Saturday, March 01, 2008

Theological Conundrums

One of the oldest and most divisive debates in the history of Christian theology (and probably of others) is that over the free will of man and the sovereignty of God. Greater minds than mine have tussled with the tension between these two clearly Biblical teachings, trying to reconcile them or at least keep them in balance. And usually we fail. I know I have. In 1976 I was introduced to reformation theology and it made sense to me, has made sense, for 32 years. To talk about the sovereignty of God is a redundancy. To be God He must be sovereignty. But in practical terms, I think we can take it too far.

This post comes out of studying Jacob. This cheater figured, I suppose (it’s really foolish to project our motivations on these Old Testament characters) that if his mother had been given a prophecy that the younger son would rule the older, then, shoot, why not make sure it happen? Why not hasten it? Does it matter if I am a cheater and a louse if ultimately God’s will happens anyway? Jacob had no trouble justifying his means by God’s ends. God therefore used Jacob’s sin to advance his kingdom, in such thinking. I have actually heard people who should know better say, “God used the Holocaust to bring Jews back to the Holy Land and make Israel a nation, etc. etc.” Outside of the historical inaccuracy of that (there were already Jews there, and more Jews live in the U.S. than in Israel), the theological significance is heresy.

God does not use our sin to accomplish a purpose. He is not Machiavellian. He redeems us. He cleans up our mess, so to speak, but not in such a way that we are free of consequences. A lot of us would like to be free of consequences, but it doesn’t work that way. The mystery and miracle of the sovereignty of God is that His grace does bring good out of our sin, but not as an instrument. Otherwise, we might as well conclude that God made us sin.

God’s goodness is part of His sovereignty, just as his holiness is part of His love. Our words and finite minds can only go so far in describing God, but I know this: that we sometimes must walk a fine line with how we talk about His working in the Bible and our lives. We are far too glib, assigning God motives and methods that dishonor Him and frankly should embarrass ourselves. We speak like children, not adults, in our understanding of God.

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