Saturday, May 23, 2009

Your days are numbered

“Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Ps 139:16).

“What is meant, we may well ask, when the Psalmist asserts that all the days are written upon God’s book?…The thought here is that the entirety of the Psalmist’s being, even including the days of his life, are inscribed in a book that belongs to God. By the days of his life the Psalmist has in mind all the vicissitudes that he must experience. All of his life, each individual day with all that that day will bring, is written down by God in His own book,” E. J. Young, The Way Everlasting (Banner of Truth 1997), 80-81.

“Furthermore, it is stated that these days of the Psalmist’s life have been formed before there were any of them…If we understand his language aright, he is saying that the days of his life were actually formed before even one of them had come into existence. All his life, the details of each day, had been written down in the book of God, before any of these days had actually occurred,” ibid. 81.

“The Psalmist has here reached a peak in his exaltation of the all-knowing and all-powerful God. Not only does God know all things, but God has also foreordained all things. In other words, the Psalmist has brought us head on with the doctrine of predestination. His life he regards not as a chance happening, but as a life already planned by God even before he himself was born. All the days that David would live and all the events of each day had been written down in God’s book before David himself had come into existence,” ibid. 81.

“David’s life is not determined by David; he is not the master of his fate nor the captain of his soul, nor, for that matter, is any man. Before David appeared upon the earth, the days of his life had been determined by God Himself. Indeed, all that occurs had been foreordained of God. God has a plan and hence there are no surprises for Him. He knows what the future will bring forth, for He Himself has determined the future. David was to live a life that had been predetermined for him,” ibid. 82.

“David does not rebel at this thought and neither should we. The contemplation of this profound doctrine leads him to an utterance of the preciousness of God’s thoughts. He is willing that it should be as set forth here. He is content that God has determined in advance his life, predestined the course of events for him. As a devout believer in the Lord he knows that whatever God does is right," ibid. 82.

I’d add that David was a believer in the afterlife (cf. Ps 16). So, when David says that God wrote out in full every day of his life before he even existed, not only does this extend from conception to the grave, but beyond the grave. From eternity past to eternity future.

And yet, for some odd reason, many professing believers resist, resent, and outright deny that God has mapped out our entire life before we even existed.

Now, I understand why some folks would resent that idea. Suppose you’re a pagan. Given the character of the pagan deities, its quite understandable that you’d take refuge in the notion of human autonomy. If Baal or Dagon or Molech were the true God, then you’d want to put as much distance between yourself and a god like that as at all possible. That’s not the sort of “God” you’d ever want to bump into in a dark alley.

Likewise, I understand why an atheist resents that idea. After all, an atheist hates the idea of God. So he hates the idea that God controls his life. It’s an irrational fear and loathing, but given his attitude, it's only logical that he bitterly resents the idea.

There are other spheres of life in which it’s natural for men and women to value their independence. If you’re a citizen of a totalitarian or tyrannical regime. If you’re a serf or a slave or prisoner.

Likewise, it’s natural for teenagers to chafe under parental control. A teenager is becoming an adult in his own right. Pretty soon he has to make a life for himself. So he wants to shake off parental authority. Up to a point that’s a natural, normal, and healthy stage in his development–although some adolescents get carried away with teenage rebellion. And they simply enslave themselves to peer pressure.

And, of course, some kids have abusive or overbearing parents. It’s understandable that they can hardly wait to strike out on their own.

But why would any professing believer rankle under divine control? Why would he resent the idea that God has a blueprint for his life?

More than resent. Many professing believers positively despise the idea. They unleash every pejorative epithet and adjective in the thesaurus to revile the very idea. Such a God is a puppeteer or puppet-master. It reduces us to robots.

(Mind you, when libertarians tell me that I worship a puppeteer, I’m temped to reply: “We're all puppets, Laurie. I'm just a puppet who can see the strings.”)

And they’re not alone in this. Lucifer was the first Arminian. The first libertarian. The very first creature to crave his emancipation from God’s dominion.

The only logical explanation for this reaction is if you don’t trust God with your life. God can’t be trusted to author your existence.

Why is that? Do you think you can do a better job of planning your life than he can?

If you can’t trust God with your life, then what can you trust him with? If God is too untrustworthy to compose the days of your life, then why worship and obey him? Why go through the motions? If you can’t trust God with your life, then he’s hardly worthy of your worship or obedience.

If that’s what you think of God, why not become an atheist? How can you have faith in a God you cannot trust with your life? Mistrust is the antonym of faith. Would you put your faith in someone you distrust? Of course not! Not if you could avoid it. Would you depend on such a person? Of course not! Not if you could help it.

Many professing believers act as though God is the domineering mother-in-law whom they must visit once a year. After completing their onerous annual duty, they breathe a sigh of relief to once again be free of her clutches.

Honestly, I don’t see any middle ground here. I can’t imagine praying to a God I wouldn’t trust with my life. I can’t imagine submitting to a God I wouldn’t trust with my life.

Do you really revere such a Being? Deep down, do you really think he’s wiser than you are? How can you regard predestination as evil and oppressive and still look up to God?

Many professing believers can’t stand the idea that God has a blueprint for your life and mine. And they don’t understand how believers like me could abide such a God.

Well, my attitude is just the opposite: I don’t understand how they can sing and pray to a God whom they would never trust with their own lives, or the lives of their loved ones. They have less faith in God than they abode in their doctor or babysitter.

A God you can’t bring yourself to trust with your life is not a God you should bring into your life. What kind of God do you really believe in?

Speaking for myself, I’m incredibly honored by the idea that God wrote the story of my life. I’m a chapter in his book. My name is in the index. Imagine that!

That’s a real page-turner. I can’t wait to get up every morning and see what God has written for my life that day.

This doesn’t mean that every day is like a Hallmark card. Life in fallen world can be a hair-raising experience. Full of hardship and heartache.

But we know, if God has written the script, that it’s all worthwhile in the long run. Better by far than anything you and I could write by ourselves or for ourselves.

This is a book we read by living. We find out what God has written for us and about us by living each day at a time.

When historians write books, they write about famous or infamous men and women. Big names. Movers and shakers.

They rarely write about ordinary folks. You and I are not important enough to even merit a footnote.

But God devotes a chapter to each and every one of us. A chapter especially written with you and me in mind. That both humbles and exalts us. This is something we should celebrate, not denigrate. Cherish and relish rather than revile.

32 comments:

  1. If someone thought God predetermined all things and still was horrified by the notion, it would be a trust issue. But Arminians don't believe in exhaustive predeterminism, so the 'trust issues' don't follow. Even if they are wrong about predeterminism, that just makes them incorrect and inconsistent, not untrusting. In other words, inserting exhaustive predeterminism into Arminianism is a strawman leading to odd and horrific sounding results.

    God be with you,
    Dan

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  2. Of course it makes them distrustful of God. They dislike the idea that God has planned every day of their life. That betrays a fundamental distrust in divine planning.

    You have things backwards. You say "But Arminians don't believe in exhaustive predeterminism, so the 'trust issues' don't follow."

    That sidesteps the question of why they disbelieve it. And it cuts much deeper than mere disbelief. Many of them are horrified at the idea.

    And that's why they reject it. It's the "trust issues" that motivate their disbelief.

    They're not merely horrified by the fact of predestination. They're horrified by the idea of predestination.

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  3. I didn't know you were a Watchmen fan!

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  4. Hi Steve,

    You have things backwards. You say "But Arminians don't believe in exhaustive predeterminism, so the 'trust issues' don't follow."

    That sidesteps the question of why they disbelieve it. And it cuts much deeper than mere disbelief. Many of them are horrified at the idea.
    I don't think I have it backwards, I am one step deeper into the thought process. Why are they horrified of the idea? Not due to mistrusting God, but rather by mixing determinism with Arminian notions, you get horrifying results.

    P1: Determinism is incompatible with responsibility
    P2: God predetermines all things and still sends people to hell
    C1: whoa mama, that's scary.

    P2 just doesn't fit in an Arminian system. Of course P2 could be modified to evaluate an outside system like, Calvinism.

    P1: Determinism is incompatible with responsibility
    ~P2: Calvinism says God predetermines all things and still sends people to hell
    C1: whoa mama, that would be scary, so Calvinism must be false.

    To get to mistrusting God, you need to either insert P2 or get rid of P1 (either way you no longer have an Arminian).

    God be with you,
    Dan

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  5. Arminians don't reject predestination simply because it doesn't "fit in their system"–as if it's just a question of logical consistency. Their objections are far more emotional than that. They find the idea of God predestining their actions emotionally repellent. I've read plenty of examples.

    "God predetermines all things and still sends people to hell...whoa mama, that's scary."

    That wouldn't be scary for a Christian–since a Christian is heavenbound. There's nothing scary about being predestined to heaven.

    At most, it would only be scary if you're reprobate, but reprobates don't believe that God predestined them to hell. Reprobates don't believe in God, predestination, or hell.

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  6. LUCAS SAID:

    "I didn't know you were a Watchmen fan!"

    I ran across the quote somewhere, which was too good to pass up!

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  7. To take an example, one only has to read Clark Pinnock's emotive rhetoric about the prospect of having all his actions "frozen" in place by a divine "blueprint" to see that he doesn't trust God with his own life and well-being. Just the very idea of having his actions "frozen in place" before he ever made them is unbearable to Pinnock. And that's quite representative of how many Arminians and other libertarians react to predestination.

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  8. You seem to be critical of people, like atheists and pagans, who reject the totalitarian control of God; but isn't it God that is puppeting those rejections? It's like in Lamb Chops, when Shari Lewis had one of her puppets complain at her. It was just an act. She was complaining at herself.

    So it doesn't matter that the pagan "take[s] refute in the notion of human autonomy" or that the atheist "hates the idea that God controls his life" because it's just God doing it anyway. That is, if you're correct.

    God bless

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  9. Steve said, "You and I are not important enough to even merit a footnote."

    You are being too shy here. Actually, Steve Hays is mentioned in four separate footnotes in John Frame's "The Doctrine of God," (c) 2002 P&R Publishing.

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  10. Brennon,

    You seem to think that's a clever objection which would leave a Calvinist speechless.

    1. First of all, the puppet/puppeteer metaphor is an Arminian caricature of Calvinism. You're projecting an Arminian caricature onto my position, then attempting to generate a dilemma for my position. But, of course, that begs the question of whether your caricature is accurate.

    2. Predestination doesn't mean that God is the only agent. That's philosophically naive. I've been over that ground many times before. Try raising an objection that hasn't already been dealt with.

    3. If you think foreordination is a problem, then foreknowledge and conditional election generate parallel problems. Classic Arminianism is in the same boat.

    4. God decrees human folly, including atheism, Arminianism, Molinism, open theism, &c., to tutor us in his greatness and our dependence.

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  11. Hmmmmmmm, this post makes me think.

    I don't think many Arminians would say that they don't trust in God. They do trust in God, but it's the God of Arminian theology.

    But you're right, utterly right, about the overly emotional reactions that many Arminians have when facing substantive evidence that libertarian free will is incorrect.

    So maybe it's more precise to say that they trust the LFW God, but not the Monergistic God?

    P.S. Thanks for including that last line about God using error to tutor us in His Greatness. It's consistent in cohering with your earlier post about the value of error. You even see the value of Arminian error!!

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  12. TRUTH UNITES... AND DIVIDES SAID:

    "I don't think many Arminians would say that they don't trust in God."

    Of course they wouldn't admit that to themselves or others. I don't expect that level of candor of self-awareness. I'm discussing the implications of their position. If they were clear and consistent, they'd either be atheists or Calvinists.

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  13. Dear Steve,

    Do you consider Arminians brothers in the Lord?

    God be with you,
    Dan

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  14. Some Arminians are genuine Christians while other Arminians are nominal Christians. (Ditto: Calvinists.)

    Was I discussing what constitutes a credible profession of faith? No.

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  15. BTW, Dan, when John and Charles Wesley implicitly classify Calvinists as blasphemers and devil-worshipers, do they still regard Calvinists as brothers in the Lord? Is the Reformed "Satanist" their brother?

    My post was exceedingly mild compared to their implicit characterization of Reformed believers.

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  16. Hi Steve,

    Very glad to hear that. Some of your recent coments led me to ask the question. I do consider Calvinists brothers.

    The implication to Wesley's comments may simply be Calvinists are inconsistent rather then Satanists. I suspect his concern was Calvinism, not Calvinists. Consider what he had to say:

    "John Calvin was a pious, learned, sensible man; and so was James Harmens. Many Calvinists are pious, learned, sensible men; and so are many Arminians. Only the former hold absolute predestination; the latter, conditional.

    12. One word more: Is it not the duty of every Arminian Preacher, First, never, in public or in private, to use the word Calvinist as a term of reproach; seeing it is neither better nor worse than calling names? -- a practice no more consistent with good sense or good manners, than it is with Christianity. Secondly. To do all that in him lies to prevent his hearers from doing it, by showing them the sin and folly of it?"

    http://evangelicalarminians.org/node/150

    God be with you,
    Dan

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  17. back to the subject...

    I say the reason for the 'fear' is a mixing of premises that produces a truly fearful result. You say it's lack of trust. OK, let me reverse things. How would you respond to the following:

    Calvinists don't trust God to effectively govern the world while giving man LFW, so they refuse to admit God gave man LFW.

    Thus they find in Arminianism a 'scary possibility'

    http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/foreknow_frame.html

    Some even go as far as to say The “god” of Arminianism is Not Worshippable


    http://www.apuritansmind.com/Arminianism/McMahonArminianGodNotWorshippable.htm

    How would you respond without rejecting an premise alien to the Calvinist system?

    God be with you,
    Dan

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  18. to be clear, I don't like the argument, I just want to see how Steve responds.

    God be with you,
    Dan

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  19. GODISMYJUDGE SAID:

    “I say the reason for the 'fear' is a mixing of premises that produces a truly fearful result.”

    It wouldn’t produce a fearful result for the elect.

    At most it would produce a fearful result for the reprobate–except for the fact that the reprobate don’t believe in reprobation. So it doesn’t produce a fearful result for any of the interested parties.

    “You say it's lack of trust. OK, let me reverse things. How would you respond to the following: Calvinists don't trust God to effectively govern the world while giving man LFW, so they refuse to admit God gave man LFW.”

    That’s just a sophistical circumlocution. If you also want to cast the converse position in terms of “trust” (or the lack thereof), then what the libertarian position actually amounts to is not whether we (human agents) trust God, but rather, does God trust us to make our own decisions–without God skewing the outcome.

    So your comparison is fundamentally disanalogous.

    “Thus they find in Arminianism a 'scary possibility'.”

    As well they might. On the one hand, the stakes could not be higher: make the right decision and you go to heaven; make the wrong decision and you go to hell.

    If you leave the outcome to sinners, what are the odds that sinners, in a fallen world, will make the right decision?

    Once again, that’s hardly analogous. The Calvinist has a deep distrust in fallen human nature. That’s scarcely equivalent to a deep distrust in God. Just the opposite.

    “Some even go as far as to say The ‘god’ of Arminianism is Not Worshippable”

    I haven’t read the article, but I don’t disagree with the sentiments.

    “How would you respond without rejecting an premise alien to the Calvinist system?”

    By definition, a Calvinist will reject a premise alien to Calvinism, just as a Thomist will reject a premise alien to Thomism, a Lutheran will reject a premise alien to Lutheranism, an atheist will reject a premise alien to atheism, a Darwinian will reject a premise alien to Darwinism, a Wesleyan will reject a premise alien to Wesleyanism, &c.

    That’s not the point at issue. The point at issue is why said individual rejects a premise alien to his belief-system. That can be done for either good reasons or bad.

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  20. Steve,

    No, I really didn't think it was clever or anything, just obvious.

    "If you think foreordination is a problem, then foreknowledge and conditional election generate parallel problems. Classic Arminianism is in the same boat."
    -Not really, as God is never suspect as the cause of sin.

    God bless

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  21. “Some even go as far as to say The ‘god’ of Arminianism is Not Worshippable”

    I haven’t read the article, but I don’t disagree with the sentiments.


    How do you figure that?

    God be with you,
    Dan

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  22. BOSSMANHAM SAID:

    “Steve,__No, I really didn't think it was clever or anything, just obvious.”

    Obviousness is a relative concept. It’s obvious to Christopher Hitchens that religion poisons everything. It’s obvious to Richard Dawkins that faith in God is delusory. It’s obvious to a mouse that a chunk of cheese in the mousetrap would make a swell meal. And by the time the spring-loaded bar snaps it’s little neck, it’s too late for the mouse to learn that appearances can be deceiving.

    “Obvious” is what people use when they can’t give a good reason for their position.

    Thus far you’re doing a fine job of playing the mouse to my mousetrap.

    “Not really, as God is never suspect as the cause of sin.”

    You’ve given us a denial in lieu of a demonstration. What a surprise.

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  23. Godismyjudge said...

    "How do you figure that?"

    Short answer: the buck stops with God. This is his world. As the Creator of the world, God is ultimately responsible for whatever happens.

    Arminianism tries to relieve God of responsibility, like a commanding officer who relieves a subordinate of his duties.

    God cannot be God and evade responsibility. Although God is never blameworthy, God is always responsible. Job 1-2, and 38-41 is a good example.

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  24. I say the reason for the 'fear' is a mixing of premises that produces a truly fearful result. You say it's lack of trust. OK, let me reverse things. How would you respond to the following:

    Calvinists don't trust God to effectively govern the world while giving man LFW, so they refuse to admit God gave man LFW...

    ---

    Actually, they refuse to admit God gave man LFW, because Scripture on not a single page teaches LFW. Indeed, it explicitly rules out LFW by making our motives and very natures sufficient causes to our actions. Ergo, no LFW.

    And it's not as if Arminians actually believe God gave man LFW. You say on paper at least that you believe in total depravity. That's why you require Universal Prevenient Grace. It's UPG that takes care of TD and liberates the will into a libertarian state. So, no God didn't give man LFW, if he did, there would be no such thing as TD and no need for UPG.

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  25. GODISMYJUDGE SAID:

    “You say it's lack of trust. OK, let me reverse things. How would you respond to the following: Calvinists don't trust God to effectively govern the world while giving man LFW, so they refuse to admit God gave man LFW.”

    Of course, that's a trick question–like asking if we'd trust a man who hired a dyslexic to be a mailman, or hired a junkie to be a pharmacist,

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  26. Actually, they refuse to admit God gave man LFW, because Scripture on not a single page teaches LFW. Indeed, it explicitly rules out LFW by making our motives and very natures sufficient causes to our actions.

    I suggest that this concept is not Arminian. No Arminians would agree with this, nor will you be able to quote Arminian theologians to back this up. I suspect it’s Calvinist thought.
    And that illustrates the problem with Steve’s post above. If you insert a Calvinist thought into the Arminian system, it doesn’t fit, leads to scary results and get’s ejected from the system. Same with an Arminian thought in a Calvinist system – as Gene show. Steve’s post didn’t react to an Arminian interpretation of Ps 139, he just cited a Calvinist one and inserted it into an Arminian system. Similarly, his reason why the Arminian ‘god’ is not worshipable has nothing to do with Arminianism – unless he is suggesting his blameworthy/accountability distinction is something Arminianism should account for and does not.

    Mixing Calvinist and Arminian tenets is the source of almost all strawmen. It’s far better to look for an inconsistency, falsehood or unaccounted for truth within an opposing system.

    God be with you,
    Dan

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  27. Dear Steve,

    You responsible/blameworthy distinction is facinating. Before I respond, I would like to understand it a bit more. What do you mean by 'responsible'? Here are dictionary.com's definitions:

    1. answerable or accountable, as for something within one's power, control, or management (often fol. by to or for): He is responsible to the president for his decisions.
    2. involving accountability or responsibility: a responsible position.
    3. chargeable with being the author, cause, or occasion of something (usually fol. by for): Termites were responsible for the damage.
    4. having a capacity for moral decisions and therefore accountable; capable of rational thought or action: The defendant is not responsible for his actions.
    5. able to discharge obligations or pay debts.
    6. reliable or dependable, as in meeting debts, conducting business dealings, etc.
    7. (of a government, member of a government, government agency, or the like) answerable to or serving at the discretion of an elected legislature or the electorate.

    1, 2 & 7 have the concept of "accountability" which don't seem quite right. I doubt you mean God reports into someone.

    3 would seem to make God the author of sin.

    4 seems like blameworthy.

    5 & 6 are irrelivant.

    In short, I am not quite sure what you mean.

    God be with you,
    Dan

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  28. To be blameworthy entails responsibility, but responsibility does not entail blame. A responsible agent may be blameless in his conduct. Culpability is a subdivision of responsibility, but not a synonym. Responsibility is a necessary, but insufficient, condition of culpability.

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  29. Since God both knows and controls the outcome (controls it because it lies within his power to prevent a foreseeable outcome), then God is ultimately responsible for whatever happens in his world. That doesn't make him solely responsible, but it makes him ultimately responsible.

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  30. OK, but how do you avoid the implication that either God reports to someone or is the author of sin?

    God be with you,
    Dan

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  31. As usual, you're confusing words with concepts. There's nothing in the concept of responsibility which entails that someone reports to someone else. I've defined what I mean by the concept of responsibility in this context.

    Even at the semantic level, words have varied meanings.

    The "authorship" of sin is an opaque, tendentious metaphor. And I've dealt with that objection on multiple occasions.

    Moreover, you're own position is vulnerable to the same charge.

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