Thursday, July 22, 2010

not worrying, when we are being killed all day long

What can separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or peril, or nakedness, or sword? As it is written, for your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered. Yet, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.

and Jesus says to His disciples

Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven

and later, still in the sermon on the mount, he says,

“Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."

I want to understand the way Jesus wants me to trust Him. I listen to the last passage a lot, and quote it myself, in times of uncertainty. And I usually interpret it to mean: stop worrying about whether to give that money or not; the cattle on a thousand hills belong to the God who loves you and he will take care of your needs. But Romans 8 specifically mentions famine and nakedness, as things which will not be able to separate us from the love of Christ (and therefore that love does not always protect them from). My sense (from having prayed with, say, chronically unemployed people) is that a lot of us feel obliged to make excuses for Jesus when we pray and our (perceived) needs aren't really being met. Ie, he CAN, of course, but he just chooses not to right now, probably to make me stronger or trust Him more.

One thing that stands out in the first two passages is that the unpleasantness seems to happen for the sake of Christ. I guess this can be taken in a couple of ways. To one who lives for Christ completely, most things you do or go through can be said to be done or endured for his sake. That is, even if the famine comes to everybody in the area, the one whose life is Christ's may have the attitude that he must live cheerfully and generously even in his hunger, and will thank God for building his strength and faith. Maybe. His next door neighbor might have the same famine, but not for Christ's sake. In this way, all the Christian's suffering is redemptive inasmuch as it is regarded by him as being undergone for the sake of Christ. Another way one could take it is that when suffering comes as the result of our own stupidity or carelessness and not for Jesus' sake, no particular good will come out of it. This last sounds silly, and not really like grace.

So, does the first case make sense with the passage about not worrying? I think so; my new motto of "When you become a person to whom becoming like Jesus is the greatest good, all things work together for that good" seems to apply... that is, if you are seeking first God's kingdom and righteousness, everything you need to do that (and since you are seeking it first, that's enough) will be given to you. Therefore, you don't need to worry, because even famine or persecution or nakedness won't be able to separate you from the love of God.

Again, this feels a little bit glib... I wonder if I would say the same thing if I knew chronic hunger. I'm sure Christians have died of starvation before. And, all the disciples, for that matter, ended up dying of persecution. But they probably all died praising God, because He had given them all they needed up to the end, and even at their deaths was using them to glorify himself and build his kingdom. So, it would have been silly of them to worry.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Why are Christ's loved ones killed all day long?

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or peril, or nakedness, or sword? As it is written, for your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered. Yet, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor powers, nor principalities, not things present nor things to come, nor heighth nor depth nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So much is here. Two things stick out to me; first that nothing will be able to separate us from Christ's love, and second that that love won't necessarily keep us from .. pretty much any worldly problem. I guess I want to figure out what it means to know oneself loved even in the middle of famine and nakedness and distress, and to count oneself more than a conqueror because of that love.

So, when you depend so much on Jesus that anything else is only secondary, I suppose that those other things take their value not from themselves but from how they affect your relationship to Jesus. And if things that were meant to hurt you, by God's grace and love, only end up being part of the "all things" that work together to bring you closer to Jesus, then you win entirely. Everything meant for your harm ends up for your good, because when you are Jesus' your good consists of being loved by him, and nothing can take that away.

There's a part of me that rebels at this a bit as being a little glib, the part that reads Russian novels. Is all suffering really redemptive? Does, to steal Dostoyevsky's image, the unheard suffering of a child chronically abused by her parents really work to that child's good and bring her closer to Jesus? And if it is redeemed, Ivan would say, if God builds the agony of brutally tortured toddlers into the structure of his redemptive plan, is that a God we want to be following and is that a price we can accept?

Where that view is wrong, I think, is the implicit assumption that God needs us to suffer in order to redeem us. I think I mostly think this myself. The reality is probably more like, because we live in the devil's kingdom we are going to probably suffer, but if our eyes are fixed on Jesus there isn't any suffering that isn't small beside the enormous fact of his love for us, and suffering can even help us to know that love more fully.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

what shall we say to these things?

What shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but delivered him up for us all,how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or peril, or nakedness, or sword? As it is written: “ For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”

Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I love this passage... it reminds me of that part of Psalm 139 which the Jerusalem translation has as "close behind and close in front you fence me around, shielding me with your hand." I think this, and the rest of the chapter, is sort of a summary of all that has gone before, nailing down again the point that as long as we put our trust in God nothing can take us away from him and we will be changed to become like Jesus.

Here is the fence Paul describes, which keeps us safe.

Our all-powerful God is on our side. No-one can beat him.

So, say we sin. Who is going to charge us with it and say we deserve death?

God is the judge, and he already not only pardoned but adopted us.

That sounds like favoritism, not justice. A sin not punished is unjust, and God by definition is just.

But wait! How could someone condemn--that is, say that this sin is deserving of death? Someone already died for it!

Well, he probably died for his own sin, and deserved it. you should still get yours.

no! it was Jesus himself, who had no sin!

Yeah, but he was innocent, and is probably mad about it.

No! in fact, he is the one who is asking God to forgive us. So, justice is satisfied and mercy given, through Christ's love.

Ha! But you are a hopeless case, and besides look at all the bad stuff happening to you. Doesn't that mean that Christ doesn't love you any more?

Well in fact, no.

What does this mean and what does it not mean? It means that when we are on God's side we don't need to be at all afraid of the flesh or the devil... that is, there isn't any sin that we can't bring to God and be delivered from and forgiven for. It also means that even when horrible things happen to us, we don't need to be afraid that it's a sign that God is really mad at us and decided to throw us away.

I think it doesn't mean that:

1. Nothing we can do can lose us our salvation. It seems like all the things mentioned that can't separate us from the love of Christ are external things. Can our own heart inclination separate us from the love of Christ? We are in the category of "any other created thing", so I guess not even that will separate us from his love. But I think we can put ourselves outside the protective fence, if we choose to reject Christ's sacrifice. The fence won't break, but we're free to jump it if we really want to.

2. Because of God's love, nothing really bad will happen to us. It's easy to know this isn't true until something bad happens and then you just think, why did God do this to me? But the passage clearly suggests that famine and nakedness and the sword might very well come to people that Christ loves. They can't separate you from his love, but his love doesn't stop them coming.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Another metaphor

For those whom God foreknew, these he also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. Moreover, whom he predestined, these He also called, whom He called, these he also justified, and whom He justified, these He also glorified.

Still trying to come with a way where this doesn't mean that God chooses some of his creation to be saved and some to be damned and there's nothing either can do about it.

Here's another metaphor for the will of God that I would like to see if it works. I think I read something similar somewhere a long time ago.

So, a tiny country has been ruled by a very evil dictator of the Hitler-Stalin-Pol Pot mode for a very long time, so long and oppressively that all his ways of thinking of acting which make him murder and enslave his people have entered into the fabric of the culture and society and become part of it. The neighboring king, who is much more powerful than he is and is also a good, just and compassionate person, decides that he can't in conscience allow this to go on. But there's a conundrum. He wishes to free, not kill, the people enslaved in this horrible country, but he also wishes that the the evil culture be entirely destroyed so as not to perpetuate itself in any future society that they might form.

What is his will?

1. He wants everyone who wants to to be able to live a just, free and happy life
2. He wants to destroy entirely everyone who is allied with or agreed with the murderer.

In order to accomplish both of those goals, he forms a plan to, instead of sweeping in with his army and killing the dictator and his servants (which would be everyone), secretly contact and subvert everyone in the tiny country. They will be told that a much more powerful king is going to come in and kill everyone with allegiance to the dictatorship, and that they have a choice to defect to his side right now and start training to be in his army. They will be told (which is true) that he is a master strategist, and if they trust him and follow his orders exactly, no harm will come to them.

This strategy allows him to achieve both goals, because of course their response and willingness to obey his orders shows exactly the extent to which they are on his side, and also if they do obey his orders it starts to train their evil culture out of them. So when he invades, he can be sure that 1. none of his army will die (because if they follow his orders they won't, and if they don't follow his orders, they're not part of his army) and 2. all the enemy will be entirely destroyed.

How does this help me with my Romans 8 problem? I was thinking it sounds like Paul assures God’s people that they were chosen, and, having been chosen, will be saved no matter what. Thus, everyone who isn’t saved wasn’t chosen, and was created to be sent to hell, essentially.

I think the metaphor can help me understand it differently. What Paul is doing is assuring people that if they decide to be on the invading general’s side and obey his orders, they will be free and safe. God’s plan is very good and if they stick to him, they don’t need to worry. (“Who he foreknew, he predestined, who he predestined, he called,” etc). But it is their choice to obey the orders or not. So God’s will can still be that everyone is saved (all are given a choice, and He wants them all to say yes), God can still completely protect His people (if they do what He says, they will be saved), and yet some can still be lost (not everyone will do what He says, if they still have allegiance to the evil dictator).

As a picture of the gospel, this is pretty legalistic and leaves out a lot. Also, I'm not sure how it addresses the "foreknew" and "predestined" parts of the verse... as if the wise general knows beforehand which citizens he can and can't subvert and doesn't even try to contact the other ones.

So I guess I am back where I started again; does God give everyone the choice to follow Him?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Is there anything you can do to lose your salvation?

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he foreknew, these he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. Moreover, whom he predestined, these he also called, whom he called, these he also justified, and whom he justified, these he also glorified.

The way that I have been reading this, it seems like there is no human choice involved. God chose and called some people, and all things work together to make them more like Christ. I suppose the words justified and glorified could mean, "made every effort to justify and glorify" but that seems like a stretch, given the grammar and also the character of God.

I guess this is what Calvinists say, and I don't know how to deal with it. It seems like if you are called, no matter what you do you will be conformed to the image of Christ. And if you're not, no choice of yours will do any good in bringing you closer to God. Therefor, I don't quite see how the idea that "all are chosen, but not everyone responds" could be accurate. But if God is not willing that anyone should die, and has compassion on all he has made, why would he not call everyone?

I came up with a metaphor, about a stupid person who walks into a street and almost gets hit by a car, and gets really angry that there are places, public places where anyone can go, where these large machines that can kill you in a second are also allowed to go around. He finds it intolerable that he can't get straight from point A to point B without being in danger of his life, and questions either the wisdom or the good intentions of the city founders and administrators. Of course, he is motivated by selfishness and a complete lack of understanding of how the city works. That's the only answer I've been able to come up with... I don't understand yet why God doesn't call everyone he has made, or if he does why he doesn't take care to justify and glorify them all, but to get mad at God about it is to show myself a fool (I think this is actually how "fool" is defined in the Bible, as someone who doubts God) and my ignorance of how the City works. So the appropriate thing to do is not to be angry, but to use this fact to try and figure out something about the City and about God. Of course, I think it's important for any attempts to be informed first by love and trust of God rather than love of the world or myself. Otherwise I'd be like the guy who doesn't like streets, trying to figure out their purpose and thinking, maybe it's good for me somehow to almost get hit, and that's why they're there? Maybe they make it so I have to walk the long way around so I can get more exercise?

So, in interpreting the text taking the love and wisdom of God as the only givens... interestingly, I'm helped a bit by Calvin's commentary. He argues that the phrase "the called according to his purpose" doesn't refer to election, but just serves to clarify that people don't earn all things working together for their good by loving God, but rather God does the initiating. So this could support the "all are called, some respond" view... ie, all are "the called according to God's purpose", which is to love and redeem and restore people to relationship with Himself I think, but not all respond by loving God. If I understand Calvin's commentary, he thinks that this passage is not really talking about election at all, but is only directed at those who right now are loving and following God, explaining how their suffering and sin are not going to condemn them and don't mean that God is not in control. That is, the focus is, "God's people suffer, but he is still taking care of them and won't let them go" rather than "some are chosen and taken care of, but others aren't and have no hope at all."

I'm not making much progress. More next time.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

All things work together for good

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, who are the called according to His purpose. For whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. Moreover, whom he predestined, these he also called, whom he called, these he also justified, and whom he justified, these he also glorified.

I like very much how the New King James Version includes this without a break right after the last part, where it is talking about how the Spirit helps us in our weakness. So the line of thought, to me, seems to be... In Christ, the body is dead because of sin, and our new life is him, since we are now God's children. This being so, we start to really hate our sin and groan against it. We do this because the Spirit is working in us, and we're only helping in the birth effort that all creation is going through. And even when we don't know what to pray for cause we don't know what's wrong or what's going on, the Spirit knows and so God knows. So even when we feel we are failing and falling, we know that all things are actually working together for our good. God is responsible for our salvation..if he decides to call us he does so, and if he calls us he justifies us, and if he justifies us he glorifies us. There's not one part where he says, ok, now it's up to you and I'm going to stand back and watch and see how you do.

I think that the verse about all things working together for good to those who love God is misquoted a lot, because I think "good" is defined as "becoming like Christ" and not, "circumstances working out in the way I want them to". And I guess that's a good indication of where you are, if becoming like Christ is really more appealing to you than circumstances working out. I want to tell this to people all the time, so I hope it's true...even your struggles with your sin that are making you so miserable and hate yourself are working to make you more like Christ, even if it feels like the opposite.

One thing I don't really understand and need to think about more in this passage, is the whole Calvinist thing... the way I am interpreting this, it sounds like pretty clear proof that God chooses some people, and there's nothing they can do to make themselves unsaved. Does this mean some people aren't chosen? How does a loving God create something beautiful and destine it for unending pain and torture? I was talking with a friend about this the other day, and she said something on the order of, "Everyone is chosen but not everyone responds," and I think that my church says something of the same sort. Does Romans 8 agree with that?

I'll think about this more next time.