Monthly Archives: April 2010

A New Deliverer and a Fail-proof Deliverance

I have just started reading the book of Judges, and already God has raised up Othniel, Ehud, and Shamgar to save Israel from oppressors. These deliverers bring peace to Israel for a time, but they’re only a quick fix. They’re like bandages—they stop the bleeding, but don’t heal the underlying problem.

Not long after the death of each judge, the Israelite people begin doing evil again. God must turn them around by using foreign armies as means of punishment, throwing Israel back into servitude, until they see the error of their ways and call upon God to rescue them once again.  All of this leaves us begging to know, Is there a judge to come who will give God’s people peace forever?  We know the good news: Jesus is that once-for-all deliverer, that perfect Savior, who never dies, who never has to be succeeded, and who has conquered, not political enemies, but enemies of a far worse nature.  Jesus has conquered death, and has healed our deepest malady, sin.

But Jesus has done something else that was also most necessary. What is to prevent us from falling away from faith in our Deliverer, like the Israelites did, rendering our salvation ineffective? The people of God during the time of the judges fell away and needed to be saved over and over again. We’re not any better human beings than they were, and if our perseverance in faith likewise is a necessity, how will Jesus’ deliverance be different; how will it be permanent and complete?  There is more good news!  God’s people under the former covenant broke trust with God, but God has initiated a new covenant under the new Judge. This new covenant has some special built-in features.  Most importantly, though the old covenant could be broken, the new covenant grants to its members the means to persevere under its terms. In other words, the new covenant gives to its members what they need to remain faithful!  It comes free with a new heart, and a saving knowledge (relationship) with the covenant administrator (God).

The book of Hebrews speaks extensively of this, specifically in chapter eight. The author of Hebrews says:

But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. For he finds fault with them when he says:

“Behold the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with [my chosen people], not like the covenant I made with their fathers […] For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with [my chosen people] after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”

Notice that now, under this new covenant in Jesus, God not only gives us a deliverer to follow, but gives us the heart to follow him. He gives us, as part of the covenant, knowledge of him, that is, a close relationship with him, such that he does not hold our sins against us. The condition of the covenant is faith, but the faith we need is itself gifted to us by the object of our faith (Luke 17:5, Eph. 2:9, Phil. 1:29).  All is from God.

This just goes to show (indeed, the whole point of enduring through former dispensations and not just starting with this one was to show) that whenever left to our own ability, we fail. Hebrews calls the old covenant faulty, but then says he finds fault with “them.”  The fault lay with the people who could not keep the terms of the covenant. We are dependent on God for doing anything that pleases God. But now, in Christ, there won’t need to be one judge after another. Jesus is the greater judge, the final Judge, and along with his salvation is given to us a greater and final covenant relationship with God that holds us securely in obedience to its own requirement.  God’s children fail constantly, but we live by faith, not what we do. Thank God. And we persevere in faith, but only because we are preserved in faith by him who is able to keep us from stumbling and to present us blameless before the presence of his own glory (Jude 1:24).


In Defense of Baseball

Spring is upon us, and with it the start of the baseball season. I’m so ready for this, just as I am every April. It’s fun, it’s frustrating—it draws you in.  Around this time of year, though, the most frustrating thing is having to defend baseball to haters (such as my baseball-bashing roommate, Gary).  I’ve never considered writing a blog about it before, but here are the five most basic reasons I like baseball.

  1. Baseball is unique. There is no sport like it (besides baseball offshoots such as softball, kickball, over the line, and good old Wiffle ball, but you know what I mean). The other major pro team sports are generally different iterations of the same game: get the ball into the opposite goal, while the opposing teams tries to prevent you. Soccer is the most obvious, but basketball, hockey, and football use the same basic template, though football deviates the most out of those. In baseball, the ball serves a completely different purpose than the “marker” it serves in the other sports. And this is interesting, and pretty cool (at least to me): baseball is the only sport in which the defense has possession of the ball.
  2. Baseball is perfect.  This, you must be thinking, should be reason #1.  By perfect, I merely mean that the diamond’s dimensions are so finely tuned to create dynamic game play, they appear as if they were given directly to us by the finger of God from Mt. Sinai.  For those unfamiliar, the baseball diamond is a 90-foot square. Ninety feet is a magic number, and to change it, even by a foot, would result in either too many or too few base hits.  The pitcher’s mound is 60½ feet from home plate (yes, I’m getting these numbers from the top of my head; I guess I’m a geek), and the same magical properties apply.
  3. Baseball is the only sport I can think of where every playing field is different, and I love this added variety, which you find nowhere else. While the infield dimensions are exact, outfield dimensions are given quite a bit of free play.  Some ballparks have long, capacious outfields, where homeruns are harder to hit; some have shorter fields that favor hitters.  Some have more foul ball territory; some have only narrow foul ball territory. Since a ball hit foul can still be caught for an out, this changes the game! (Less foul ball territory favors the hitter).  Every ballpark, therefore, has its own flavor, and local fans and baseball fans in general, myself included, love this fun and memorable aspect of baseball.  It’s why baseball fans grow to love not only their home team, but their local ballpark as well.
  4. Baseball is dynamic.  The most frequent complaint from haters is that baseball is boring.  Not to me! But I think I know what the complaint means.  In baseball, the action is punctuated. There are times of even pace, and then, bam!, something fast or big happens. You never know when it will spring. I like this.  Football also has punctuated action, but in sports like soccer, basketball, and hockey, what you get (in my opinion) is a constant high pace, where punctuations are in low contrast to the the mean action level. It’s kind of homogeneous, if you will. In basketball, scores are high and you at least get to see baskets made every few minutes.  In soccer, nothing ever happens, and that is my biggest problem with it. Soccer is still fun, and I don’t bash any sports (except curling, of course). But rather than believing baseball is boring, I really enjoy the high contrast, up-and-down dynamism of it. I suppose it’s the very thing others find “boring” that really keeps my interest, which is why the boring accusation always baffled me.
  5. Baseball is subtle and therefore engaging.  So, what exactly goes on in those evenly paced times we just discussed? A lot more than meets the eye, but this is where you begin to have to be more of an active baseball spectator.  There is a battle being fought between the pitcher and the batter—one of the most intriguing battles in all of sports. Think about it. The pitcher has to pitch the ball over the plate, just in the area the hitter can best hit it, and try to strike him out. If he pitches out of the hitter’s reach, that doesn’t count, and goes toward the hitter. How can the pitcher do this and yet not give up a hit?  That’s the battle!  And it’s a game of strategy at least as much as skill. Since 1870 (I didn’t get that off the top of my head) pitchers have had more pitches to choose from than just the fastball. The catcher makes decisions about which pitch to throw in an attempt to catch the batter off guard. “Breaking balls” (balls that curve) do this either by making the batter think he’s getting a strike and swinging at a ball that breaks away, or by making him think he’s getting a ball and letting the ball pass as it breaks into the strike zone. Strike! The batter, in the meantime, is trying to get into the pitcher’s mind and be one step ahead.  When you realize what’s going on every at-bat, it makes the game engaging and supremely interesting, and even a little heady. There are more subtleties (think runners trying to steal, base coaches and their famous hand signals, etc), but this is enough said.

Now that you undoubtedly have a greater appreciation of baseball, enjoy the 162 games of the regular season.

God Does Not Play Dice

Two theologians just finished the final part of a webcast exchange concerning the age-old debate between Calvinism and Arminianism. It was conducted in Christian brotherly love and mutual respect, and both the participants were learned Bible scholars, James R. White taking the Calvinist position, and Michael Brown taking the other.  I just want to say a few things about the subject myself (and, after all, what are blogs for?).

The more I learn about the God of the Bible, the less tenable the Arminian view of God becomes. However, I am in no way optimistic that Arminian theology will become extinct through Bible study, because of aspects of the Biblical description of God’s freedom and rule that are naturally objectionable to the human mind.  But this is not what I wanted to comment on.

I want to say this: God has ordained human freewill as a means of accomplishing his predetermined plan.  Now, Dr. Brown made a statement very similar to this, but by it I and he mean different things. I believe that God’s predetermined plan is (and has to be) absolutely exhaustive of all actions in history, from the movement of galaxies to the direction and velocity of quantum particles, human choices included.  Dr. Brown believes, instead, that God’s plan includes punctuated points along the course of history (such as the crucifixion), but the path taken to accomplish them may take whatever form human decisions dictate; there is wiggle room in regards to means, but God has determined certain ends.  But every “end” is preceded by a web of millions of freewill actions and then, once done, becomes a means itself to some following end. All actions are both effects and causes and are interrelated.  There would be no way of guaranteeing a given end unless one had control over what came before and lead up to it.  Dr. Brown’s response is that, well, that is the awesomeness of the God we serve, that God can take human actions, even sinful actions, which he did not intend and manipulate what he’s dealt to somehow get his purposes done.  As one Calvinist pastor remarked, “Well, it’s a good thing God has a fast backhand!”  My problem with this is twofold: first, it makes God reactive, not proactive, and his plans dependant on creatures who, the Bible says, “live and move” because God himself sustains the created order (Acts 17:82, see also Daniel 5:23). Who’s dependent on whom? Or is this a dance in which God and people are dependent on each other? Dr. Brown’s position does not deal with the impassibility of God. Second, Dr. Brown’s position (in which God frustrates the evil plans of men and uses them for good) is absurd due to Dr. Brown’s other position that people control their own thoughts and actions independent from God’s plans.  You have to ask, When God “turns evil around” and makes some good out of it, what is he doing?  If human beings have total autonomy, how does God use their free actions for his goals? What say or influence can God possibly have? On the other hand, if God “steps in” then someone’s autonomous free will is being violated, isn’t it (according to Dr. Brown’s own view)?  How often and to what degree may God “step in,” and when does he overstep the bounds placed on him by Arminianism’s idea of autonomous free will?

These questions are serious.  I am compelled to believe instead that human free will was established by God as a means of accomplishing his predetermined ends in such a way that all the free choices human beings make are not independent of God’s plan, but rather a part of it. They are at once fixed and free, and you can, depending on how you look at it, call them either, with the understanding that no matter what happens, it was predestined to happen exactly that way, and happened according to the normal laws of cause and effect, with human beings (and other animals) making choices which they were not compelled to make by any force outside themselves.  God’s decree is exhaustive, and human beings are volitional free agents, not robots.  The Bible, as I see it, teaches both, and I have no problem with that. I believe in a God who is not constantly figuring out how to straighten out what humans have screwed up, but is acting in history as his eternal decree unfolds precisely according to plan.  The Bible so much as tells us this in black and white, for “God works all things according to the council of his will” (Eph. 1:11).  All things.  Thank God!

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