Thursday, October 12, 2006

Prayer, Predestination, and Evil, the Basics.

Question:
Ok, I really don't want to start a debate or anything, just an answer and I'll return to my supposedly “evil” catholic ways. If everything is completely predestined then after one is "saved" what is the purpose of asking God for something in prayer? If everything is predestined should God not already know our need and whims? Another question...why the creation of evil, or the need for a final battle?”

Now I love questions like these, whether they come via cyberspace, from a coworker, or a relative. These are opportunities not only to answer with kindness, but also to point to answers found in the Bible rather than in the teaching magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church. With Roman Catholics, the emphasis in the discussion should gravitate on the ultimate authority of Scripture. A Roman Catholic believes that God has spoken in the Bible, so the answers should provoke them to read the Bible.

Church history is replete with debate over predestination and God's sovereignty. Think of it this way: great struggles with particular aspects of the Christian faith are well worth the effort. Sometimes we need to wrestle with God.

You ask, “If everything is completely predestined then after one is "saved" what is the purpose of asking God for something in prayer?” The first and foremost reason a Christian must pray is the Bible commands us to do so. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 tells Christians to pray continually. Ephesians 6:18 states, "And pray in the Spirit on all occasions". There is deep mystery in prayer- how could there not be? The finite human is speaking to the infinite God of the universe. Whether or not we can understand the relationship between how our prayers and an infinite God who knows everything “works” does not alleviate a Christian from the Biblical exhortation to pray.

You ask, “If everything is predestined should God not already know our need and whims?” Indeed, God does know everything; even Roman Catholic theology admits this. God, because He is omniscient, must know everything. If He didn't, He wouldn't be God. Remember what the Lord Jesus said in Matthew 6:8: "Your Father knows what you need before you ask him." Here we come face to face with a deep mystery of God. The Bible tells us That God knows our needs beforehand. This is a great comfort to a Christian. The God of the Bible is not caught off-guard by anything that occurs in this world.

You ask, “why the creation of evil, or the need for a final battle?” Again, there is deep mystery in the existence of evil. There is no totally satisfactory answer this side of heaven that explains completely how a sovereign all-good God and evil both exist. But we do have some knowledge revealed to us from the pages of the Bible that explain the existence of evil. We know, that ultimately all of reality and the universe culminate in God's glory as Revelation 22 describes. Romans 8:28 states "We know that in all things God works for the good..." in describing the life of a Christian. After going through a myriad of "evil" circumstances Joseph declares to his brothers in Genesis 50, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." So, in all circumstances, the evil that occurs happens for a reason: God uses it for a good purpose. Even the worst event in all human history was predetermined by God: Christ was handed over to wicked men by God's set purpose (Acts 2:23). What was the most evil act committed in human history is used by God for the most glorious act in human history: the redemption of the world.

Well, how did this Catholic respond? She stated, “Thank you for the responses, they cleared some things up, I am very surprised at the kindness, I am very curious about Calvinism but I usually am met with anger and rudeness, this was a nice change.”

It is possible to tell people the truth in love. My prayer for this woman is that the answers provoke her to search the pages of Scripture rather than the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. These answers only scratch the surface, highlighting my own “wrestling” with the Bible. I am Calvinist because of the Biblical text: It says what it says. I may not understand all of the Biblical mysteries totally, but to be obedient to God I believe what is revealed. I respect anyone who grapples with these types of questions. I have had many friends who have hated the type of answers I gave, only to hear them tell me years later that what they once hated became the sweetest of all comfort.

7 comments:

FM483 said...

James,

I offer the following with all due respect:

As a Lutheran, I fail to see the sweetness or comfort of the Calvinist doctrine of Double-Predestination. If the starting point of one’s study of God’sWord is His Sovereignty, a natural conclusion by referencing selected texts(e.g. Romans 8:28-30; Ephesians 1:4-5) could possibly be an emphasis on predestination. On the other hand, if the beginning and central focus of one’s study of the Word of God is the accomplishment of God in the Person of His Son Jesus Christ, the entire focus from start to finish is the Gospel. Beginning immediately after the fall in the Garden of Eden, the Lutheran grasps ahold of the promises of God to send a Redeemer(Genesis 3:15) to correct the curse of the Law “In the day you sin you shall surely die”(Genesis 2:17). The Lutheran sees the entire Scripture as the story of God working to reconcile humanity back to Himself through the atonement of His Son on the cross. To the average Calvinist there is no assurance of salvation. Listening to a brilliant Calvinist, Greg Koukl, on his radio show “Stand To Reason”, his response to a caller on the question of assurance was that a person must look to three evidences of his salvation: the promises of Christ in Scripture; the inward witness of the Holy Spirit, and the improved lifestyle of a person. The problem is that all such “proofs”are subjective in nature and actually rely on a form of works righteousness similar to Arminian and Roman Catholic theology. The typical Catvinist believes Christ only died for the “Elect”,not everyone. This is the standard Calvinist doctrine of Limited Atonement. There is absolutely no way a Calvinist can be certain of salvation since he can never be sure he is one of the predestined Elect. On the other hand, the Lutheran sees the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins and adoption as a child of God as the centerpiece of Scripture. The Lutheran reads John 3:16 and takes comfort because he is part of the “world” which Christ died to redeem. The Lutheran sees Scripture as God in Christ wishing all men to be saved(1Timothy 2:4; 4:10; 1John 2:2). The Lutheran takes true comfort in the work of God in Christ which has saved him from damnation, not on account of any improvements in his outward or inward behavior, but in being credited with the Righteousness of Christ through the gift of faith alone. Just as Abraham was reckoned as righteous despite his sinful life, and prior to any obedience on his part, being credited with righteousness through faith in the promises of God alone(Romans 4:22ff),so too is each and every believer. When Ezekiel spoke the words of God to the dry bones and they sprang to life, so too each Lutheran believes the Word of God that in Baptism he is saved(Titus 3:5; Hebrews 10:22; 1Peter 3:21), adopted by God as His child(Galatians 3:27;Romans 6:33ff), transferred from the Domain of Darkness to the Kingdom of God(John 3), grafted into the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus(Romans 6:33ff). Hence, the Lutheran can always look to his Baptism as an external proof in time/space/history that he was officially born again from God’s perspective(John 3) – which is the only one that counts. The Lutheran understands that at Baptism he became 100 percent saint while remaining 100 percent sinner and that is from God’s perspective, not man’s. The Lutheran walks by faith alone, not sight, where faith is not synonymous with obedience but is the gift of God(Ephesians 2:8ff) through which the benefits of Christ’s obedience and Righteousness becomes his. Now that is true assurance and sweetness.

Frank Marron

James Swan said...

Hi Frank-

I would much rather respond to comments directed at what I wrote in the blog entry. While the subjects you raise are worthy of discussion, I don't see how they are relevant to the simple issues I raised about prayer, sovereignty, and the problem of evil.

I have writings i've done on predestination and the atonement, and also the assurance of salvation for a believer. I guess i should post them. The reason i haven't, is becauseis years back i spent a lot of time dialoging on these subjects- I came to one conclusion: I don't find get any pleasure in debating such subjects as the extent of the atonement or the problem of predestination.

That being said, I find myself usually in ironic situation with Lutherans on this topic: I'm the one who doesn't want to probe the secret council of the hidden God.

FM483 said...

James, I thought I was responding to the topics brought up in the blog. For instance, here is an early paragraph in the blog by you:

“Church history is replete with debate over predestination and God's sovereignty. Think of it this way: great struggles with particular aspects of the Christian faith are well worth the effort. Sometimes we need to wrestle with God.”

Almost the entire blog then attempts to deal with predestination and the Sovereignty of God. In kindness of course, which is one point you mentioned – that by “speaking the truth in love” you impressed a Roman Catholic writer. This approach is Scriptural, of course. But to conclude that your being kind and encouraging her to search the scriptures and to wrestle with Scripture will result in the “sweetness of all assurance” compels me to respond. Correct me if I am mistaken, but those were the allegations to which I directly responded?

I n my response, I attempted to briefly delineate the Lutheran understanding of the Word of God in order to make the readers think and to search the scriptures themselves to see if what I am writing is not true. You Stated “I am Calvinist because of the Biblical text: It says what it says.” And I responded to your position – out of respect and Christian love – at least I hope that is the way my response was taken. I was responding, not initiating anything. Your comment that the topic in this blog was “prayer, sovereignty, and the problem of evi” is not true. You wrote extensively on the topic of predestination and the sovereignty of God, two key areas of Calvinist doctrine.

Frank Marron

James Swan said...

Hi Frank-

I was responding, not initiating anything. Your comment that the topic in this blog was “prayer, sovereignty, and the problem of evi” is not true. You wrote extensively on the topic of predestination and the sovereignty of God, two key areas of Calvinist doctrine.

The topic was the relationship between sovereignty and prayer, and a brief look at the problem of evil.

For your curiousity, I'm going to put up a blog post on Double Predestination. I seem to be having massive computer problems (It took me almost an hour to get this very blog page to load).

Blessings,
James

FM483 said...

James, concerning prayer you wrote:

“1 Thessalonians 5:17 tells Christians to pray continually. Ephesians 6:18 states, "And pray in the Spirit on all occasions". There is deep mystery in prayer- how could there not be? The finite human is speaking to the infinite God of the universe. Whether or not we can understand the relationship between how our prayers and an infinite God who knows everything “works” does not alleviate a Christian from the Biblical exhortation to pray.”

The Scriptures tell us that the Holy Spirit and the Word are One – wherever the Word is preached, especially in Baptism(Acts 2:38ff), there is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our helpin prayer, for we do not even know how to prayer but He interceded for us with God in miraculous ways(Romans 8:28). In a sense the Holy Spirit is our modem- we transmit and He rephrases our petitions as necessary so that all prayer is appropriate, despite our weaknessin this area. St.James reminds us that we often do not receive because we ask with inapproriate motives(James 4:3).It should be noted that James was writing to believers, not unbelievers, telling us that the Old Adam within believers must daily be overcome with the New Creation. Hence, the Holy Spirit is absolutely necessary even in our prayers – to intercede with God for us.

The Holy Spiritis always present with the Word. The Holy Spirit, through the Word, testifies that believers are adopted children of God(Romans 8:14-17). Now, to explore this relationship further, what makes a human baby the child of his parents? Does the infant’s obedience determine this relationship? Or is it all the doing of the parent? Your paragraph above and alluding to the fact that we must prayer continuously has to have some explanation. It is impossible for a human being to do anything continuously, like praying. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit is the One Who does this for us, even when we sleep. It is not our work but God’s work. Everything is grace. Sometime we are aware of this fact and at other times not. It should be noted that when a child gets older he or she can legally divorce his parents. In the spiritual realm this is the same as unbelief. Hence all the admonitions in Scripture of falling away from the faith, an active decision of the will of a believer to deny God, similar to that of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. That is why most Church bodies have a type of excommunication, which essentially is an act of love by which they appeal to the estranged member to repent and return – it is not to punish but to extend love by speaking the truth.

You wrote “Remember what the Lord Jesus said in Matthew 6:8: "Your Father knows what you need before you ask him." Here we come face to face with a deep mystery of God. The Bible tells us That God knows our needs beforehand. This is a great comfort to a Christian. The God of the Bible is not caught off-guard by anything that occurs in this world.”

This is very perceptive on your part. All we know of God is based upon what He has chosen to reveal to us in His Word. Obviously, since God is infinite, we know only a small portion of truth – until the Perfect comes. This is the Lutheran perspective. There are many paradoxes in Scripture – things which at first glance appear contradictory but upon further reflection are not necessarily so. Many denominations insist that everything in Scripture must be 100 percent understood based upon their human reason. The Lutheran maintains that this is not always possible, for to be able to comfortably pigeon-hole everything which God has revealed would actually be a form of idolatry, an attempt to force God to conform to our ideas and reason rather that vice versa. Hence,the Lutheran confesses His belief based upon the Word of God, refusing to extrapolate beyond what has been revealed to him. This is often a major difference between Lutheranism and other brances of Christianity.

Frank Marron

James Swan said...

Frank- Insightful- thanks

Jon Irenicus said...

Wow.

I enjoyed reading this. Thanks a lot.