The Word of God is clear – all people are created by God in His image. The Word is equally clear that people are created a second time “in Christ Jesus for good works.” ( Hence Jesus’ mention to Nicodemus that he must be born again. ) These good works are ones designed specifically for us as individuals; they are “prepared beforehand, so that we may walk in them.” If even our good works are planned, how is it that we are not planned? Of course we are. What creator doesn’t mold his or her work according to plan? Nevertheless, as an artist renders his or her work, spontaneity surely plays its part. Perhaps God, the ultimate Creator, shows a touch of His own creative spontaneity when He allows His creations to stray off plan. Ever played with your car; ever taken your hands off the wheel briefly to see which way it might head? Ever dropped the reins on a horse and allowed it to go whichever direction it will? Yet, you remain in control of your car or your horse. The steering wheel is right there; so are the reins. God is in control; never fear.
For we are his creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, so that we may walk in them.
If I should climb up to heaven, thou art there; if I sink down to the world beneath, thou art present still. ( Psalms 138:8, KNOX )
A puzzle here in David’s words and in the oral rendition of the story of Job – God is everywhere! We imagine God is incapable of being in the presence of evil, but that is obviously not so. Yes, He turns from His Son at the Cross when all the sins of the world attach themselves to Jesus; but God is found even if we climb to the heavens or descend to the realms of death and hell. That the Lord comes into the presence of the Enemy, Satan is evident in the beginning moments of the story of Job.
6 One day, when the heavenly powers stood waiting upon the Lord’s presence, and among them, man’s Enemy, 7 the Lord asked him, where he had been? Roaming about the earth, said he, to and fro about the earth.8 Why then, the Lord said, thou hast seen a servant of mine called Job. Here is a true man, an honest man, none like him on earth; ever he fears his God, and keeps far from wrong-doing. 9 Job fears his God, the Enemy answered, and loses nothing by it. 10 Sheltered his life by thy protection, sheltered his home, his property; thy blessing on all he undertakes; worldly goods that still go on increasing; he loses nothing. 11 One little touch of thy hand, assailing all that wealth of his! Then see how he will turn and blaspheme thee. 12 Be it so, the Lord answered; with all his possessions do what thou wilt, so thou leave himself unharmed. And with that, the Enemy left the Lord’s presence, and withdrew. ( Job 1: 6-12, KNOX )
God’s ability and willingness to be in the presence of the Enemy is nearly as difficult to understand and accept as His ability and willingness to suffer and die. God is engaged with death and evil. To think He is not is to misunderstand Him. God does not create death and evil; but He allows both. In so many ways, He uses both. Why?
“we find our true home in heaven. It is to heaven that we look expectantly for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ to save us; 21 he will form this humbled body of ours anew, moulding it into the image of his glorified body, so effective is his power to make all things obey him.”
God is perfectly capable to make all things obey Him. Because this is true, He is ultimately sovereign, for that which He determines to allow to happen is in His perfect will. He withholds or exercises His power as He desires to meet His own ends in His own ways. That we do not understand this is because our view of God is limited by our own limited capacity. How can we fully comprehend the all-powerful and the perfect when we are neither powerful nor perfect?
We look to heaven for Jesus Christ to return “to save us.” With His immeasurable power, He plans to call our decayed bones together and refashion our bodies to match His own glorified body. He has that level of power! And it won’t matter in the long run whether you are buried at sea, in the ground, or turned to ash in the fires of the crematorium. You will have a body fashioned by the Lord; and your home will be heaven.
Recently I’ve had more difficulty with the idea that some will spend eternity in hell. Always bothered me that a god with infinite power to save would then allow some to perish. I know there are Christian sects ( cults? ) that believe all will be saved. After all, God so loved the world – the whole world, it seems. Yet, the Word clearly teaches the reality of a hell, of an eternal separation from God.
I also believe the Word teaches that God ultimately is the one who decides. This is so obvious to me I find it hard to understand how others push against this truth. God chose Abel over Cain, Joseph over his brothers, Abram and Sarai over every other couple ( and this despite their age! ), Moses over Pharaoh, Jacob over Esau, Mary over every other young woman in all of human history. That God chooses specific individuals is clear. Yes, I hear you. You argue that God chose these people for specific tasks. I argue God just chose them, period.
Paul writes so eloquently of God’s sovereign desire to save.
3Blessed be that God, that Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us, in Christ, with every spiritual blessing, higher than heaven itself. 4 He has chosen us out, in Christ, before the foundation of the world, to be saints, to be blameless in his sight, for love of him;5 marking us out beforehand (so his will decreed) to be his adopted children through Jesus Christ. 6 Thus he would manifest the splendour of that grace by which he has taken us into his favour in the person of his beloved Son. 7 It is in him and through his blood that we enjoy redemption, the forgiveness of our sins. So rich is God’s grace, 8 that has overflowed upon us in a full stream of wisdom and discernment, 9 to make known to us the hidden purpose of his will. It was his loving design, centred in Christ, 10 to give history its fulfilment by resuming everything in him, all that is in heaven, all that is on earth, summed up in him. 11 In him it was our lot to be called, singled out beforehand to suit his purpose (for it is he who is at work everywhere, carrying out the designs of his will); 12 we were to manifest his glory, we who were the first to set our hope in Christ; 13 in him you too were called, when you listened to the preaching of the truth, that gospel which is your salvation. In him you too learned to believe, and had the seal set on your faith by the promised gift of the Holy Spirit; 14 a pledge of the inheritance which is ours, to redeem it for us and bring us into possession of it, and so manifest God’s glory.
We are God’s possession. We have the promised Holy Spirit. We are washed clean and blessed by His Son’s blood. We are chosen out from before the foundation of the world to be saints!
Everything is summed up in Christ, all things in heaven and on earth.
Odd how we speak of man’s free will while denying God’s sovereignty in all matters. We don’t appear to have any difficulty accepting that God obviously preferred Abel’s sacrifice over Cain’s though both offered gifts of significance — after all, Cain appears to be just as sincere as Abel. The big difference is Abel’s sacrifice reflects Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice and the shedding of His blood for our sins. Cain’s offering represents mankind’s self-effort, the work of his hands. As such, no matter how good it appears, it is lacking and unacceptable to our God.
We don’t doubt God’s sovereignty in His choice of Abram and Sarai to become a great nation, or His selection of Joseph rather than his brothers or of Jacob rather than Esau — even before either one had done good or evil. And God chose Mary to be the vessel for His Son, Jesus. God even, most especially, chose Judas to betray Jesus with a kiss.
Paul deals with God’s sovereign choice especially well in his letter to the Roman church. Some are destined [not designed] to be vessels of God’s mercy while others show forth God’s wrath — the wrath which remains on them just as it is removed from others. All are born as vessels of wrath. These vessels of wrath show forth God’s great mercy which He has in store for those who are vessels of His mercy.
Many are called; few are chosen. This, I know, on the surface appears extremely unfair. But the reality is that once our DNA was altered by Adam and Eve’s sin, God just as easily could have abandoned us as a worthless project, a project gone wrong. Instead, He sent His Son into the world so that He might save it.
“O Lord, turn us back to thyself, and we will come back.”
I like to fish. I love the first tug of the line; the sudden pulling away in panicked flight, the sneaky coming back at me, the leaping fight as the fish struggles to be free. I love feeling, smelling, and seeing the beauty of the fish I eventually catch.
Sometimes, I imagine myself as a fish on God’s line — He’s certainly got a hook in me. Yep, I took the bait. And His hook is quite secure. Oddly enough, most of the time, it does not hurt. I’m not even bleeding. Occasionally, I swim in circles. Other times, I swim away. Not as much now as I did when I was younger in the Lord.
God’s a skillful fisherman. For one thing, He knows exactly where I am and what I am thinking. He knows my feeble plans; He understands my little heart. He knows when to give me slack in His line; and when to pull hard to “turn [me] back.” I “[do] come back.”
God knows the fish he has caught — every flaw and the trophy I can be.
“You have not given glory to God, in whose charge is your very breath and in whose hands are all your ways.”
“You must work out your own salvation in fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, inspiring both the will and the deed, for His own chosen purpose.”
Paul assures “it is impossible that the Word of God should prove false.” (Romans 9: 6) God does not lie; He is not the author of evil. Yet, all our ways are in His hands, says Daniel. And, Paul writes that “it is God who works in you…for His own chosen purpose.” Paul explains God’s sovereignty in his letter to the Romans. He writes of Rebekah’s children, Jacob and Esau. Despite having the same father, “in order that God’s selective purpose might stand, based not upon men’s deeds but upon the call of God, [Rebekah] was told, even before they were born, when they had as yet done nothing, good or ill, ‘The elder shall be servant to the younger’; and that accords with the text of Scripture, ‘Jacob I loved and Esau I hated.’ ” (Romans 9: 11-13)
“Thus He not only shows mercy as He chooses, but also makes men stubborn as He chooses.” (Romans 9: 18) Paul refers us to Pharaoh — how God hardens this man’s heart repeatedly so that he does not let the Israelites leave Egypt.
Paul acknowledges that this does not, on the surface, appear fair. But he answers the objection: “But what if God, desiring to exhibit His retribution at work and to make His power known, tolerates very patiently those vessels which are objects of retribution due for destruction, and does so in order to make known the full wealth of His splendour upon vessels which are objects of mercy, and which from the first are prepared for this splendour?” (Romans 9:22-23)
“God’s choice stands.. for the gracious gifts of God and His calling are irrevocable.” (Romans 11: 28, 29)
“Yahweh, You are my God; I will exalt You. I will praise Your Name, for You have accomplished wonders, plans formed long ago, with perfect faithfulness.” (Isaiah 25: 1, Holman Christian Standard Bible)
Why is anyone surprised or bewildered that God plans? Why are we taken aback by God having created us knowing we would fall, having allowed the serpent to tempt us, having driven us from Eden, having planned our salvation? Why does it irk us that God makes choices? Is He not in complete control? Is He not sovereign? Does He not have the final say in any matter?
“For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor? Or who has ever first given to Him, and has to be repaid?” (Romans 11: 34 – 35)
The way around bewilderment or even resentment that God is in control is to recognize that everything He does is done “with perfect faithfulness.” In God’s sovereignty there is no error.