Tuesday, March 17, 2009

How Can God Be Glorified Through Limited Human Will?

Unless someone has printed this out, you are reading this online. There's a title in bold at the top of the page. Above that, there are various other links, titles and information. Look to the side and you might see a photo of me with a link to learn more about who I am. There may be a whole list of links to other places on the internet over there too. Look at the bottom and you might see some other stuff. Other articles, comments, perhaps a hit counter. You may see some commercials my hosts have decided to attach to my page to offset the cost of giving me license to post articles such as this one at no cost to me. You may see a nice background and some colorful adornment to the page.

All this is nice and there's a certain reality to it, but it's a bit of an illusion. Obviously, the light that forms the image of this "page" is generated by the monitor, and the information used to tell the monitor how to do this is a bit of electronic code. But what the computer has downloaded is not what is displayed necessarily. Most people are using a browser to view this page that is capable of showing you the source text that describes how this page is to be displayed on your monitor. This source text as well as all the referenced images is what was actually downloaded. In the browser I currently use, FireFox, I can click on the "View" menu and click on "Page Source" down at the bottom. If you look at this source, this looks nothing like what is actually showing on your browser. Yet this is required for your browser to display what you do see. It is descriptive of what is shown.

If you change something in the source text, it may affect what you see in your browser. You can't change what is displayed in your browser unless the source text describes that capacity to change what is displayed. Nothing in the source text is affected by what is displayed in the browser, but everything displayed in the browser is affected by the source text.

This is metaphorical. God is the writer of the source text which he has written with the finished display in mind. The source text is the spiritual world. What is displayed in the browser is the physical world. This physical world as we experience it has a sense of reality, but is largely an illusion. It is representative of the spiritual world, which is a greater reality. Truth comes from God through the spiritual world to the physical world.

God has created us as characters in his creation. He has given us free will described in the spiritual world and manifested in the physical world. His own will is not so described in the spiritual world, for he is greater than the spiritual world having created the spiritual world though he himself is spirit. We have been told that he has created the heavens and the earth. He is eternal and there are even temporal aspects to the spiritual world. I said all this to set up this passage:

1 I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. 4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? 25 As indeed he says in Hosea,

“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
26 “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”

27 And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, 28 for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” 29 And as Isaiah predicted,

“If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring,
we would have been like Sodom
and become like Gomorrah.” (Romans 9:1-29, ESV)

I have heard arguments from non-Calvinists that seem to me would be easily answered by this passage.

"But God wants us to love him and we can't do that if we're just automatons, right? It's more meaningful if we choose him."
"We can't be held guilty of breaking the law when we don't have free will, so God would be unjust sending anyone to hell."

Such arguments presuppose false ideas of such concepts as will, love and justice.

Human will is prescribed by God. He created the behavior of the will according to physical forces such as hormones and other biological proclivities; temporal knowledge including education, social pressures and familial normalities; and spiritual revelation including creativity and our deepest intentions (the balance between whether one really wants to know the truth of a matter or distort the truth in the interest of self-justification). God made the rules governing human will and all the information fed into the human will. There is nothing new under the sun. We have no original thoughts. Within the constraints of God's created order human will is free to act, and God's created order is huge. But our will does not trump God's created order.

Love is ultimately God's eternal cohesion. God is amazingly detailed to the extent where in that we discern him by analysis, the particulars of his character are always in complete agreement. We can point to theological tension, but any consideration that theological tension is contradictory is an illusion brought on by the sin of this world. Rather, theological tension serves to validate the revelation of God and give those so inclined points of focus for greater understanding of God's character. God's love manifests itself throughout his created order in such elements as mutual submission, sacrifice, reconciliation and justice.

Justice is the proper response to God's law. God's law is his boundaries. It serves as a general revelation of God to the world. If you are within God's boundaries, you have life. If you are outside of God's boundaries, you are dead. That's justice. Life and death have physical and spiritual manifestations. Following or breaking the law physically is a behavioral matter. But the law is spiritual where our deepest intentions have their place. In that regard, we cannot have good intentions without the Spirit of God moving in the heart of our will. Although our lesser intentions may be inclined toward some natural moral law, we may not yet ultimately be inclined toward God. And, as he did with Pharaoh by hardening his heart, these lesser inclinations can be affected by God. Yet we shall not say that God causes us to sin though he gives any of us over to our sin. Rather, we are dead in sin outside of God or dead to our sin in God. This is evident in our behavior whether as believers we show true contrition with regard to our sin and attribute any righteousness to God or as unfaithful to deny both our sin and the righteousness of God.

So then, the unfaithful glorify God by incurring his wrath in judgment and the faithful glorify God by receiving his grace as Christ bore the wrath of God for us. In all ways God is glorified, but for the faithful the glory of god is preeminent even beyond salvation. And by glorifying God we grow in faith as Abraham did: "No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God." (Romans 4:20, ESV)

Therefore we participate in love with God through the submission of our will to him being so inclined by the Holy Spirit and thereby know his grace afforded by the blood of Christ.

And God is glorified.

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