper knowledge of theology is comforting and sustaining. The Catholic Church has a name for this: they call it the Beatific Vision. The Beatific Vision is said to be the eternal and direct perception of God enjoyed by those who are in Heaven, imparting supreme happiness or blessedness [wikipedia]. But we have the beatific vision now, in a sense, as we see our God through His Son and His Word. And it does indeed impart supreme happiness and blessedness--and comfort in the midst of suffering.

Is there a better reason to study theology?